I Don’t Want To Hear It

After the heavy rain yesterday, I went out with Ollie. It was still drizzling a little, and looking dark and cloudy. Wandering around our usual haunts, I met a few dog-walkers. Being English, we naturally discussed the weather.

I mentioned to one lady that the weather was miserable, and she replied.
“But it’s good for the garden”.

Sometime later I saw a man I see every day. He mentioned that I was carrying an umbrella, and reminded me that more heavy rain was forecast to arrive later.
As he walked off, he turned and said,
“It’s good for the garden though”.

With the clouds descending again, and the temperature dropping, I walked one more circuit, before heading for home. On the way I saw a lady with two dogs. She also noted my umbrella, and looked up at the sky. In my mind, I was pleading ‘Don’t say it!’ But she did.
“Good for the garden at least”.

It has been raining heavily all night, and later this morning I have to take Ollie out, with more rain forecast.

If you happen to see me over on Beetley Meadows, please, please do not say “It’s good for the garden”.

I don’t care if it’s good for the garden. It is June, and I want some summer!

Lost Expressions

English is a complex language. The version written in North America attempts to simplify some of it, with spellings like ‘Nite’, instead of ‘Night’. But here in Britain, we have regional accents to make it even more confusing, with the use of words that may mean nothing to someone only a hundred miles away. Slang makes the situation worse, especially in large cities like London and Newcastle, where some areas have almost a separate language.

New words arrive all the time too, often driven by technological advances. Words like ‘Byte’, ‘Laptop’, ‘Megapixels’ and ‘Microchip’. That last word is even more confusing, as we already had ‘Micro Chips’. They were french fries, designed to be cooked in a microwave oven.

Along the way, we lost many English expressions. They were once used by almost everyone I ever met, and though sometimes apparently meaningless, easily understood by all.

“Well, I’ll Go To The Foot Of Our Stairs”.
When did you last ever hear anyone say that, I wonder? This was a common saying used to express amazement or surprise, especially in the north of England. I don’t think anyone knows how it originated, but they all knew what it meant.

“Blimey O’Reilly”.
Again used to express shock or wonder, the Blimey part comes from abbreviating ‘Blind me’, and the O’Reilly was probably used just for rhyming purposes.

“Lord, Luv-A-Duck”
A favourite of my grandmother, this was in common usage in London during my youth. Again an expression of dismay or surprise, I don’t think anyone living can explain its origins.

“You’re The Giddy Limit”.
This was usually part of a telling-off, for being naughty. I suspect it implies that the naughtiness is so extreme as to make the person giddy. Whatever the origin, it appears to be a lost expression now.

“Three Sheets To The Wind”.
This was commonly used to describe a person who was very drunk. I still use it regularly, if I see a drunk person staggering around. It has a nautical origin, as sails were secured by ropes or chains called ‘sheets’. If three of these become loose, the sail will be uncontrollable, and the boat will lurch around on the waves.

“In One Fell Swoop”.
This originates in Shakepeare’s Macbeth, and denotes a fierce action resolving a situation with speed and ruthlessness. I last used it to remark on the chatting up skill of a work colleague.
I turned to a friend, and said “In one fell swoop, he will have her back to his flat, and in his bed”. I think that was in 2006.

So there are six expressions pretty much lost to common parlance. Let me know any you can think of, in the comments.

Things you don’t hear anymore

When I was growing up, any time there was a protracted argument, or a disturbance in a pub, or out in the street, you would be sure to hear somebody say “What a palaver”. The origin of this expression was never explained to me, but I instinctively knew what it meant, when I heard someone say it.

For some reason, this came into my head today, and it was the voice of my grandmother saying it. She would always say it if us children were being noisy, arguing among ourselves, or playing loudly. That also made me think that it is a great many years since I hear that used in conversation, along with other phrases and expressions that were once familiar, at least in London.

Many of those old expressions have disappeared due to political correctness, and the fact that using them may well cause offence. I was still quite young when it was common to hear a gay man described as a ‘Confirmed bachelor’. This was never done with malice, I hasten to add. Quite a few local men were obviously gay in the London of my youth, though rarely open about the fact. Rather than label them with the formal term of ‘Homosexual’, my family would prefer to use ‘confirmed bachelor’, to let others know that this was a man who was unlikely to get married to a woman, and might possibly stay at home with his parents until middle age.

Another one familiar from an early age was ‘A touch of the tar brush’. This was a racist remark, much favoured by my own Dad, and used to indicate that a person had parents who were mixed race. Looking back now, it seems strange that he used it so often, when mixed-race people could be counted on the fingers of one hand, where we lived. On the same theme, my Mum and her sister often used the word ‘Piccaninny’ to refer to a black baby. Black babies were also a rarity in the district where I grew up, and would be treated with huge admiration by any local woman who came across such a child. I can still hear my Mum saying, “Those little piccaninny babies are so lovely”. Once again, there was no malice intended, at least none I could discern. But this now reviled term was so common, I thought that ‘Piccaninny’ was a country, for the first years of my life.

Something else that has changed is the references to currency. These days, almost anyone would say things like “five hundred pounds”, or “twenty-five quid”, when talking about such amounts. But in the London of my youth, £500 was a ‘Monkey’, and £25 was a ‘Pony’. £100 was a ‘Ton’, and £1000 a ‘Grand’. Coins also attracted colloquial names. A shilling was always ‘A Bob’, so ten shillings was always ‘Ten bob’. Five shillings was called a ‘Dollar’, and seven shillings and sixpence was known as ‘Three half-crowns’. Twenty-one shillings was referred to as a ‘Guinea’, and shops advertised the prices of more expensive items in’Guineas’. Even now, I still refer to a fifty-pence piece, the modern equivalent of ten shillings, as ‘A ten-bob bit’.
Watching programmes on TV, those made before 1971, or set in the 1960s, I notice if they get those expressions right or not.

What expressions do you remember that you no longer hear now?
Please add them in the comments.

If I was in Star Trek

This popped up as a suggestion from You Tube today. I wasn’t a huge fan of the series, but did watch many of the early episodes, those with Bill Shatner, and Leonard Nimoy. Whoever put this together may have intended it as mockery of Londoners, their accent, and expressions, but it really worked for me.

If I had written the script, and starred in Star Trek, this is just what it would have been like.
If anyone needs a translation, please say so in the comments. 🙂
And if you ever wondered what my voice sounded like…