[An excerpt from my memoir: The Parts that Felt Like Me – a Pilgrimoire (working title)]
” This was 2010, when I’d met and stayed with Paul in the harbor town of Leith, Edinburgh. It had been a yummy holiday, and Paul had to get back to the business of weekend visitation of his children. Paul and I took the car southward from Leith to the car park at the border, in amiable chatter and a tinge of bliss. I felt as if I had passed some significant test, and he had passed one of mine.
“The borders” are alive and well —that is, adjacent nations swapped this land along a timeline of turmoil. The sections of Hadrian’s wall, still in evidence poking out of the Cheviot hills, still feel as if there are no people could truly inhabit them. The wind streaked across the smooth edges of the green slopes, and the side-by-side flags that demark England from Scotland whipped viciously and snapped, sounding a bit like the crackle of ancient gunfire. Against a blue sky, white cloud formations were scrambling fast like villagers huddled together in possession of their cattle, refugees scuttling away from the fighting. Despite all this, it was a beautiful, peaceful day. The echoes of strife may have been my imagination.
Paul was acting the proud tour guide, and telling me this and that about northern England. He is a Geordie after all, and I got a great explanation of what that means in terms of slang.
“It’s the name for someone from Newcastle and thereabouts, yes, but it also means that someone is a burke, kind of a working-class thug. Not so educated, more or less out for himself,” he summarized.
“Like Jock in Scotland? –Or, like red-neck is to white folk in the Midwest? Trailer park folk,” I guessed.
“I think so,” he said, after a hesitation. “But different. It is considered to be a whole different country, almost, like the Cornish. A whole language people don’t understand. It’s really a dialect…” he said.
“Can you speak it?” I ask.
“Of course. Let me see…what should I say…?” he trailed off. Hard to pick something when on the spot. I kept quiet, fascinated in advance of what I was about to hear.
I was right to be enthralled. The words that came out of his mouth made absolutely no sense for the hearing. If they were words. It sounded almost like a hailstorm driving through a vat of tapioca pudding. The sensation of hearing it wasn’t half as confusing as the fact that as he spoke, he transformed into a proper Newcastle man. He looked every bit as if this hash should come out of his mouth regularly! And it made him strangely more sexy.
Mind you, I am an American, so I do not have to share the ubiquitous opinion of Brits that this Geordie is low on the pecking order. In my book, having a unique language is the height of primal awe. I wanted immediately to learn to speak it.
But he insisted it was nothing to be proud of, while still feeling a bit proud, because I was digging it. And a little because it meant he was someone, who was of his place.
I also learned from Paul that there is a way of creating Cockney rhyming slang, from the east Londoner’s special sect. For example, you may have heard that if someone wants to examine something, they say, “let’s have a butcher’s”. What on earth could this mean? Well, the phrase is a substitution for the words “butcher’s hook”, which is the thing you hang meat from, and it rhymes with “look”. So they drop the “hook” and make you guess the rhyme. It reminded me of a vastly more clever version of pig Latin. I actually am quite confused by how to construct one of these phrases myself, but when I hear one, I know I’ve heard one.
Plus, true speakers of this slang have done it for so long, there are some stock phrases, like the aforementioned “butcher’s” that one can rely on. I found a few examples online. ‘Khyber Pass’ for ‘ass’. “She’s got a beautiful Khyber.” Puzzling it out for myself is beyond me. You have to start with a pair of nouns or phrase everyone knows well. And choose something else very habitually said…like, “needle and thread”. Then “head” rhymes with “thread,” and you can say, “use your needle” instead of use your head. “Now you’re really using your needle.”
This is exactly the kind of thing I love about travel! ”