Friday, 22 February 2008


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.


CTaylor said...

Ha! I was playing 'guess what kind of bread it is?' as I was reading your post and decided that the brown rolls you were after were called 'cobs'. Doh! I was wrong. Never heard of 'nobblers' before.

I would have said "could I please have a couple of those round brown rolls with bits in, please!" but then I have no shame!

Sarah Dunnakey said...

Cally - sorry, I am so naughty - I made up 'nobblers' - think you were probably right with cobs - I will try it next time and let you know. I know I should try the 'no shame' approach too and not be intimidated by the Keepers of the Bread, who are probably very kindly souls really, but not first thing in the morning on an empty tum.

Me said...

I prefer floury baps

Maddie Moon said...

And then there's the great North/South divide. I remember holidaying in Yorkshire a few years back and going into a baker's and asking for a sandwich, only to be handed this huge floury bap filled affair. It was the same story in all the other bakers we tried. Not sure what you need to ask for to get a proper sarnie.

Leigh said...

Ha ha ha!

I feel a bit like this in the butcher's. Inveriably, I end up asking for something like "a nice bit of pork, like a chop but without the bone in it, if that's all right?"

He always grins, finds me just the right thing, but never tells me what it's called!

Sarah Dunnakey said...

Maddie - I'm afraid I usually cheat when it comes to sandwiches and go for something 'foreign' - at least you generally know what you're getting with a ciabatta

Leigh - I know just what you mean -I'm the same in electrical and hardware shops. Its maybe one of the reasons so many people end up buying meat (and bread rolls/buns/baps and lightbulbs and screws) in supermarkets /superstores where they don't have to know the right word, they can just find it on a shelf. Maybe linguistic ignorance is one of the factors in the decline of small shops - methinks there is a need for a 'shoppers dictionary' - would have to be a visual one though with lots of nice pictures and a dialect translater - there's good project for someone!


I LOVE the idea of a dialect atlas! Never heard of such a creature, and I work in a bloomin' library...

Now pass me one of those round, crunchy, nobbly, seedy, split..thingummies, will you.


HelenMH said...

'poppy-topped' mini viennas sound quite nice though ...

Sarah Dunnakey said...

Karen - wish I could remember the title - found something similar on Amazon (by searching for 'dialect atlas' but it looked like a smaller concise version of the one I remember

Helen - they were lovely, and very fresh which is a mjor advantage over prepackaged supermarket stuff and so probably worth the verbal challenge

Moondreamer said...

Haha! I can relate to this, Sarah, being from South Yorkshire originally but now living in North Yorkshire, and having spent a fair bit of time in West Yorkshire.

There's an award for you at mine!