OPINION: Don’t be so hard on November - it does have its positives, especially in Norfolk

A defiant drop of autumn colour to pierce November’s lockdown gloom. Picture: Trevor Allen

A defiant drop of autumn colour to pierce November’s lockdown gloom. Picture: Trevor Allen - Credit: Archant

Keith Skipper rubbishes claims that November is the worst month of the year

“We know autumn is moving on when even the scarecrows are wearing dead leaves”.

That’s the sort of homely little gem plucked from a gloomy corner on the poetry shelf whence lurks one of the best-known odes in honour of our least-celebrated month.

You know, Thomas Hood’s 1844 impression of Michael Fish on a really bad day: “No shade, no shine, no butterflies, no bees, no fruits, no flowers, no leaves, no birds – November!”

There are a few more lines to set up this big finale shrouded in lyrical misery. But you get the general idea of why our 11th month has struggled so much to build a credible fan club. Hood lived and worked in London most of his life and got used to plenty of November fog and smog.

To be fair, he did write many humorous articles and verses during a celebrated literary career. Even so, he remains one of the most-quoted contributors when it comes to trotting out traditional prejudices and presumption stirred up like autumn leaves in a whirl to castigate “misery month”.

Sadly, sore feet have left me lagging several laps behind in the ongoing marathon to open the gateway to winter with a jaunty smile and ready will to retain a measure of fitness with regular exercise.. Cromer clifftop rambles used to be an essential part of that programme.

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Much harder now to resume my version of a latter-day Heathcliff looking for his café amid buffeting winds and withering heights. It can be truly bracing as you amble towards the lighthouse while white horses charge into sands below and scurrying clouds threaten all kinds of icy cocktails from above.

Now, warming refreshment and fireside reads provide a perfect end to any brave adventures on the pier or along the seafront. Gone is the old target of scaling the north face of Poppyland’s main peak again before December dawns.

It’s likely to remain an uphill struggle to convince some that November is the best time for such character-building outings in our current climate riddled with major health concerns and chilling statistics. Some bright spark reminded me recently how this month acts as if the year suddenly finds out it’s growing old and can do nothing but weep and fret over so bleak a discovery.

Reclusive American poet Emily Dickinson said: “November always seems to me the Norway of the year”. Apart from being a slur on that fine country, I reckon she just went for the alliteration and could have picked Nova Scotia, Northumberland or even the draughty North Pole.

Joseph Addison, laugh-a-minute essayist, dramatist, poet and politician, pointed to “Gloomy month of November, when the people of England hang and drown themselves”. He must have been a riot proposing toasts at literary dinners.

You can always count on Charles Dickens to lend a hand when it comes to “misery month” descriptions, especially when he wants a suitable backcloth for something like Bleak House: “Implacable November weather. As much mud in the streets as if the waters had been but recently retired from the face of the earth”.

And we all know what happens if you sling enough mud.

Thankfully, I am not alone in finding aspects to embrace at a time when cold grey hands can stretch out in the morning and darkness creep up long before teatime. Peasant poet John Clare wrote: “They seem turned to night and try to wake in vain”.

Yet there is a haunting quality about our Norfolk countryside during the 11th month. Sugar beet piling up again waiting for lifts to the factory. Starlings darken the sky over fields just cleared for a short rest.

Then there are deepest autumn’s heart-warming acoustics in city, town and hamlet. Swish and rustle. Crunch and crumble. Leaves of all shapes and colours ready for a downtrodden symphony you learnt as a child and still hum tunefully as days shorten and memories stir.

After sorely missing so many coastal and country treats on summer’s final miles, I’m determined to make the most of this November’s exceptionally tough going. I particularly like the idea of a seven-furlong geriatric wander round the back garden for those who want to stay clear of any shopping shenanigans until they’ve all sold out.

Every months has its charms. Every month has reasons for being on the calendar. Let’s make tracks for best of November’s silver linings.

Skip’s Aside: There’s been ample scope since March to close curtains on a scary outside world for an hour or two and renew acquaintance with a few old film favourites.

A couple still waiting for my fresh ticket of approval, Green Grow the Rushes and Conflict of Wings, first hit the big screen in the early 1950s – and created far more chatter about Hickling and reeds than Hollywood and Oscars.

Even so, that strong Norfolk flavour did little to please some critics. I dipped into my well-thumbed Halliwells’s Film Guide to unearth a couple of curt verdicts:

Green Grow the Rushes (1951) – “Civil servants discover that a Kentish village is devoted to smuggling. Amiable but disappointingly feeble imitation of Ealing comedy, it simply hasn’t got the right snap in any direction”.

Conflict of Wings (1953) – US title, Fuss Over Feathers) – “East Anglian villagers fight to save a bird sanctuary from being taken over by the RAF as a rocket range. Sub-Ealing comedy drama with a highly predictable outcome, generally pleasant but without much bite”.

In fact, smugglers were active in waters around Hickling in June, 1950, when loads of reeds covered cases of illicitly-produced liquor on the way to a secret store at Benet’s Abbey. Broadland was chosen for some sequences as Romney Marsh couldn’t provide the right sort of background.

Roger Livesey headed the cast in Green Grow the Rushes but his location work had been completed at Romney. Honor Blackman, before kicking over the traces in The Avengers, went duck-shooting at Hickling with her father, played by Arnold Ridley, still waiting for his call-up to Dad’s Army.

It was inevitable our heroine should fall in love with the smugglers’ leader, a dashing young rake portrayed by Richard Burton … a few years before he went splashing up the Nile in search of Cleopatra.

John Gregson and Muriel Pavlov were stars of Conflict of Wings, made in colour in Hickling, Catfield and Wells.

Were you one of the extras drafted in to make up a protesting convoy on Hickling Broad?

Do you have any special stories to tell about either film with strong Norfolk connections?

If so, share them on the EDP Letters Page, Prospect House, Rouen Road, Norwich, NR1 1RE. or email EDPletters@archant.co.uk

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