Mind your tongue


The huge ginger monster glowered at me from behind the bar of the Clachaig Inn and said it again, “We’ve poison bridies.”  I had had the temerity to ask him if he had any food and this was his reply.  I didn’t know what bridies were and I certainly didn’t want to eat them if they were poisoned.  I was nineteen, and this was my first trip to Scotland.  To my eyes the peaks of Glencoe seemed awe inspiringly steep and rugged, they looked impossible to climb and the whole aura of the glen had me trembling.

The View from the Clachaig Inn

This was the 70s and the Clachaig Inn was not as it is now.  Back then it was a dark cave where hairy men came to get drunk after long hard days of wrestling rugged mountains to their knees.  The whole place was covered in Formica, the walls, the tables, I think even some of the locals were made of it.  In the 70s most of Scotland was made of the stuff until they eventually felled the last of the Formica trees.

“We’ve poisoned bridies!” roared the Glaswegian from behind the ginger bush he used as a beard. The bar had fallen silent, I was holding up customers, thirsty for their beer, I had to make some response.  Was this a test of manhood, I wondered?  As in, “Aye he ate the poison bridie and lived!”  Or would the whole place erupt in laughter at my being foolish enough to eat the poisonous creature.

I took my courage in both hands, “Err I’m sorry, but do you have any food that isn’t poisoned?”

He looked at me mystified and, scratching his head with one of his huge paw like hands, emitting a strange bird like sound, “Whit? Whit? Whit?”  This was no version of English I had ever heard.

“I think you’ll find,” said a customer, in a perfect Oxford accent, his eyes sparkling with laughter, “he means they’ve pies and bridies.”

The above recollection was inspired by a posting on http://www.ukclimbing.com about mistakes with language which I read with great amusement.  I can’t find the post now but it must be there somewhere.  Have any readers had similar experiences. Post them as comments on here if you have I’d be fascinated to hear them.

Language can be tricky; it can trip you up over the most trivial of things.  Once, in the Alps, a friend of mine asked the campsite warden for a weather forecast in his broken French.  The shopkeeper smiled and solemnly handed him two peaches. We took that as a good omen and ever since we have referred to a day of good weather as, “a two peach day.”

Once in Chamonix, having just climbed Mont Blanch, my mate Joe decided he wanted a shandy.  I struggled manfully, I haven’t even got pigeon French, and there are pigeons who are better linguists than me.  It seemed that the concept of lemonade mixed with beer was alien to the French barman and I had to order a glass of both beverages and somehow mix the two whilst the hotelier looked on his eyes clouded with confusion.

Foot note:  One day, when I was in what we call secondary school, a teacher asked me to go to the woodwork class and ask for some nails.  I set off on this errand and passed on the request the woodwork teacher.

“How long do you want them?” he asked.

I thought for a while, “Well, to be honest, I don’t think you’ll get them back,” I replied in all sincerity.  An expression of deep sadness passed across his face.

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5 responses to “Mind your tongue

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