Friday, June 3, 2011

Sea Fret

This first appeared in Bayfair, June 2011

"Haar was”, the man explained to some visitors in late spring, “the local name, of the cool sea fog that might have been spoiling their visit”. I asked him how he knew this and was curtly told that I should ask any fisherman or local as they all used this term. When I mentioned that I’d never ever heard other locals, including the Whitby fisherman I knew, use the term Haar and had only ever heard the word Sea Fret used locally, he dismissed my comment saying that the fisherman didn’t know anything. His accent gave away the fact that he came from West Yorkshire where Sea Frets never occur. I found no mention of Fret or Sea Fret in my Chambers, Oxford or Collins dictionary. Haar did get mentioned as being used on the Scottish east coast but is also used in Northumbria. South of the tyne, Sea Fret is used. Haar is of Dutch origin and its use on the Scottish coast is evidence perhaps of the huge influx of Dutch fishing vessels there in the last couple of centuries.

The fact that sea fret wasn’t in any of my dictionaries doesn’t make its use incorrect though; many local dialect words can’t be found either even though we use them regularly.

Our language and dialects are not fixed. The words and grammar we use and the ways we use them evolve and change. Ask a farmer now what ‘shocking’, ‘stiching’ and ‘thriving’ are and he is unlikely to know because mechanisation has removed the need for these terms. Words fall out of use in our own life span, it’s a long time since I heard anyone here say they were vexed or referring to someone being cack handed.

Just because we have a standardised English written down doesn’t mean that variations to it are wrong. Try telling an American that he is wrong when he calls the boot of a car, the trunk or an Australian he’s wrong when referring to opening a tinny, having a barbie, or being taken away in an ambo.

Similarily in Ireland a beach is known as a strand, a plank of wood is a stick, the dry stone walls and banks I built were ditches – because those are the right words to use in those countries. Likewise the regional English spoken anywhere in the UK is the correct English regardless of usage, accent and regional variations. Indeed if you are teaching foreign learners English there is absolutely no point in teaching anything other than ‘English-as-it-is-spoken’. New use of our grammar evolves all the time. Fifteen years ago you would not have heard people use the present continuous tense, as in , “I’m loving it”. We all used the present tense, as in, “I love it”. This usage is now in common and widespread use. It cannot be ‘wrong’.

The same words can have totally different meanings if spoken by a teenager or adult. We know what wicked means don’t we? But spoken by a teenager it spells out enjoyment, as in, “It was a wicked party” I don’t think they use the similar meaning word, ‘minted’ anymore either.

Even local dialect words can vary within quite short distances. In Hull the path between houses is called a ten foot, or eight foot in Grimsby. In industrial Yorkshire ginnel is used. In York they’d wonder what you were talking about unless you called it a snicket and you’d have to tell a Londoner it’s an alleyway.

Writing in the 1920s Fairfax-Blakeborough listed many local words that are now long forgotten and he recognised that English is ‘elastic’ as he called it and was different from the Yorkshire dialect of his youth. David Crystal the eminent linguist, explains that our current concern with ‘standard’ English is only the result of countless books and grammatical texts describing what is considered normal use at the time and cannot possibly cover all uses in all parts of the UK. Normal English isn’t decided by retired generals writing letters to the times, nor professors of linguistics, it’s us, the everyday speakers of the language and is thus correct for whatever part of the country you come from.

Should the loss of local terms, regional accents and so on be mourned in the same way as we might mourn when we loose a valued building or some species of wildlife?. I don’t know, maybe not, but I’m glad we don’t all speak the same way. The distinctive accent used locally, which is unique to just a small part of the north Yorkshire coast, goes someway towards our self-identity and sense of being, like all regional accents.

Travel, people from different regions relocating elsewhere, widespread standard usage of English through national press, magazines, books, radio and TV all help erode the use of local terms and sayings. So I was thoroughly delighted when I recently heard the BBC use ‘Sea Fret’ to describe sea fog, rather than the word in my dictionaries. Perhaps the BBC was bucking the trend by using a relatively local word in place of haar..

It certainly proved that the locals and fishermen of this coast know more about our language than the man from west Yorkshire. Perhaps the BBC will be using more vernacular English soon! But Haar Haar? I don’t think so!!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Hitchiking by plane and ship

They stood hopefully at the side of the road holding a sign marked ‘Scotland’ as the traffic passed by. You don’t see many hitch hikers these days and these were the first I’d seen for three or four years. Like many folk I’ve done a lot in my younger days and some of it by unconventional means including hitching on a plane and my partner Trish even managing a trip on an oil-tanker.

Let me explain: I worked in the Shetlands and was on a regular leave flight to Glasgow where I would normally have disembarked and traveled by train to Whitby. I ended up sitting next to the stewardess at the rear of the plane and when she was done with the trolley we chatted. I wondered where she lived and was told Newcastle. I commiserated on her misfortune on having further to travel when the plane terminated in Glasgow. “Oh, it doesn’t”, she replied, “It’s going to Teesside – that’s where we are going to.”

“Any chance of a lift –I live in Whitby”, I asked, with no hope of being told yes.

“I’ll ask the Captain” she said and then added there would be a few more on board who probably would prefer to get off at Teesside instead of Glasgow. Looking down the cabin I could see several others who would love the chance to continue on to Teesside including at least another two who lived in Whitby. Not wanting to give her too much of an extra work load, I told her, half jokingly, that if we could stay on board I’d do her duties for her, something I could do easily as I’d flown on this route with the same airline nearly 40 times in the last three years.

As she disappeared to the flight deck I didn’t hold my breath, as I thought my cheeky request would promptly be turned down. She returned a minutes later saying that the captain was happy with us staying on board, so several of us remained seated as the aircraft discharged most of the passengers at Glasgow and we took off again for the flight to Teesside.

She proffered the microphone and said, “Go on then!”. I made the usual announcements over the PA and whilst the stewardess remained seated I took the trolley down the aisle handing out cold drinks to my work mates, receiving many ribald comments along the way. Forty minutes later we were in Teesside airport and the three of us from Whitby jumped into a taxi and were soon in Whitby. Probably the fastest possible trip ever made from the Shetland Isles to Whitby by far.

I thought this mode of transport was pretty unique for hitching until I met Trish some years later and she told me of her trip to the Isles of Scilly, this being even more of an accomplishment as she did it with four young children in tow.

Trish takes up her story:-

We’d often been to the Isles of Scilly by boat, by helicopter and by small plane. But that had been from England and we now lived on the East coast of Ireland and had four children so it was much more complicated and expensive. It seemed impossible but my then husband who worked for an oil company had a brainwave – he would speak to the captain of one of the tankers that came into the port about getting a lift on board ship. After conversations with the parent company in Germany the captain agreed that they would take us to and from the Isle of Scilly, but we had to organise a pick up in the Atlantic off the Scillies. It sounded good but was complicated and this was long before mobile phones! Firstly we had to think of how we’d get picked up. Fortunately because we’d been before we had contacts who put us in touch with one of the local fisherman who agreed to pick us up. Easy? Not really because the arrival of ‘our’ tanker, The Aztec depended on the weather. It would only be alongside in Ireland for as long as it took to discharge the oil and would be off again a few hours later. I had to have everything packed and organised for six of us and be ready for off when I received the phone call. The fishing boat had to be contacted about our ETA and to complicate things even more we were staying on St Martins, a small off island, so had to be taken off the fishing boat into a rowing boat as my then husband had to go to customs on the main island.

The day and the time came, and we were off, down the Irish sea, and twenty-five miles off the tip of Cornwall to the islands. It was rough and we were seasick but the crew made us welcome and the children had a great time when they weren’t being sick. We arrived and anchored and there was the fishing boat waiting just off the Round Island Lighthouse. Being a tanker it was fairly easy to transfer except that we had a four year old, and a thirteen month old and both had to be handed over to the fisherman. As we approached land a small rowing boat met us and we were rowed ashore whilst my husband headed off to Customs.

Our two weeks holiday started to stretch to three as off shore gales prevented the tanker from approaching the isles. We ran out of money, had to live off rabbits we caught and blackberries and crab apples we picked.

Near the end of the third week a message came through that a tanker, the Sioux was approaching our pick up point. We grabbed our stuff and walked down to the beach and all the locals came down to wave us off. We stood watching with a full moon lighting up the sea and as we climbed into the rowing boat we could see the lights of the tanker as it waited for us off Round Island. Lifting the children onto the ship in the dark was a bit scary but they declared it a great adventure!.

I doubt hitching a lift by plane or ship would be possible now.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Fruit press & potato houses, Glaisdale

On my way to view a potato house near Mountain Ash Farm I came across this old fruit press against a rather large old oak tree. This picture also appears in An Illustrated guide to stone antiquities on the north yorkshire moors' by Elizabeth Ogilvie.

And this is the potato house. Not many in this part of the UK but these were used to store potatoes in winter. This one is divided into two sections and totals about 13ft X10ft partially buried in earth to insulate it from the winter frosts this potato house is now only occupied by sheep.
This too appears in Elizabeth Ogilvie's book.

At Yew Grange farm a little distance away at the head of the dale is hidden a much larger one behind the farm This one has
three internal bays so probably around 15 ft wide ( I couldn't measure it as it was used to store roofing slates) and showed identical construction in that the dividing walls were identical in terms of width & dressing and each had a larger stone capping along their length upon which the large roof slabs rested on.
Each bay had at the opposite end to the door an entrance which looked identical to the those used in old pig sties here to pour food into. This was where the potatoes were tipped.
The floors were slabbed with flagstone.
The stone door frame was rebated to accomodate the door.
It appeared that when the structure was originally built the side walls were not wide enough (for insulation?) and were subsequently added to to a depth of another 2 or 3 feet in width. You can see this butting against the original structure on the extreme left hand side of the picture of the front. This addition had partially collapsed on the other side at one corner..
The original structure's roof had carefully beveled/sloping gable ends to suit the original pitch of the roof. You can see a couple of these gable stones at the rear and one on the front at the left hand side. Of more interest was that the owner told me when he acquired the farm in 1953 it was roofed over, with pantiles laid on the loose earth which was placed on top of the slabs. Because they were in danger of getting smashed up by his stock which once wandered around the yard he removed them and they were placed inside the structure!! He never used it for it's original purpose. I wonder whether the other potato house was similarly roofed in someway to prevent water from dripping in and spoiling the spuds?
It was obvious to me that although the structure would then have been totally waterproof and well insulated from long periods of extreme frost I could see how rats could be kept out. Wooden door + openings where you tipped the spuds!. So I asked the farmer and he too was puzzled, commenting that he'd never considered that before but that some additional precautions must have been needed to prevent rats getting in. A bit of know-how forgotten?
You can see this potato house here and here

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Moorland Xmas Tree

On the Whitby to Pickering road a sitka spruce has been sporting Xmas decorations over the last few years. These have been added to increasingly each year and have survived the worst of the winter's weather. There are even solar powered Christmas decorations. I wonder whether it's the same person decorating this as the pine near the cattle grid up on the Goathland turn off? This is no longer decorated and it would appear that the attention is now devoted to the Sitka Spruce.

Note:- This tree has now been chopped down by some kill joy individual!!!