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Monday, 11 January 2010

Now Alanis, that's ironic....

There are, in one's life, events or circumstances that occur again and again. Some might call these events recurring. For me, one of the first occurences of a recurring event I experienced was when, as a young high-jumper, proudly representing my home county of Merseyside in all its resentful glory, I had made it through to the High Jump rounds of the Junior All England Finals (North). No small achievement this, and one for which I later rewarded a body that was trying very hard to be athletic, by pumping it as full of alternative nutrition, and by depriving it as of much sleep, as possible. Nevertheless, at fourteen years of age, such Byronesque tendencies were ahead of me, so it was on an athletic field, somewhere North of Leeds that I met my first Yorkshireman.

High Jump is as much a pschological sport as it is an athletic one. Due to the nature of scoring in high jump for example, it is entirely possible to win by almost total failure in that if you can record fewer failures than your rival, yet still fail to clear the final height, you win. Therefore, a lot of the game is to refuse to jump until the bar approximates the limits of your performance, while allowing your rivals to record a larger number of jumps than you at lower heights. As you languish in the grass, apparently sleeping unperturbed by the ongoing competition, occasionally shouting "pass" at each incremental bar raising, the idea is that rivals begin to glance nervously towards you, impressed by your display of glacial cool. "Wow" they think to themselves, "The bar is at one metre fifty and that chap hasnt even stirred. He must be brilliant." Its a game of nerves, because if you wait too long, you risk failing to clear at all. You then look like a complete idiot. The risk factor was also complicated, when I was a youth, by the fact that the uprights, and the bar were fabricated from the finest, hardest, shiniest Sheffield steel. Due to the nature of the male anatomy,plus the chaotic tendency of nature to deliver "you tube" moments, even before "you tube", it was an inherent feature of high jump competitions that as the bar got higher, and failures to clear increased, there was an increased incidence of connection between the tender, under-developed, (but vital) areas of youthful male anatomy and the bar, uprights and landing mat. Young athletes would limp away from high jump competitions by the score, doubled over in agony, beaten not by height, but maybe by (recent)size.

I met my first Yorkshireman when, at the All Englands, it was just him and me left. We had not exchanged a word all afternoon, but I had the upper hand, as I was still to jump, while he had jumped twice, albeit clearing both times. On the next round, I elected to jump, and fortunately, cleared first time at 1.8metres. Yorky was obvioulsy shaken, so much so that he came over to talk to me. I could see he was sizing me up, and also tell, by his swagger, that he had not had serious competition before. He was, by his demeanour, slightly upset, so he adopted the body posture adopted by all adolescents when upset - one foot far behind the other, hips swinging, head nodding and hands twitching between his chin adn his hips. He looked me square in the eye and said :

"T'ow awle am thee in'nt, fella?"

Frankly, it was not a glacial cool that caused me to delay my reply. After a bit I replied:

"One ninety five. Just over six foot, like".

At the next raise of the bar, Yorky crashed and burnt. I cleared first time,and won, a victory that was the pinnacle of my athletic career. I was still however, puzzled by the exchange that had occurred, so I consulted my father. Dad was wise in the ways of the world, and had even been to London, although he said he didnt like it very much. I phonetically repeated, to the best of my ability the conversation that had passed between me and Yorky. Dad, after a few repetitions, and clarifications , laughed.

"No wonder he seemed a bit shaken. He thought he was up against a nutter" he explained, "When he spoke to you, you told him yuour personal best jump didnt you?". I nodded eagerly - we'd always been told to be polite. Dad continued "Problem is, he was asking you how old you were. Oh, you're a proper daft ha'peth, kid. Never mind though, they can be a bit hard to understand, Yorkshiremen."

Since this, it has not escaped my attention that Yorkies are not the only ones who may be sdifficult to understand. Indeed, on first visiting RHB's parents, I asked her, after the visit, what her Dad thought of me, as all anxious suitors are wont. Her reply was that it didnt matter because a) she didnt care anyway, and would do exactly (she even stamped her foot as she said this) what she wanted,with whoever she wanted, when she wanted, and b) her father probably hadnt understood anything I was saying anyway on account of dialect related issues.

I can also report that I have made friends with at least one Canadian and her American partner without her having the slightest understanding of anything I was (ostensibly) saying (in English), and have experienced communication difficulties with a famous Russian anthropologist, one used to different cultures, who expressed her frustration last summer by declaring that she "had no idea what a Scooby Scouser is". These barriers may seem slight, but when you consider that these difficulties occur when two people are failing to communicate and tthey both think they are speaking English, you may pause to reflect.

It was with a certain reflection therefore, in the Deweyian sense, that I headed home this afternoon after a successful interview. And most of you, with whom I have attempted to conversed in my native brogue, may also be given to reflect on the irony that, (as a result of the same interview), in future when communicating with the principal author of this oracle, you will be addressing Hull's leading (voluntary assistant) junior practitioner in the field of Teaching English as a Second Language. The role, and preferred teaching outcome, is to teach those for whom English is not a first language, how to speak it. THere are a few details that have to be clarified. For example, I am not sure who the "voluntary" bit refers to - me, or my employer. And it is not entirely clear whether I am allowed to encourage whole generations of new immigrants to construct sentences like "Gorra blag a bevvy, I'm spitting feathers". But in truth, I am extremely "chuffed", "made up" as it were.

1 comment:

JoeyMac said...

My best strategy for understanding Yorkshire is to translate from Yorkshire to Glasgow, then Glasgow to English. It takes a little longer, but works well.