Friday, May 10, 2013

You say jelly, we say jam, by Charlie Cochrane


You say jelly, we say jam. You call it jello, we call it jelly. You say “Hang a left at the rotary” and we say “Aaaargh”.

 

The Cochranes often holiday on the east coast of the USA. Let me state here and now we always have a fantastic time and are made to feel incredibly welcome wherever we go. (Although note to those of you across the Atlantic – the UK is a big place, full of people. If we say we’re from England, it isn’t likely that we’ll know your friend in London or Manchester or Edinburgh. Just sayin’.)

 

The fun and games start with the subtle differences in the language, which make everyday life and adventure and spice up our holidays no end – if you live in Massachusetts and ever see a family in your local supermarket, scratching their heads and wondering whether what was in the package was what they actually wanted, that could be us. You see, chips are chips, they’re not crisps. Likewise, chips are chips, they’re not fries.

 

Shall I start that again? What you call fries we call chips and what you call chips we call crisps. What you call cookies we call biscuits and what you call biscuits we call scones. Your muffins are not our muffins and your cheese is what we’d call plastic (that’s not a linguistic difference so much as one of taste).

 

Driving cars is fun. We have bonnets and boots – you have hoods and trunks. Our cars don’t run on gas (we use that for heating and cooking), they run on petrol. And we drive around roundabouts, not rotaries. As for sports, football is football and always will be. Not soccer. And hockey is played on grass, not ice. That’s ice hockey. And toilets are toilets, not restrooms. Am I sounding too grouchy? Sorry, I’ll behave myself.

 

In all seriousness, an appreciation of the finer differences in language can avoid all sorts of embarrassment, particularly if you travel east over the Atlantic and visit us. You see, if you say someone’s pissed, over here that doesn’t mean they’re angry. It means they’re drunk or might have wet themselves. And here, ‘period’ is more likely to be used as a noun for a menstrual bleed rather than a full stop. Don’t even think about the word ‘fanny’ – that’s not your backside, that’s…well just don’t use that word in polite company.

 


 
Promises Made Under Fire
by Charlie Cochrane
 
Available from Carina Press

 France, 1915

Lieutenant Tom Donald envies everything about fellow officer Frank Foden--his confidence, his easy manner with the men in the trenches, the affectionate letters from his wife. Frank shares these letters happily, drawing Tom into a vicarious friendship with a woman he's never met. Although the bonds of friendship forged under fire are strong, Tom can't be so open with Frank--he's attracted to men and could never confess that to anyone.

When Frank is killed in no-man's-land, he leaves behind a mysterious request for Tom: to deliver a sealed letter to a man named Palmer. Tom undertakes the commission while on leave--and discovers that almost everything he thought he knew about Frank is a lie...

 

Excerpt:

First light. A distant sound of something heavy being moved. A thin curtain of rain—the sort of misty, drizzly rain that soaked us through to the skin. Prospect of something for breakfast that might just pretend to be bacon and bread.

Good morning, France. An identical morning to yesterday and bound to be the same tomorrow. Tomorrow and tomorrow, world without end, amen.

I looked up and down the trench. The small world I’d become bound in was now starting to rouse, stretching and facing a grey dawn. The men were stirring, so I had to get out my best stiff upper lip. If I showed how forlorn I felt, then what chance had I of inspiring them?

“Morning, sir.” Bentham, nominally my officer’s servant but in reality a cross between a nursemaid and a housemaster, popped up, smiling. “Breakfast won’t be that long. You and Lieutenant Foden need something solid in your stomachs on a day like this.”

“Aye.” I nodded, not trusting myself to say anything else until I’d got my head on straight.

“Tea’s ready, though.” He thrust a steaming mug into my hands. Add telepathist to the list of his qualities. Maybe when I’d got some hot tea into me then the world might seem a slightly better place. “Quiet, last night.”

“It was.” I was going to have to enter into conversation whether I wanted to or not. “I don’t like it when they’re quiet. Always feel that Jerry’s plotting something.”

“He’s probably plotting even when he’s kicking up Bob’s a dying.”

“Bob’s a dying?”

“Dancing and frolicking, sir. Not that I think Jerry has much time for fun.” Bentham nodded, turned on his heels and went off, no doubt to make whatever we had in store for breakfast at least vaguely appetising. I took a swig of tea.

“Is it that bad?” Foden’s voice sounded over my shoulder.

“Do you mean the tea or the day? You’ll find out soon enough about the first and maybe sooner than we want about the second.”

“The perennial ray of sunshine.” He laughed. Only Frank Foden could find something to laugh about on mornings like these, when the damp towel of mist swaddled us.

“Try as I might, I can’t quite summon up the enthusiasm to be a music-hall turn at this unearthly hour.” I tried another mouthful of tea but even that didn’t seem to be hitting the spot.

“If you’re going to be all doom and gloom, can you hide the fact for a while? The colonel’s coming today. He’ll want to see ‘everything jolly.’” The impersonation of Colonel Johnson’s haughty, and slightly ridiculous, tones was uncanny. Trust Foden to hit the voice, spot on, even though his normal, chirpy London accent was nothing like Johnson’s cut-glass drawl.

“Oh, he’ll see it. So long as he doesn’t arrive before I’ve had breakfast.”

Foden slapped my back. “That’s the ticket. Don’t shatter the old man’s illusions.” He smiled, that smile potentially the only bright spot in a cold grey day. In a cold grey life. Frank kept me going, even on days when the casualty count or the cold or the wet made nothing seem worth living for anymore.

“How the hell can you always be so cheerful?”

“Because the alternative isn’t worth thinking about. Why make things more miserable when there’s a joke to crack?” They weren’t empty words—that was how he seemed to live, always making the best of things. He wasn’t like a lot of the other officers, plums in their mouths and no bloody use, really. The men loved him.
 

4 comments:

  1. i thought i was pretty aware of US English from my reading and infrequent visits, but somehow I've never come across "rotary" for "roundabout" before. I thought they were called something to do with circle - circular, maybe? Could it be an East coast usage?

    I thought a rotary was a type of club.... I'll just stay on the pavement/sidewalk, if I can find one.

    Fun post, thanks!

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    Replies
    1. Rotary is a sort of club, as well. It may well be an East Coast-ism - there must be as much dialectal difference as in the UK.

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  2. I have trouble with the things that just don't translate. There is no US word for a garage forecourt. Much confusion on both sides of the pond when I tried to use it.

    ReplyDelete