Monday, 18 July 2011

English Is Also Spoken But Nae As Ye Ken It.

It is 1959. I am twelve years old, and have been in Scotland for less than a day, having spent my life so far in a children's home and with various foster parents, in London, England. My Mother, who is a virtual stranger to me, has brought me to her new home, a small croft of seven acres in the quiet Aberdeenshire countryside. She has just remarried, and her new husband Jimmy is due home from his work at any minute.
I am feeling nervous about meeting him for the first time. Mum tells me he is a 'fine manny' and reassuring as that sounds, I think I will wait and make up my own mind. I have met quite a few 'fine men' in my few short years on planet earth.

We shake hands politely Jimmy and I, as Mum looks on, smiling in the proud way Mothers do.
He is smiling too and I notice that he has extremely white teeth. Obviously false, and a little bit loose. There is an enormous jagged scar down one side of his face, stretching from his temple to his chin. On his rather large head is a flat cap, which in those days all men of a certain age wore on weekdays and Saturdays. I can't say for certain but I suspect that quite a few men also wore them in bed. On Sundays, and for funerals trilby's would be worn. There is evidence of a short back and sides haircut under his cap. Beneath his faded navy blue boiler suit is a white shirt and a tie. In those days, even a lowly labourer would wear a shirt and tie when working. It was not unusual to see a road mender wearing a suit either. Jimmy is not a tall man, but he is well built and looks tough and powerful, and I already know from Mum that he was once a good amateur wrestler. The hand that grips mine firmly is strong and hard, a product of his work in the local granite quarry.

"Fit like Loon," he says. "are ye fair waabit? Hiv ye heen a fly an a piece?"
I don't have a clue what he has just said and stare at him blankly, transfixed by his loose teeth, and strange language.
"He disnae ken fit your saying Jimmy," says Mum in her soft highland brogue, and they both look at me and laugh.
Jimmy tries again,"how are you?" He asks, speaking slowly and deliberately, in what he probably imagines to be an English accent, "are you tired? Are you hungry?"
"I'm alright thank you," I say, in what I think is perfect English.
"awright fank you," mimics Jimmy in a poor attempt at a cockney accent. Mum joins in with his laughter. It is apparent that he and I might have some communication problems. He seems nice enough though. At least he has a sense of humour.
"Tell Jimmy what you've been practicing," says Mum, adding, as she notes my nervousness, "he's been practicing specially for you Jimmy. Go on John."
I am embarrassed, "do I have to?"
"Yes. Come on you can do it."
I take a deep breath, "It's a braw brecht meen licht nicht the nicht."
"Aye nae bad," says my new Dad, "nae bad a va."
As far as I'm concerned, he might as well be speaking a foreign language. Mum explains, "he's impressed,"
Oh dear! I have an awful lot of learning to do.

manny:  man
Fit like Loon:  how are you boy
fair waabit:  very tired
have ye heen a fly and a piece:  have you had a drink and something to eat
disnae ken:  doesn't understand
braw brecht meen licht nicht the nicht:  nice moonlight night tonight
aye nae bad nae bad a va:  yes not bad at all


  1. It sounds like an interesting meeting. I understood maybe as much as you did at the time, but I made out some of it. Good lesson at the end. I hope this initial meeting was the start of something good.

  2. A super little anecdote from your life. I'm wondering how it all turned out. I hope you continue the story.

  3. wow, I wouldn't have gotten any of that. One of the TV shows we watch uses subtitles because it takes place in the deep south of the US. So even in our own country we can't understand what's being said.

  4. I had a friend who is from Sterling. She was a pen pal of a friend of my husband. They eventually met and married and she moved to the United States. They had beautiful twin girls while they were here. My Irish husband and her Scot's temper were fun to watch. My husband couldn't understand her much of the time. I kept telling him that all he had to do was to pay attention. She moved back to Scotland and we sort of lost touch over time. I think of her often.

  5. Grownups would be able to joke their way through the language problem but a youngster (wee bairn?) wouldn't have the courage.

  6. I'm reading ES comment. Is it Sterling or Stirling? Life brings us many twists and turns. This was one for you.

  7. My husband's job took us to live in Helensburgh. I went to the local bread shop. The people in the shop couldn't understand what I was asking for (in my English accent) and they told me to write it down. They then asked me if I wanted it 'well fired'. I eventually managed to learn Scots words , they sounded funny thrown into my conversations.
    Jane x

  8. Lovely story! I can just imagine you trying to understand your new dad's brogue as I remember when my 16 year old then sister-in-law tried to make out what all my Brummie relatives were saying to her at our wedding reception. The look on her face was priceless. It took a long time for her to understand me and I suspect still has the occasional difficulty judging by the expression on her face at times.

    I've got a good friend who is Scottish and I love listening to her. She's over there right now having lived in the States like me for many years, and no doubt she will come back with her wonderful brogue replenished.

  9. this was fun! i knew some of it, but surely not all. what a strange childhood.

  10. I cannae git a word o thon but gran wee story :)