Friday, June 11, 2010

What's that you say?

No doubt about it, some of our farming Kiwi-ism’s sound ridiculous to an outsider, a mystery and an education. Most industries have their own language, but sheepdog language is a cut above the rest.
If a visitor to our country heard a sheep farmer telling his dog to ‘Get in behind’, they would surely block small children’s ears. ‘Get behind’, I can understand or ‘get in’ is fine if you want the animal to jump into the ute.
Then there’s ‘Come-by’ and ‘Away to me’ and that other South Island dog command, ‘Welago’; sounds like a breakfast cereal but no, it is a message for your multi-lingual, very intelligent collie to go left and surround a flock of woollies.
I became fully conversant with this very peculiar language during my sheep farming years.
Thankfully, I was born with a naturally loud whistle that was not dependent on my having to put two fingers into my mouth, to call my dog. Spare a thought for the shepherd who having just assisted birthing of one of his flock is forced to get his dog’s attention by the fingers in the mouth method.

I once owned a large huntaway called Sam; he was prone to disobedience which forced me into the fairly common ‘coarse command’ method (swearing profusely). Until I discovered it was not altogether his fault. On a routine trip to the vet, (the dog not me) I was informed by the veterinary surgeon that Sam was totally deaf. Whistling and bellowing had no effect upon the poor animal. From then on I resorted to wild gesticulating. Flailing my arms around in the middle of the paddock, pointing left or right, made me look like a traffic duty policeman with a bee down his shirt. If anyone had seen me they would have thought that I had gone completely bonkers. They would have been convinced that my dog was also barking mad because old deaf Sam spent most of his time walking backwards so he could see my hand signals. I resorted to a suggestion by a well meaning idiot, which was to give the dog a hearing aid. Sam was never the same after he peed on the battery and received a very nasty shock.
Talking of strange language and sayings, for sheer amusement you cannot go past some of the English cockney tradesmen. They have a talent for putting what they want to say into one word. In London the Rag and Bone man could be heard but probably not understood by outsiders.. ‘Ragbollbowe’ Which translates into ‘Rags, Bottles, Bones.’
Then there was the friendly fish guy in Dymchurch by-the-sea, his cry was completely indiscernible to any but those in the know, ‘Coclemusselwelk’, easy to follow in the written word but a foreign tongue to the ear.
One of the strangest mixes of words came over the loud speaker on Ashford Railway Station in Kent England. The next train stop after Ashford was the village of Wye after that came the picturesque village of Chilham then down the track to Chartham and finally to the City of Canterbury. The Station Master had a strong Kentish accent and believed in the economy of words; outsiders were always taken aback when they heard the destination announcement, ‘WHY KILL’EM and CART’EM to CANTERBURY!’

Monday, June 7, 2010

Grave business

I was amazed by a news report about a young sky diver who cheated death after both his parachutes failed. The fortunate fellow landed in a blackberry bush and miraculously escaped serious injury. Every terrifying minute of the fall was recorded on his ‘head cam’. Being a keen wordsmith I was intrigued by the five words the poor lad uttered just before he hit the ground. They reminded me of those immortal words that appeared in the Times obituary column on the death of John Le Mesurier (Dad’s Army). I quote ‘Today I conked out’. What a marvelous exit.
Many will recall the famous last words of Admiral Lord Nelson just before he ‘conked out’ on H.M.S Victory’s deck at the battle of Trafalgar. A cannon ball had smashed onto the deck a mere two feet from the Admiral,
‘Missed me Hardy’ exclaimed Nelson to his second in command. Deafened by the roar of battle, Hardy mistook ‘Missed me’ for ‘Kiss me’ and responded to the request with considerable fervor. The shock was too much for the Admiral’s, British stiff upper lip and the rest is history.
Dr James Dobson related the story of his dear mother’s demise. Apparently she wrote her own epitaph, the words can be seen on her grave stone in Louisiana. ‘I told you I was sick’.
Young parents should keep a record of the things their children say. Kids logic and comments can be hilarious. One of ours, at a very young age, picked up an empty envelope, peered inside and boldly stated that,
‘There is something not in it’. This statement has become our family catch phrase which, most will agree, is appropriate for my column.
Speaking of ‘out of the mouths of babes’ and continuing the theme of death and distraction, I must tell you a true story about a very unique burial service. Living adjacent to a cemetery sounds grave but to a certain young mother it was dead funny. This lady witnessed many internments, as did all the children in the district. The Minister’s words wafted over the neighbourhood so often that many of the local kids knew the burial service off by heart. Pottering in her garden, one day, the young lady was amused to see a drama unfold just a few yards from her back fence. Half a dozen children were gathered around a small mound of earth. The dear departed was a, ‘loved to death’, Barbie doll. (incidentally I have never heard of ‘dead Barbie’, conjures up a bonanza of ‘Barbie accessories’) The poor doll was lying in a shoe box, mourners had obviously studied the real thing and were playing their parts with much sobbing and reverence. The appointed, six year old Minister, could be heard reciting the committal word for word. The Mother was impressed with the performance from one so young and listened intently to catch the final prayer… ‘In the name of the Father and the Son, in the hole ’e goes’.
Meanwhile you are probably wondering about those immortal words uttered by our parachuting friend. What, I ask, would you or I say as we plummeted to earth at alarming speed. A prayer maybe, a meaningful statement that would guarantee your place in history. Recorded for the whole world, by our sky diving hero just before imminent death
‘Oh shit, I’m dead, bye!!’