My life in a banana republic:argot


My second cousin has been visiting me from Zambia. He wishes to learn more English and perhaps , one day to pass the exam that would allow him to enter this Great County. He needs to answer many tricky questions  on our constitution , such as when was Antrim North last held by someone who was not a family member. So I took some time off from CRAP to attend to his needs.

I met him at the airport called after that George Best person. My relative’s first words were “why him”? I was puzzled. He told me of a man called Jack Kyle. He said that his grandfather said that he was the greatest rugby out half ever in the world but more importantly a very good doctor who had helped thousands of his friends in Zambia. He wished to know why there was no Jack Kyle Airport. I could not help him.

Then he launched into the Rugby Rape Trial. My second cousin wishes to be a social worker. I said that I knew little about it. He wanted to know why the whole world knew lots about the innocent players but almost nothing about the complainant. This was a mystery, I said. “Does she tweet, does she like threesomes, is she middle class, does she go to coffee shops on Sundays?” I told him that one could go to jail for such talk and to leave it be.

“So what is the local argot”, he said. Ignoring this tautology I arranged for him to meet my dear friend Dingle, who said that he would teach him.

“When you go into a restaurant, you will be a ‘folk’, so when the waitress approaches you she will say “hello folks”.

You reply “hello”.

She will first ask you “are youse gettin'”. This is to enquire as to whether or not you have been served

She will then ask you if you are having a “wee drink”.

This is not to describe the drink, such as a whiskey, but simply to ask you if you wish to imbibe.

After you have ordered your wee drink, you may be asked if you wish to see a “wee menu”…you may now be getting the idea that the noun can be happily dealt with on its own and that there is not a big and a small menu.

“Wee” continues throughout these conversations. Such as “who’s having the wee lasagne”?

My second cousin began to get the hang of this.

Did Paddy say “would you like a wee threesome”? he asked.

We told him to be quiet as we were in a South Belfast coffee shop.

“Tell me more argot” , he implored Dingle.

“Well” said he, “whatever you say, say nothing.”

“Is this about Paddy”? he asked.

“No”, said Dingle, “it means to be on your guard.”

“But it is contradictory”, said my relative.

“Nope, plain as a pikestaff” , said Dingle.

“Why is a pikestaff plain”?

“Possibly because it is very big”

“What about a wee pikestaff”?

“Aye dead on”

“Who is dead?”

” ‘Dead’ is used in the same sense as ‘dead reckoning’, which helped sailors find their ports, so if you are ‘ dead on’ you are correct”.

“But I detected a note of sarcasm in your voice Mr Dingle, as if to say that I was wrong”

“Aye , right”

“Is that a yes or a no”?

“It’s me you’re talking to”

By now my young relative was most puzzled and not a little agitated.

“Can we start with forms of address, as in how I might be greeted” ?

“Bout ye”?


“I am asking after your health”


“How’s it goin’ ”

” I don’t know”

“Stickin’ out”

At this juncture my dear relative felt that he was over loaded. He insisted in paying for the drinks. He went to the bar.

“Bout ye? Could I pay for the wee drinks at table four , please? Only twenty quid? Happy days!”

Dingle and I exchanged looks….

Jambo! [or as they say in the banana republic of norn iron] “See ya”




Jack Kyle II

On the day that Jack is laid to rest, readers could do no better than to find his letter to the Irish Times on 26 July 1966. it articulates views that were overwhelmed by events but are no less valid for that.

Jack expresses views that have been discarded by all sides in a headlong rush for money and power.

Maybe I’m just getting old but I regret his passing and the loss of his values.

Jack Kyle

I met Jack on a number of occasions. I asked him, what is the difference between the game then and now? He said that if he had received a pass from his scrum half and found forwards in front of him, he would have thought that they were lost. The unanimous  description of him, in life and in death, is “gentleman”. His rugby skills will never be surpassed. His service to medicine and to  the people of Zambia were astonishing. He was erudite and wonderful company.

Young medics and rugby players could have no better role model.