OPINION: Words of advice from Skeptic Skip

Keith Skipper as fortune teller Sceptic Skip

Keith has serious form as Norfolk soothsayer Skeptic Skip, peering into an uncertain future in recent years, Now he tries his hand at helping lonely hearts. - Credit: Colin Finch

My credentials as an Agony Uncle may not be obvious to those more used to the sharp end of my Norfolk tongue.

However, we must all be prepared to make sacrifices in order to bring our beloved homeland through one of the most exacting periods in its long and illustrious history

To this noble end, I have offered myself as a handy crutch to lean on, anxious to steer troubled souls into calmer waters.

I had a dry run at this fresh challenge the other evening down at The Gathered Inn, my favourite after-harvest – before winter watering hole. where the new high-tech brigade mingle freely with venerable tobacco-chewing sons of the soil.

In a few cases, spiteful sparring continues between native and newcomer, ancient and modern, especially when it comes to differences between ferrets and floppy discs.

But there’s little disagreement that they’re all in the same leaky boat and they might well learn the same survival code.
In this climate of fairly peaceful co-existence I felt safe to dole out paper and pencils for a little exercise in honesty. Some would have been happier with chalk and slates.

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Several seemed lost without their word processors and other essential communication tools. Still, embarrassed giggles and serious nudges gradually gave way to earnest expressions and careful writing behind strategically placed beer mats.

I gave them a maximum of 25 minutes to produce the sort of problem they used to sort out in a matter of seconds in any local worthy of the name. 

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The deal was I would come up with an answer in joined-up writing to each plaintive plea before closing time. Taking refuge in the snug and in my firm conviction that some of us are sent specifically to help others, I got down to my agonising business.

It became evident as soon as the first missives arrived soaked in a mixture of beer and tears that romance is far from dead. Unrequited rural passion dominated my instant postbag although indifferent spelling and blatant liberties with our wonderful language could have had a bearing on the amount of uncertainty, disdain and rejection revealed in those luminous lines.

Even allowing for alluring riches of our dialect, it can’t be too flattering to be addressed as “a rare ole bi o’ stuff or “that mawther wi’ child-bearing hips.”

There were a couple of try-ons. But I was ready. See if you can spot them coming in this small selection of cries from the heart with my no-nonsense advice beneath. I have translated letters into acceptable English for a publication of this standing.

■    Dear Marmaduke Proops.
I have never told anyone before but I ache for the barmaid who serves in here on Friday and Saturday nights.

I know I’m old enough to be her grandad and she wouldn’t look at me twice even if I landed all the winning doubles in our local derby darts match against The Eradicated

Coypu and bought her vodka and blackcurrant. 

All this could affect my arrows and work on the allotment. What should I do?

Dear Worried Pensioner.

Go and drink down The Eradicated Coypu.

■    Dear Cu.
My wife ran off with the milkman last Thursday morning. What can I do?

Leave a note with bottles on the doorstep to say how much you miss him.

■    Dear Man-Who-Sees.
I recently moved to Norfolk to forget the swine who broke my heart. But he still haunts me day and night. I simply could not refuse when he rang to ask if he could come and stay with me after all Norwich City home fixtures this season. He is an ardent Canary fan and promises to take me if they have a good FA Cup run. What should I do? Confused Blonde.

Insist on a season ticket for life or blow the whistle on him and go out to play the field. If he still refuses to go away, move to Ipswich.

■    Dear Wise One.
I have a confession to make. Despite taking great care, I poured a hot cup of tea all over my wife’s new nightdress the other morning.

Your fault for wearing it.

■    Dear Friend.
My wife simply does not understand me.

Try elocution lessons.

■    Dear Heart. I’ve been engaged for nine years and would like to get something really useful for my fiancé’s bottom drawer. Any suggestions?

A cure for dry rot.

■    Blessed Problem-Solver.
It takes one dishy computer expert 20 seconds flat to totally ignore me every day between 8.35 and 8.40am when we arrive for work. How many hours will I have wasted and on how many occasions will he have given me the cold shoulder by the time I crack up or retire?

I have no idea, trap him in a lift and work it out together.

Skip's Aside:
During a spooky radio interview several tantalising Norfolk chapters ago, I asked a smart new addition to the literary crime circuit why women made such exceptionally good gory story tellers.

She rose determinedly from her seat, tossed back a mane of black hair, sidled behind my presenter’s swivelling chair and purred into the live microphone: “Well, in the first place, our devious minds never tire of a capacity to surprise”

I got the message as she ruffled my locks along with my composure and gave a time-check: “Now stands the clock at five to two, and is there arsenic still for you?”

I muttered something about feeling safer in Mayhem Parva, provided details of the new volume we had been discussing and closed the programme with that stirring signature tune for Mis Marple’s television series built around Joan Hickson’s gentle but pervasive portrayal.

I have since picked up more orthodox clues as to why women excel as crime novelists from a growing flock of exciting exponents in general and PD James in particular.

She revealed to me in typical forthright style that a lot of it is down to their eye for detail. “Clue-making demand the minutiae of everyday living.”

There’s probably a bit more to it than that .. Scandinavian skulduggery. Known as Nordic Noir to the purists, is a compelling case in point .. but it is reassuring to know some female dealers in dark and disturbing arts don’t feel the need to creep up behind innocent broadcasters and scare them half to death.

Margery Allingham, Dorothy L Sayers, and, on certain dark nights, Agatha Christie, have kept me hooked since I first realised the sort of books they wrote could be placed comfortably on the “proper literature” shelf, well-crafted and stylish with memorable characters vying for attention either side of the law.

The prolific Gladys Mitchell, another wordsmith anxious to prove English villages can be murderously peaceful, , is a more recent discovery and a far bigger challenge. She died at 82 and turned in at least one novel a year throughout a bountiful career.

The first in 1929 introduced Beatrice Adela Bradley, a scholarly psychoanalyst and author who went on to feature in a further 65 adventures, specialising in unconventional plots and settings. An acquired taste – but well worth the effort.

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