“It’s a about death? And cannibalism? And it’s Yorkshire’s national anthem?,” Our Japanese friend Maika was scandalised. “And all because he didn’t wear a hat?”. Well, as we Tykes know, the weather here can be unforgiving. Fatal, even, without the proper headgear.
For Maika’s benefit, Caroline and I had just sung a rousing chorus of Ilkley Moor Baht ‘At in the cafe after our usual Saturday morning parkrun. We didn’t need a reason, we just did it, it’s our right, as Yorkshirewomen. We were rather good, we even got a round of applause, though Maika was gobsmacked.
We’d told her about our national anthem, and offered to translate from Yorkshire to English, we don’t do that for just anyone.
So the start of the song, ‘Where has ta bin sin ah saw thee?’ is a civil friend-to-friend greeting asking where the other has been since they last met. The revelation that ‘tha’s been a-courting Mary-Jane’, or walking out with a young lady called Mary Jane in the unforgiving weather of Ilkley Moor without taking the precaution of wearing a hat then leads to the natural conclusion that ‘tha’s banna catch thi death of cold’. It’s a frequent exclamation that anyone not adequately dressed in our chilly northern climate may die a slow and lingering death from the common cold.
Once dead, there’s only one thing can happen to the poor hatless man ‘then we shall ‘ave to bury thee’, with a funeral presumably including a rendition of the Yorkshire National Anthem. Once buried, the good Yorkshire soil and passage of time, along with rather rich organic matter, attracts the invertebrates. ‘Then t’worms’ll come and ate thee up’, meaning the poor Mary Jane courter will be nibbled away by worms who, by sheer coincidence are a delicacy for ducks, as the song points out ‘then t’ducks’ll come and ate up t’worms’. In their turn, the ducks find themselves on the dinner plate of the friend, who comes to the conclusion ‘then we shall all ‘ave eaten thee’. The very thought of it.
Maia was speechless, she confessed that as a student in Leeds, she wanted to enjoy all our culture and countryside had to offer, but was now reluctant to go to Ilkley Moor, and particularly didn’t want to see any ducks there.
We assured her she would be fine. So long as she wore a hat.