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Monday, 1 June 2020

New Month Old Post: M Dunham Are Crap

Never use a word if you don’t know what it means

(First posted 1st September 2014)

“That’s wrong” said Geoffrey Bullard, with his thick ape-neck and menacing stare. “It should be M Dunham is crap”. His fat finger stabbed at the offending word.

He thought he knew everything, and everyone else was stupid. It was too risky to explain. Football teams are plural: Rawcliffe United are great this year; Howden Town are terrible; M Dunham are crap. You can chant it:
M Dunham are crap,
M Dunham are crap,
Ee aye addio,
M Dunham are crap.

A league match between M Dunham and T Dunham c1960

It was my dad who first pretended we were football teams in a league. He was B Dunham, I was T Dunham, my brother Martin was M Dunham, and M Dunham were crap. It said so in red wax crayon on the back of the asbestos garage where Geoffrey Bullard had spotted it.


I didn’t realise that wax crayon on asbestos panelling is like permanent marker: waterproof, indelible, not-fade-away. There it was, and there it must have stayed for decades. Imagine the disapproving faces that pitied the ignorant child responsible, and wondered who was M Dunham, and why was he crap.

So, Geoffrey Bullard remained oblivious of the imaginary football teams, and, when he wasn’t round at our house bullying me, I could play imaginary football games in the garden. I had a full league of teams and fixtures, and played out each match on my own on the pitch of dried mud we optimistically called “the back grass”. This differed from “the front grass” only by being slightly bigger and by not actually having any grass, except that is for a few odd blades that struggled out of the earth before being unceremoniously stamped back in again by the boots of make-believe footballers.

I ran up and down with the ball, puffing and panting between one goal defined by chalk marks on the wall of the house and the other by the clothes posts near the back hedge, while providing the roars and boos of the crowd, and an excitable commentary. In my head they were all there: two complete teams of players, spectators, a commentator, the referee, the linesmen and the trainer with his ‘magic sponge’.

I drew up team sheets, match day programmes, fixture lists and league tables. I was everyone and did everything. These days, kids do the same with electronic games like ‘Top European Football Manager III’, but my fantasy was played in the back garden, much healthier for all the running around in the fresh air, with better transferrable skills from the manual record keeping, and no less unsociable than games consoles.

T Dunham were of course the best team by far. They always won and hardly ever conceded a goal. They usually beat M Dunham (who really were crap) by several goals to nil, and “The” B Dunham by a similar margin (my dad had once been to watch “The” Arsenal while on holiday in London).

It was not long before T Dunham were promoted out of the league containing the other Dunham teams into the local district league, where they played against proper teams such as the colliery, the dockers and the railwaymen, and teams from pubs and local villages. I picked my players for each match and posted their names on the wall inside our team hut, in other words the yellow shed.

The team was always set out in traditional 1-2-3-5 formation, with a goalkeeper, two full backs, three half-backs and five forwards. In those days we always had a centre forward, inside forwards and wingers; no one had yet heard of modern formations involving sweepers, overlapping midfielders and offensive 4-3-3 game plans.

One day, Geoffrey Bullard noticed a team sheet on the wall of the shed. “What’s that?” he asked, looking carefully. My team was laid out for all to see, ready for the West Riding Cup Final between T Dunham and Norton Woodseats. The captain, ‘Dunham’, in other words me, was on the left wing, my position the only time I had ever been selected for the school team. Some of the other imaginary players were also names from school. ‘Gelder’ was inside-left, ‘Longthwaite’ was centre-forward, and, as I realised to my consternation the same moment he spotted it, ‘Bullard’ was centre-half.

“Why am I only centre-half?” he demanded to know.

I cringed inwardly while he thought about it. He considered himself one of the best footballers in the school and naturally assumed his rightful role was top scorer in the forward line.

“Actually,” he then said weighing it up, “I would make quite a good centre-half,” and let me off the hook by showing no further interest.

But the wax crayon was still on the garage, and in due course my mother saw it.

“It won’t come off,” she sounded annoyed. “And anyway, what does it mean?”

It dawned on me that I didn’t really know what ‘crap’ meant either. I’d heard people say it, and thought it a satisfyingly grown up word to use. It just seemed to mean someone or something wasn’t very good. You could snarl it in real disgust, curling your upper lip, emphasising the ‘r’ and spitting out the final ‘p’. “C-RAP!” I had been saying it as much as I could.

“What’s this word, ‘crap’?” my dad asked. My mother had obviously been talking to him.

It was my dad’s sister, Aunty Dorothy, a hospital nurse, who gently enlightened us as to what it meant. She took me aside and asked in her quiet way: “Was it you who wrote in wax crayon on the back of the garage? You wrote, ‘M Dunham are crap’, didn’t you?”

I nodded.

“Well, you do know what it means, don’t you?”

I shook my head.

“It’s very very rude,” she said looking serious. “It means babba.” *

I wanted to giggle, but tried hard to look horrified and apologetic.

“It’s not a word we should be using at all,” she warned sternly. “And in any case, it’s very wrong to say that. It should be M Dunham is crap.”


* It seems that using the word ‘babba’ to mean poo is not as universal as I once thought. An internet search reveals very few examples. Similarly, ‘trump’ meaning an emission of wind, also seems to be mainly a northern expression. Both were common in the part of Yorkshire where I grew up in the 1950s and 1960s. The word ‘crap’, on the other hand, was beyond vulgarity and never heard. It goes to show how much things have changed. 

29 comments:

  1. Very wise, owning up. Way back about 1947 or eight, my parents bought matching single beds for my brother and I. I was four in 47, my brother 2. I took a mechanical and used the metal tip to inscribe O, then X on the headboard. "Who did this?" parents inquired. "Walt!" I said. "But he can't write!". Made no difference to me. A great grandchild or niece or nephew or friend or neighbor's child sleeps in the bed yet.

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    1. I used my thumb nail to mark each one of a whole line of tiny embossed dots in the wall paper. It took me weeks and they never noticed. But it was obvious it was me who had written in crayon on the garage.

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  2. I have never heard the term baba used to mean poo, but we did use the word trump for a "bottie-cough".

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    1. I'm beginning to think the word was confined to my family.

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  3. What muddy knees in that video.

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    1. Well, that's what happens to proper footballers.

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  4. Never heard of the word "babba" but "crap" is, and always has been, a standard part of my lexicon. "Crap" was a pretty tame little word in my childhood world.

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    1. It was considered extremely vulgar in my circles around 1960. I understand it's a middle English word (although some say it refers to the inventor of the flushing toilet), but I don't know when it began to be used to mean bad or poor. I', currently reading The Catcher in the Rye (1951) and it appears numerous times in that sense.

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  5. I remember trying it out at home and described a record as crap in about 1967, a memorable moment, the room fell silent. I had heard some what I thought of as a far out, cool girl at school use it, had no idea what it meant, but it seemed appropriate and modern. How wrong I was. I don't remember what my mother said but I was made to realise that it was never to be said again. I don't know when it came back into normal language for me but I would still never say it at home in front of my mother, ever.

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    1. "the room fell silent" - I can imagine it exactly - wonderful. And even as late as 1967! I say it quite often at home now, but I hate it when the kids use 'shit' in exactly the same way, without any sense of vulgarity. Another word I thought cool, which I picked up around the same time was "thick". I used it to describe someone who was awkward and realised immediately from others' reactions that I'd used it wrongly because the lad in question was actually very clever. It was me who was thick.

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    2. It could have been 1965 on reflection. But it was definitely around about that time. I can still feel the moment now. I wanted the floor to swallow me up but I also wanted to look cool like I didn't care.

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  6. Funny how swear words enter the language, you start being absolutely shocked by them and then one day further down the line they have become commonplace.

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    1. As with the word my kids now use instead of crap, as replied to Rachel, above. See - I don't even want to write it again, yet they would think nothing of it. I think it sounds awful.

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  7. I absolutely loved this post, Tasker. I laughed out loud at the sentence, "T Dunham were of course the best team by far."

    Crap is only mildly scatalogical in the U.S. these days. And what about the game in casinos called craps? Do you have it/them over there?

    Speaking of the U.S., collectives are different on your side and our side of the pond. Margaret Thatcher was always saying "The United States are..." which jolted our sensibilities as we always say "The United States is..." but person is not as troublesome as gende was to President Lyndon Johnson who once announced, "Uncle Sam will keep her word."

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    1. Glad to have amused. I can see that collectives are right up your linguistic street. I don't know about casinos. As mentioned above, I am reading The Catcher in the Rye which uses it numerous times. I would say the U.S. "is" - perhaps Margaret Thatcher still thought of it/them as colonies!

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  8. I love this post and I love the video! So you are the older, taller boy in the video? It must be such a fun memory for you to watch. I also did not know the name "baba" but I find many different families and generations have a variety of such names. It can be fun to remember parts of our childhood and you certainly have a wonderful talent in writing about it!

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    1. Thanks. I'm embarrassed to say that is indeed me. It was originally on standard 8 cine film. I did enjoy writing this, and it went through quite a lot of revisions. Perhaps we do all have our own family words. I remember once being on a bus where a mother kept asking her toddler whether he had "cacked" his pants.

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  9. Very enjoyable read. Your fantasies were very intricate and precise, eh?

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    1. The differences between memoir and autobiography are liberating.

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  10. What a great video to have, although I note the 'teams' are not well balanced!
    There wasn't any swearing that I remember in our house growing up, but the expressions, 'a pile of shit' and 'a load of crap' were well understood although never used by us children. I once called someone a cow, having heard it used elsewhere, and was sent straight to bed!

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    1. Quite right! "Go to bed and think about what you said." I hope you were thoroughly ashamed of yourself. We forget how unacceptable even calling someone a cow was. What a difference now.

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    2. I think I can remember it clearly because I felt I was being unfairly treated - I had no idea that I was being so insulting!

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  11. Very evocative of times past. An enjoyable read. It's not too late for you to receive professional counselling in relation to the psychological injuries caused by the menacing Geoffrey Bullard who has clearly cast a shadow over your dreams.

    "So Mr Dunham...or may I call you Tasker? Can you remember when you first met Geoffrey Bullard?"

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  12. Close your eyes and breathe deeply. Yes. That's it. In and out. Now I want you to imagine a steam roller - the sort they used to use to flatten tarmac. And I want you to see the driver. It is you. You are driving the steam roller and there's Geoffrey Bullard standing in the street looking the other way. Breathe deeply. You are going to drive the steam roller over him. Accelerate. That's it, Bullard has been flattened. It's over. He can't bully you any more. He's gone.

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    1. Thank you. I've always wanted to drive a steam roller. Now, why is it you are so fascinated by Geoffrey Bullard?

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    2. I just notice him cropping up in your writings. That's all. I guess I am lucky because I was never a victim of bullies. Equally, I was never a bully myself but having been a teacher for so many years I am very aware of how much bullying can adversely affect people's lives.

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    3. He crops up again in 'Be Prepared' - https://www.taskerdunham.com/2016/11/be-prepared.html I could do that as a New Month Old Post later.

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