Notes from Lapta, Cyprus – “Lost in ‘Toon’” by Ken Dunn

I’d parked the car and had been walking for a few minutes into what I thought was the centre of the city but then realised I was completely lost. The buildings around me were as bland as in all cities in the UK. Have you noticed how depressingly similar they are these days? To be fair I hadn’t been in this particular city for the better part of twenty years but I might have been in any large town in the UK. Have you ever been in that situation in an unfamiliar UK city where you haven’t a clue where you are with the further complication of the inhabitants speaking a very peculiar version of English?

The city in question is Newcastle upon Tyne in the North East of England, my home town and the version of English is spoken by ‘Geordies’, a patois which is a rich and an almost undecipherable variety of the language to the many folk who hear it. Fortunately, being a Geordie, I was able to re-tune my ears and understand what the locals were saying. Having been away from the place for so long I now tend to, ‘Taark aall humpty backed, like’ which means, ‘Talk properly.’

The Geordie dialect is a direct continuation of the original languages spoken by the Anglo-Saxon settlers, the varieties of which slowly developed into ‘Old English’ during the ‘Dark Ages’ after the demise of the Roman Empire.

Incidentally, for those who don’t know, the term ‘Geordie’ is thought to have been first coined to identify the citizens of the North East who supported the Hanovarian King George II against the Jacobite Rebellion of 1745. They’re still as stroppy now as they were then!

The reason I was there was straightforward. My daughter had applied for a teaching post and I offered to take her there as it was an opportunity for me to see the place after many years of being away. From the South West to Newcastle is a six hour drive but that was OK and I had checked the map to find out where the school was. So far so good. We arrived to a pre-arranged B&B and I took her to the school the following morning for her interview, coping with a road system which didn’t exist the last time I’d been there. So, in she went and I drove off into Newcastle to have a look around for ‘old times sake.’

So, there I was, the car parked… somewhere, in a Newcastle that had changed so much I was totally lost and needed to find out where I was. A few folk were walking around so I asked one chap where I could find the city centre. His reply was classic.

‘Oh, aye, man. Juss tappy lappy doon that way an’ torn left passed the public nettie an’ gan alang a bit more, like, an toby doon a bit fortha until ye see a geet big hoose ahent the poliss station. The toon centa’s ower ahent that, just roond the fenkle, a’reet?’

I had to concentrate more than just a bit while these directions were given. I thanked him and walked off, working out what he had said. This was, ‘Oh, yes. Just walk down that way, turn left and pass the public toilet. Stroll on a little more until you see a very large house behind the police station. The town centre is over there behind that, just round the corner, OK?’ Being bilingual does have its advantages!

As I ‘tappy lappied doon the road’ my mobile phone rang. It was my daughter saying that with a few other candidates for the job it would be another two or three hours before she’d be free. That was fine. It would give me plenty of time to have a good look around the old place. ‘Old place’ was slightly wrong. Many of the older buildings in the centre have disappeared to be replaced by faceless, ‘international styled’ shopping malls and, again, the road system was completely different.

Much of the centre is now fully pedestrianised and I was intrigued to see how the streets were full of the locals, all wandering around clutching bulging plastic bags from the various national companies which now reside there. I had the distinct impression of walking through a large retail park, totally unlike my memory of the city. A tad depressing.

But it was a joy to walk amongst them hearing a dialect which I hadn’t heard for quite some time. ‘Aar ye gannin yem soon, like?’ (Are you going home soon?) ‘Aahd like some scran soon.’ (I would like to have something to eat soon) ‘Wey, aah divvnaa.’ (Well, I don’t know) ‘Djnaa wadameen?’ (Do you understand what I mean?) ‘Hadaway, man. Divvint dunch wuh!’ (Please go away and don’t bump into us) ‘Keep a haad an had yer gob.’ (take hold and be quiet) ‘It’s a bit hacky-mucky roond here. Aye it’s aal this chuddy on the groond, like.’ (It’ a bit dirty round here. Yes, it’s all this chewing gum on the ground) And so on. Wonderful stuff!

After a couple of hours I had another call from my daughter. The interview was over and she’d wait for me at the school. Half an hour later I picked her up and we managed to find our way through this strange new city called Newcastle. I do wonder what it might be like in another fifteen years.

Oh, yes, I almost forgot. My daughter was appointed as second in command to the Head of the Art Department of the school. All she has to do now is cope with the language. After we arrived back home I rang my brother who’s living above Leeds these days. He was delighted with the news but offered my daughter some advice. This was, ‘Well, give yourself about seven years and you might just crack how to ‘Taark Geordie!’ He’s probably right. ‘Whey-aye man!’

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