As far as I have been able to ascertain I am an East Anglian by descent – that is to say all traceable branches of my family originate in the four counties contained in the big rounded bump stuck on the right hand side of England. These counties are Norfolk, Suffolk, Essex and Cambridgeshire and they made up the old post-Roman kingdom of the Angles prior to eventual incorporation into modern England.
My family tree actually shows lines in only three of those counties – there doesn’t seem to be any involvement with Norfolk although one of the Suffolk lines is getting just a bit too close to the border for comfort!
“They’re a funny lot in Norfolk”, my late father used to say, “Especially West Norfolk – they still eat their own young up there!”
I don’t know about that but it wouldn’t ever surprise me if someone was to discover isolated Norfolk or Cambridgeshire villages out in the fens where the inhabitants all have the same DNA and the ability to use a duodecimal counting system just using their fingers!
Anyway, having just insulted a sizeable percentage of my “countrymen”, I’ll get back to my thread.
Looking back to my Great-Grandparents I come out as one half Essex, three eighths Suffolk and one eighth Cambridgeshire, although many of those families were close to borders with one of the other two counties so exact percentages are a bit tricky to calculate.
The Essex part comes to me via my mother who was born in that county but moved to Ipswich with her parents when she was about three years old. Surely too young to have picked up many purely Essex speech patterns or mannerisms other than ones you might expect to gather from your parents.
Knowing all that did not prevent my father from attributing any behaviour of Mum’s that did not form part of his own upbringing to her county of birth!
Thus, when on one summer Sunday afternoon Mum put some leftover lettuce from the inevitable salad onto her plate and sprinkled it with sugar and vinegar, I asked Dad why he wasn’t doing the same.
“That’s one of your mother’s heathen Essex habits!” he replied with a big grin. I never did find out what he considered were the other such habits implied by his saying “one of…” and I really don’t want to know!
That conversation probably happened in about 1967 or ‘68 and it was about ten years later that I met my lovely wife, Faith, who is from Chelmsford and has a much larger percentage of Essex blood than I do. I mentioned Dad’s remark and the circumstances under which it was made to her. She had never heard of such a practice!
As our daughters were both born while we lived in Chelmsford they qualify as “Essex Girls” by birth as well as a majority of genetic heritage and this means that I have a wife, two daughters, mother, mother-in-law and sister-in-law who are all entitled to bear that title.
This meant that when such things were in vogue a few years back I did have to be extra careful about repeating off-colour jokes about ladies in white stilettos and Ford cars!
While none of these ladies (except my Mum as previously related) professes to have tried the aforementioned Sweet and Sour Lettuce they DO have little quirks which it pleases me, in memory of my late father, to think of as “Heathen Essex habits”!
These tend to be of a linguistic nature and consist either of a deliberate mispronunciation of words or of adding letters that definitely do not belong there to the ends of ordinary words.
As my wife well knows, both of these types of verbal vandalism make me not only WANT to scream but on some occasions cause me to actually do so! She does not let this stop her doing it, however, and it may well be that she has taught our daughters to speak the same way just to annoy me further. I cannot think why that should be because I don’t think I’ve ever done anything bad enough to deserve THAT!
Their favourite examples of mispronunciations (and I’m going to have some SERIOUS arguments with my spellchecker here) concern the words for “a pipe conducting smoke away from a fire” and “the collective term for the bones of the body”.
For reasons that I simply cannot fathom these otherwise well spoken and educated people all say “chimley” and “skelington” in place of the correct words which I KNOW they are aware of!
Of the second type – the addition of unwanted letters to words – I did for many years have just the one example and that, it must be said, did not really crop up all that often.
The word more often prefixed by the word “dressing” , is G-O-W-N which my wonderful little family all seem to think is enhanced by a clearly sounded letter ”D” at the end!
That was quite enough to make me scream silently in my head and then my sister-in-law in the most unfortunate circumstances ever, came out with another one!
We were at her home waiting to go to the funeral of her late husband, when she informed us that “the hearst will soon be here” and despite that inner scream again I kept very quiet!
I now have a problem given that I was at the impressionable age of thirteen when England won the 1966 World Cup thanks to three goals from Geoff HURST and well remember the famous final remark by the commentator!
So whenever I see a funeral cortege now I have to very firmly stop myself from thinking “They think it’s all over! It is now!”
And in spite of my repeated insistence that a word can have a letter in it that is “silent” but NOT one that is sounded but “invisible” I heard one of my daughters recently complain about Ann Robinson on “The Weakest Link”.
“Why does she always pronounce an extra ‘T’ at the end of ‘thousand’?” she asked, “It hasn’t got one and I find it really annoying!”
Can you believe that?
I told her that it was indeed wrong – but only because Ann Robinson doesn’t come from Essex!
I think she got the point!