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”




My life in a banana republic: June

Jambo, Jambo!

My great news is that I will soon be graduating from the Queen’s great university [where her anthem is no longer heard].

The badness is that , because of your tribal wars, I may return to my own peaceful African country.

The Great She Elephant failed to win an OUT vote yet she remains in power. How can her tribe explain that?

The two tribes united to say that they wanted to remain in Ireland and the EU. The Picts across the water voted similarly. So from Cork to Aberdeen the people are of one voice.

Meanwhile one Eton boy is resigning as Prime Minister and another, who might have beaten him or given him lines, wants to take the job.  I seem to remember the BBC casting fun at my country’s rulers.

The leader of the opposition is a strange man who reads many emails and dresses in the dark. Nobody believes that he can be a Head Man, because he is a ganch. This is a word my Sandy Row friends taught me.

There is a vacuum, in my country the generals would by now have parked the tanks on the lawns.

What has happened to the Mother of Parliaments?

Meantime , Ministers from the new assembly are sneaking around burying bad news. The Great She Elephant thinks that her football team, which played 4 , won 1 and scored 2 goals, should be greeted as heroes. Do you remember Winnie Mandela’s football team? Ask the family of Stompi Moeketsi. Politicians should do what they do best, telling lies, not supporting football.

To make it more confusing, Her Gracious Majesty visited the Giant’s Causeway today. I wonder if she thinks it was made 6,000 years ago?

My brother rang me. He has an import/export business in Africa. It does trade from Egypt to Cape Town. He offered me a job. He says I should come home to a stable country where there is a legitimate government, where the tribes worked out a pecking order fifty years ago and where there is a market for goods.

This offer is very tempting.

Jambo jambo!