I did warn you that this would be convoluted – I did. So decide now whether you want to carry on or whether it might be better for your sanity to go back and afterwards, if you decide to stick with it, don’t blame me !
Where to start? OK, let’s be perverse and start with Hache. Hache, pronounced “ash”. It’s a French word and there are no pronounced ‘h’s in French. There are aspirate ‘h’s but let’s not go there for now. The definition of hache from dictionary-fr.com is:
Feminine singular noun
outil ou arme, constitué d’une partie tranchante en fer fixée à l’extrémité d’un manche, destiné à fendre
That translates as tool or weapon consisting of a sharp iron part attached to the end of a handle, designed to split [a log] or, in plain UK English, an axe.
As it happens, and much more importantly in my case, it is also the French name for the letter H.
Now let’s consider the English word, ‘hash’ similarly pronounced ‘ash’ if you come, as I do, from a working class background in the north of England. The definition of hash from dictionary.com is:
1. a dish of diced or chopped meat and often vegetables, as of leftover corned beef or veal and potatoes, sautéed in a frying pan or of meat, potatoes, and carrots
cooked together in gravy.
2. a mess, jumble, or muddle: a hash of unorganized facts and figures.
3. a reworking of old and familiar material: This essay is a hash of several earlier and better works. [How true - ed.]
4. Computers. garbage.
5. Radio and Television Slang. electrical noise on a radio or snow in a television picture caused by interfering outside sources that generate sparking.
Definition 1 is the relevant one.
So, to re-cap. We have Hache, meaning the letter H or an axe. And hash, meaning a dish of meat and potatoes.
We’ll come back to all that later on. But now let’s turn our attention (if you still have any attention left to turn) to ‘tatty’. Oxforddictionaries.com defines it as:
adjective (tattier, tattiest) informal
worn and shabby; in poor condition: tatty upholstered furniture of poor quality: the generally tatty output of the current Celtic revival
In the Lancashire dialect of my youth it was used to describe people who were ‘scruffy’, unkempt, a bit worn around the edges. Some people might say that it is a particularly apposite label to apply to me. I have been accused of many things in my time, many of them justified, but I could never in anyone’s wildest dreams ever be accused of being sartorially elegant. So Tatty describes me pretty accurately. But the word also had another very important meaning. It is Lancashire short-hand for ‘potato’ or ‘potatoes’. The ‘hash’ described so eloquently by dictionary.com in definition 1 above was known to us as tatty ‘ash.
Now then, how does all this tie together and what on earth does it have to do with me? Bear with me (oh c’mon – you’ve invested this much time in it – don’t give up now) and I’ll tell you a story.
My name, my real name, is Hilary Lesley Jones (née Gibson). Imagine if you will being a child growing up in the tough terraced streets of Manchester and sporting a name like Hilary Lesley Gibson. The Gibson part is fine, but the Hilary Lesley has too many Ls and a particularly unfortunately placed R which makes pronunciation of the name just too difficult for most children under 10 years of age. I struggled with it myself but it was, after all, my name so I had more interest than most in investing some time in the perfection of it. But I could hardly expect my peers to do the same. As a result I had to live with being called by an infinite variety of names which included ‘Alolly, Lerally, Hiraly and ‘ey you! to name but a few. I began to hate my name and really truly wished my mum (R.I.P.) had not chosen it. But she had, in fact, spent a long time in choosing it. The most popular names of the day for little girls were Janet, Susan, Barbara, and Diane. Mum wanted something different. When I started school I discovered that I was the ONLY Hilary in the entire institution which numbered some 250 pupils. So it was different all right – it certainly served to set me apart. To add insult to injury, as I grew older I discovered that Hilary was not at all an unusual name among some sections of the population of the UK. In fact it was a very popular name among that group of people known to us then as ‘the horsey set’. The huntin’, shootin’, fishin’ brigade so alien to me and my network of friends. I thought about changing my name altogether but Mum would have been too hurt. So instead, I started to encourage friends and family alike (other than my Mum) to call me by some truncated version of the name like Hil, Hills, or the one which was later to become universally popular – simply H. As an adult I discovered that the French have almost as much difficulty with my name as my English school friends did. It just doesn’t trip off the French tongue very easily at all. So it occurred to me that I may as well use the same device in France as I do in England and encourage my French friends to refer to me as ‘Hache’ – much simpler for all concerned.
Then, one day, a small group of us were talking about random things from our past and we got to reminiscing about the food of our childhood. My fondest culinary memories are of Sunday family get-togethers gathered around my grand-mother’s vast oak dining table eating huge plates of steaming tatty ‘ash. In a blinding flash of light reminiscent of the birth of the universe it occurred to me that this was the label which says everything about me in an instant.
Tatty ‘ash, a mixture of left over meat cooked slowly with potatoes and served with a separate pastry crust, cheap but delicious.
Tatty, never destined to stroll down the cat-walk
Hache, pronounced ‘ash meaning simply H
Tatty Hache, never elegant, but ever nourishing