Purveyor of Bollocks to the Crowned Heads of Europe
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'.