Amongst many Ulster sayings that I remember my Granny (who was Scottish) uttering at different times are: Hauld your wheesht, or in response to some childish statement like “I’m starvin’”, or “I need a penny for some blackjacks” she would look at me over her specs and say Your Head’s a Marley. I took this to mean that (a) I’d just had my lunch or (b) I had no hope of the penny. The other one was in reply to queries of where my Mother was.
Mum was in the habit of depositing me in Bentinck Street if she had to go Up the Town and didn’t want me hanging on to her coat-tail. These visits to Belfast City Centre took hours, one of which Granny took for a nap. She called this taking 40 winks, but I got fed up winking at around 307.
I would sit barelegged on the prickly horsehair chair thinking of ways to reach the top of the dresser where the blackjacks were kept in a Walker’s shortbread tin. I was told on these occasions that my mother had Run Off with a Kiltie. Given Granny’s nationality this may be a Scottish saying, adopted by the Ulster Scots as their own. I haven’t heard it much lately, but it may be considered some sort of child abuse to tell a child its Mother has gone and left it for a man in a skirt. Of course at the time I didn’t think of these as Ulster Sayings but as normal comments that were part of an ordinary conversation. The thought of my Mother as a tartan-clad bride didn’t cost me a moment’s anxiety.
During my teenage years matters like Killinchy Mufflers and the Electric Duck were fervently discussed. The Muffler was code for a sort of courting ritual, and the Electric Duck was what you were invited to leave the Floral Hall dance to see, when what the young man had in mind was the Muffler. On enquiring where your partner’s home was you were frequently told it was a village Two Sheughs past Doagh, or Out the Antrim Line and to get to it the train stopped At Every Hole in the Hedge. If you liked the lad and committed yourself to riding home on the back of his motorbike, you informed your girlfriend that he was Dead On and that your first time as a pillion passenger would be Wee Buns.
If my Dad didn’t want to do a job himself he would say it would need Two Men and a Wee Lad, and if something annoyed him he would say that it got so far up his nose it was Tearing the Lining in his Duncher. I think Hanging Together is a great reply to Bout ye?, and Go and Boil yer Head is a great put-down for someone pretending to be from Bangor West when they’ve been brought up in the centre of town. Ok, their dad might have been a Bowler Hat in the shipyard but there’s no need to think they’re the Bees’ Knees. Shipyard workers were asked as they left the house – Have ye got yer Piece? Aspirational joiners took theirs in an Oxo tin.
However, my favourite is an old one from a girlfriend who said she was staying in on Friday night to Get Sorted. I often thought of sending it in to L’Oreal for use in their TV shampoo ads - but somehow I can’t quite hear Cheryl Cole saying "My hair needs Washin’ - sure it’s like Graveyard Grass".
And that’s all I have to say, - so it is!