The Cullercoats Fish-Wife and the Census Man

Fishwives were a popular sight in Northeast fishing communities during the days of herring-fishing. Many would follow the fishing fleet from Aberdeen to Lowestoft, skillfully wielding their razor-sharp knives to gut and fillet the small fish with lightning speed. Others would sell fish on the streets, carrying them on their backs in creels.
This light-hearted essay was written by Fred M. Gascoigne and published in “Tyneside Songs, Volume Two (Third Edition)” by J.G Windows Ltd in 1929.

A chep come knockin’ at wor front door the tother day, so Aa puts me heed oot o’ the window to see whe it waas, an’ it wes a cockeyed chep wi’ ginger hair an’ a clooty hat an’ sum papors iv he’s hand.
“Good mornin’, Mrs. Salmon,” he sez.
“What d’ye want,” Aa sez, for Aa thowt he wes one o’ the “bums” wiv a summons.
“Hoot’s hinny,” he sez, “Aa divvent mean that. “Aa want the census papor Aa left heor tother day.”
“Wey,” Aa sez, “What for cuddn’t ye a’telt us that afore ’isteed of axin’ a body for thor senses.”
So he sez, “Howay doon an’ Aa’ll fill’d up fer ye.”
So Aa gans doon an’ he sets hes’sel doon at wor kitchen tyebble an’ bless yor sowl ye nivver hare sec questions as he axed us.
He sez, “Noo Aa want te knaa, whe’s the heed o’ the hoose?”
Aa sez, “Whe’s the heed o’ the hoose? Wey the chimley’s the heed o’ the hoose.”
“No, no,” he sez. “Are ye married?”
“Is Aa whaat?” Aa sez. “Aa’ll gie ye a skelp i’ the gob the-recklies. Ye’ll just unnorstand Aa’s a respectible married wummin, -and mind that,” Aa sez.
“Varry good,” he sez. “Then yor husband’s the heed o’ the hoose.”
“Wey,” Aa sez, “If he’s the heed Aa’s the neck an’ the heed’s ne use wivoot the neck onyway.”
“Well,” he sez, “Noo Aa want the nyems an’ the full prescriptions of aall yor bairns.”
“Aye, wey,” Aa sez. “Well thor’s wor Bobby poor sowl, he’s a bit bowlegged, but he cuddent help that, poor bairn, he wes put doon when he wes soft. An’ then thor’s wor little Tommy – a canny bit lad – but he’s the tother way, poor thing – he’s nackneed – but it’s not he’s fault – it’s weakness – he wes browt up on the bottle, ye knaa. An’ then thor’s wor Lizzie Ann, she’s …”
“Stop, stop,” he sez. “What Aa want te knaa is what sex they are.”
“Oh!” Aa sez, “Wey some’s Roman Candles, an’ some’s Chorch ov Ingland, an’ the rest gans te the Bord Skeul.”
“Hoots wummin,” he sez, “That’s not it at aall – what Aa want to knaa is – Are they males or females?”
“Oh!” Aa sez, “That’s easy eneuf – the lads’ is males an’ the lasses is females.”
“Varry well,” he sez and he put that doon. “Noo,” he sez, “Aa want to knaa yor age.”
“Wey hinny,” Aa sez, “Aa divvent knaa mesel, but wor Nanny wes fowerty fower last Race Wednesda’, an’ Aa’s ‘ite yeer aader nor hor com next Pancake Tuesday, so mevvies ye can reckon it up yorsel.”
“Noo,” he sez, “Aa hev a varry importent questin’ te ax ye. What’s yor husband?”
“Wey,” Aa sez, “He’s a nowt.”
“But what dis he de for a livin?” he sez.
“Nowt ,” sez Aa.
“Wey, then we’ll caall ‘im independent,” he sez, “That is, he leeves on he’s aan means!”
“No, hinny, he dissent,” Aa sez, “He leeves on he’s freends.”
“Varry well,” he sez. “That’s aall the syem – that’s independent.”
“De ye say se,” sez Aa, “Wey Aa divvent call that independent.”
“Aye,” he sez, “An what de ye call it?”
“Wey, hinny,” Aa sez, “Aa call that ‘spongin’!”
An’ then he sez, “Noo Aa’ve on’y one more questin te axe ye.”
“Aye,” Aa sez, “An’ what’s that?”
“What de ye de for a livin’?”

“Ma hinny,” Aa sez, “De ye not knaa Aad Mary, the fish wife, ivverybody knaa’s me – (shouts) “Caller harn fresh harn. Caller harn. Will ye buy ony Fi……….ssh.”

To make the essay easier to read, the original publication was modified by using the commonly accepted practice of separating the dialogue with a new line as the speaker changes. Otherwise it is entirely as originally published.
The lexicon contains translations of dialectical vocabulary. Words such as knaa (know), syem (same), and leeves (leaves) for example, are phonetic spellings of the dialectical pronunciation and are not included.