Sunday, 6 January 2013

I'll tell you what I'll do, Sir


Any Scottish people reading this? Any people with Scottish husbands...? I began wondering this morning - before I was fully awake - why it is that the rugged Scots always put the diminutive 'ee' sound onto the end of many words, as if they were still children.  Like 'sweetie' for 'sweet', or (as I was once referred to in the Highlands by a drunken local) 'cuntie' for you-know-what. I was assured that this was a term of endearment, and was used for the rest of her cherished loved-ones, not just the English.

Maybe it stems from the reputation that Scotland (rightly or wrongly) has attained for curtailing the childhood of it's impoverished families, who are (traditionally) sent out to tend to the sheep, etc. from windswept crofts as soon as they can walk, or sent into the more affluent areas of inner cities to break into cars and mug pedestrians. Maybe they never had the chance to put away the things of childhood, being too busy as premature adults?

The first time I ever went to Scotland, I hitch-hiked all the way up there and was dropped off in one of the roughest parts of Glasgow, then was immediately surrounded by a ragged group of about ten 8 year-old boys, all of whom were bitterly disappointed that I did not bring my own car they could break into whilst 'guarding' for me. I was - quite literally - terrified, even though their accents were so thick and strong, that I found it next to impossible to understand the threats and swear-words coming from their little mouths.

The next time I saw a 'little man' like this was in Bewley's Oriental Cafe in Dublin, where a lone waif dressed in a miniature demob suit was eating a two-course dinner that he had bought himself. It was only after he had put his cigarette out and picked the cherry from the top of his pudding that I fully understood that this was a small child, and not a dwarf gangster who would kill you as soon as look at you.

Years later, I ordered a taxi from a mud-brick hotel in Egypt, and when it arrived, a boy of about 8 was at the wheel, sitting on a pile of cushions in order to see through the windscreen to drive, whilst just reaching the control pedals on the floor.

"How old are you?" I asked.

"18", said the eight year-old.

"How many languages do you speak?"

"Five - as well as Russian". This time he wasn't lying. He was the only male member of his small family and, as such, he did everything in his power to support it, including driving the occasional borrowed taxi for his 'cousin'.

Every now and then, a lorry-load of Irish, itinerant 'Tinkers' would turn up in our affluent city, trying to survive by making money in any way open to them. Many of them used to 'deal' in antiques of the bigger and heavier, out-doors variety, and to watch them at work when striking deals was truly awe-inspiring.

The technique most usually employed was to buy one or two items at the same time as selling many more others, and calculate who owed what to whom verbally, as they went on buying and selling. Added to the confusing mix of calculations were many enticing discounts on their own wares, interspersed with reciprocal discounts expected from the counter-seller - all fired off in a staccato of County Cork brogue until any hard-nosed, English antique dealer would be completely and utterly flummoxed by the mathematics which - if written down on on several sheets of foolscap - would have covered both sides with six rows of columns. "I'll tell you what I'll do, Sir..." was the phrase most often squeezed in between the brief gaps of mental calculations.

The van-load of Irishmen would eventually cruise off with several large items for which no money had effectively been paid, having off-loaded many more inferior ones for which the hapless dealer had paid about twice as much as they were actually worth.

I used to love watching these masters at work, and one day when I was doing just that, I noticed a tiny child sitting in the cab of the lorry, staring intently at me with his piercingly blue, Irish eyes.

I suppose he was only about 3 years old, but the meaning of his unbroken glare was absolutely unmistakable. It said, 'Just you wait until I'm a few years older. I'll come down there and knock yer feckin' English block off'.

33 comments:

  1. The famous photo by Bert Hardy is of Les Mason and George Davis, taken in the Gorbals of their childhood in 1948.

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  2. Love the photo Tom. Thanks for the information - if I ever go to Scotland or Ireland again I shall know what to look out for.

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    1. What useful information was there? I'm worried now.

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  3. A Cork great great great grandfather here, with a Donegal wife. Can only assume they met on this side. Were you one of the antique dealers trading with the tinkers?

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    1. I Think he is a tinker too ? :)

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    2. I'm a little tinker - when I'm naughty!

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  4. Reminds me of a Scottish book: The Importance of Being Seven...
    In Germany the Schwaben put a "le" at the end of many, many words - they are known as being utterly thrifty (had to be, poor people) - and maybe this form of minimisation makes it easier to feel confident in a hard world?

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    1. Hmm, I'll think about it - but first I must look up Schwaben.

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    2. Ah, I see. In Bristol, they put 'Ls' onto the end of everything, but tht does not make the language easier, because they do other things with grammar which complicate it even further.

      "He do say" for "He says", for instance.

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    3. "Llun, llwyd llyn, dwr instead of cwrw" - my (first humble) attempt in Welsh does not sound easier than Bristol's "L" :-) Swabian "le" is a diminuitive as "ee".

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    4. Welsh LLs are easy, just get yourself a good (or bad) set of dentures, then try to say the word 'Clan', as in Llandudno.

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    5. Well done...right on the money

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  5. Having just finished 'Dodger' by Terry Pratchett, I'm right into the 'lovable cheeky shrewd fast-talking cockney boy' thing... I suspect these kind of hard-nosed young people spring up in every city where one sure way to survive is to use others.

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    1. Have you read 'Ridley Walker' by Russell Hoban?

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  6. Ugh...little gangs of thug children. I wouldn't be inclined to visit again after that!

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    1. They are all old or dead now, and I have grown up to be a thug.

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    2. Drumchapel is also reduced to ruins.

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  7. Just awa' tae look out ma Lochaber axe....

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    1. Remind me what that axe from Lochaber is please...

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    1. That's probably why I can't remember.

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  9. Your title just HAS to be read in an Irish accent, a bit like the words 'at all'.

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    1. I tried to write it in an Irish accent.

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    2. Which particular Irish county accent out of the 320 dialects available - had you in mind sorr!

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    3. The one which says 'Sorr' for Sir.

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    4. That would be the BBC imitation dialect :)

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  10. I was once present at an unresolved debate among Scotsmen about which was the longer period of time: a wee wee tickie or a wee tickie tickie. Baffling stuff.

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    1. My god - it's more baffling than I thought. Are there any 'Scottish Studies' departments in universities?

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  11. This is a load of tosh. Mr EM is the Scottish born son of Glaswegian parents and he has never experienced such an incident or heard it related. The street urchins are called wee "bachles" ( spelling unknown) and resemble the Liverpool scallies of which I have a similar experience of the same so called 'scam' but it was very pleasant.

    I was at Liverpool Lime Street station with a couple of female work colleagues, and with some time to spend before our London train we decided to go into one of the cafes there. But our quite expensive and extensive luggage was piled high on a trolley and not allowed inside.

    One of these scallies appeared out of nowhere offering to "guard" our luggage. We decided to accept and watched him out of the window. He happily sat upon it like a little blond sprite and our hearts melted. One of us bought him a burger and took it out to him, then we settled quite relaxed until our train arrived. I gave him a pound coin (this was 20 years ago)and he insisted on pushing the trolley up to our compartment and came on board to help lift the huge cases in his skinny arms. Then suddenly uniformed transport police appeared greeting him by name (!) and telling him to scarper. When we settled down for our journey I discovered that my colleagues had also tipped him. So he did well and we were happy. We earned as fortune compared to him. I hope he grew up to be an entrepreneur and now has an off-shore bank account.

    And please leave the Irish (my other relatives) alone as well. I'm beginning to hope that the little Irish tinker is hanging around street corners in Bath waiting to pounce.



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    1. Oh dear, I seem to have offended every relation and acquaintance you have ever had since you last went on a holiday to Liverpool, Elegance.

      Well, this was not my intention, I assure you. Knowing as I do your experience at the bar (from where you have just left?) I really ought to be more careful when relating any of my genuine experiences of the distant past, just in case you come over all litigious.

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  12. Hahaha. I wish I was still beside the bar ( as opposed to the Bar) because I could do with a stiff drink. You don't offend me - I enjoy the verbal fisticuffs resulting from your hugely enjoyable and genuine or imaginative blog posts. Cxx

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