OPINION: A long-winded appreciation of Norfolk's blustery hall of fame

A drop of home-made whimsy is always welcome when winter takes a grip outside 

A drop of home-made whimsy is always welcome when winter takes a grip outside - Credit: Archant

Long, long ago, in another wintry Norfolk nurturing another me, a boisterous wind spluttered down our kitchen chimney to rattle doors and windows and inspire my first serious joke for family digestion.

Mother sat darning by the open fire, her needle as bright and swift as any sparks swirling round the grate. Father peeled potatoes for tomorrow’s main meal in a giant enamel bowl perched precariously on the edge of his side of the table.

A Tilley lamp fizzed and spat in the middle. Brothers and sisters busied themselves with domestic tasks like cleaning boots and shoes, tidying cupboards and drawers and tucking billowing curtains back in place.

I sat opposite dad waiting for a spud to splash a bit more than usual and so entice the lamp into a dramatic game of indoor fireworks. Well, we had to make much of our own entertainment in those home-made days.

My exercise book page rippled in another rampant draught as the door at the bottom of our bedroom stairs fought to stay shut. “Wild old night!” exclaimed someone with too much emphasis to be taken seriously.

I was about halfway through my third composition since being blown home from village school at half-past three. This one had a stormy theme inspired by so much, creaking, groaning and juddering.

I kept hearing and seeing the swinging sign of the Admiral Benbow Inn as the old brown seaman with a sabre cut across his cheek arrived with his sea-chest following in a hand barrow. It felt as if snow flurries would join him soon.

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Such homely characters might have been a bit thin on the ground in and around our small agricultural village during the early 1950s but my localised version of Treasure Island had to enhance a budding reputation as novelist with an earthy edge .. now celebrated as early Norfolk Noir.

Then I was lured into one of those verbal diversions for which my formative years were to become increasingly notorious. A powerful gust sent something crashing outside against the kitchen door. “Good job we live in a tied cottage” I mused. Dramatic pause for appreciative audience to gather for : “The ropes stop it flying away!,”

Perhaps I was ahead of my time as satirical and social commentator but the deafening silence to greet that little offering on a frisky Monday night in January could easily have put me off wind and whimsy for life.

Dad restored a measure of normal family existence to a relatively comfortable level with his favourite slice of country lore about wood warming you three times – chopping it down, sawing it up and watching it blaze.

He got a laugh wrapped in half a groan, peeled another spud and gave the lamp a hearty pump to leave me wondering how to get back in everyone’s good books before the next sunrise. I found consolation at bedtime on hearing the old walnut tree in fully cry, providing most of the percussion for a natural symphony welling up from the orchard.

Next day at school I searched the book cupboard selves for windy poems. Christina Rossetti posed a difficult question but came up with a useful clue:

Who has seen the wind? Neither I nor you.

But when the leaves hang trembling. The wind is passing through

Robert Louis Stephenson, taking a break from the Admiral Benbow snug, came up with a catchy chorus:

Oh wind a’ blowing all day long, Oh wind that sings so loud a song!

Enough there to inspire a brand new literary project far too daring to risk in front of prying eyes around the kitchen table, A folder marked “Getting the wind up,” later rechristened “Well, I’ll be blowed!,” nestled at back of my secret place for several years.

Some entries were predictable and safe, such as Wind in the Willows, Gone with the Wind. Blow the Wind Southerly and Windmill in old Amsterdam. Windfall neatly covered our annual bounty of walnuts, conkers, apples and pears along with Uncle Harry’s half-a-crown for my delivery of recitations at the Sunday school anniversary.

The wireless shipping forecast opened up new creative channels towards gales and storms while popular music introduced suitable candidates for inclusion, from Alan Breeze, chirpy singer with the Billy Cotton Band, to Johnny and the Hurricanes and Red River Rock.

England fast bowler Frank “Typhoon” Tyson, who blew away Australian batsmen on the memorable 1954-55 tour, earned honorary membership. I did the same for “Blowers,” cricket commentator Henry Blofeld, not least to mark his strong Norfolk connections.

Even prime minster Harold MacMillan got in on the act with his memorable “Wind of Change” speech in South Africa in February, 1960.

I had a whale of a time with “Thar She Blows!” but it all  became an embarrassment when Gustav Holst see what did there?) and Parson Wind (don’t linger) suggested themselves as likely entrants for the Blustery Hall of Fame

As with too many of my juvenile jaunts, I finished up sailing too close to the elements. Still, I’ve always relished a little bit of Norfolk turbulence. My grammar school history master Geoffrey Dimock had the audacity to postscript some of my longer essays with a curt “long-winded”.