Monday, June 18, 2012

I was in a store today with my missus who was buying a pair of slippers. She chose a purple pair and said "I've never taken any notice of footwear superstitions."
This was a new one on me, so I asked her what she meant. "Purple", she explained, "used to be a mourning colour, so you don't wear purple. I once bought a pair of green shoes in a shop on Hessle Road, and the shopowner asked me where I was from."
Hessle Road, where my missus was born and raised was a fishing community and pishrogues, as I call them are attached to almost every aspect of life - dress, language, food, even making a bed has its perils.
On language, the words "pig" and "rat" were never to be uttered. I even heard of someone who wouldn't use the word "bacon" because of its association with pigs, though it didn't stop them eating the stuff. Pigs are "grunters" or sometimes "chackies", the last being a child's word. Rats are "longtails" or, according to Alec Gill, "Bradford Lads", usually shortened to Bradfords. What the men of Bradford had done to deserve this honour is a mystery.
The customs surrounding men leaving for a trip were numerous and, to me, weird. Cats had to be placed somewhere where they couldn't be seen. Waving goodbye was taboo, and the trawlerman leaving home must not look back. His clothes cannot be washed on the day of sailing.
Here's a strange custom from Alec Gill's "Hull's Fishing Heritage" - "After dad left the house, she threw his slippers at the door to 'ensure that he'd come back safely to wear them again'." From the same source another taboo - "never hang three sheets together on a clothes-line - a sign of death at sea." Presumably two sheets for a bed, the odd one for a shroud.

In spite of the green shoe incident I know my wife thinks that green is an unlucky colour, and is a little hesitant when buying green clothes. Some other pishrogues she subscribes to, though with varying degrees of conviction -
Don't cut a child's nails before it is two years old or it will grow up to be a thief; bite the nails if they need trimming.
Don't let a child under two years old see its reflection in a mirror or it will grow up to be vain.
(I should point our that these two went by the board as she raised her own children.)
Don't cut your own hair - unlucky.
Don't stitch on a Friday or a Sunday. Every stitch is a needle in the Lord's side.
(Not quite sure which Lord, presumably J.C. who would have had a side)
No pictures or ornaments featuring birds in the house. Birds, including live pets, are unlucky.
Et cetera, et cetera, ad nauseam.

I don't think that last bunch of pishrogues had anything to do with the fishing community. I believe they were inherited from her benighted rustic forebears. These things always seem to come down in the female line.


vza said...

I really enjoyed this post, Jemmy.

From my grandmother: The first sock you put on should be the left one...for good luck!

Jemmy Hope said...

Thanks for the feedback, vza.
Though I claim to be free of superstition I always put my right sock on first. I started this when I was a kid, having read that the Romans thought it unlucky to put on the left sandal first. I got it into my head that there might be something in it and the habit has stuck with me. Once the socks are on I then put my shoes on LEFT foot first. Don't know why.

ray said...

I only ever did one trip fishing (that was enough) and was told that it was a tradition to look back at the pierheads as the boat left. When I inquired why the answer was, " it might be the last time you see 'em."
Great post Jemmy.

Jemmy Hope said...

Cheers, Ray! You were what they call a 'one-trip wonder' in Hull.

Jemmy Hope said...

I should add that that's one more trip than I would ever have wanted to do.
Hull fishermen used to refer to the Merchant Navy as 'Big Boats'. Quite a few merchant seaman tried trawling when they couldn't get better, but it's a different game.