Learn a lot more than just about lino with DIY help

I have a sneaking respect for the policy of certain big DIY stores to exercise a little favouritism by employing those of more mature years. Older people with a bit of experience wielding a wallpaper brush or laying lino are better fitted to helping us nail the right nails.

One such Norwich-based customer services representative, for such is the way of the world that we must now refer to sales assistants thus, set off a chain of events the outcome of which he could never have envisaged.

It was lino that we were after, although I learned in the process that it was vinyl that we bought (unlike vinyl, linoleum as it is properly called is made from natural fibres, not synthetic ones).

Our mature man made the arrangements for measuring, fitting and payment with friendliness and efficiency, but it was in taking down the delivery address that he began this story.

'I love Bungay,' he said.


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'So, what's the connection?' I asked.

'I have a hankering after being a poacher,' he answered.

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Those of you with close acquaintance of this borderland of the Waveney Valley may have already made a connection. But in what was, to me, another disconnected wandering he offered up: 'Heard of Rider Haggard?'

Of course, although it was youngsters of a generation or two before my time whose imaginations and zest for adventure Haggard fuelled with tales of the great white hunter Allan Quatermain and King Solomon's Mines. But poaching?

'Ever heard of the King of the Norfolk Poachers?' asked my man, clearly determined to educate me. 'I Walked by Night? The Rabbit Skin Cap? Lilias Rider Haggard?'

'No, no, no and well, sort of.'

Our purveyor of vinyl floor covering was an engaging and generous man. It was 'I Walked by Night, Being the Philosophy of the King of the Norfolk Poachers, Written by Himself' edited by Lilias Rider Haggard, daughter of Sir Henry Rider Haggard, that had lit in him the poaching ambition he regretted he would never fulfil.

Some weeks later, I was faced with a carpentry task of a complexity that steered me not back to the DIY store but to the talented son of an old friend who is making a bit of a name for himself as a young cabinet maker. So much so that he was too over-run but was able to help by introducing another local firm to carry out the work. They visited, we parleyed and the commission was placed.

Placed with, I now discover, the great grandson of Sir Henry in his workshop adjacent to the erstwhile home of his great grandfather.

He, in turn, introduced me to a delightful bookshop in the town where I was able to buy pristine new editions of I Walked by Night and The Rabbit Skin Cap, edited by Lilias and illustrated by none other than the artist-royal Edward Seago.

Now, as I settle to read the first, Lilias's preface already provides the perfect excuse to thank those who took the trouble in print, by letter, via email and through Twitter to comment on my recent attempt to discuss rurality, regional dialect and the like in this column.

Here's a little of what she wrote in 1935.

'They are a strange people 'born of the East Wind', as my father used to tell me: slow, intensely suspicious of strangers (you remain one for at least 30 years after arrival in these parts), and often possessing a curious twist of mind. But if they are bitter and long of memory in their hatreds, they are equally stubborn, generous and courageous in their allegiance whether it be to person, place or custom.'

Later, before paying homage to 'simplicity and an unhurried dignity', she concludes tellingly: 'I hold no brief for a stagnant world, I have seen too much of the bitter fruit of ignorance and apathy in country places.'

So much more enlightened, I thought, than UEA linguistics professor Peter Trudgill who squandered the opportunity on these pages to add some intellectual gravitas to the debate – the very lifeblood, I thought, of academia – and instead used it to thrice label me ignorant.

And his 18-year-old (and therefore easily forgiven) disciple just off to university who decided, on his evidence, to tweet that she thought me a Fascist. But thank you both for your contribution anyway.

More sincerely, my thanks to the witty lady from Strumpshaw who wrote to say that I would be better understood if, rather than using long words, I wrote more simply and in Norfolk dialect. And the Northumbrian Language Society (how far and wide is the reach of the EDP) which promised me a warm welcome if I accepted its invitation to attend National Dialect Day at Morpeth Town Hall in October.

If I find myself in that neck of the woods, I might just take them up on it although I will ignore the entreaty of one or two others to join Julian Assange in seeking political asylum at the Ecuadorian embassy.

Oh, and by the way, the vinyl from the big store bubbled on being confronted with damp cement and too much heat and had to be replaced by a long-established local shop where the staff were equally friendly and efficient but not, as far as I know, with a penchant for poaching. There's probably a lesson hidden there too.

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