One of these (there are many others) is the question of communication if you are British and over fifty-five, with someone equally British but under thirty-five. Multitudes of Brits visit the Atlantic island where I live, tourists mostly. On my ultimate expedition to a favourite seafront restaurant, where the Atlantic actually rolls up and crashes against the seawall below the place, the tables to my right and left were crowded with large English families, an encouraging concept. Ma, Pa, four or five children more or less sat at the table. None looked alike. I pretended to be buried in a book of choice, as I was dining alone. Really I was trying my hardest to catch a word I could understand emerging from the mouths of my fellow countrymen to the right and left.
It is not merely an accent problem. Every country in England has a different accent used in spoken English, plus local dialect. If you’ve tucked away more than fifty-five summers – and in my case it is much more – the soft cadences of the West Country, the rougher, meatier phraseology of the North Country, the odd musicality of East Anglia, even the whiney Cockney of South London are a piece of cake – because you have been listening to it and appreciating it all your life.
Communication is impossible now because the English language is no longer properly taught in the schools, and because English has been much changed by the influence of television and video games, and the appalling and ineffective transatlantic tones used in trailers actually made in Britain, but employed for the advertising of Hollywood films. I found a fine example of this nonsense recently when I bought a British product, the entire collection of James Bond films in one huge and weighty box. Each movie was introduced by an exasperating male voice telling us how pioneering and soul-enhancing it had been for clever people to combine all those very long Bonds into one collection. The accent was pseudo-American, partly Canadian with a touch of the Antipodes, peppered with purest Hackney glottal stops. What is more, the DVDs did not permit you to pass over the horrible introduction straight into images of Mr. Connery or Mr. Moore (or whoever) killing villains to the accompaniment of a merry quip.
Today we must accept that ishoos (problems) must be sorted (not sorted out), and that unwanted clothes, for instance, must be disappeared somewhere, not put away. Letters, if anyone can still manage a biro, are penned not written. “The mantra has it that hoodies are stashing great amounts of wonga in their mobile homes”. I have an ishoo with this: I thought a mantra was a religious conviction or statement, or a large flat fish with a sting in its tail; I think I have learned about hoodies. Wonga is apparently cash, which you stash in your caravan. Not much room for it I would have thought.
But back to the restaurant: Try as I might I could not understand anything any adult or child said (or shouted) in the holiday restaurant. I know they were English, because my friendly waiter informed me so. Ah! The average Spanish waiter is unique in a special way. As he is trying desperately to get away from Madrid or Barcelona or Santiago de Compostela and work in London, he wants to practise his English. This means that when the English resident who has been speaking and writing Spanish for perhaps forty years addresses the aforesaid waiter in fluent Spanish, the waiter replies in cod-English, heavily accented, so neither the diner nor his waiter has even a chance of communicating. The other day I asked for a ginebra con tonica sin lemon y sin hielo, por favor, pronouncing each word carefully, my lilting and practised Canary Island accent flowing like a silver stream. The waiter said, “what that kinnof wiski you wong? Chonny Walkum (rhymes with Malcolm) Red o Bleck o Grrreen? An you get plenny ice too!” We lived in different worlds.
A recent Comment posted by a blogger on my history website left me stunned, because I could not associate the gist of the comment with the subject matter it was supposed to be criticising. I had written a piece on the Holocaust. It was factual, unemotional and brief. It just spoke of the Holocaust, failed to criticise Nazi Germany or international Jewry, or blame anybody. It was just the facts, man. But the comment said – suck my dick. However unpleasant this instruction might be, and however impossible to comply with even with today’s technology, I simply cannot associate the comment with my post. What has the Holocaust to do with the blogger’s pretensions and needy sexual parts? Again, it was a blatant case of lack of communication within the English Language.
My third allusion returns again to DVDs. Could some kind person explain to me why I cannot understand a word of any film I buy if it is only in British or US English? Is it the quality of the sound? Might it be that modern actors have not been taught how to speak? In order to comprehend the film I must switch to the Spanish version, or French if I fell gallic enough. Then I sail through the film (unless it has been made by the Cohen brothers) with ease.
As the King of Siam said, it’s a puzzlement.