April 15th 2006

In a piece about cookery yesterday our regional television news magazine Granada Reports mentioned the dish ‘Scouse’, originally ‘Lobscouse’, a sailor’s stew, which is famously popular in the Liverpool area. ‘Scouse’ is also of course the nickname given to people who hail from Liverpool, and I can rarely hear it spoken without being reminded of my time spent doing National service in the Army in the late fifties, a time I spent in the company of several ‘Scousers’.

No private soldier in the Army is ever called by his Christian name. His superiors call him by his surname or number and his peers call him by a nickname. Thus Fred Clarke on entering the Army is immediately Nobby Clarke, his Fred dispensed with for the duration. Fred Clarke isn’t aware of it at the time but he is lucky as there’s a fairly good chance that he’ll be the only Nobby, whereas if a man hailed from certain parts of the country he would have had to share a nickname. For example all Scots were known as Jock – the Scots in my platoon were Jock Mackay, Jock Lachie and Jock Dalkeith. All Welshmen were Taffy, Taffy Jones, Taffy this, Taffy that, Taffy the other. All Irishmen were called Paddy. All people from Birmingham were called Brummie and all people from Newcastle were called Geordie.

Oddly enough, as far as I know, there isn’t a nickname for people who come from Leeds; ‘Leedser’ or ‘Leedsie’ or something like that. We had a bloke from Leeds in our platoon whose name was Gary Rowley and everybody called him ‘Twat’, but because he undoubtedly was a twat we might very well have caused him that even if there had been a nickname for people hailing from Leeds.

So in our platoon we had Jocks and Taffies and Paddies and Geordies. But mostly we had Scousers. We had Scouse Aldridge, Scouse Nicholson, Scouse Jenkinson, Scouse Murray and Scouse Little. Then one day another lad from Liverpool was posted in. And he really was a Scouse. Dave Scouse. That was his real name. And the thing was – nobody called him Scouse. Everybody called him Dave. This really annoyed him because hailing from Liverpool and proud to be a scouser he wanted to be called Scouse just like all the other scousers.

One night in the barracks room he demanded to know why it was that we didn’t call him Scouse. I don’t know why I did it but as nobody else appeared to know I offered the opinion that if we called him Scouse it might appear that we were calling him by his surname, like his superiors did, and this being the case it wouldn’t be very matey of us.

Brummie Weston then made the point that if we called him Scouse his name would be Scouse Scouse and that if he had to say Scouse Scouse it would sound like he was stuttering and he wasn’t going to have anybody hearing him stuttering as it would make him sound daft.

Geordie Galbraith said that as Brummie Weston was from Birmingham he already sounded daft and a fight broke out.

Over the course of the next few weeks Dave Scouse pleaded with everyone to call him Scouse but nobody would. Then someone, not me, although I would have had I known the eventual outcome, suggested to Dave that if he was so desperate to be called Scouse why didn’t he simply change his surname by deed poll, to say Hibbert, then, no longer Dave Scouse but Dave Hibbert, he would be known as Scouse Hibbert. Dave thought this was an excellent suggestion and put the wheels in motion immediately.

It took six weeks to come through. Dave had decided on his mother’s maiden name for his new surname, and the day he announced it will remain etched in my memory for all time. He gathered us all round him and said, pride tinged with a touch of defiance in his voice: “Right you lot, I’m not Dave Scouse any more, I’m Dave Smith!”

“Good old Smudger,” said Jock Lachie.