I first came across Shoppiemon on Twitter back in January. In 140 characters this Tweeter was the living embodiment of Georgina Jackson’s Shropshire Word Book. I’m not native Shropshire born myself, but armed with my own copy of the Word Book I ventured a reply, saying Georgina Jackson would be proud of him. Little did I know what I’d started. Shroppiemon tweeted back almost immediately, with far more grace and verve than I had mustered, saying that his gallus chundering [ie. muttering, collected from Newport] wasna quite of Georgina Jackson’s standard but that I had galvered him [goodness knows where 'galvered' comes from - not everything Shroppiemon writes, by any means, comes out of the Word Book]. After that he started reading My Tonight From Shrewsbury and, the next thing I knew, the blogsite had found an advocate and I had found a friend.
For those of you who don’t know, published in 1879 Georgina Jackson’s Word Book lists words and phrases spoken in Shropshire dialect as it was back in those days. It gives a grammatical structure to these words and phrases, and lists the villages and towns in which they could be found. You’d be hard pressed today to find in common useage many of the words Georgina Jackson collected. So much has changed since then, including people’s speech. Even in the forty years I’ve been living in Shropshire, distinctions between village dialects have blurred. Is there anybody left who can tell the difference between Pontesbury voices, for example, and those of the Stiperstones, just a few short miles away? Who knows where ‘Upper Wonner’ refers to any more?
Shroppiemon, I guess, would know. Regardless of what I write about, he has an uncanny knack of tweeting me that little bit extra and always knowing more. He describes himself as a collector. It would be great to see his memorabilia exhibited in some way. Great too, if he ever felt inspired to tell the story of Shrewsbury as he’s seen it through his own eyes. Shroppiemon is a tweeter with attitude, and it’s attitude as much as anything that makes a good book. Shroppiemon has opinions - and he’s not afraid of expressing them.
Take Princess House for example, a horrid 1960s building [for those of you who’ve never seen it] currently being extended out into our historic town square. Here’s Shroppiemon on the subject of the Secretary of State’s role in this unfortunate state of affairs: ‘The s of s anna gotta look at it. It shudna bin put up in the furst place. Owd nick himsen couldna built a more drodsome pigcote.’
I’ve heard Princess House called a few things, but ‘drodsome pigcote’ beats them all. ‘Sebunctious’ is another of Shroppiemon’s favourite words, and in the interview below he comes up with ‘kerbiffleypump, which I can find no meaning for and I'm guessing is a word entirely Shroppiemon's own.
If Georgina Jackson were alive today, then Twitter would be in her Word Book, listed as a source of words and phrases alongside Shropshire’s villages and towns. She’d be fascinated by what Shroppiemon’s doing with Old Shropshire, twisting it this way and that, reinventing it to work in new ways for new times. After all, isn’t that’s what always happens to language? Isn’t that why Jackson recorded it, understanding that it would change? In her wildest imaginings, though, she’d never have countenanced what Shroppiemon’s doing now, putting Old Shropshire on Twitter and giving it a whole new life.
So who is Shroppiemon? I have to come clean and say that I don’t know. He and I have been following each other on Twitter for months now, and I’m no closer now to discovering his identity than when I began. All I can say with confidence is that Shroppiemon is to Shropshire what Batman is to Gotham City - and Twitter is the mask behind which he hides.
However, after terse negotiations [how could they be anything else at 140 characters at a tweet?] I’m thrilled to be able to tell you that I’ve persuaded Shroppiemon to be interviewed online. ‘Ow do, lass. Here goes nothing,’ he emailed back to me with answers to my questions. And of course they’re not ‘nothing’. To the contrary. See for yourselves. Shroppiemon in his own words. Enjoy.
1. MY TONIGHT FROM SHREWSBURY: Where were you born, and where did you grow up?
SHROPPIEMON: I was born in Cross Houses hospital on my mother's 21st birthday. 'Er obviously didna want a boikin for a present and soon left. This meant that I got ter be that most Shropshire of Shropshireness - granny reared.
I 'ave spent most o'me life in the town of Salop but shroppieoomon says that 'er is still waitin' for me ter grow up.
2. MTFS: Where did you go to school? Can you share with us a couple of memories of school days?
SMON: I went ter Wilfred Owen, then Holy Cross Cof E, an' then the Priory (the owd boys’ school, not the modern 'un). I had such a gud time at school that I forgot ter leave with many qualifications. The more we got towd off at the Priory for sayin' inna, gonna, canna etc the more we said 'em,
3. MTFS: And town life? What are your earliest memories of Shrewsbury? How do you remember it, looking back?
SMON: I dunna think that Salop has changed too much, ter be fair. Salopians 'ave changed far more - the fust couple of verses of "Think For A Minute" by the Housemartins sum this up so well: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KnLFCY2vWoI
When we was childers we had a milkmon an' a breadmon, the Corona mon brought pop, Davenports brought beer and Mr Jones brought the veg on his horse drawn dray - an' I miss em all. Havin' worked at the Abbey, the Castle, Clive House, Rowley's House and shops and cafes in the past, I feel that the town is gettin' on jest fine without my meddlin' these days. But I still love ter help promote it, an' the rest o'Shropshire, whenever I con.
4. MTFS: Was Shroppiemon created specifically for Twitter, or was he active before that?
SMON: I am a barley child o'twitter. John Wood Warter wrote "An Old Shropshire Oak" about an anonymous tree watchin' over our sebunctious county an' I thought that through the power o'twitter I could do summat similar. (So far I 'ave bin muchly wrong)
5. MTFS: When and why was the decision made to use Old Shropshire for your tweets? Do you talk the way you write?
SMON: That is a gud question Fitzyoomon,I dunna think that I use it enough, but shroppieoomon thinks that I use it too much.
6. MTFS: Georgina Jackson died before publication of the Shropshire Word Book, and it was her friend, Charlotte Burne [of Shropshire Folk-Lore], who brought it to public attention. Do you know much about these two interesting women, who I presume both came from Shropshire?
SMON: They both jest snuck in ter me sub-conscious somehow. They jest allus sim ter 'ave bin thar. I con still remember the kerbiffleypump feelin' when I walked out of Candle Lane books clutchin' my copy of the Shropshire Wurd Book.
7. MTFS: Over the last year there hasn’t been much I’ve written about – and I’ve written on a wide range of subjects – that you haven’t been able to add something to. Putting it baldly, how come you know so much?
SMON: Ar, I know a little about a lot lass. I love Shropshire and everythin' ter do with 'er, so I love findin' out things that I didna know an' I love ter share it too. I have ter howd me sen back when I realise that I have crossed the very thin line betwixt interestin' others an' borin' em - shroppieoomon thinks that I tend ter realise this too late for 'er likin'.
8. MTFS: As far as you’re concerned, what’s the best thing about Shrewsbury? What’s the worst thing about Shrewsbury? What’s the biggest threat that Shrewsbury faces today?
SMON: Wurst = Princess House. Best = jest about everything else
9. MTFS: Caped crusaders are renown for the things they do for their home towns. What would you like to do for Shrewsbury?
SMON: How long have I got? I 'ood save the Stew, knock down Princess House - or at least stop 'em filling the bottom in - open a university, restore the Shrewsbury Cut (canal), make all public transport and out-of-town parkin' free of charge, and fund it by dearer parkin' in the loop. I would mek Sunday the day ter be sin in town, a sort of modern version of the monkey walk.
Selfishly I 'ood reinstate the Loggerheads back on the Shrewsbury Town shirts.
10. MTFS: Is there ever a moment when you’ll feel it’s right to take off your mask and reveal yourself to the people of Shrewsbury?
11. MTFS: Be kind, Shroppiemon, to those of us who are gnawing away, like a dog with a bone, at who you really are. Give us a clue.
SMON: A clue 'oodna help as I inna well known, but I will buy yer a drink one day lass, shroppieoomon ull join us too.
MTFS: Thank you, Shroppie. I’ll hold you to that. And thank you for your support throughout the year. Knowing that you’re out there cheering on the sidelines and retweeting My Tonight From Shrewsbury’s posts has been a massive encouragement. Writing this blog has been a bit like running a marathon. It needs all the supporters it can get, and what you’re doing is greatly appreciated. When we meet I reckon I need to buy you a drink too. In the meantime, though, any final words you’d like to say?
SMON: I love anything an 'eveything ter do with Shropshire, not jest Shrewsbury. I collect books, pictures, signs, postcards, owd tat memorabilia, bottles clocks etc
I never realised until ternite how important women are ter Shropshire folklore - G.Jackson, C, Burne, Lady Milnes-Gaskell, M.Webb, E.Pargeter, yer gud sen, H.Stretton, Shroppieoomon, thrum the Caradoc & Severn Valley Mrs Hayward, Jean Hughes. Less famous but equally important, Annie E Smout, Sheila Hamer and Valerie Kilford.
The oomon I left until last is Val Littlehales. She is an artist, storyteller, teacher, farmer and best of all a poet. She writes and recites her poems in Shropshire dialect (sadly I have misplaced my copy of her live cassette).
Thank 'ee very much for yo'em interest.