Recipe for laughter

In my column a couple of weeks ago I talked about the term ‘bramah’ which was used to describe something that is either unusual or of excellent quality. For example you might stay, “Eee, it’s a proper bramah that one.” I wrote that an exceptional 18th century South Yorkshire engineer called Joseph Bramah, most famous for inventing high quality locks, was likely to have influenced its use.

I was contacted by reader John Rodmell who put forward an alternative explanation for the origin of the term. He wrote: “I’ve always understood the word to mean ‘stunning example’ and have been led to believe it originates from the name of a particularly large chicken.”

The breed in question is called the ‘Brahma’ and is thought to have been developed in the United States from birds imported from Shanghai in China. Because of its considerable size, it was the principal meat breed in the US from the 1850s until about 1930. It came into the UK in December 1852 when some were gifted to Queen Victoria.

Although this could be true, I’m not sure it is as convincing as the Joseph Bramah explanation. I have found a variety of spellings and as well as bramah and brahma, we have brammer, brama and brammah, all meaning an outstanding person or thing. It has also been suggested that rather than originating in South Yorkshire, it is West Yorkshire folk who should take the credit. But then again, there are others who say it is of Scottish origin. Incidentally ‘bramah’ follows ‘brain fart’ in the slang dictionary I was using. This is an inability to think clearly or a moment of forgetfulness. As a result, I have diagnosed myself as a sufferer of chronic brain fartism.

I’ve also been contacted about mondegreens, a term that came into common use thanks to writer Sylvia Wright who as a child had confused the words to the 17th century ballad ‘The Bonnie Earl o’Moray’. For the line that went ‘And layd him on the green’, Wright heard ‘Lady Mondegreen’, and thus the term began to be used to refer to misheard song lyrics.

I received a very kind message from Caroline Hodgson who said: “Thank you very much for your lovely column each week…There is always something which I learn from it!” Caroline particularly enjoyed the ‘mondegreen’ article and sent in a few corkers used by her own family. We have ‘I believe in Milko’ (‘I believe in Miracles’, Hot Chocolate), ‘Checky tea towel’ (‘Chiquitita’ by Abba) and my personal favourite, ‘Bald-headed woman, more than a woman than me’, (‘More Than a Woman’, The Bee Gees).

And Graeme Cunningham wrote: “Due to a duff sound system in my local cinema where I saw ‘The King and I’, I heard Deborah Kerr sing: ‘I know how it feels to have wings on your heels, and to fly down a street in a tram.’ ” The correct version has a wistful Deborah flying down the street in a ‘trance’.

These recollections had me laughing out loud, so do keep them coming (either contact this paper, or get in touch through the contact page at

You may remember that last week I talked about witch bottles, everyday containers intended to ward off evil sorceresses that were filled with small objects such as fingernails, hair, pins and urine. The bottles were hidden by fireplaces, thresholds, graveyards and river banks to try to keep witches at bay.

By the time he had written his column the following week in 1981 (7th November), Dad had found some instructions which may still come in very useful if you are troubled by these dastardly old hags.

He informs us: ‘To destroy the power of a witch, take three small-necked stone jars. Place in each the liver of a frog stuck full of new pins and the heart of a toad stuck full of thorns from the holy thorn bush. Cork and seal each jar.

‘Bury in three different churchyard paths seven inches from the surface and seven inches from the porch. While in the act of burying each, repeat the Lord’s Prayer backwards. As the hearts and livers decay, so will the witch’s power vanish.’

So now, if you’re ever troubled by witches, you’ll know just what to do (keep this column handy though, just in case you’re struck by a brain fart).

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This column appeared in the Darlington & Stockton Times on 5th and the Gazette & Herald on 3rd November 2021