When I worked in a library one of my favourite browsing books was a dialect atlas. You could look up a word or phrase - ‘argument’, ‘daft’, ‘money’, ‘left-handed’ - and find out the local word for it in Sheffield or Gloucester or Torquay. Invaluable to anyone wanting to add a bit of authentic dialogue to their writing.
I could have done with it this morning. I live in Yorkshire and was born in Yorkshire, but, crucially, not the same part of Yorkshire. The town that I live in has a solid local base with a geological trifle of 'incomers' layered on top - I'm somewhere near the top of the custard era just before the whipped cream piled in.
Anyway, the cupboard was bare this morning so I went to the bakery to buy me some bread. There on the shelf behind the solid rank of women who run the place was a tantalising array of baked dough products. I spotted the ones I wanted - small round brown things with bits in. The Keeper of the Bread waited, arms crossed across her pinny. She needed the code word, the one that would have her reaching for the right stuff.
I could see what I wanted and I could imagine them split and toasted and spread with butter and marmalade. They were lumps of bread, small round brown things with bits in - but were they buns, rolls, baps, cobs, barms, breadcakes, crinkled muskets, scufflers, teacakes, muffins? I suspected they might be Double-Skinny-Granaries-Easy-on-the-Malt. I wished I was back in my home town where a stotty was a stotty, and that was that.
I was hungry. And the queue behind me was muttering. I thought of pretending to be French, but remembered tortourous times in boulangeries when just sayng 'pain' rarely got the desired result. I thought of going home and having Ryvitas with peanut butter. I even thought of asking for a ciabatta (I know they’ve got them in there somewhere.), but that would send me skittering down the few rungs of the ladders of local acceptance that I kid myself I have won.
I cleared my throat and…I pointed, “Two of them please.”
She gave me one of those ‘Tim from The Office when he’s exasperated with Gareth looks’, unfolded her arms and reached for ... some small white ovals covered with poppy seeds next to my small brown ones with bits in.
I took them, paid and left, muttering apologies as I shuffled past the line of locals already stridently shouting out their orders like dealers at the Stock Exchange.
At the end of the line I passed a woman who despite her tell-tale ART trainers and Matt and Nat vegan bag was looking relaxed, confident even. And then I saw it, clutched in her hand, a grubby piece of paper printed with the words ‘One Large Split Tin, one Landlady's Loaf and half a dozen Nobblers”. She had the code!
I on the other hand had a couple of ‘poppy-topped mini Viennas’ (thank you Google) and a determination to find a copy of that dictionary.