Hey there and welcome to the BigAppleSchool podcast. My name is Sam.
And today we’re asking what’s the craic about the British Isles.
Well I hope we soon find out, if we don’t it’ll be a big trouble.
Indeed we’ll do our best, we’re gonna define for you listening, and talk about our experience and connection with it, because both of us are somehow in it inexplicably connected with the British Isles.
We’ll talk about the culture there and the differences that there might be in these little places, the difference in food and anything else that might come up: slang, for example. Any problems we may have had in the British Isles. So, are you all sitting comfortably, listeners? Stephen?
And tell us about you? Cause this is your… this will be your first experience on a podcast.
Yes, it’s the first time in this podcast. I’m very excited to be taking part and I hope we can have a good chat about our native… Our native Britain.
Right. And you’re a teacher at BigAppleSchool, right?
Yes, I’ve taught here for many years now. I don’t get to remember how long – maybe four or five.
Okay. Right, right. Since you were about 20?
Well, I think you can add another 30 years, no no no, 35 years into that.
Okay. And, Stephen, can you define please the British Isles for ourselves?
I think it’s quite easy to say that the British Isles is made up of all the islands and the mainland of Great Britain and Ireland.
Different think is the British Isles and the United Kingdom is that the British Isles includes the republic of Ireland, and it also includes the strange islands that around the Great Britain.
Does it include the Isle of Man? The British Isles?
It includes the British… The Isle of Man is included into the British Isles, yes.
And if you don’t know, that’s a little island, kind stuck in the middle, between mainland Britain, England, Scotland, Wales, and the rest… the island of Ireland, including Northern Ireland, the republic.
That’s right. If you have a lot of money, you can invest it there, because it’s tax-free.
Right. Yeah. I’ve been there, and I’m not sure I want to live there though. Okay, and what can I add?
Well, just to clarify, make sure people understand – the republic of Ireland is not the UK, it’s governed independently in Dublin, but it is classed as the British Isles, so it’s not a governmental thing. It simply classes as the British Isles, even though they are not British there.
That’s right. The British Isles is the geographical situation. It’s not political at all.
It was invented by the Romes.
You know a lot more about this than I do.
Which was Great Britain in English. And Britannia Parva - it was a Little Britain, which was Ireland.
Oh my goodness, really? Wow.
And so that’s the British Isles.
I learn something new every day. Stephen, where were you born?
Well, if I say I was born in Mansfield, England - nobody will know where that is.
I don’t even know where that is, and I know it’s England.
So, I usually say when people ask me where was I born – I usually say I was born near Manchester. Cause everybody knows where Manchester is.
Been there, and I know where that is. Do you… on a map?
or roughly at least. It’s quite close to Liverpool, if you don’t know. Which is quite close to the coast. It is north-east of England, am I right? Correct me if I’m wrong.
It’s the industrial heartland of the… of the North of England, where all the real work is done.
Right, right. There are coal mines, or is there…?
There are usually coal mines, but before Margaret Thatcher closed them down….
There was a bit of a hullabaloo about that.
about this, before your time I think.
… before my time or maybe when I was a little toddler.
84… I would’ve been one year old.
I was a young school master in Derbyshire at that time. That’s when Margaret Thatcher closed the coal mines and there was a huge protest.
Yes, right. I’ve heard about this in my history lesson. I was too young to care.
I was looking for… looking for my nappy at that time. Sorry that makes you feel bad.
Did you grow up in that area then? Mansfield, yeah?
Mansfield is in Nottinghamshire, which was in the… coal fields.
I was taken at age 6 days old across the border to Derbyshire, where I grew up in a little town called Alfreton.
And I stayed there until I left university in 1981.
Okay. Was it bigger than Mansfield or…?
No, about the same size, 25 thousand… 25 thousand…
Small town. Mansfield is very famous, or used to be very famous for beer.
It’s the Tomsk of Great Britain.
Right, right. And I.. I’m also from the UK, from the British Isles, but not from Great Britain. I’m from Northern Ireland. And actually I’m just thinking – it’s quite similar. My town is Portadown, with the closest well-known place, Belfast, which is a regional capital.
And it’s about 50 kilometres North-East of Portadown and it’s the same size – 22 thousand, as where you grew up.
That’s right. I know Portadown quite well – its motto, if I’m not mistaken, is “This far and no further”.
I didn’t know that, but I can understand it.
We’d better explain that it… in the former times when there was a lot of trouble between the nationalists and the loyalists, Portadown was…
Two different mentalities of Irish people, yeah…
Yeah, right right right. And it’s… Yeah, wow, there’s a lot of history in Northern Ireland. And recent history – a lot of things we could talk about, but maybe we will save it for another time.
Well, let’s see how we get on. Did you travel in the British Isles as a boy?
Yes. My grandmother, my mother’s mother, was quite a traveler – she’d grown up in India and she was taken by her father and mother at a young age to Dublin.
Where her father, my great-grandfather was at a great western railway, which was a big railway that was being built.
And they lived in a place called Kingstown, and there were troubles in, I think, 1922 or a little earlier I think.
Yes, when there was a… just after the Easter rising with… Okay.
Yeah, I think you’ll have to look that up on the…
Easter rising people, yeah.
They moved up to a Bangor, Northern Ireland, not far from where you hail from.
And then they moved over to Derbyshire.
And talking about my travelling – my grandmother took me to Ireland several times, when I was a little boy. The only other place I travelled, because in those days, in the 1960s and 70s it wasn’t usual to travel around so much. We didn’t go abroad.
Even in the 80s, sorry, 70s… Even when my parents were younger, it was unusual even for them to travel actually, yeah.
The people stayed at home for the holidays. But, as I said, my grandmother took me to these places, and the only other place I visited at school was France. First with my grandmother, then with school. And I never travelled, I never had a passport until I was, I think, nearly 30 years old.
Right. Wow. It is different today, isn’t it?
Even in my life it’s changed actually, because 90s it wasn’t normal to go outside the UK, and well I was saying we often travelled from Northern Ireland by boat, by ferry. We went to England, or Scotland, or even occasionally to Wheels, and it was quite normal for our family in the 90s to go camping, for example, in England or in other places in Great Britain.
So, and we quite well travelled. I never really visited Ireland because of the so much political problems during the 70s. Sorry, during the 90s, when I was a boy. Even then there were a lot of terrorist attacks and problems, and so it wasn’t generally seen as a good idea to go down South.
No, people were very wary in those days of travelling out of the, like, district even. And Belfast, which is the capital of Northern Ireland, was very dangerous place in the 70s and 80s.
Belfast was quite notorious, because of the bombings and terrorist attacks against policemen. And with different groups involved, and also a part of Ireland was a center of activity as well.
That’s right. The most people that were killed were in the city of Armagh – they had greatest casualties, even more than London, which was very…
Yeah, and it’s not far actually from Portadown.
I think we should say to our dear listeners, that Northern Ireland is not that type of place now. If you…
If you’re visiting, tell us a little bit about benefits of visiting.
I think we really need to deal with the elephant in the room, to talk about that. During… when did that happen? 1960… 1960s…
69, right. They really kicked off a problem with… between two mentalities in Northern Ireland, between mostly Irish Catholic people who believe in the United Ireland – Northern Ireland becoming a part of the political system of the rest of Ireland.
And they were merely kinda protest that British identifying people who are classed as unions believe in the United Kingdom. And they want Northern Ireland to stay in the United Kingdom. And there was, it seems, I don’t think I’m wrong and say no there wasn’t a life – there was a lot of prejudice against catholic people.
There was. Well first of all, I think… we have to… People have to realize that Ireland is basically two races – there’s the Celts of the south, and Northern Ireland – that was mainly inhabited by the Scots.
Yeah, Scots and English people.
It was settled by the Scots – Picks they were called from Scotland.
Way back in the early 1600s.
Oh no no no, much before.
We’re talking about before the Norman conquest 800s-900s.
And then they were driven out..
How do you remember that?
I read it. And then they were driven out by the incoming Celts from the South, from Europe. And they went into Scotland.
And then they were talking about the settlement and the plantation of Ulster.
When the Scots came back and when the English people came in, and that caused problems because….
Even today it’s a source of contention.
The Catholics couldn’t get work.
So, speaking about sort of 60s and 70s – it was a strong… There was a lot of strong feeling among Irish Catholics, that they weren’t being treated well. And due to.. well…
Bloody Sunday, I think – was the main thing that kicked it off. There were a lot of people killed during a protest by policemen – we still don’t really know who’s to blame today for sure, I mean. It’s not been determined for sure.
The thing was – I think it was 1968 or 1969, the civil authorities had problems maintaining law and order. And the Prime minister of Northern Ireland – I can’t remember his name – O’Neill I think it was…
…invited the British army to come. And this caused a lot of problems, because the British army sort of didn’t know how to deal with the situation very well, and that leads us to the Bloody Sunday, where it was said that the army opened fire on innocent civilians. Whether they did or not – nobody knows. It’s a…
It’s still contentious as of today.
And well, leading on from that, there were about 30 years of terrorism and conflict in Northern Ireland. And groups from both sides of the … if you like were shooting in each other, and the police force army – and even blowing up civilians at times. It was really quite.. it occasionally spilled over into England as well.
We had a lot of terror attacks in England in the 70s – in Gilford, for example. There was a Gilford pub bombing, pub bombing – and the wrong people were arrested and served about 20 years in jails.
Right. Goodness. That’s not….
Right. But, on a positive note, I wanna promote Northern Ireland, in 1998 there was, finally, piece agreement signed, and shaky start, and it’s still shaky at times, but there.. it’s a sea of country to stay in, to visit, and has been for 20 years or so.
If I’m not mistaken, statistics are that it’s the safest region of the united Kingdom.
It’s quite rural too, actually. I know the rest of the UK can be like that as well.
But it is a beautiful place, so if have an opportunity…
That’s why I wanted to talk to you today – I wanted to promote Northern Ireland.
Beautiful countryside, yeah. And lakes! Lochs!
Yeah, lochs we call them, but lakes they are. And in fact it’s called the emerald isle – it’s part of Ireland geographically at least, and it is the Emerald Isle, it is very much green and beautiful. Full of wildlife.
And full of jokes as well, I think.
Good humor, yeah. That’s what we call the craic.
So, let’s think about the culture differences. Can you tell me… So, having travelled a bit, can you tell me much about the culture differences between the different parts of the UK?
I would say that the main cultural difference is not between England… between the different countries, but between the North of England, which I would also include a part of Scotland, because it’s historically was Eidyn’s Borough which was Edinburgh.
wow, I’m getting a real history lesson.
The whole of the North of England. So, the culture of the north of England is entirely different from the culture of the south.
What it means for us today is that the people in the north of England still use a lot of the old language of England. Or not of England, but Scandinavia.
Well, they would say it’s not slang words, it’s dialect, it’s the different words for different things, like to loop, for example – it means ‘to jump’.
to jump over a style. A style is a place where you cross a fence. To step on a board, to step over a fence.
Yeah, I know what a style I, I usually try to cross them in style.
But I don’t… I’ve never looped over a style, but that’s… I’ll try it the next time. Wow.
And they still use a lot of the thee and thou in the north of England. Like if you’re studying your English grammar, you’ll know that the old form of ‘you are’ was ‘thou art’.
And in the north of England they won’t say ‘how are you?’, they’ll say ‘how art thou?’
It’s kinda normal… It’s not an abstract…
No no, it’s not an abstract, it’s based in the countryside, and then the…
And that’s the singular form of ‘you’?
You, yes. Thou.. How art thou? is a contractor of ‘How art thou?’, ‘Are you alright?’
And they have ambrosia custard?
No, that’s in the Devon and Cornwall I think.
That’s another part of old England. That wasn’t part of England.
…Devon and Cornwall – that was part of Wales.
Right. The Wales’ lost out. It’s a nice place. If you ever go to Devon, you get a nice scone.
It’s kinda like a sweet bread, or not too sweet, with some strawberry jam and some clotted cream.
I don’t know how, what the equivalent would be in… maybe it’s kinda like сгущенка in Russia, but it’s not quite…
No, it’s … cream, it’s very thick cream that’s brought into a very low ovenette on very slow heat for all night. And it congeals.
No, but my grandmother used to make it.
wow. Okay. It’s delicious.
And a cup of tea or coffee with that. It goes down very well.
And jam, and scones. Cause I think in the north of England I think they call them scons.
In the south of England they call them scones.
It sounds like that to me. Maybe because I’m just not used to it. We in my family always say [scon]. That’s how we say it.
Well, that’s better than… How do they call it in Northern Ireland – somebody once sent me for… what’s that special bread that they eat?
The farl, oh yeah! Soda farl is great! Or barn bread. Or potato bread. We’d sometimes call tatty bread. Oh man, it’s fantastic. Have you noticed… I mean, you’ve been in the republic for a while, have you?
Have you noticed the difference between it and Northern Ireland?
How would you describe it?
I think, people in the south of Ireland are much more… well their language is much more musical. And softer.
And also, I think, they have much more relaxed view on life.
I would agree with that, for sure. I don’t know, I mean… I think the Northern Irish accent is – it’s an accent of its own, not just one of several, but definitely I would agree that the Irish from the republic, I think, are much more chilled out.
I think we in Northern Ireland tend to be a little bit more like, kind of business style from England, we’re more organized.. want to be more organized and more strict than… in Ireland I think they are chilled out and relaxed.
In the north they are much more intense.
The talking is much more urgent and…
You can do this accent much better than me.
Aye, I’m from Northern Ireland, so I am – that’s Northern Irish accent. It’s only one of them, but…
Yes, yes. The best one is from, I think… what’s this Scottish town? Ballymena…
Ballymena, right. This is … Scots in the sort of north-central Northern Ireland and it’s a different accent – even strange to me, the accent there, actually.
It’s a bit like ‘Ballymena eh’. It’s very, almost Scottish, honestly.
But you could see Scotland from Ballymena…
It’s just across the way.
They’ve deep roots from Scotland.
Well, its culture… Coming back to the different cultures of the United Kingdom – I think you’d find the best, one of the greatest cultural places in Edinburgh, because that is a really beautiful city, culture. And it’s supposed to have the best English accent.
Yes. Because that didn’t use to be the capital of Scotland, Edinburgh was the capital of Northern England.
It was… The Scotland was really made of the lowlanders.
Which were from Northumberland. And highlanders, which are tribes, the McCampbells, the McDonalds, the McDougalls, the McDuffs.
And all of these tribes were constantly fighting one another.
And the only people they allied with against another tribe was English.
Oh, it was very dirty work of…
That was a bad duo. As we would say…
And what about differences in food? Culinary differences? Have you... I mean… Well, what did you find when you traveled to Northern Ireland, I mean, we were talking about Tatty bread…
Soda Bread is very popular.
There is difference between Irish porridge and Scotts porridge and English porridge. Irish porridge tends to be very thick and lumpy, I think.
Scottish porridge is full of salt.
And English porridge is like a …. It’s soft and white.
Yes I do, yes I do. I don’t like Irish porridge.
And differences in… People will probably know the fried breakfast we have. We have our English breakfast, we have an Ulster fry, we call it. And then you have your Irish breakfast. Do they have it in Scotland as well?
I am sure they have it, but whether they call it a Scottish breakfast, I don’t know.
I think in Highlands or “the hee-lands” as they call them, they may eat fish for breakfast. It’s more traditional.
one thing that the Ulster fry contains which we used to have in Britain, but we don’t like it so much now is black and white pudding.
Oh, black and white pudding.
It’s made of blood, yeah. Is it basically blood and some suet and…
Suet and oats.. And it’s just fried, isn’t it?
I think it is boiled first, then it is fried.
And I, for a long time, in fact through all of my childhood, I never ate it. I never at all tried it and then I did try it not long ago and although it is the main ingredient, or one of them is blood, it is quite delicious.
And it’s not what I was expecting.
It’s rather like fried “kolbasa”.
Yeah, yeah, okay. Maybe a little bit, a little bit softer, maybe.
Not hugely different. What about slang? We talked a little bit about some slang, like using thee and thou.
That’s not slang, that’s… If you go to the isle of England they would say, that that’s correct grammar.
That’s how Shakespeare wrote.
You could argue, they’re right, actually.
Slang, I think, are words, which were coming from different places, which really don’t mean anything. They are just invented words, so…
Right. Like the craic. What’s the craic.
I think maybe that’s an old Irish word, I don’t know.
I think, it has got roots in English, actually.
But and we have “foundered”, do you know the word “foundered”? I am foundered.
Here, right here in Siberia I would be foundered.
“Foundered” is to be verical.
And then there is “going out in your dissabells”. Have you heard about that? Well that’s an old saying I believe.
That comes from the French “disobille” – to be without clothing. And it means to go out in your old clothes.
I must admit I haven’t ever tried that. Or maybe I’ve tried that old clothes, but…
it’s like in your gardening clothes.
Actually every once and again, even in Northern Ireland, some of the, kind of slang and dialect can shock me.
There is one part of the Northern Island where they say [waan] instead of “one”, you know.
The first time I’ve heard it , I almost burst out laughing, I was so shocked. Then there was… The rest of the numbers. They were quoting the phone number: “one-four-seven-one’. And I was like what? Every other number sounded normal, but [waan] was so strange to me.
I believe on the Island they still use the old pronunciation of “chaos” – [kasos]
No! Not in my experience.
In the South Side they do, yes.
Not where I have come from. Not in my family at least.
Oh, you are probably more cultured than…
Of course. Don’t you know that?
I have never heard it, honestly, I’ve never heard it. Chaos is a chaos to me. Never heard another option. What’s it?
Never heard of that. Now I will start using “Chasos”.
Have you ever had a problem with an accent in the British Isles?
I had a problem, and it was not problem with the people, it’s a problem with Irish Catholics of Armagh. I’ve lived in Armagh for couple of months some years ago and I still meet some people form there. And there’s one chop, I just can’t understand the word he’s saying.
I have to ask him to repeat and to speak the “Queen’s English”
Oh if you say ‘the queen’s English’ – you might not be in his favor.
I once went to Cork. And I went to what we call a chip shop to buy chips, or fish chips, or something of that kind… And the man serving me, asked if I wanted salt vinegar - which is what we often put on chips. And there were just so happened to be a local… not a local, but someone living locally with me, and quite honestly, she had to translate. I had no clue, and if he had repeated it 20 times, I still wouldn’t have known what he said.
This was in Cork. Cork is very south of the republic of Ireland. I had not one clue – I could understand everything else, but when he asked for salt vinegar, do I want salt vinegar, I had no notion, honestly.
There’s no syllable that sounded like it to me. So, and occasionally there are some accents, very strong… people that speak with a very thick accent – in England, too. But in Dublin I’ve noticed it can be difficult to make them out sometimes.
In Dublin I think there is a specific accent, which is difficult to understand, but I think most people, especially educated people, they can’t speak…
They can speak well if they…
…well. But they do know a lot of old ways to put it on.
You know, I think it’s a kind of identity for people and I… in fact, when I was in my early 20s I used to speak with a very strong accent and very strong local Northern Irish accent. And for me it was a part of my identity.
When I started working in an office in Belfast with lots of people from all over the country, the region. I kinda dropped it and started to speak more clearly. Which wasn’t.. probably not a bad thing. I think if I heard myself talking “that’s a wrong accent”. I’d cringe, but at the same time I felt – this is my identity and I don’t want to hide it.
Before the 60s and 70s in schools they did teach people to speak the Queen’s English, as we… when I was at school, if you went speaking as if down here ‘what were you doing tonight?’ – the teacher, the master would say ‘you don’t speak like that here, you speak the Queen’s English’.
Right. And so now you speak like it… But Queen’s English – I mean, what is it?
Well this is another point, because I think…
We could argue about that.
The queen’s English, I think was a combination of English that was made up by the BBC.
Started when newspapers were first introduced, because they had to find words which everybody understood. So a lot of local words were dropped.
Right, okay. So, it’s basically a UK standard English.
It’s a standard English, so everybody would understand it.
Right. And I remember I’ve heard some of the old BBC broadcast from TV – and they were so posh. They speak like… They, honestly, they speak so… not only clearly but their pronunciation – it’s impeccable, and it’s very… To me it sounded like they’re so rich and so well-to-do, and not, you know… it’s disconnect with ordinary people. I don’t know if I can demonstrate it. … Very very sophisticated almost accent.
But there was a very famous broadcaster called Wilford Pickles – he was a broadcaster before the war. And he was a Yorkshire man. And he spoke with a very broad Yorkshire accent, and was an actor as well.
He did.. in the war, when the BBC was threatened by the nazis, they started to introduce news readers – they had to first of all to speak their name, who it was, before they were anonymous. And they brought Wilford Pickles in with his slight Yorkshire accent, because they thought that the Germans could imitate very precisely received pronunciation.
But they could not imitate correctly a Yorkshire accent. It wasn’t that it was so broad, Yorkshire, just…
No, no. It would… he would say ‘Here’s the news and this is Wilford…’ – he was reading it. And at the end of the midnight he would say ‘Oh this is the end of the broadcast for today, Good night everyone. And for those people in Yorkshire ‘good night’.
[neit]. Right. So they knew that he wasn’t a German.
But after the war he did a program where he went interview people around the country and he was taken by… he was interviewing an old man, a farmer, and the farmer said ‘Did you get good replies from people when you went on with that Yorkshire accent on the BBC? Was it popular?’ He said ‘Well it’s very funny, cause it was popular with everybody, except Yorkshire’.
And he said ‘I couldn’t think why it was not popular in Yorkshire’. And then this old farmer said ‘Well, I can tell you exactly, Wilfred’.
He said ‘we sat out there listening to you on wireless, reading news. And I said to my Mable… We send our army to grammar school to learn to talk proper, and all we hear on wireless is Wilfred Pickles speaking like we do’.
Good accent. Ont wireless. Great. Well… And I think nowadays broadcasters speak with their own accents – of course, they still use the standard English.
So, to conclude, what is your favorite place? You’re not gonna offend me if you don’t say Northern Ireland, but what is your favorite place in the British Isles?
I’ve recently started to discover Scotland, and the islands of Scotland on the West coast. And I’d never been before until about two years ago. And now I’m really very interested in that.
I’d like to go there too.
I haven’t been there yet. I’ve been up in the North-east, but never in the highlands of the west, so I would love to go there. But as far as.. I’ve been all over Ireland, and lots of places in the mainland UK.
But I like… I guess there are two places – I like Dublin to visit, at least. I like the sharp air and the culture and the atmosphere and it’s more relaxed than Northern Ireland. And I also love the mountains in Northern Ireland and I’ve talked about them before. The mountains, nice and small, simple, beautiful – not a lot of things that want to eat or bite you.
No mosquitoes. It’s a great place. So, that was the craic about the British Isles – we talked quite a bit about the political situation in Northern Ireland, we shared about the cultural differences between the Republic and Northern Ireland and even parts of England, northern side. We talked about the food, a little bit as well. About the language, some differences there. And about using or not using an accent. So that was the craic about the British Isles.