(james benedict brown) on the road

The big man

Posted in Posts by James Benedict Brown on 16 September, 2008

“Sorry for the delay, big man, as soon as the van comes in we’ll get you on the road, ok?”

Deflated smile from me, a nod of acknoweldgement and all the frustration is dissipated. I am a true Brit, useless at getting worked up or angry. It’s only half past nine in the morning, and my van was due to be ready for collection at nine. But in a parallel universe there’s probably a louder, brasher, more confident me (possibly American by birth) who would have the wherewithall to make a scene about this.

What defuses the frustration is that canny term of endearement which, so far in my life, has been found to be uniquely Glaswegian.

“Big man.”

You see, I’m not a big man. I’m not small, but I’m not big. I’m brushing six feet with my snow boots on, but I’m not big. I’m a lanky, pale, pasty half-man-half-incompletely-pubescent-teenager. It’s not a great body image, but then you can usually pull it off if you stick to the bouffant nerd look. Which I do.

In Sheffield, I got used to the various South Yorkshire terms of address, which in a single day’s shopping in that city could include “duck”, “cock”, “petal”, “flower”, “sweetheart” and (of course) “love”. It was quite entertaining to be called all these things in one afternoon. These terms reflected the warmer side of South Yorkshire lingo, and bring back fond memories of the sweet and honest friendliness that oozed from people who were glad to see you in their home or business. The first two were comfortably masculine and respectful, while the latter four were predominantly (but not exclusively) feminine or affectionate.

But “big man”?

What makes that even more poignant is that I am plainly not the biggest man in this conversation. Of course he is; he is the typical big man who runs a car and van hire franchise. It’s a busy, stressful job with lots of customer interaction and far too many vehicles crammed into a archway business unit beneath some railway tracks. He’s affable, friendly, dressed to do business, and not afraid to get his hands dirty sweeping out my van when it is eventually returned. Although I finally leave an hour after arriving, I’ve been defused and quitely sign all the documents without a fuss, despite being a good sixty miles behind my schedule for the day. Because that’s what this Glaswegian term seems to do. It’s not so much a term of respect, but a mildly patronising acknowledgement that although I am “the big man” I’m not really in control of the situation. The last time I can ever recall using the term “the big man” in a conversation it was behind the back of an employer that neither I nor the other person particularly liked.

So not a term of endearment, but not fairly a patronising name? I don’t quite know what it is, but I do that it defused the situation for long enough for me to have driven 100 miles before I remembered that I had been annoyed for getting held up in the first place.

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One Response

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  1. Jackie said, on 18 September, 2008 at 22:59

    I still find being called “hen” confusing. Though as I’m from Northamptonshire where everyone is “my duck” it probably shouldn’t be so strange. I know it’s meant to be affectionate, but it always makes me think of a clucky, fat old woman which is not the image I try to portray!


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