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What are they on about?

David Newnham wrestles with words

Beanie is a Puff. So are Billy, Duncan and Potter. How do I know? Because I've read the writing on the wall. Well, a concrete flyover, actually - a rare thing in rural Norfolk and the last place I expect to read about Beanie.

The only Beanie I know is a little girl whose mummy and daddy moved to Newfoundland some years ago. In fact her mum sent me an e-mail at Christmas. "Beanie starts high school next year," it said. No mention of her being a Puff, though.

Okay, so there are two Beanies in the world. And something tells me that the one who has just been outed on the big concrete bulletin board is a boy. Funny name for a boy though.

"Maybe he collects Beanie Babies," says a friend whose daughter has a bedroom full of the floppy beanbag characters. "Or maybe he looks like one." It's possible, I suppose. And, for no particular reason, I visit one of the countless Beanie Baby sites on the Internet. For one to hold its value, its "hang tag" must be in perfect condition, I read. "Consider buying one of the many tag protectors on the market."

My eye rns down a list of Beanie names. Swinger, Squirt, Woof and Spunky leap out at me. I don't like the way this is going.

"Nonsense," says another friend. "He probably just wears a beanie." "Safe sex?" I mumble. "For heaven's sake. It's a hat. Like rappas wear."

Suddenly, I begin to doubt everything. Had I assumed too much? Had I read homophobia into a mere fashion statement? Beanies mean rap. Rap means people like Puff Daddy. So Beanie is a Puff. QED.

As for Billy, Duncan and Potter - well, maybe they wear beanies too. The wind up here comes from Siberia. You need something warm on your head.

I'm thinking about the north wind a few days later when a builder comes to look at my chimney. (It's become leaky, and smoke seeps out of the base of the stack.) It needs urgent attention, he tells me in a Norfolk accent, adding helpfully that he is "snood under" with work just now. "It could be dangerous if sparks get into your rough space."

My what space?

"Rough space. You know. It could set your rough alight. Your ruff."

Sorry, I tell him. I'm just not thinking straight.

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