Thursday, October 13, 2005

The ten greatest Norfolk people

Abraham Lincoln: good old Norfolk boy

The Guardian has an article on a list of fifty greatest Yorkshire men and women (mainly men, actually) drawn up by superannuated Thatcherite hitman and professional Yorkshirebore Bernard Ingham, who in an act of typical idiocy forgot to include W.H. Auden. Apart from alarming me with the thought of being stuck in a room full of Yorkshiremen discussing the relative merits of Geoffrey Boycott and Michael Parkinson, it did get me wondering who the greatest figures from my county are. Us Norfolkers are a modest bunch, so I won't do a full fifty, but here are my top ten.

(Don't expect to see the words "man" or "woman", by the way, in Norfolk you're a boy or girl till you get rickety, when you graduate to "old boy" or "old girl". I know that's what they do in Alabama - where do you think they got the idea from?)

1 Thomas Paine

Failed corset maker and inveterate pamphleteer, Thetford boy Tom Paine specialised in destablising ugly monarchies and failing to ingratiate himself to leaders of new democracies. Wrote "Rights of Man". Brilliantly irritated the religious by pointing out there was no god. Slept on a lot of floors in America. Got condemned to death by Robespierre.

Fact: if it hadn't been for Tom Paine, the United States would now be the county of West Cornwall, governed absent-mindedly by a bureaucrat in Truro.

2 Boudicca

Bit of a cheat this one, as Norfolk didn't come into existence until several hundred years after Boudicca and her Iceni tribe had massively kicked the Romans' arses all over Southern England. One day this will be a fantastic Hollywood epic, probably starring an anorexic North Dakotan actress voice-coached into sounding exactly like a half-Devonian, half-Irishwoman with a speech impediment.

Fact: the old Norfolk word "ickeny" (derived, we presume from "Iceni"), means "stubborn, awkward bastard".

3 Horatio Nelson

Burnham Thorpe born, a naval sailing dude with broad Norfolk accent who administered a smacking on the French at Trafalgar, giving uppity tyrant Napoleon a warning of further beatings to come. Had a big leggy love affair with Emma Hamilton, wife of the ambassador to Naples. Used to talk about Norfolk ("this week I am going up to Norfolk") as if it was a different country. Which it is.

Fact: his final words were not the homoerotic "kiss me, Hardy" of legend, but in fact "kiss moy arse, bor". The Norfolk accent is difficult to understand.

4 Abraham Lincoln

Now I know the sticklers amongst you are going to point out that the radically bearded slave freer came from Hardin County, Kentucky. But his grandfather was from Hingham. If Americans whose ancestors left Ireland in 1848 can still get misty-eyed at the sight of a shamrock and the first bar of "Danny Boy", then we're keeping hold of Abe.

Fact: Lincoln often used to say, "sod this presidency lark, my fondest wish is that I could have been a Barnham Broom weaver, just like granddaddy".

5 Edith Cavell

Heroic World War one nurse from Swardeston who used to smuggle wounded soldiers back to blighty. Treacherously executed by the hun, which helped tip American public opinion against Germany.

Fact: She was a sight braver than I would have been.

6 Elizabeth Fry

Earlham girl and prison reformer at a time when a prison sentence meant sleeping on a bed of faeces and cockroaches before being brutalised by a sadistic warden and made to walk on a big stone wheel for seventeen hours non-stop. Inspired the Gaols Act, 1823. Built night shelters. Trained nurses. Taught women to sew.

Fact: Her face is one the back of every five pound note. Respect.

7 Robert Kett

Middle-class Wymondham boy turned rebel, Kett and his army took over Norwich, then the second city in England. Sadly all ended in tears when Henry the Eighth got his act together. The tree where Kett and his accomplices used to meet still stands half-way between Wymondham and Hethersett, though it's looked a bit manky since they poured a load of concrete in it.

Fact: Kett was hung in a cage from the ramparts of Norwich castle till his body rotted and his bones fell onto Castle Meadow. Public health was not a serious consideration in those days.

8 Anna Sewell

Yarmouth girl who wrote "Black Beauty". "Da da, da dada dada dada da daaaaa" - that's her fault.

Fact: every young girl in 1960 loved that book, but none do now. What's the world come to?

9 Julian of Norwich

Slightly crazed religious mystic. Locked herself up in a church in Norwich until she started experiencing hallucinations. Then she wrote about them. She said "suffering was not a punishment that God inflicted, but was a means he used to draw us closer to himself". I'm not sure that would make me feel better if my village had been levelled by an earthquake.

Fact: she was a girl called "Julian". What was that all about?

10 Delia Smith

Technically born in Surrey and living in Suffolk, TV chef Delia Smith is nonetheless 100% Norfolk as she has made millions out of teaching people how to boil an egg. Adored for stopping Norwich City going bankrupt after the departure of a particularly clueless chairman, Delia continues to delight and confuse us by drunkenly yelling "let's be having you" at City fans at half-time when we've gone quiet after watching us piss away a two goal lead against Birmingham.

Fact: Delia is utterly loved by everyone, except by boorish, snarling Ipswich fans, who don't count.


Blogger Psychbloke said...

What about turkey manglin' bootiful Bernard Matthews?

10:02 pm  
Blogger Disintegrating Clone said...

He's a right wing fat boy who can't even pronounce "boo'ful" properly.

7:16 am  
Blogger Stef said...

"He's a right wing fat boy who can't even pronounce "boo'ful" properly."

Good point, well made.

I'm from the West Midlands, I wonder who would be in my top 10...

All of Black Sabbath
Half of Led Zeppelin...
Matthew Boulton of industrial revolution fame. Er...

9:23 am  
Blogger Disintegrating Clone said...

I reckon you could have a top 100 West Midlanders, even without Jasper Carrott. What about Erasmus Darwin, scientist-philosopher and grandfather of Charles Darwin? Or the Specials, if Cov counts as West Midlands?. How about Neville Chamberlain?

Well, let's forget that last one, let's take Joseph Chamberlain instead. Or JRR Tolkien. Denise Lewis. Sue Lawley. Josie Lawrence. Or even comic books' own irascible rogue, John "West Bromwich" Byrne? That's without even mentioning Shakespeare down the road.

And then there's the entire Industrial Revolution and the fact that if it wasn't for the Midlands we'd all still be working the fields, eating stewed turnip and crapping in hedges.

Erasmus Darwin, James Watt, Matthew Boulton, Joseph Priestly, and Josiah Wedgwood used to hang out down the pub together, working out evolution, discovering the steam engine and having really really clever drinking games. While Wright of Derby painted them. I find the thought of it all amazing.

The problem with Midlanders is that they're too damn modest, in my humble East Anglian opinion.

2:50 pm  
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