Wednesday, 26 March 2008

When Storms Got Stuck In Coton Hole And Puddings Crawled...

From the family album...

Aunt Lou, Aunt Lizzie and Ruby awaiting a nice pot of tea at Grantchester, c. 1950s. The tea was remembered as rather a long time coming - service was slow!

On the subject of old sayings, my grandmother told me in 1987:

"If there was something you’d never do, you’d say, ‘I couldn’t do that - not for all the tea in China!’ If somebody was getting excited about something - you know, something that hadn’t happened yet, we’d chip in with: ‘There’s many a slip twixt cup and lip!’ "

Can you recall any others?


I enjoy recalling the sayings of my grandparents' generation. Some of them were said so often, they have become part of my own phraseology. Others were rarer but often funny or fascinating...

It seems there was a saying to describe anything or anybody. For instance, an habitually miserable person might have said of them: "Every time he/she smiles, a donkey dies!" Donkeys are apparently known for their longevity.

Somebody of steady temperament, but not particularly lively or quick was, "Slow but sure - like the donkey’s gallop!"

A forgetful person might say: “I’d forget my head if it wasn’t screwed on!”

A workaholic might be reminded: “You work to live, not live to work!”

An inquisitive person would sooner or later be told: “Your nose will never rust!”

According to some cynics, one should: “Cry at a wedding, laugh at a funeral!” The logic here was that a funeral a person’s suffering was over, whilst at the wedding their woes were just beginning!

When worries weighed heavily, people would say: “Ah well, you die if you worry, die if you don’t!”

When things looked dismal, you may be reminded that, “You should live in hope if you die in despair!” When confronted by a difficult problem: “If you can’t get over it, you should try getting under it!” In other words, look at the problem from all sides.

A bereaved person who was finding it difficult to resume their life might be gently reminded: “Life’s for the living - you can’t live with the dead.”

Somebody going out for a drink might promise a stay-at-home: "I’ll bring you one back in my hollow tooth!"

A flash show off might be described as, “All fancy net curtains and half a bloater for dinner!”

One of the oddest sayings I have ever heard, often used by my maternal grandmother, was directed at those who laughed at inappropriate times - particularly at the misfortunes of others. “You’d laugh to see a pudding [pronounced “pudden”] crawl!”

And then there was "Coton Hole"...

“If there was a storm in the night, Dad often used to sleep through it or just stay in bed,” Gran told me. “He wasn’t a man to get in a flap. But Mum and I would always get up and make tea! Sometimes a storm would rumble about, fade a bit, then come back overhead. Of course, Cambridge lies very low, like in a basin, and the storms would get trapped and keep coming back! We always thought that was terrible - frightened us to death! We’d say the storm had ‘got stuck in Coton Hole’!”

If Gran had a visitor on an overcast day and there was the slightest hint of sunshine after they arrived, she would always say: “Look at that - you brought the sun with you!”

A visitor leaving Gran’s house on a rainy day would be instructed to “run between the spots”!

Somebody who had over-eaten would probably be told, “Your eyes are bigger than your belly!”

"A creaking gate hangs on the longest", was often said of a person who suffered many minor ailments.

An old saying still in use today makes me smile. Somebody who has been on a long and rambling journey, perhaps in search of a particular location, might comment: "I've been all round Will's mother's!" My mother once commented: "We've been all round Will's mother's way, his wife's and his great-grandad's, and we still couldn't find it!"

My wife, who hails from Letchworth, pointed out a local verbal idiosyncrasy I am guilty of but was not previously aware of: around these 'ere parts, "several" might actually mean quite a large number. It's all in the intonation!

Similarly, she was highly amused to hear somebody described as "a young old boy" - but it made perfect sense to me! Ever since my earliest years, I have been used to this. When I was at school, we were all "good old boys" - "good old boy, ain't yer, Bretty?" my mates would say and I'd often return the compliment. You don't have to be old to be an "old boy" round this way - there are lots of "young old boys" too!

And middle aged ones - like me!

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