Today, while minding my own business in a car park, a man, opening the door for me made a noise that I thought had died out through evolution at some time in the 1970’s. He went: “NUUUUUARGHOOOR”.
I must point out that he didn’t seem drunk, under the influence of drugs, or “special needs” – just a middle aged man, with two others in an anorak/parka type garment. He made the noise as I ducked under his armpit to get into the car park.
I gave him my “consternation” look, which is intended to convey a mixture of disdain, slight confusion and a hint of “You are clearly mad” but like all my complicated “dirty looks” it probably came across as ‘Cross Tweety’ as usual.
I racked my brains as to why the noise was so familiar and if so, what did it actually signify? As I reached my car, I got it. The last time I heard that noise was in the ‘Carry On’ films, usually uttered by Sid James, Bernard Breslaw or Jim Davis.
It is, of course, archaic now. The noise was supposed to signify a primitive appreciation of the female form, rather like that other old fashioned sound, the ‘wolf whistle’. I remember the appropriate response to the whistle was to conjour up a fish-wife like voice and scream: “Wasser matter mate? Lost your farkin dog?” And everyone was happy that a tradition had been maintained.
As for the correct response to the guttural “NUUUUUARGHOOOR” I must admit I hadn’t a clue. I assume the origins of the sound reach far back into ancient history and may have been a Neandertal greeting prior to a mating display. Before my time.
On the way down the motorway, I started remembering other lost words and phrases from my childhood, which have disappeared from everyday conversation. Things like:
“You’ll put your eye out”
“Eat your crusts and your hair will curl”
“She’s all fur coat and no knickers”
“She’s only as good as she ought to be”
“Stop gallivanting about”
“Ha’penny for them”
And…the one that gave me a complex about touching my navel (to this day):
“If you unscrew your belly button your bum will drop off”
As children, with wild imaginations, we took all these catch-phrases to be literal truth. There is still some confusion about “She’s only as good as she ought to be” (what does that MEAN?) and “gallivanting” could be anything from being drunk and up all night to going too far on your bike and being late for tea.
It’s a shame that all these evocative and rich phrases are being supplanted by horrible things such as “selfies”, “Twerking” and the truly ghastly “YOLO” and “Awesome” but language has a life of its own.
The blight on my childhood began with the words: “It’s not ladylike to….” which applied to so many restrictions on the things I thought were fun, like whistling, climbing trees, tucking my dress into my knickers to play football, shouting or running about playing British Bulldog with the boys.
Later, those awful words applied to eating in the street, smoking, drinking alcohol, applying makeup in public, being noisy or laughing loudly. Who wants to be a lady, anyway?
But I became an approximation of one. At least to the naked eye. Given the chance, I still like to roll down hills, mess up my clothes, refuse to use an umbrella, skid across ice and slide down banisters. It certainly isn’t lady-like, or mature, for that matter. And I don’t care.