Tuesday 17 May 2022

Choose Your Words Carefully in Quotes 10

The way the Glaswegian writer speaks is largely down to his mother. She was a proud woman who insisted that he spoke the Queen’s English. “She thought regional accents would hold back your kids; that if you wanted to do well you had to talk like a BBC newscaster. So as a kid I just sounded a bit weirder than the kids around me.” 
(Guardian 2022-04-03, Douglas Stewart, author of Shuggy Bain)

When I joined the BBC in 1979, it was still very rare for a national newsreader to have a regional accent, and the first time I was interviewed for BBC Radio Stoke, the first question asked was “How can a person from Stoke on Trent (with heavy emphasis) get to be head of the BBC’s Pronunciation Unit?”... The British accents that regularly come bottom of the polls... are mostly those of industrial cities: Liverpool, Birmingham, Glasgow. Is the dislike caused by a perceived ugliness in the sound, or is it rather the fact that outsiders... still associate the Black Country, Merseyside, Glasgow and the East End of London with slums and ‘dark Satanic mills’? (Graham)

In the 1950s as my national (military) service was coming to an end, I needed an early release in order to start my first university term in time. I needed the Commanding Officer’s signature. He exploded into a raging fury I’ve never experienced elsewhere. “University? You can’t even speak English”. I grew up in Kent. My accent is still the same today... Like all emigrés I’m a fossil from the time I left, with 1950s slang and 1950s anything else. (Sidney Wood from Kent, who says he first heard RP from RAF officers. Fascinating discussion here.) 

An audience member quit a performance of a Shakespeare play in York because it featured Yorkshire accents, theatre staff have said. York Theatre Royal's staging of As You Like It prompted a complaint on Monday, with the theatregoer asking for a refund due to the accents being used. The Yorkshire-based company behind the show said its performances contained "unapologetic northern voices". "That's Yorkshire accents, right here in Yorkshire," the theatre's boss said. (BBC)

A while back, the CEO of a large company asked me to talk to her senior managers about the difference between marketing and marketing comms. I did a presentation for an hour, then a Q&A for half-an-hour. It seemed to go well, but afterwards, one of the senior managers took me aside. She said, “We love you Dave, but do you have to do the whole Cockney barrow-boy bit?” At first I couldn’t work out what she meant, then it clicked, she was talking about my accent. She wasn’t listening to what I said, she was listening to how I said it. And she assumed I must be putting it on for effect. (Davetrott.com)

Mum called into the living room from the kitchen in her best mock-posh. (Rob Chapman, All I Want Is Out of Here

I overheard a radio producer once saying that I had “a polytechnic accent”. (Suzanne Moore May 2022 This week academics are complaining about “accentism”.)

My wife has an RP accent; my great-uncle was pure Yorkshire. It's a good job that my father and I were present when they met, as neither of them could understand the other. (AW via Facebook. A few words rather than “complete incomprehension”? A taxi firm’s Scottish controller stumped me with “after mudnate”.)

My mother was a Yorkshire lass, working class and proud of it. But she dropped the accent, and only used it when we went to visit my grandparents. She learnt to use English with a very neutral accent and with all its consonants. (@meade_newman)

On my little island oilfield in Indonesia in the 1960s, the Field Superintendent (the most senior person there) was a Sumatran from a very high-class family. His voice was so soft that I could never manage to speak to him on the telephone because I never heard his replies so I always had to go to his office instead. (It was a pretty small outfit and that was no great hardship.) I was told that speaking softly was a sign of his high (family) status in that part of the country. (Teacup)

I work with someone like this. Promoted beyond her abilities because she speaks with a plum in her mouth. (via Twitter. That was me.)

Raised in Surrey, but lived in Hull for a while. Hull men might approach me, but would either back off or get almost aggressive once I opened my mouth. (@PenelopeClay10 Same here. She moved south again.)

Demos! Why can’t they say “demonstration” properly? I hate abbreviations. (Mrs Riseley-Porter in Agatha Christie’s Nemesis.)

A university is offering students what is believed to be the first module in chit-chat and networking. BPP University Law School has hired Georgie Nightingall, founder of Trigger Conversations, to help students have “good conversations” that “expand your perspectives and your relationships”. The university decided to launch the class after a poll found that 43% of its students feared they would be judged by the way they speak during their legal careers. (The Week. But surely social skills are so subtle and nuanced that they can’t possibly be put into words and we should all pick them up by osmosis, as I've been told?)

Barbara Windsor’s mother Rose had great ambitions for her, paying for elocution lessons in an attempt to lose her cockney accent and move her up the social ladder. Windsor later said her mother's family felt she had married beneath her... At the Aida Foster School in Golders Green, the teachers took their turn in trying to iron out her cockney accent but all failed. (BBC.co.uk. Shouldn’t that “lose” be something like “erase”? You can’t lose somebody else’s accent.)

More here, and links to the rest.

Wednesday 4 May 2022

Classy Sports and Pastimes 3

People insinuating, 'I have never heard of X so I am better than you' is an even more pompous equivalent of 'What film have you never seen and still have no intention of bothering to watch, which would at least make your boast worthwhile in some way'. If only there was a way of finding out about these people you've not heard of. (Justin Lewis @WhenIsBirths, in a week when a Lord claimed not to have heard of morning TV presenter Lorraine Kelly. Perhaps this is why people assume I know nothing about popular culture and only listen to Handel and Vivaldi.)

Upwards also do competitive indifference to the royals and pageantry.

Whenever anyone marries into the royal family, the media will react by pretending she or he has “breached protocol”. They usually have no guide more recent than Nancy Mitford’s Noblesse Oblige. Tut, tut, Meghan – closing your own car door! (How furious they must be that Meghan, sensible woman, has gone entirely beyond their reach.)

The Times on The Crown: The Queen doesn’t really set protocol traps for visitors.

The Times on how to survive a weekend at a country house, paraphrased. (Nobody really calls it a "hice".)

Don’t be early or late. 

Come primed with gossip and anecdotes so that you can “sing for your supper”.

Bring clothes for all possible eventualities. (This is how posh people talk – it’s catching.)

Bring outdoor shoes or wellies (rubber Wellington boots), but “only Le Chameau wellies or Dubarry boots will do; absolutely not Hunter”. (Me neither.)

“If you are staying in a castle, the bedrooms will be too cold. If you are staying with a billionaire, they will be too hot.” Posh houses used to be absolutely freezing, while “new money” houses had central heating “turned up full blast”. They used to keep it on 24 hours a day, which meant they provided hardly any bedclothes.

Nobody will be introduced, so you have to guess who they are. Assume they are somebody important.

If you’re seated next to the host, “do not stop talking. Have questions to hand such as ‘What are you watching on telly at the moment?’.” (See Julian Fellowes’ Snobs for the laboured, vacuous dinner-table chat of the truly posh.)

Make friends with the dogs, but don’t address them in “stupid baby voices”.

Tip staff: £20 per person per room, in cash. That’s what the paperweight on the dressing table is for. 

Immediately email your thanks, and follow it up with a letter.

Upwards never go to “popular beauty spots”, or to marinas. They are too poor to own yachts. In the 60s, they went to Tuscany, but never to Portofino or Rapallo. Samantha Upward confuses the yacht harbour with Ravenna, where there are some mosaics that you simply must see.

In March 2020, during lockdown, middle-class Brits went back to a way of life not seen since the 50s and 60s – they stayed at home and had everything delivered, and cooked their own lunch. In the 70s, we used to wish that Britain had a café culture. Now it does, and we’ve become used to living in public. Fifties housewives really were stuck at home. People “kept themselves to themselves”. Without social media or even a TV, families were cut off from the wider society and parents could fill their children’s heads with any old rubbish. Upwards, Weybridges and Teales trod a careful path, avoiding anybody who wasn’t exactly “our sort”. Some people were so sure there was nobody worth mingling with that they had no friends and no social contacts at all.

In 2019, Samantha is very into “wassailing” – a revived ceremony encouraging fruit trees to produce. Her cousin Arkana runs it, wearing a green velvet cloak, a wide-brimmed hat and leaves painted on her cheeks. She teaches everybody the songs and dances, and there are craft and food stalls and activities for the kids.

Open fires are cosy, but Upwards have to reinvent them as “hygge”. (The fad has passed, 2020.)

Samantha is still rather shocked that people go to “pop concerts”. Concerts are string quartets and silent audiences in neat clothes.

No Upward can go in for Motocross. Or go to classes to learn “club dancing”. Everybody else has far more fun than we do!

If a Teale teenager fancies kayaking, she finds and joins a local kayaking club that meets at a nearby lake or reservoir. Upwards only kayak on dangerous activity holidays – on stretches of open sea. They don’t even know that every activity will have a local club, and don’t go to nearby lakes because they are too popular. They don’t really do “activities” anyway. It takes them some time to work out how narrow their horizons are, and how many other worlds there are out there, possibly because they are constantly told that they are “privileged”. They are also told that there is something dangerous and contaminating about the rest of society. Bryony Teale gets sponsorship of her sport and becomes an Olympian.

Swimming in rivers is fun. The Upwards rechristen it “wild swimming” – but there’s so much sewage in rivers in 2022 that this pastime is impossible. Upwards go for hearty walks but barely talk to people they meet.

Weybridges can afford a pool, and Eileen loves going for a dip. Howard adores adding chlorine and anti-fungal preparations, warning visitors not to get hair in the filter, and yelling at children for splashing the surround or kicking gravel into the water. (There is a strip of gravel beyond the concrete tiles, put there specifically so that it will be very difficult to avoid kicking pebbles in the pool. The possibilities for making visitors feel awkward and guilty are endless.) He has a special rake for removing leaves, and thinks the pool looks best with its cover on for the winter.

In 2020, Upwards are sneering about the crowds on beaches breaking social distancing rules. They never go to packed beaches, they are always looking for a strand that’s deserted apart from themselves. They’re deeply shocked that the Definitelies all go to the same “beauty spot” and bring supplies of alcohol. Stow Crat children neck vodka from the bottle at beach parties with bonfires. 

July 2020 and the Tories are launching an anti-obesity drive. Couch-potato, junk-food eating chavs get ill and put on a strain on the NHS which is paid for by our tax dollars. Islington is full of fit-looking runners – are they sculpting their bodies to prove their membership of the middle class? Or are they set-dressing to show that the area has gentrified?

Once we're adults, our culture tells us to turn play into Serious Work to Sculpt Your Body and Achieve Results. (@fatnutritionist. I remember girls at school who asked of every PE exercise: "Will it give me muscly legs?" – a fate worse than death.)