What One Says is Not What the Other Hears Part 3


Unusually, I start this tale with the punchline which is how to a Guernsey ear Burro and Bureau sound alike. For not only does Guernsey have its own language it also has its own accented English. Fortunately or unfortunately both are now heard but rarely.

For those who may not know and who don’t want to resort to Google, a burro is a small donkey. I will assume you are all familiar with the word “bureau”.

Mum and Dad have now set up home but with half of his 30/- (30 shillings or £1-10s or £1.50 or, at today’s rates, $2.31) going on rent and with mother no longer working things were tight. There was little left over for furniture.

Pre decimalisation money was so much fun. Years later when I was a little boy I had to take my turn behind the counter in Mum’s shop. It did wonders for my maths because the wooden box that was the till had no computer within it tallying the goods sold nor computing the amount of change.

The customer would come in and would ask me for various items and I would write the price down on the back of a paper bag with my pencil. Two items at 3d, 1 at a tanner, 2 a bob a piece and the last one two and a kick. A 10 bob note is presented and change of 4/6d is given. Simple.

The shop was a general store with an off-licence. In stores now assistants under 18 have to be monitored by an older staff member when selling booze but if there was such a restriction when I was ten years old we took no notice of it.

Drink has always been a problem in Guernsey blighting many families. Various ideas have been tried over the years to reduce the problem but it would seem to no avail. In the 1960’s we had “The Black List” which was a set of photographs of offenders who had requested to be added to the list which prohibited them from buying alcohol.

Many still tried. I can recall several interesting chats with drunken men who tried to bribe me into selling them a bottle. Possibly dealing with incoherent drunks as a child has stood me well in adult life.

Back to the Burro.

Mum had only “a few sticks” of furniture so when Dad asked if she would like to have a burro that was being given away she jumped at the chance. A bureau would be her first piece of “posh” furniture. While Dad was off getting the little donkey she moved what furniture she had around to leave the optimum space for the new piece of furniture.

She had save up a little “egg” money and rushed to a shop to buy some beeswax. Expensive but she would be able to polish the bureau up to a fine finish using the skills she had learnt in service.

Dad returns leading a small donkey. Mum comes out and looks for the bureau. “Where’s the “buro”?” asks Mum.


“Where, I can’t see it.”

“I’m leading the “buro”.

I’m told this conversation went on for a few minutes before it dawned on Mum that she had made a place in her house for a donkey.

She never got to like the burro.

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