Politics / What i think about...

The politics of dialect and the realisation that I talk like a toff

If you didn’t know me you probably wouldn’t believe me. I was brought up in the North-East. Alas, much to the disappointment of any male Cheryl Cole fans I encounter (I beg your pardon, Cheryl Versini Fernandez), my voice sounds about as northern as a Billy Bragg song. Yet this is less to do with a subconscious superiority that has wheedled its way out through my vocal chords and more to do with boring old conformity.

If you don't admit to being a hipster then you can never be a hipster...right?

If you don’t admit to being a hipster then you can never be a hipster…right?

In September I began attending a university that is, let’s just say, ‘not exactly Oxford’. Despite being located in one of the most affluent parts of London (so affluent, in fact, that the Lib Dems were top dog for the previous five years), I immediately noticed an influx of sarf Londoners. Now yes, for all those pedants out there, Kingston is in South London (South West if you want to be particularly ostentatious). Yet Kingston is less Kidulthood, more Kid-Is-At-Home-With-The-Maid-So-I’ll-Have-Another-Sauvignon-Blanc-After-The-Office-Hood. I suddenly felt really self-conscious about how I sounded to these kids, not least because I was seven years their senior. You see, it’s an embarrassing thing to admit that you sound posh. Something akin to confessing you’re a hipster. This never happens- hipsters don’t admit to being hipsters, they just are hipsters. You heard about the game? Dang. You just lost yourself the game. But I don’t claim to be posh. I claim to sound posh. So how does this hang in the equilibrium of all that is sound? If one defines oneself in a certain way this must just be some needy attempt at bettering themselves, no?

You're a southern fairy!

You’re a southern fairy!

To explain my little Western dilemma I will have to trail back a few years through the bottomless sea of traumatic youth. Past the deluded solipsism of the early twenties, beyond the bespectacled late teens at which point I bore a striking resemblance to Curly from Coronation Street, and yonder the many teenage years spent pondering when exactly my boobs would start to lactate*. My vernacular trouble started early on when my parents decided to whisk my sister and me away. Far from the exotic smoke fumes of London, up past the bright lights of Blackpool and homeward bound to Fishburn. Clearly we had gotten lost along the way, as is the only explanation for us being all the way over at Blackpool when we were supposed to be in the North-East. Mum was brought up primarily in Southampton whilst dad was settled in the old cobbler town of Northampton. We moved up north when I was maybe two or three-years-old (evidently I’m not so sentimental with the early years) and thus began the stigmatisation of being a bloody southern fairy.

Mr Bewick and his odd smell.

Losing my religion.

We talked differently to everyone in the neighbourhood and whilst I readily dilute these memories with daily beers, I don’t quite remember wanting to change the way my parents or I talked. Now this is one of those memories that, as adults, we freely (and often openly) admit to manipulating in order to save face. I’m probably an overly delusional 25-year-old whose childhood memories are clouded with glitter and ponies. “All my teachers at school were magical and I was happy every single day.” Much to my dismay, however, my teenage years were filled with vivid memories of Mr Bewick’s odd smell (I never could tell whether it was his breath or his armpits) and my sister and her clan protecting me from the evil clutches of Natalie Gressman. I do, however, remember having a slight northern twang. When I actually began to develop friendships whilst I was at college I felt more inclined to fit in and even went so far as to use ‘slang’ (I use the word slang lightly) such as ‘fairly’ (“I’m fairly going to bed like”). On the off-chance that you needed reminding, I must assert that I never claimed to being a ‘cool-cat’ or ‘down with the kids’.

I apologise profusely for depicting Che Guevara as drunk. It was not my intention but the hand did what the hand wanted to do.

I apologise profusely for depicting Che Guevara as drunk. It was not my intention but the hand did what the hand wanted to do.

I first returned to London in 2008. Dreams of riches and success were imminently dashed by my old pal alcohol (you may notice a recurring theme here, but don’t worry- I lived up north, I can handle my booze). Thus, with my bespectacled and somewhat slightly chubbier face, my presence at university liquefied like Senator Kelly in X-Men and my part-time work as a bartender quickly turned into my full-time life. As I barhopped my way across London I eventually settled into a cosy pub in Knightsbridge where tourism was rife (only in the good sense, of course). Faced daily with non-English speaking customers I had to learn to EN-UN-CI-ATE, much to the American tourists’ delight. I jest, I know Americans can speak English. Ironically, this is exactly the opposite case if I were to work in a bar in Newcastle, where the customers would have to enunciate for poor southern me.

Now, if I happen to be in a fancy place and hear a ‘posh’ Queen’s English accent I scowl and nudge my boyfriend saying: “This is a bit la-di-da in here isn’t it?” at which he replies to me: “They sound just like you, Grace.” And when I try to discuss politics deeply with a stranger: “Whatever happened to the proletariat?!” I can feel their bemused gaze hovering over me, their ears twitching at my I-Went-To-An-All-Girls-School-But-I’m-Normal-Just-Like-You voice and the cogs in their heads working overtime at this utterly bizarre individual that is me. I stress the significance of my accent here, but in the majority of the cases I don’t doubt that the stranger is really thinking: “What is this bullshit coming out of this dipshit’s mouth?” They probably think that I also own a Che Guevara t-shirt and dye my hair green on Sundays.

The glorious fish and chips of the town who had a monkey for a mayor. And that mayor went on to make great British cuisine.

The glorious fish and chips of the town who had a monkey for a mayor. And that mayor went on to make great British cuisine.

We’ve been taught, as a society, not to judge people by the colour of their skin, by the clothes on their back or the country on their passport, yet we continue to judge each others accents. There is something modestly endearing about the northern accent. It conjures up thoughts of union power, of working-class strength, of anti-Thatcher sentiment, of old-Labour and not this new-Labour liberal right-wing clap-trap. It reminds me of flowers and dandelions and endless fields to roam through, of sociable bus journeys and the steam from your fish and chips clouding the brashness of Hartlepool nuclear power plant. I think that my days of bonding with strangers over where I grew up is drawing to a close, having lost the northern glory that is so well embedded in my brother and sister’s voices. But, no doubt about it, I will still cast a suspicious eye over a stranger mirroring my accent, though now all I can do is grin through my judgmental lips and accept that we both have become one of them.

*I have realised since this confusing and distressing time, that this is only an experience left for consummating, would-be mothers and not virginal teenage girls.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s