Dylan Jones: The Great Escape

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The Independent Online

I spent many of my formative years in the wilds of East Anglia, pinballing between RAF and US air bases in Norfolk and Suffolk. Back then, the area wasn't reachable by motorway - there was no M11 shooting up from London - so although it was relatively close to civilisation, it still seemed like a backwater. In the late Sixties, the place felt just as it probably had for the previous 50 years.

This wasn't merely because of the lack of surface smarts, or the fact that there didn't appear to be a decent restaurant between Norwich and Ipswich. It was more to do with the way people spoke. Their arcane vocabulary included such words as "crockin" (crying), "dickey" (donkey), "guzunder" (chamber pot), "lummox" (clumsy idiot), "mawther" (young woman), and a thousand more. Broad Norfolk, they called it, and it was often impenetrable to "furriners" like myself.

During the years I lived there, the most famous advocate of Broad Norfolk was Allan Smethurst, "The Singing Postman", who actually delivered mail in the Sherringham area and had a hit with a song called, "Hev Yew Gotta Loight, Bor?". For three years, he was a local hero, and his repertoire included such classics as "Norwich is a Fine City", "Who's That Little Ow Boy?", and "Dew Yar Far Keep a Dickie?". Hardly a sophisticate (he was no Jake Thackray), he helped to damn Broad Norfolk as old-fashioned and slightly backward.

Today, anywhere between Bristol and Canvey Island, or Brighton and Birmingham, is full of people with an estuarial whine, the flattened cockney accent with glottal stops à gogo. It's the pronunciation of choice not only for White Van Man, but for Golf Club Man, too.

Which is perhaps why a small rural school in Norfolk is in the process of spending £25,000 of Heritage Lottery Fund money to encourage its pupils to learn their local dialect. Those attending All Saints Primary, in the hamlet of Stibbard, are being taught to say "bishy-bashy-bee" instead of "ladybird", "hold yew hard" rather than "hang on", and "tittermatorter" instead of "seesaw". There's also "ill a bed an wus up" (very sick), "hoddy-doddy" (tiny), "suffin savage" (angry), and more.

It seems the project has run out cash, but Peter Trudgill, an expert on the Norfolk dialect, speaks for all involved when he says: "We've been swamped by smart-arse cockneys coming up from London. They come to admire the landscape. Now we want them to admire the way we speak."

The school's efforts are admirable, but perhaps the quickest way to spread the word (or, as Trudgill might have it, the "wud"), is by enlisting the help of East Anglian estate agents. After all, the best way to discourage "furriners" from moving into your area is by forcing them to speak your language.

Dylan Jones is the editor of 'GQ'

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