OPINION: Keith Skipper - braced for another Norfolk winter

A bit of autumnal beauty to lift the spirits ahead of what could be a difficult winter for many

A bit of autumnal beauty to lift the spirits ahead of what could be a difficult winter for many - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

The nights are drawing in, but this will be harder winter than normal says Keith Skipper

With berried treasure and burnished gold on full display for our autumn outside fashion season, it seems darned uncharitable to even contemplate facing a Norfolk winter in threadbare garb.

We’re used to dire forecasts of enough frost, snow and savage winds to bring everything to a shuddering halt. Even those of us prone still to employ 1947 and 1963 as prime examples of proper tough going can expect warnings to prepare for fresh depths of global cooling.

I vaguely recall mountainous snowdrifts, frozen ponds, cut-off villages and constant searches for more firewood during that white-out just after the war. My free transfer 16 years later as a cub reporter in quick-change Thetford to the much more traditional flavours of Dereham coincided with the coldest winter since 1740.

Weather hugged far too many headlines from Boxing Day in 1962 until early March. Blocked roads left armies of snowploughs fighting losing battles.

Frozen rivers, ice-flows at sea, sugar beet released by pick-axe and rabbits turning to furze and bark for food added to an arctic scene taking ominous shape as I struggled to return in time for duty after the festive break.

Add job losses, health concerns, economic woes and political mayhem to this forthcoming winter’s potential icy mix, stir with all the vigour of Jeremy Paxman at his peak, ring Michael Fish to see if any tress are likely to blow down and cover the cellar floor with fresh straw.

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My heart goes out to those poor souls trying to stem global financial chaos as it gets late earlier. I try to understand what’s happening in important markets beyond Aylsham and Fakenham. My old National Savings book taught me to be thrifty.

But I’ve never played FTSE with a blue-chip firm in my life and I wouldn’t recognise a wider range of collateral or a special liquidity scheme if they jumped out of a hedge fund and bit me on my frozen assets.

I’m slightly better at understanding our weather. Samuel Johnson, who didn’t even make it to the University of East Anglia Climatic Research Unit, put it rather well: “When two Englishmen meet, their first talk is of the weather. They are in haste to tell each other, what each other must already know, that it is hot or cold, bright or cloudy, windy or calm”.

The good doctor would be pleased to hear his diagnosis of human nature still holds firm as we shuffle up and down the loke of life, crunchy leaves and all, exchanging little bulletins of the blinking obvious as it gets dark over Will’s mother’s.

Perhaps we’re all in the same boat as Jerome K Jerome when he mused: “ We shall never be content until each man makes his own weather and keeps it to himself”.

Even so, we ought to relish the chance to give whatever we get a distinctive local flavour. Only in Norfolk dew that allus pick a wet day ter rain.

My village mentors of over 60 years ago would scan the skies at any time of day or night secure in the knowledge everybody talked about the weather but nobody did anything about it.

Several old tillers of the Norfolk soil echoed Shakespeare when welcoming the sun as “bright Phoebus in his strength” A winter’s tale inspired this sparkling summary of relentless events: “Fust that blew, then that snew, an’ then that thew. Arter that, well, that tanned round an’ frizz agin!”

“Heavy dag” pointed to dew or mist. “Thongy” spelt close or oppressive weather. ”Datty ole job” advertised wet and windy conditions. “Thass only smurrin;” meant drizzle. “Tempest” called up a thunderstorm. “Parish lantern” smiled on the moon.

“Shuttin’- up time! “ signalled onset of darkness. ”Bull’s moon” struck at midnight. ”Learzy ole winds” cut straight through you. “Norwegian bishops” turned out to be towering thunderclouds.

Droll humour kept it all in perspective. “Slow ole dry out terday” lit up a long spell of persistent rain. “Dew yew come on in out onnit” brought relief to the Saturday boy dripping towards the barn in rubber boots at least two sizes too big for him.

Cue for old-time musical hall routine among the sacks, tarpaulins and sheltering machinery.

“Dunt think sun’s comin’ out terday”.

“Well, wud yew come out on a day like this?”

“Marster reckon that only rained twice on his holiday …”.

“Yis, once for three days and once fer four.”

Skip’s Aside: My recent tirade against “sloppy lingo”, especially when it comes to verbal communication, struck a linguistic chord with several readers.

Pet hates added to my list included “gobsmacked”, “basically” and a trend among youngsters to use “like” as every other word. A growing tendency for academics in particular to begin every response to a probing question with “So …” also drew long sighs of exasperation.

As pledged, I consulted my wife about any little niggles featuring in my mardling and musing around the house. She claimed it was hard to make any serious judgements as a fair amount of what I said didn’t have a proper beginning or end.

And the bit in the middle, often coated in bad puns, old jokes and questions about the name of that bloke who used to be a foil for Arthur Haynes, could leave her perplexed. “Must do better” could be the answer she’s looking for.

Meanwhile, time for a moan about jargon. Bright Norfolk people know that’s what fitness fanatics do before breakfast … go a’jargon. For too many, though, it’s sticking groovy labels on everyday items to produce grotesque trendybabble.

I remember with dismay attending so many meetings over the years on media duties in which torrents of capital letters, cliches, plus inane and ingratiating comments bordering on the crawling left me ready to leave and sign up for the Foreign Legion!

Here’s how to use propaspeak, sensible Norfolk words and expressions, to restore order:

1.Worst-case scenario – suffin’ bad.

2. Positive feedback – wholly good.

3. Let’s run this up the flagpole and see who salutes – hent got a clue woss goin’ on!

4. At the end of the day – shuttin’ up time.

5. Level playing field – hent bin built on – yit!

6. At this moment in time – Abowt now, I reckun..

7. Can you run that past me again? – sorry, wunt listenin’.

8. I hear what you say – dunt talk such squit”.

9. I see where you’re coming from – yew dunt fool me!.

10. When all is said and done – thass yer lot!.

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