Blog From the North – February 2016

Bunty Gunn
Bunty Gunn

What of Caithness in January? Well – we missed the worst of the flooding that affected both Scotland and England to the south of us, although Halkirk had a problem with the water table leading to flooded basements. What we did have was a lot of very cold weather with fiercely strong winds and sprinklings of snow, followed by days of thaw which made everything either slippery or muddy – usually both. This is when I discovered that in Caithness you do not call a spade a spade; whatever its ultimate use, it is called a shovel. A lorry driver made rather a mess of the verges in the driveway and told me he had moved the mud with a shuffle – which is how you say it up here.
This led me to think of other Caithness idioms; for example where I would say that something is “no good”. my neighbour would say it was “no use”. And where I would say something was “no use”, my neighbour would say “it’s not handy.” Gutters are – well – gutters along the edge of a roadway, but the things along the edge of a roof are rhones. And a bucket for floor cleaning use is a pail, your actual bucket being something to put rubbish into. You soon learn.
There are also lovely words like “swak” which is quite difficult to translate but means something like hale and hearty. A fork (garden variety) is a graip and in order to empty your barrow, you coup it onto the rubbish heap (or midden).
You don’t take advantage of anyone, you “take a lend” of them. But I think my very favourite expression was overheard at the check-out of the local supermarket. Two elderly gents were queuing to pay and one, spotting the other, said “Now then, Johnnie. I’ve no’ seen ye for a whilie. How’re you doing?” To which the somewhat surly reply was “Yer seein’ it”!
So now we’re just into February and “Henry” is raging round; the Canada geese are feeding peacefully in the field in front; the ponies up the road have got their jackets on, Morven and Scaraben are covered in icing sugar and through it all the sun is shining. The days are getting noticeably longer and the daffodils are pushing through. Spring may yet come.

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