Whoever heard of a prologue to a book review…?
I ordered myself a copy of Stuart Maconie’s Pies and Prejudice because my friend Michelle recommended it. A Guildford lass by birth and a Leeds lady by association, she started her life in Yorkshire pronouncing words like dance and bath as “darnce” and “barth” and was as surprised as anyone when, after a relatively short period oop north, words like “bus” came tumbling out of her mouth when it would once have been “bas…” Oh yes, we done the girl proud. A New Yorker at heart, Michelle currently resides in The Big Apple where her accent has never been so frightfully English – not surprising, really, when you consider just how many American men will buy an English girl a drink just for overhearing her accent – but somehow I still think of her as a Northern Britisher as much as she is a Southern Britisher. Not only is she as obsessed with accents as I am, albeit in a slightly different way, she is the reason I ventured south for the v.first time, and she once bought me a book on Yorkshire pronunciation.
Although I confess to being a Northerner, and one who lives in Leeds, no less, I am not from Yorkshire. I am, in fact, from Glossop – a small town at the top tip of the Peak District in Derbyshire. When meeting someone for the first time, I generally tell them I’m from Manchester, what with it being so close, but my accent is not particularly Manc., nor is it Derbyshire. I don’t know what it is, to be honest. Glossop is at the bottom end of the Snake Pass; a twisty, windy, hummocky road… snake-like, if you will… that leads from Sheffield towards Manchester. People tend to pass through Glossop on their way to Manchester, but rarely stop there. It’s unlikely that you’ll have heard of it, but Vivienne Westwood was from Glossop and, if you’re a buff of British telly, you might be familiar with a place called Hadfield, which is where The League of Gentlemen was filmed and which is just over the hill (arguably a suburb of Glossop). Hadfield used to be lumped in with Hyde (Hyde’s claim to fame being Harold Shipman) until they moved the boundaries so that it was in Derbyshire and changed the postcode to match Glossop’s. Incidentally, Glossop and Hadfield have Stockport postcodes.
So you can sort of see why there is confusion in terms of my accent. It’s a bit Cheshire, a bit Lancashire, a bit Yorkshire, a bit Oldham and ever so slightly Manc. Ma Mum’s from Altrincham and sounds ever so slightly Peter Kay*, ma Dad’s from Old Glossop and pronounces the words book and hook with an “oo”** rather than as “buck” and “huck”, and ma stepfather is pure Mancunian. Bizarrely, I in no way sound like I’m from the midlands; and yet in Buxton, which is a stone’s throw away, they are nothing but midlanders, duck. What’s always fascinated me in terms of accents, though, more than the North West areas surrounding Glossop, is Yorkshire. I’ve never been anywhere where the accents are so varied and yet within such close proximity of each other. The Leeds accent is all bizarre, flat vowels and can only be described as a rather washed out version of the Hull accent, which sports vowels so flat, they’re practically bent backwards on themselves. Despite Hull not being in Yorkshire, there is a markedly Yorkshireness to the Hull accent (for example: “Helleurgh,” “neurgh” and “ceurghst,” would be “hello,” “no” and “coast”). But all over Yorkshire, towns and small cities have their own accents. Bingley, to my ears, is sort of a laid-back, croakier Leeds – a stoner’s Leeds accent, if you can accept that without insult. Barnsley (Baarnsleh) is broad and round and can be as toastily warming as it can threatening. Sheffield is Alan Bennett all over, although I’m not even sure that’s where he’s from. Yorkshire being the size of a small country, I can hardly sit here reeling off how I think everyone sounds from Rotherham to Whitby and beyond, but I can highly recommend ringing a branch of ASDA in every Yorkshire town just to listen to how they talk. I’d say something, though – maybe ask for opening times – heavy breathing down the telephone at supermarket staff will only get you a reputation. Of course, Yorkshire being a hotbed of Asian communities, you may get a Yorkshire accent with an Indian or Pakistani twang, especially in Bradford where getting lost in the one way system can have your mouth watering as you pass one gorgeous curry house after another.
The other thing that’s struck me since moving to Leeds is that the sayings and colloquialisms vary slightly from those I was brought up with and sometimes don’t translate once you’re over the Pennines.
Ginnel, for a start. A ginnel in Glossop is the gap between two buildings – sometimes roofed. I believe it is the same here, although I have heard it pronounced “jennel”.
A snicket, however, is not the space between two houses to a Glossopian. A snicket is similar, but it’s a short cut, sort of like a rabbit path. Generally narrow and winding and possibly flanked on one side by a building, but not two… that would be a ginnel, innit.
Skrieking. No bugger I’ve ever come across outside my hometown knows that skrieking is. And I’ve never written it down, so I don’t even know if that’s how it’s spelt. Skrieking, in Glossop, is crying.
Fleeing. I once used this word when I was on the ‘phone to a guy in the IT department who asked me what the weather was like in Belfast (I was on a secondment). I looked outside with a shiver: it was snowing. So I said it was fleeing. He was so taken aback by this, him being from (and based in) Reading, that he asked me to jot down any other words that were Northern. Fleeing means that it’s v.cold, in case you aren’t from Glossop couldn’t guess.
Mek us a brew… everyone knows that one, surely. Make me a cup of tea.
Our kid… my brother/sister.
Awat?… how are you?
Until reading Pies and Prejudice, I had no idea that mithering wasn’t a word. In fact, neither did a load of people. At one point in a conversation I had about this recently, I was ordered to fetch the largest, most comprehensive dictionary I’ve ever seen with writing so small it took four of us with three different pairs of spectacles and a magnifying glass to determine that, no, it really isn’t a word. It wasn’t a word whether it was spelt “mithering” or “mythering.” I didn’t even want to bring up the fact that a lot of people in Glossop actually say “midering.”
One of the above mentioned party being from Surry, we naturally grilled her about other things she’d never heard before entering the north. Tenses came up in conversation. “Yet” to a northerner, can mean “now”. And “while” can mean “until”. My father, who used to work continental shifts in a plastic factory in Middleton (greater Manchester, not South Leeds) would say things like: “I were on while for’t ten” which means that he was working until ten o’clock. Also acceptable would be: “I were on while for’t yet” which means he would have been working until now.
Recently I was chatting with friends and, on observing a rather dark and foreboding horizon, I came out with: “Ooh, it’s a bit black over Bill’s mother’s”. Everyone fell about laughing. Evidently, that one doesn’t translate in Yorkshire.
I’ve actually run out of words and phrases, because it would seem that I’m still under the impression that my vocabulary is compiled of real words. So I cheated and googled, and came up with this little saying: “I’ll go to the foot of our stairs.” It means that something unexpected has just happened or that someone has been told something surprising. I am marginally disturbed to discover that this isn’t universal and so am going to stop before I get thoroughly upset with the country as a whole.
So, all in all, I don’t sound like a Derbyshirean… Derbyan… Derbian(?) I don’t feel like one, either. Although, I do occasionally wipe a single, solitary, glistening tear from my cheek when I drop down into Longdendale on Woodhead Road and see the “Welcome to Derbyshire” sign. Glossop feels like home, but then equally so does Manchester. Whenever I step off the train into Piccadilly and breathe that bizarre, damp air, with its own, unique clammy smell, I can’t help but smile. So, it’s hardly surprising that I perked right up once Mr Maconie reached Manchester.
I was rather surprised to find that the rest of the country considers Manchester to be emotional and arrogant. Of course, there were tears in my eyes as I read about the marvel that is the greatest city in the world…
… OK, maybe I don’t believe that, but I definitely sobbed with longing as Maconie trotted out the tale of the Massacre of Peterloo and tripped down Quay street (where I began my working life), to visit the Opera House (where I discovered Rocky Horror and Grease). Last year, during that horrible night when the riots that had begun in London spread slowly north like a nasty rash and went wild in Manchester, I realised just how much I was attached to the city that I consider home – I swelled with pride as people took to the streets with cricket bats to defend their businesses and then again after tweeters vowed to clean it up the next day. I rage against the southern perception of the north of England, so I positively brimmed to hear such buoyant affirmation of what is often, v.wrongly, considered to be a grim place that nobody wants to go to or live in.
My only disappointment with Pies and Prejudice was the lack of attention to the Manchester Egg. Possibly the latest foodstuff to come out of Manchester. It is truly delicious and sports the nationwide favourite that is Bury black pudding. Recipe to follow!
* People who don’t know ma Mum often talk down to her because of her accent… she may play up to it a little bit, but it doesn’t take long for people to realise that she is an incredibly intelligent woman with a sharp wit and a great sense of humour.
** I think that if people started talking down to ma Dad, he’d probably just nut the fuckers.
The featured image is a picture of Old Glossop. Those two little boys on the left next to the dog with the black coats and toggles are my uncle Tony and my father, respectively. The taller lad next to them in the lighter coat is my uncle Brian. Uncle Brian got all the height… the other two didn’t grow much more. I’m not sure if the strapping man with the braces behind them is my grandfather and the lady on his shoulder my grandmother, but it v.well could be.