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My parents will call anyone displaying overly sentimental behaviour – such as crying at a film – a soppy date. I’ve picked it up, of course, but I think by and large it’s people of pre-war vintage who use the phrase. I say “pre-war vintage”, but my father put it rather better at a family party while discussing 1930s art with a member of the younger generation: he referred to himself as a genuine piece of Art Deco.

I’m not exactly sure where the “date” part comes in but the phrase is or was current enough to merit inclusion in the Oxford English Dictionary as a term of “affectionate abuse”. Although its currency is obviously wider, I’ve known it mostly as a family phrase because I’ve really missed out on all the jocular things people say to each other in the background and so don’t really know how common the phrase is now. In the past I only ever heard these things if they were directed at me, so I missed quite a lot of the nuances in how people interact, and sometimes I’m not always quite sure if I’ve got it right even now. I mean, I’ve always been included by family and friends and colleagues, and laughed and joked with people, but unless I talked to people one-to-one, I was always fairly sure I got a slightly edited version of life, the universe, and everything, even by the mere nanoseconds it takes to swivel one’s head round to see who’s talking, by which time you’ve missed the start and the context of what’s going on. I’m catching up, now, but realising that I actually have catching-up to do is slightly discombobulating.

Sometimes I put two and two together and made five. My parents have always called a pedal bin a tootbucket, and to me the meaning seems blindingly obvious. In fact, if I’ve said to other people, “Put it in the tootbucket”, they’ve twigged straight away. (Except the Bear, who looked at me with furrowed brow the first time he heard me say it.) I always thought that it came from “tootsies” and “bucket” as it seemed to be the logical explanation for something operated with one’s toes, but according to my mum, it’s from toot, meaning rubbish. Lord Sugar used the phrase “load of old toot” in the Apprentice one or two series back, so I can see that, but I like my folk etymology better!! It can be a bit like that when depending on lipreading: you spend so much time putting two and two together, and sometimes you just can’t make them make four, however hard you will your figures to add up.

It’s easy enough to learn family terms or Edwardian lingo and be taken by their picturesqueness: it’s a little bit harder to pick up the grammar of “hearing language” with its subtle, unwritten rules. I thought I didn’t do too badly at it but . . . still some way to go, though, and it’s just tiny, small things which are hard to define, but most of it seems to be down to being a bit blunt both in terms of expressing what I really think, and in terms of not being quite “sharp” enough mentally.

Pick yourself up, dust yourself  off, and start all over again – and chuck all your troubles into the tootbucket!

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