My Dad, like most Dads, had a large stock of well worn sayings and phrases. I never questioned their wisdom or provenance until I was older and had started using some of them myself. Many of them were mangled Brynaman Welsh, I have spelt them as he said them.
“Who do you think I am, Carnera?”
Said whenever my mother put an over large portion of food in front of him. I later discovered he was referring to Primo Carnera a six foot six Italian heavyweight boxer of the 1930s. My dad was a five foot nine middleweight at best. I still use this one myself to the bewilderment of my wife and children.
“Always dress to match the colour of the food you will be eating”
My dad was a notoriously messy eater so this bit of advice to me came from hard won experience. When my wife and I told my parents we were going to get married my father missed the announcement as he was busy examining a spot of gravy on his favourite tie. He was bewildered when he looked up to see my mother in tears thinking something had upset her.
“Gwyneb fel papur symans”
He would use this to describe anyone with a serious bearing, especially undertakers, for whom he did a fair bit of work. It means “a face like a summons paper”
“Cross rynt pwlin drws a post gwely”
Roughly translated as ‘a cross between a doorknob and a bed post’. He used this to describe our dog, a bizarre mongrel of Border Collie and Jack Russell Terrier that, with his wide back and short legs, resembled a sheep with a dog’s head. He also said that the dog was a “Town Band-a-Terrier”, god knows what that meant.
“If they want a carrot on it, I’ll cut a carrot on it.”
He used this as an alternative to saying the customer is always right. As a stonemason specialising in gravestone inscriptions the idea of being asked to carve a carrot on a headstone would have been unlikely, but I’ve no doubt he would have.
“Goodness gracious, what a smasher, two fried eggs and a bacon rasher.”
One of his saltier sayings I realised to my surprise as I got older. This was said in admiration whenever my mother was dressed up to go out. It never occurred to me that he was referring to her figure! My mother would invariably blush prettily.
“Fyddai’n chwythu fel gwydd”
In anticipation of indigestion. It means ‘I will be blowing like a goose’. Typically said after having a piece of Auntie Gladys’ undercooked Lemon Meringue Pie, or after having chips at lunchtime.
“I’m like a Barber’s cat — all wind and piss”
Following on from the above, and in the same vein, he would use this colourful phrase to describe a bout of heartburn. Usually while ruefully rubbing his stomach. It never stopped him eating though.
“Listen to half of what he says and believe half of that”
His standard advice on encountering anyone he suspected to be untrustworthy. I continue to employ this maxim whenever a politician opens his mouth.
“Dros y Mynydd Du i Fryn-a-man, lawr i Doctor’s Road i weld y sw”
“Across the Black Mountain to Brynamman, down to Doctor’s Road to see the zoo”. He used to sing this to wind up a friend of the family, Clive Owens who briefly worked for him and lived on Doctor’s Road.
Whenever he took a first sip from a cup of tea (served in his ‘vase’, a larger than average teacup) or coffee from his ever present and often broken Aladdin work flask. A popular catchphrase from a very old Bisto gravy advert. I can’t help but say this myself now at every given opportunity.
“Galle ni wedi byta penne pryfed”
“I could have eaten insects’ heads” Said after wolfing down a meal to express his prior hunger. He was generally trim throughout his life despite a prodigious appetite and valued every mouthful he was presented. I think it came from the meagre times he had as a child.
“I’d hate to be up on the mountain dressed only in a stud in this weather”
Said with an exaggerated shiver when it was raining, cold or windy (or all three) — which was a lot of the time in Brynaman.
“Mae e fel pwll tro”
“He is like a whirlpool”. Used to describe someone who went on and on about the same subject — once the whirlpool started you were stuck for ages.
“Bloody Gerwyn’s up fiddling with the aerial again”
Whenever the television signal was interrupted. Gerwyn was the village electrician who ran an electrical shop and also provided “piping” — an early form of cable TV that he ran from an industrial aerial up on the mountain (this may be apocryphal, but my Dad swore it was so).
“Sgitie (Esgidiau) dala adar”
This is how he referred to his crepe soled casual shoes — “Bird catching shoes”. He was a man of very regular clothing habits, changing out of his overalls and work clothes as soon as he came home with a defined wardrobe for evenings and weekends. Slacks and open neck shirts were his standard, I doubt he ever owned a t-shirt but was never without a vest. If he was going ‘out’ to Swansea, Ammanford or the pub he would wear a tie. He always wore a hat (usually a trilby with a feather in the band) when at work, though never when off.
“Gallen i ufed hanner peint o chwys bowler”
Uttered lustily when a great thirst was upon him — it means “I could drink half a pint of bowler hat sweat”!
This is what he called the secondary school he had attended in Ammanford in the forties. For years I thought that was actually its name. He always spoke of it as though it was some desperate inner city reform school like the one in “Angels with Dirty Faces”.
An expression of disgust meaning “Oh, Hell”. Often used with “Iysu, mowredd” — “Great Jesus” more an expression of amazement or wonder.
“O’dd e’n tasgu i gyd”
“He was all of a glow”. Usually after someone had had a beating.
In addition his names for me included: Bycani (bachgen i — my boy), Biggie-bees (my dog was Little Biggie-bees) and Ei ban — a common greeting/admonishment in Brynaman depending on the intonation. I hardly remember him ever calling me by my name.
I now have three boys and a girl of my own and I have a wide and varied selection of pet names for them. Sometimes I just call all of the boys Schmuckles as it avoids the need to remember their names or distinguish one from the other. As I was an only child my Dad had no excuse!