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Keith Skipper ponders the importance of a good laugh

I learnt that vital little lesson early on my social and working rounds as press reporter, wireless presenter and entertainer-cum-mardler at all manner of events demanding a dollop or two of home-made whimsy.

I recall one of my first outings with notebook and pen over 60 summers ago ready to till furrows of fertile memories ploughed by a twinkling old son of the Norfolk soil. I asked for his retirement plans after so many years down on the farm.

“I’m a’ gorn ter take a good long rest” he replied. He knew I’d want more.

“But exactly what are you planning to do with that good long rest?” He fought off half a smile, gave a tatty old cap a careful nudge over silvery locks  and waited for me to stumble headlong into the pit he’d prepared for my visit:

“Well, I might as well use it to pot a few more balls than usual on the pub snooker table!,”

I resisted an urge to share my favourite line from Jane Austen reminding us: “For what do we live but to make sport of our neighbours and laugh at them in our turn” when it dawned om me he would be sharing this moment with all and sundry at his village local that very evening, relishing headlines about “puttin’ one acrorss that young client from the pearper!.”

A similar experience left me spluttering over a  Radio Norfolk Dinnertime Show microphone in the 1980s when  I asked another veteran with deep agricultural roots if he had lived in the same village all his life. “Blarst me boy, no, not yit, I hent!” came a proud declaration of several more chuckling adventures to come.

Plenty other examples of ready squit rolled out on my travels to underline the general idea you might as well take the juice out of yourself now and again because everyone else does. Add the two together and  there’s a handy survival package for at least another year of bobbing around in a leaky bathtub on a boiling sea of uncertainty.

I strongly suspect what Norfolk does during the rest of 2023 might well dictate the shape and size of British resistance thereafter, We need a dash or two of that old Dunkirk spirit – and just remember there is another Dunkirk located in Norfolk.

The valuable currency of squit ought to be at the heart of any campaign to set a jocular example. While it remains a peculiarly Norfolk commodity unlikely to be cut or privatised even by our present government, there may be times when those ordained to look after our affairs may use it to their own advantage.

Of course, they won’t afford it the ”squit” label. They’ll call it debating, debunking, prognosticating, compromising, levelling up, flattening down or just a full and frank exchange of ideas with a three-line whip. We must not be fooled by such euphemisms.

The derivation of squit is obscure. Robert Forby’s precious Vocabulary of East Anglia, first published in 1830, says it’s a word of supreme contempt for a very diminutive person … “A paltry squit!.” Today’s Oxford Dictionary follows a similar track: “ Small, insignificant person,” So easy to confuse it with” squirt.”

For all that, there is general acceptance that good ole Norfolk squit is simply nonsense, light-hearted banter, an unlikely story soaked in rich dialect. Most pubs used to have at least one learned exponent ready to turn on the tap. Locals may have heard it all before but that hardly diminished enjoyment, especially if aimed at an unsuspecting stranger.

The native can use squit as a territorial marker. It spells a sense of amiable superiority on his own ground for he knows it will take even the brightest of newcomers or visitors some considerable time to work it out. If they can get there at all.

I ought to underline the double-edged properties of squit. It may emerge in a term of honest praise: “He allus give yer a fair bit o ’squit” will ring around the banqueting hall in the wake of an entertaining after-dinner speech. There’s also a derogatory side; “Dunt yew tearke no notice cors he dew tork a lot o’ ole squit” has been heard at the end of many a political gathering, after-match inquest at Carrow Road and estate agents’ conference.

Squit has no easily-defined barriers. It can inspire or injure, delight or deflate, but to be fair to true Norfolk exponents, they can prick the balloon of pomposity without resorting to the javelin. They prefer to make their point with droll humour rather than hasty barbs.

When I wrote my first book on the subject 35 years ago I included examples from various facets of local life – the  bustling farmyard, horse-drawn honeycarts, little shuds down the yard, church and chapel chuckles and medical yarns from Bedpan Alley.

A fast-changing Norfolk can still provide ample material for a new breed of squit merchants to lead our laughter parade. Must be mileage left in building on green pastures or flood-risk sites, chopping down healthy trees and historic hedges and increasing traffic and pollution on already-infested roads.

We still need grins ahead of groans, chuckles before chagrin.  mirth instead of misery  Perfect time for official relaunch  of LAUGH – Life’s About Upholding Good Humour.

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