I’ve had some laughs in recent weeks by reading one of my dad’s favorite books, “The Glencannon Omnibus” by Guy Gilpatric (New York: Dodd, Mead & Company, 1942).
I always knew it was one of Dad’s favorites — partly because I heard him chuckling over it when he re-read it; partly because he pointed out funny spots over the years; and partly because no matter how the library around Dad changed, two books were always together and within reach — Glencannon and “The Complete Sherlock Holmes.” That’s how I knew where to put both books when I brought them to my apartment almost six months ago.
The omnibus consists of three books with seven copyright dates, the earliest in 1929: “Scotch and Water,” “Half-Seas Over” and “Three Sheets in the Wind.” Dad bought it in Washington during the war, meaning about 1944, before he set out across the Pacific on the merchant ship El Salvador Victory. He worked in the engine room.
Part of what kept me laughing at the stories is that Colin Glencannon of Scotland is chief engineer of the Inchcliffe Castle, a British merchant ship. Dad must have first read this book “after work,” or at least off duty, in the engine room of “Sally,” and the combination of dialects in the book must have given him some half-secret relief from the day’s — or night’s — work.
It isn’t just Glencannon’s Scots dialect aboard the Inchcliffe Castle. The first mate, Mr. (or “Muster”) Montgomery, answers the captain ” ‘Arf a mo’, Sir” (half a moment) early in the first story, and Bo’s’n Hughes soon reveals “a ‘Un h’officer” has come aboard “and says ‘as ‘ow ‘e’d loike to speak with the Captain, Sorrh.”
Hughes is promptly reprimanded with “And how often must I tell you not to call Dutchmen ‘Huns’?”
The mix of dialects and phonetic writing helped me decide to keep the book home even more than my desire to protect it. Once I got a tyste — er, taste — of Gilpatric’s way of using spellings to show accents, I felt a little like Audrey Hepburn in “My Fair Lady” — “Wot’s that agin? Wot’d yew sigh?”
But it didn’t take many stories before I was used to the different voices and accent just by the spellings. Even the relaxed spelling rules were fun at times… as long as I could use them to hear the words.
So I’m no ashamed to h’admit I ‘ad fun wi’ it, Professor ‘iggins! I m’y even write aboot it agin!
Margaret Serious has a page on Facebook.