Vicars, beware of staples!

I lived in Greece for a year when I was 18, and my host wrongly thought I’d taught her son a naughty word.

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about certain words or phrases that I had got wrong in childhood. I mentioned that in church, I used to say ‘Thanks Peter God’ rather than ‘Thanks be to God’.

I have spent my life since then assuming I was the only person who ever thought that, but it turns out not to be the case. I was contacted by reader Graham Hunt whose son used to visit St Gregory’s Minster, Kirkdale, near Kirkbymoorside, because his grandfather was the organist and choirmaster there. After one such visit, he returned home to ask his parents “Who is Peter God?”, and the family regularly wheel out the story to this day. He also admits that, similar to my childhood pronunciation of ‘W.H.Smith’ as ‘WuhSmith’, he also used to call a well known brand of ink, ‘Step Hens ink’, until he learned it was actually ‘Stephen’s’.

Since I wrote that column, another couple of corkers came to mind. When I was 18 I took a gap year in Athens, Greece, where I looked after a four-year-old boy named Marios while his parents were at work. After a few weeks, his mum took me aside and said, “I think you have been teaching my son a new word.”

She looked quite cross, and I wondered what word she meant.

“S***t!” she said.

I was shocked, and began to protest my innocence, until she began to giggle, before explaining that Marios had been repeating the word ‘s***t’ to her over and over again, and she was about to seek me out to give me a stern talking to. But then she saw him motion with his hands and say ‘open’. He followed that by clasping his hands together again and saying what she now knew to be ‘shut’!

On the ‘potty mouth’ theme, a friend told me the story of their own memorable occasion which has passed down into family legend. She is from a large Irish family, and they all gathered for a special meal, a first for her new boyfriend. Their formidable grandmother, who originated from County Cork and possessed a very strong accent, was in attendance. The boyfriend was rather taken aback when she aggressively demanded of him, “Pass me the f*****g knife.” He fearfully scrabbled for a knife to give to her, but couldn’t understand why she gave him a look. “And the f**k! There, right there by you!” she said impatiently.

It was only with intervention from his girlfriend that he realised that what granny was actually asking was for him to pass her a fork and knife.

One particular avenue of incomprehension that I bet you will have travelled down is undecipherable pop lyrics. We have all at some point merrily sung along with words that we think are right, only to discover years down the line that we’ve been wrong. I can’t be the only one who would sing ‘Sue Lawley’ over and over again to ‘So lonely’ by The Police. Or how about ‘Poppadom Preach’ to Madonna’s ‘Papa Don’t Preach’? And isn’t it true that if we enjoy a song, but don’t really know what the words are, we simply invent noises that vaguely sound like the words, none of which you will ever find in an English language dictionary.

If you like this sort of thing, then I would highly recommend searching online for Peter Kay’s ‘Misheard Song Lyrics’. He recalls taking part in karaoke where they play the backing track, while the words to the song flash up on a screen as you join in. It’s only then that you realise the words you have been singing for the past 15 years have been nothing like the intended lyrics.

It had me in absolute stitches, and once you see him mouth his invented version to the actual song, you will never sing it the right way again. The one that had me laughing loudest was when he lip-synced along to ‘We Are Family’ by Sister Sledge. ‘Just let me staple the vicar’ he sang whereas the real line is ‘Just let me say for the record’.

Now, every time I hear that song, I have images of vicars being stapled by the cassock to the nearest object. I wonder what song lyrics you have unwittingly invented only to discover you were wrong all the time?

Contact me, and read more, at Follow me on Twitter @countrymansdaug

This column appeared in the Darlington & Stockton Times on 24th and the Gazette & Herald on 22nd September 2021

On the March for a myth

Me & Dad on the Greek island of Mykonos, which is in the Cyclades, in 1986

This column appeared in the Darlington & Stockton Times on 2nd March 2018, & the Gazette & Herald on 28th February 2018.

In my dad’s column from 4th March 1978 he mentions an old Greek myth relating to ‘angry’ March, so described because of the wind which tends to blow in from all directions throughout the month.

The myth stated that March was angry because an old woman from the island of Kythnos mistook him for a summer month, so he borrowed a day from his brother, February, and froze the old woman to death, along with her flock of sheep. It seems a rather extreme punishment for such a crime (I hope March isn’t reading this or he might come for me!).

My university degree covered the myths of Ancient Greece, and I spent a year in the country after leaving school at 18, and Mum & Dad came to visit me while I was out there. But I had never come across this tale and so set about researching it on the Internet. For ages I could find absolutely nothing and went through countless variations of search terms relating to the myth until I finally came across a brief reference on a site called The Internet Archive ( This amazing resource is a bit like an international version of the National Archives. Started in 1996, just as the Internet was beginning to take off, its grand mission is to provide ‘Universal Access to All Knowledge’ and now claims to have an almost unbelievable 279 billion web pages, 11 million books and texts, four million audio recordings and three million videos in its archive, all of which is free to access.

I found the bit I wanted in a substantial 19th century volume called ‘Weather Lore; A Collection of Proverbs, Sayings and Rules Concerning the Weather’ by a man called Richard Inwards. There were a couple of lines about the myth, which he attributed to a ‘T.Bent’. Nothing else.

In past columns, I’ve talked about my habit of wandering off topic so, of course, once again I set off meandering through the Internet to discover who this mystery ‘T.Bent’ was. I felt like a detective tying to get to the bottom of a rather obscure clue, having to think laterally and persist in search after search. I even went as far as page three on one set of Google results. I know, hard core.

But I’m glad I did, as it turns out ‘T.Bent’ had a very interesting story, and better than that, he was a Yorkshireman! Mr James Theodore Bent was brought up in the West Riding village of Baildon, and came from a well-to-do family. He developed a keen interest in history and grew up to become a distinguished archaeologist and adventurer. What is wonderful about this story, especially in a year when we are marking the achievements of the suffragette movement, is that his wife Mabel was as well known and as adventurous as he was. Together they toured the world to discover everything they could about foreign cultures and civilisations, and their findings contributed greatly to society’s knowledge about those unfamiliar worlds. Their resulting books were very popular and well-respected, presumably because, being fearless and intrepid explorers who often put themselves in considerable danger, their work must have been incredibly exciting to their less adventurous readers back home.

One of Theodore’s most well-known works was ‘The Cyclades, or Life Among The Insular Greeks’, published in 1885, which recounts his and Mabel’s adventures living among the rural inhabitants of these remote islands, and this is where he mentions the myth about March (and it is literally, just a mention, so I have no more to report on that!). He is not very complimentary about the island of Kythnos, declaring, ‘We thought we had never visited a more dreary, inhospitable shore.’

Sadly, it was on one of their adventures that Theodore contracted malaria and died prematurely at the age of 45 in 1897. Mabel was distraught, but found the strength to finish the book about ‘Southern Arabia’ that her husband had been writing at the time. But her deep grief was reflected in her words: “It has been very sad to me, but I have been helped by knowing that, however imperfect this book may be, what is written here will surely be a help to those who, by following in our footsteps, will be able to get beyond them.”

Mabel never remarried and died at the age of 83 in 1929. She was buried, as she requested, with her husband at her ancestral home in Essex. (Source: