If, heaven forbid, you were to pick Mike Harmer up and give him a shake, the stories would come tumbling out and you would soon find yourself knee-deep in tales for Mike is a veritable goldmine of Norfolk lore - of characters and anecdotes, of fact, fiction and hearsay.
The son of a North Walsham horse trader and of proud Romany stock, Mike has lived his life by his wits: an honest man, yet a wheeler and a dealer, a ducker and a diver. Storytelling is in his blood and in Kaka, Rokker Romany: Tales from a North-Norfolk Romany life he has delivered a memoir of his dealings and his history with a cornucopia of characters: volatile relatives, ne’er-do-wells, swindlers, oddballs, bigamists, thieves and fools. He gives us a glimpse into a past which, though lively and full of character, was not always pleasant. There was many an injustice and life could be harsher than the nostalgia merchants would have you believe.
Largely self-taught and a voracious reader, Mike has a thirst for knowledge and is immersed in local folk and Romany history. His countless dealings have brought him into contact with all that society has to offer: from lords to loners and with each encounter he walks away with a bargain and a story safely stowed for future telling. Driving around the backroads of Norfolk with Mike you find that each byway, each dwelling has a story attached - where you or I might just see a barren field, Mike sees a landscape populated with human interaction.
His Romany heritage is at the core of his being. The outsider status it confers has given him both his canniness and his companionability. He is justifiably proud of it and keen to share his knowledge of the language, the old ways and the old tales. He writes in the tradition of George Baldry, Fred Rolfe and George Borrow - it is a folk tradition and he has given us a book worthy of his forebears - not one necessarily to be read from start to finish, but rather to be dipped into: the nuggets drawn out and savoured one by one. There are not so many like him left - he is a Norfolk legend and the authentic voice of an oral tradition.
Kaka, Rokker Romany: Tales from a North-Norfolk Romany life is available direct from this website by clicking on the button below. The book costs £9.95 plus £2.00 postage and packing.
It is also on sale at The Showcase Gallery in North Walsham and will shortly be available in other bookshops (including Amazon). Alternatively, if you are local, you can buy it direct from Mike - just give him a ring first to arrange a time.
Years ago, if you had a dog or cat you wished to have put down, there would always be a local fellow who would shoot and bury them for five shillings. Some of these gardens round here must be full of bones.
Such a man was Ikey Wright...
Now here's a wedding photo with a difference. On the left of the photo is Butty Lamb’s wife, old Mary Lamb, my mother’s mother. Next to her is Charlie Baker, known as the ‘jaw bone breaker’. He liked to coor (fight). He has just married my mother’s sister Milly. While on the far right is my father Edgie, who was best man at the wedding. The only problem is that Charlie Baker is already married, so it’s a bigamist wedding. Edgie said “the only time I was a best man at a wedding, it was a f*****g bigamist wedding”.
The Romany language first appeared in Northern India and is sometimes called Romanes or Romani, which is the language of the European gypsy. It took about five hundred year to reach the shores of Britain as a Romany language. Romany is a spoken language so you will often find multiple spellings of the same word (and also slight regional variations) - so my apologies to any Romany scholars who might take issue with my choices. I’m just spelling them in the way that they sounded when I used to hear them as a boy.
Marshgate Lodge, Spa Common, North Walsham, Norfolk NR28 9LG
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