I’m back in Yorkshire for a few days. Mostly I’ve been in York itself, town of snickets and ginnels, inviting little passageways that you might call an alley, close, entry or vennel, depending upon where you come from. Last time I was down here was December and I could barely move through the narrow streets, so packed were they with Christmas shoppers. York is a shape-shifting town – it can look like a Victorian Christmas Card when the December lights are twinkling and there is a dusting of snow. Come spring, it can look (and sound) majestic under the glory of York Minster sonorous bells ringing and the ancient city walls flanked by banks of Easter daffodils. Other times, York is an out-of-control hedonistic playground for race-goers and hen parties filling the hostelries to bursting.
This is the land of a ‘proper brew’ and straight talking people who tell you what they think to your face in their world famous Yorkshire tones. One of my favourites is the admonishment, “All right Lass, it’s nowt nor summat”, meaning there is nothing to get worked up about. Think “on Ilkla Moor baht ‘at”, and that’s the accent you’ll hear in these parts, if you’re lucky. Mind you, these last few days it’s not been the weather to venture out without a hat – ‘baht ‘at’ – whether on high on Ilkley Moor or on the flag stones of York; no you ‘dursn’t’ do that. There’s a wood-burning stove in the house where I am a guest and D. got the flames dancing when we came in last night to take the chill off our bones. “As my father would have said: ‘It’s a lazy wind – it would rather go through you than round you,’” Y. told me, giving me a Yorkshire take on the cold weather. I ask her if anyone really says, ‘eeh by gum’ outside of the television characters in ‘Last Of The Summer Wine’? Her answer was no, apparently I’m as likely to hear someone say ‘begorrah’ in Ireland.
They’re a chatty, sharing, welcoming lot in Yorkshire. If you tell someone a story, they might look at you, nodding approval and say, “I’ll ‘appen that’s it”, meaning – yes, that’s true enough. My friend talks about making her husband a ‘pack-up’, not too far removed from the packed lunch I would have been familiar with growing up, but I have also heard it referred to as a ‘baggin’. And they do like their food here – with all sorts of varied names for a white bread roll: bap, barm, bun, bread cake, depending on what part of the county you’re in. Here a ‘fat rascal’ isn’t a naughty child who eats too much chocolate, it’s a kind of over-sized yeasted scone that you can get in the famous ‘Bettys’ tea room if you’re willing to join the long queue!
If you want to really brush up on your Yorkshire dialect though, I would recommend digging out your old copy of Emily Brontë’s ‘Wuthering Heights’. Although written in 1847, if take yourself up to a remote part of the North Yorkshire Moors you might find an old farmer who speaks just like Joseph, the house servant from the book, who drops ‘the’ in favour of ‘t’ in quintessentially Yorkshire dialect. You’ll be doing well if you can understand all of this! “’Running after t’ lads, as usuald!’ croaked Joseph, catching an opportunity from our hesitation to thrust in his evil tongue. ‘If I war yah, maister, I’d just slam t’ boards i’ their faces all on ’em, gentle and simple! Never a day ut yah’re off, but yon cat o’ Linton comes sneaking hither; and Miss Nelly, shoo’s a fine lass! shoo sits watching for ye i’ t’ kitchen; and as yah’re in at one door, he’s out at t’other; and, then, wer grand lady goes a-courting of her side! It’s bonny behaviour, lurking amang t’ fields, after twelve o’ t’ night, wi’ that fahl, flaysome divil of a gipsy, Heathcliff!” (excerpt, ‘Wuthering Heights’, by Emily Brontë)