It was a relation, of sorts. I will name no names, and keep my head down. I was walking around the garden with her (there’s a clue) and we were standing under the large tree towards the top of the garden.
“This oak tree is probably hundreds of years old,” I remarked.
“That’s not an oak tree,” came the reply. “It’s an acorn tree.”
“It’s oak,” I said, without pausing and counting to ten, as would have been prudent.
“That’s no oak tree.” There was passion, because she knew she was right. “It’s an acorn tree.” And then she delivered the coup de grace with, “Look on the ground. They’re acorns from the tree. It’s an acorn tree.”
I live in the county of Norfolk, a rather rural part of the UK, and on the outskirts of a small village. My relation was quite local, and knew a thing or two about the world around us. She had never heard of a ladybird, but could recognise a Bishy Barnabee immediately. She had not heard of splinters of wood, but sometimes had a shiver in her finger. And overall she, she thought our garden was bootiful.
(At this point I shall give a word of explanation to those of you who reside outside of my home county. It is part of Norfolk culture to refer to ladybirds as Bishy Barnabees. The name is said to be derived from Bishop Barnabas of Norwich, who had a similarly coloured cloak. And splinters that you might get in your skin from handling rough wood are called shivers. Bootiful – read on!)
We moved to Wroxham, on the broads (lakes), in 1953, and engaged Doris, a cleaner (not her real name). She told us that she could not work on Saturdays as she cleaned boots at the weekend. My mother asked her how many boots she cleaned, and was surprised to be told, “Usually three. But sometimes four, even five.”
Which was again our Norfolk dialect, and Doris was in fact speaking about sailing boots, motor boots, hire boots, but not rowing boots.
Bootiful? Norfolk for beautiful, of course. But one of my school mates suggested that another fellow’s girlfriend was indeed bootiful – and not beautiful!
Before training to be a dentist I was a manual labourer on a local farm, picking fruit, weighing vegetables, cleaning out chicken houses, pruning raspberry canes, grading bulbs, and generally helping out.
We would try and outdo one another with the heaviness of accent, and after a few weeks my parents said they could no longer understand me.
Then I departed for London, where I was insulted, called a bumpkin, asked if we had mains drainage and horseless carriages in my part of the world – and took strong action to soften out my Norfolk brogue.
As a born-again Christian, I used to tell people that I was saved, and had the righteousness of Christ imputed to me. There was propitiation and expiation at Calvary, where Christ was a vicarious sacrifice. This kingdom talk was even less intelligible to most people than Norfolk talk. So I try to speak in ‘Reader’s Digest’ English these days, and tell people that Barrie the atheist became a born-again Christian back in 1965. It was like starting life all over again, but new, and better, and it will never end. And all because Jesus took the punishment for my sin, nailed to a wooden cross just outside Jerusalem.
You can read a lot more about my county of Norfolk, and training to be a dentist – and so much more – in my book A DENTIST’S STORY available at amazon.co.uk (UK), amazon.com (North America) and all good bookshops.