• Jake Russell

Gibberish and Neep

I can’t remember now if he preferred to call it gibberish or gobbledygook – I’ve gone with the former because I like how it makes my title sound like a fancy beverage or an incompetent law firm – but my dad, Stephen, liked to conduct full conversations in nonsense.

We’d be sitting on the tube rattling under London, the decibels from travelling through tight tunnels at speed all but drowning everything else out, and so he’d lean into me and rather loudly and in perfectly recognisable intonation, say, “Eshplag torria tiahnshaama florrgstahias?” or something to that effect.

And, under the covering din, I’d respond – a little sheepishly, but happy to play nonetheless – “Aflushgorriatia berrifycaca.”

“Huh,” he’d return, as if genuinely considering my response, “Tihbdu jrereh adghetrefrvm spludge.”

And so it would continue, this back and forth of made up alien gabble punctuated with real laughter, him testing the limits of how loud and expressive he could take things, me not being nearly so brave, until the tube began to slow as it approached the next station, and I could all but pray he’d quieten down before the decreasing clatter and clang of carriage on track revealed to our fellow passengers that he – and reluctantly I – were completely, utterly nuts.

He came to meet my last girlfriend for the first time and gave us a lift in his car, and he turned to her, not an hour after meeting, and asked if she spoke Gibberish.

“Gibberish?” she asked.

“Waftherzlip agshdathgwa,” he responded, deadpan.

“Quicjdhjdteb hcbnvsfdarwpqqs agqtrwben” she wholeheartedly concurred.

And for the next 15 minutes they conversed like a pair of merry loons while I prayed for a sinkhole to appear up ahead.

His other, perhaps primary, calling card was Neep. Maybe the oddest little sound you’ve ever heard. It was a bit like the “Ni!” that the Knights Who Say Ni from Monty Python say, but more nasal, deeper, a little more resonant, and so peculiar that when he said it – which was always entirely out of the blue, for no discernible reason whatsoever – you wondered whether you’d heard anything at all.

And he actively enjoyed saying it in precisely the most inappropriate places.

Like a packed and self-consciously quiet lift. Or in that moment of pregnant silence at the cinema just before the film starts. Or in the Whispering Gallery at St Paul’s Cathedral.

And every time he’d do it, it’d take me (and, presumably, everyone) by such surprise that I had to channel my entire point of focus into not exploding with laughter. And although I could never look up at him to check, because if I did it’d surely send me over the edge, I’m pretty certain he was watching to see how funny I found it, smiling.

I wish everyone a lovely, laughter-filled week, with love,

Jake x

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