2016 minus 17: talking about london talking

Posted: 15 December 2015 in 2016minus, world

One of the things I love about London, though I’m not by birth a Londoner, is that if you walk down the street, not only will you hear a dozen different UK accents, but you’ll hear half a dozen different languages being spoken.

Let’s unpick that paragraph a bit because there may be a bit of confusion, particularly from the American readers, but I’ll get to them in a bit.

For a start, I’m not a Londoner by birth. That in itself shouldn’t be surprising; I don’t know what the research is but I’d suggest a huge proportion of the people who live and work in London aren’t from London originally. Like any capital city, it attracts folks from all over the country and indeed from other countries as well, as I’ve worked with people from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, as well as from farther climes. But no, I was born in Luton, about thirty-five miles north west of London. I don’t have that fond memories of my home town and not for nothing does the old gag exist that the best thing to come out of Luton is the M1 motorway. But it was an OK place in which to grow up in the 1970s. I was born in 1964, so don’t remember the 1960s that much. Unlike Warren Ellis, I don’t remember staying up to watch the moon landing, though I remember the fuss about it. In the same way, I don’t remember the Beatles breaking up, but I remember the fuss about it, as my older brother (the one who died in 1998) was a huge fan and was devastated.

My father though; he was a cockney, good and proper. Born without the sound of Bow Bells and all that. Occasionally – very occasionally – his speech patterns come out in me. My ex-wife Laura used to say when I got irritated or exasperated, she could hear his words and phrases coming out of my mouth, with his accent. Which always amused me because I don’t think I sounded anything like him. If I sounded like anyone, it was my brother, which was highly amusing at times (we once spent twenty minutes swapping a telephone between us, his girlfriend on the other end, while we were playing monopoly) and led to me discovering that I did actually ‘have an accent’.

I never really thought of myself as having an accent. No, really. This wasn’t the time it is now with contacts all over the place from a young age. Almost everyone I knew as a child was from Luton or London. Almost all my school friends (well the kids I went to school with, anyway) were from Luton and with the exception of some American television, most of the announcers and actors on tv were from the south. I was aware everyone else had an accent, but mine was just… mine.

At 18, I went to Manchester Polytechnic (regarded as, unfairly, a kind of a second rate university; it’s now called Manchester Metropolitan University), and although I was housed with people from all over, again, it was they who had the accents, not me. There was a Northern Irish lad, a girl from Swansea, anotehr from Derby, a lad from Rotherham I think?, another lad from Leeds. And me. About half way through my first year, Michael (the aforementioned brother) came to stay. And it hearing him chat to them, followed by the inevitable ‘you sound so much like your brother’ comments that brought home to me that yes, I had an accent. This was merely solidified years later when an American friend said I sounded like “Michael Caine on an off day”. (Which reminds me that Mitch Benn was right when he said that every impressionist of Caine does an accent and speech pattern that Caine has never done but everyone knows it’s Caine.)  

So, no Londoner I.

And yes, there are many, many British accents, despite American movies seeming to regard the UK as having only three:

– Michael Caine’s accent (or Jason Statham’s) or that abuse of the word Dick Va Dyke’s ‘accent’.
– Hugh Grant’s accent
– Sean Connery’s accent

This is a good guide, here: pay attention for less than two minutes and learn… 

But back to my love of London. So, yeah, there are a lot of British accents you’ll encounter in London. And a lot of ‘foreign’ accents and foreign tongues as well. And I love that. Seriously. 

Three of my grandparents weren’t born in the UK, but immigrated here as children with their parents. leaving aside the bullshit about Cromwell and the Jews, to which I referred in a recent post, I’m only third generation British via one grandparent (whose family had been here for several generations.) Not only am I still grateful to this country for taking them in – else I wouldn’t be here – I’m not that hypocritical to suggest that ‘this country is full’ or ‘we shouldn’t let in refugees and immigrants’. Though you’d have to be delusional to suggest that every country should have open borders, it’s equally inane to propose the controls on immigration that some want. 

Should British people be treated better than incoming people? I see no sensible reason why this should be so.

(Huh. Someone suggested to me tonight that I had an ideology. I didn’t think I had one, so that surprised me but ‘being fair to people’ probably sums it up if I have one at all.)  

Should people learn English? Yes of course they should; it’s the main language of the U.K. so yeah, but to assist them in every day life. I don’t need to understand what people are saying when I pass them in the street, and it’s none of my business anyway.

And this blog entry got away from me a bit. Something less confusered tomorrow.

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