“Bah” I say, and “humbug” too.
No I am not an ovine with a sweet tooth – I am an irate Australian who is already pissed off with Christmas – and it is only November.
Many people will recognise the term “Bah Humbug” from Charles Dickens’ tale “A Christmas Carol” where the grumpy character Ebenezer Scrooge uttered the same in his declaration that the Christmas season was a fraud. Scrooge was a miser who believed that the giving of gifts commercialised the concept of Christmas. He was accused of lacking any Seasonal ‘spirit’ – and several ghosts haunted him into liking Christmas.
This evening I battled my way through the crowds of Boat Quay to meet with some friends for dinner. Boar Quay is one of the main tourist districts of Singapore. It is located on the banks of the dirty Singapore River and it is neither a quay nor are there any boats. This is typically Singaporean.
Whilst beating my way through crowds of locals and tourists – many of whom were tinselled up or adorned in some other way in Christmas garb – I heard someone yelling. “Ay Oop ‘ep”
The voice was male and the accent was unmistakably that of a Northerner.
I paused in my stride and was looking around when I once again heard the Northerner voice, “Ay Oop o’er ‘ere ‘ep”
My roaming eyes quickly identified the voice as belonging to a Northerner friend of mine who we call the Hammer. He was perched on a bar stool at an outside table of a pub called the Penny Black.
Some readers may already be confused – as is the spell check function of my computer. The automatic spell check function on the word processing software of my computer does not recognise the Northerner dialect. It is rejecting the term “Ay Oop” and is bewildered by the absence of consonants in the Northerner diction.
As it should be.
A Northerner is someone who comes from the northern part of England. They are doubly cursed by being both English and coming from a part of the country that is subject to ridicule and scorn by their own kinfolk. I however quite like them.
“Ay Oop” is a Northerner greeting that is fairly flexible in its use. It can be used to say ‘hello’ or ‘goodbye’ as well as a form of general acknowledgement in conversation.
The phrase, “Ay Oop o’er ‘ere ‘ep” directly translates to “Hello – over here Hep”
I am not ‘Oop’. I am ‘ep.
The Hammer is quite a typical Northerner in that he is a large and dour unit. Like many Northerners he is an enormous consumer of alcohol, is a spendthrift of the highest order – and he normally oozes misery. The Hammer is a modern day Ebenezer Scrooge.
I beat my way through the throng of map-carrying and sweaty tourists and Santa-hat wearing bar attendants and arrived at the Hammers table. He was seated with another Northerner named Harry and a fat German bloke named Horst.
“Ay Oop ‘ammer, Ay Oop ‘arry, Ay Oop ‘orst” I greeted the trio.
I am fluent in Northerner.
“Ay Oop ‘ep” the Hammer repeated.
“Ay Oop ‘ep” echoed Harry.
The fat German named Horst muttered something guttural that was difficult to make out as he was also drinking from a bottle of beer when he was saying it.
The fat German bastard Horst does not like me - and he has told me as such - because I refer to him as the fat German bastard Horst. I call him this because he is fat and a German and a bastard. There are of course other reasons that Horst and I dislike each other – however I will not elaborate further here as that is a tale unto itself.
“Y’Oright ‘ep?” asked the Hammer.
“Y’Oright ‘ammer innit” I replied.
This is essentially a Northerner exchange of pleasantries where we are asking each other whether we are alright. “Innit” in it’s literal form is asking “Isn’t it?” – however the English tend to drop this word indiscriminately into many conversations.
As do I.
“Y’Oright ‘ep?” enquired Harry.
“Y’Oright ‘arry innit” I responded.
“How are you fat German bastard Horst?” I jibed at the fat German bastard Horst.
He glared at me in response.
“Fookin Christmas” the Hammer said as he drained the contents from a bottle of Tiger beer
Harry nodded his head grimly in agreement.
“Ay Oop” I concurred.
“What are your plans for Christmas Hammer and Harry?” I enquired of the Northerners. I was ignoring the German Horst for the moment.
“Nout” they replied in unison.
This is Northerner for ‘nothing’.
“You are staying on the Island?” I enquired.
“Aye” said the Hammer.
“Ay Oop” grimaced Harry.
Both “Aye” and “Ay Oop” mean the same thing in this instance – and the meaning is an affirmation.
“Wha’ abou’ youse ‘ep?” enquired the Hammer.
The Northerners often have difficulty in pronouncing the letter ‘t’
“’ome to Oz ‘ammer” I replied in perfect Lancastrian.
The fat German bastard Horst made another sort of phlegmy guttural noise that could have been just clearing his throat – but I took it as a form of derogation.
“What about you then Horst – are you and your kind planning another crack at world domination - or perhaps a bout of genocide?” I asked.
Horst spat on the ground in contempt.
I was about to launch into the German however at that moment a pair of tiny and quite young green-clad Singaporean girls appeared at the outside bar – each carrying a basket of what appeared from where we were sitting to be Easter eggs. They were handing these out to patrons.
The desire to set them on fire was immediate and compelling – however I resisted.
I was surprised when the munchkin type creatures made a fairly direct beeline towards our table and I was even more surprised when one of them embraced the fat German bastard Horst in a rather intimate fashion.
Horst looked much chuffed.
The phrase ‘beeline’ relates directly to the behaviour off bees – the buzzing type – not the second letter of the English alphabet. When one of the forager bees finds nectar or pollen it flies back to its hive and communicates the source to the other bees. It does so by releasing a chemical and also performing a type of dance that bee enthusiasts refer to a ‘waggle dance’. The collector bees then fly directly to the nectar following the shortest possible route. This is referred to as the beeline.
“What’s going on here Hammer?” I enquired of the Northerner as the fat German bastard Horst cuddled and embraced the tiny munchkin girl.
“I assume that is one of Horst’s many illegitimate children?”
“Tha’s ‘is girlfriend” replied the Hammer.
“Jaysus” I retorted.
The fat German bastard must be sixty years old – if he is a day - and the tiny Chinese girl appeared to be no older than twenty.
Love really is blind methinks.
Now that the baskets that the little munchkins were closer I could see that they contained not Easter eggs – but humbugs. These are hard boiled sweets that contain peppermint. They are distinctive in that they are small, white and egg-shaped decorated with colourful stripes.
“What creatures are you dressed up as?” I enquired of the other girl.
“Guess” she responded.
“Smurfs?” Harry offered.
“Gremlins?” I suggested.
“Imps?” enquired the Hammer.
Horst again made some disgusting and indecipherable Germanic noise as he continued to embrace his girlfriend and it was unclear to me whether he was contributing to the conversation.
“We are elfs lah” the Singaporean girl squealed.
“Elfs?” I enquired.
“Yes Christmas elfs” she giggled.
As with the Northern dialect, the auto spellcheck and correct function on my Mac is rejecting the word ‘elfs’ – and quite rightly so. I momentarily considered the merits of informing the elf that the plural of elf is elves – but I simply couldn’t be bothered.
“And what do you think these sweets that you are handing out to patrons are?” I asked
“Christmas candy” she replied.
She thrust her basket towards us and both Harry and the Hammer took handfuls. They then put the handful into their pocket and grabbed some more. Free stuff and thrift is irresistible to the Northerners. I have seen many examples of this before. It is the Northerner way.
“These are humbugs aren’t they Hammer?”
“Ay Oop” he replied.
The only relationship that I could fathom between the humbugs that were being handed out by the elves and Christmas was the Ebenezer Stooge connection. This was either a brilliant public protest against the consumerism of Christmas by the Bar owner who had employed the elves - or a confused Singaporean interpretation. I am leaning heavily towards the latter.
“’Ave a beer ‘ep?” asked the Hammer
“Cannot Hammer” I replied
“You know very well that I do not drink and I must go now and meet some friends for dinner”
I cast the fat German bastard Horst a withering look of disgust and contempt – for his elven girlfriend was now sitting on his lap and their tongues were entangled in messy kisses. I grabbed a handful of humbugs from the other Singaporean elf as I stood.
“So long Hammer and Harry” I said as I departed
“Merry Christmas ‘ep” nodded the Hammer.
“Merry Christmas ‘ep” echoed Harry.
“Bah humbug,” I said to them both.
Then I walked away.