NORFOLK DIALECT IN PRINT

Sidney Grapes

Sidney Grapes (the Boy John) was born in 1888, the son of a carpenter and builder at Potter Heigham in the heart of the Broads. Sidney lived all his life in the same village, and to the end of his days spoke the Norfolk dialect he had known in his boyhood. Wearing an old ‘chummy’ hat, a smock and a `wropper’, he made a name for himself as a rustic comedian at local concerts and dinners.

He is best known and remembered for the Boy John letters which he began to write to the Eastern Daily Press in 1946 and continued until his death at the age of 70 in 1958. The letters, written in the character of a countryman who wrote as he spoke and spelt as he pleased, are quoted wherever East Anglians are gathered together, and the Boy John, Granfar, Aunt Agatha and the scandalous ould Mrs. W are discussed as real and living people.

Here’s a snippet of Sidney’s humour, originally published on December 6th 1949…

Each letter finished with Aunt Agatha’s words of wisdom, prefaced by ‘She say‘. Below are more examples of the great man’s Norfolk wit.

A book of the letters is still in print, published by the Mousehold Press,  and is available through their website or other online bookstores. More information about Sidney Grapes can be found on the Literary Norfolk website. Keith Skipper also paid tribute to the great man in the Eastern Daily Press in 2018, on the 60th anniversary of his death.

AUNT AGATHA,  SHE SAY…

  • Tha’s no good a putten yer foot down if yew hearnt got a leg to stan’ orn.
  • Never hit a man when he’s down he might get up agin.
  • Reality is wen yew leave dutty dishes in the sink and them beggars are still there wen yew git hum.
  • That earn’t wot gals know nowadays wot bother their parents, tha’s how they found out.
  • Troubles are like bearbies, the more yow narse ’em, the bigger they grow.
  • Just becos we’re gorne to hev an extra ounce o’ bearcon, dorn’t buy a bigger fryin pan – not yit.
  • Yew dorn’t help people if yew do for them wot they should be a doin for their selves.
  • Wen yew weigh up people yew wanter watch not only wot they do, but also wot they dorn’t do.
  • There’s only one thing wuss than bein’ torked about. Tha’s not bein’ torked about.
  • Many a woman has lorst a good sweetheart by a marryin’ on him.
  • Allus teark pride in yerself. If yew are poor, dornt look poor.
  • She’s a werry wise woman wot say nothen at the right time.
  • She’s werry glad she wornt born afore tea wus invented.
  • ‘Pay as yew go’ is a good motter, an’ if yew can’t pay, well – dornt go!
  • A man can be a fule an’ not know it – but not if he’s married.
  • Yew can mearke many a false step by standen still.
  • Marriage is a fine institution for them wot like institutions.
  • Yew can do wot yew want, if yew dornt think yew can’t.
  • Some men git wot they deserve, others remain single.
  • Give a present an’ forget it. Receive one an’ never forget.
  • Yew can always tell a Norfolk man. But yew can’t tell ‘im much.
  • It’s a pity we can’t live in the past. It would be so much cheaper.
  • If a woman wants to spend a few minutes on her own, she only needs to start washin’ up.
  • Trust no memory, however bright. Put it down in black and white.
  • The more yew say, the less people remember.
  • Tha’s wot we larn arter we think we know, wot count.
  • If yew are hard up, do without a few things yar grandparents never dreamt about.
  • It’s good to change yar mind now and agin – it keeps ut clean.
  • Don’t feel sorry for yarself. Feel sorry for those who hatter live with yer.
  • Helpful people are always the most hopeful.
  • The cost o’ livin is always about the same – all you’ve got!
  • A man who can’t smile, shoon’t keep a shop.
  • That earn’t how much medicine we take in life; tha’s wot good that du us wot count.
  • Chutchyards are full o’ people the world coont do without.
  • A woman can’t keep a secret unless she gits a few friends to help her.
  • Tact is mearkin yer compnay feel at hum, even though yew wish they were.
  • I dorn’t like to repeat gossip, but wot else can yew do with ut?
  • It dorn’t matter wot happens, there’s always someone wot knew it would.
  • Kindness is one thing yew can’t give away, it always comes back.
  • Other people’s faults are like car headlights, they seem more glarin’ than our own.
  • A secret is suffen yew tell one person – at a time.
  • If women know so much why do they ask so many questions?
  • Women love the simple things in life – MEN
  • Work is a cure for grumblin’. Even a mule can’t kick when he’s a pullin’.

FOND Archive Fearvruts

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  • Newsletter of the Friends of Norfolk Dialect (FOND), it's packed full of interesting features, pictures and letters, all about what living in Norfolk means to you.

  • In 2003, FOND recorded a number of local Norfolk people, preserving their unique perspective of their lives in Norfolk, in their own words. Hev a listen!

  • Sidney Grapes is best known and remembered for the Boy John letters which he wrote to the Eastern Daily Press from 1946 until his death, aged 70, in 1958.