Okay Yah

The birthday girl’s mother stood up. “Tiny Pony wants to make a little speech,” she said. And so she did.
We were at the White Horse in Putney, also known as the Sloaney Pony (pronounced Slaney Painy.) I was Simon’s date in the college friends’ corral, where they explained that though it was Cambridge, Churchill college took mostly state school kids, and was not at all posh, really. Unlike the rest of the guests. This distinction seemed important to them, and I believed them. Simon isn’t posh. He speaks with the new Tony Blair Establishment accent, full of democratic glottal stops. Our corral bonded as the yahs and brays increased down-table; we swapped compensating stories of council estate beatings and jam sandwiches.

I get infected with interest in this stuff as soon as I get to a British Airways check-in queue. I start listening and classifying, and watching others do it faster than me. Words and and accent peg you here, and they’ll always piss someone off. If you’re uncomfortable being having your origins and aspirations dissected, try an Irish accent. Thug? Posh totty? Only Dublin knows for sure.

I keep asking my friends about this obsession, sure that I’m exaggerating as usual. But maybe not. Elly tells me about her friend whose boyfriend wouldn’t take her to the May Ball, in case she might embarrass herself because she doesn’t speak properly. “She might say ‘toilet’ instead of ‘loo’ or something.” The friend reported this to Elly as proof of his consideration for her.

That class boorishness is dying. Nobody would coach Margaret Thatcher on a fake upper-class accent these days; the plummy Tories are a joke. Piers Morgan looks and sounds like a flabby young Roger Moore, but he edits Rottweiler tabloid The Sun. Little England tabloid The Daily Mail. The Daily Mirror*. The old BBC accent , which I’ve always liked, is being phased out, replaced by regional voices and the estuary English that’s becoming the new standard. No single class, identified by accent or schooling, seems to have a lock on a given industry or profession any more. Maybe classification is mostly a leisure activity now, social Tetris.

“In America, though,” they tell me when I ask about class in Britain, “they treat you like shit when you don’t have money or a flash job.”

*I’ve been annoying my English friends with my sloppy reporting. Last time I lived here, Piers Morgan was editor of The Sun. Now he edits the Daily Mirror, apparently, a fact that won’t stick in my brain even though somebody posted this in my comments a week ago. Simon writes: “Under his editorship it’s become a left-wing tabloid and a much “better” competitor to The Sun, unfortunately he has remained an odious toad.”

So there you go. I stand gratefully corrected.

Coronation Street

Inexplicably, Canadians are into _Coronation Street_. I gather this from CBC radio, which reports _Coronation Street_ viewing parties, called “Ping Parties”.

Inexplicably, Canadians are into _Coronation Street_. I gather this from CBC radio, which reports on _Coronation Street_ viewing parties, called “Ping Parties”.

In case you don’t know, Corrie is the longest-running soap in Britain (I think). It’s set in adenoidal Manchester, and apparently it’s grim up north. As is traditional in British soaps, most of the characters are deeply unattractive and whiny, and their lives are long strings of misery relieved only by trips to the pub, where they fight. Periodically, British gossip mags show the soap stars dolled up in “At Home” interviews, but they cannot be glamourised. For example, Gail one of the longest-running characters on _Coronation Street_, is a nag and looks like a camel. Far too many articles have been written about how the Americans like their escapism to be aspirational while the Brits seem most comforted by _schadenfreude_, but clichés stick because they’re true.

I watched _Coronation Street_ every evening when I was at school. So did everyone else. Finish dinner, clear the dishes, bring the tray of tea and biscuits into the fire just as the elderly theme tune started at 7.30. I haven’t followed it since my Leaving Cert, though last I heard they had graduated to serial killers and scandalous affairs. When the CBC played the opening music last night, I started to fret about my Maths homework.

The most entertaining part of the Canadian absorption in _Coronation Street_ is that they clearly can’t follow it. On last night’s show, they played a snatch of dialogue and then invited listeners to call in to tell them what they were saying.
   “I think it’s ‘goshad’,” said one presenter.
   “No, it’s ‘gooshit’,” said the other, “Though I have no idea what that means.”
Luckily, Canada has plenty of ex-pats to enlighten them. “She’ll be _gutted_” the character had said. Meaning, she’ll be upset, emotionally devastated, have her insides torn asunder.

I wonder if they’d hire me as a simultaneous translator? I speak four English languages pretty well…

Further reading: Wikipedia entry on Coronation Street.

A Short Dictionary of dervala.net Terms

Collaborators and requests welcome.
Crack/craic
Noun/adjective. I hardly ever use this one, but it came up the other day. Ríona’s definition:

“The “crack” is basically … well, fun. Drink-fuelled, loud, boisterous, but good fun.

It used always be spelt “crack” but in the last ten years or so, there’s been a tendency to hibernicize the spelling – “craic”.

When the crack is especially good, you’d say “Ah, the crack was ninety.”

A person can also embody craic. “Oh, you’ll have to meet so-and-so, she’s great craic.” A very high compliment.

Faff
Futzing, messing around on filler activities, procrastinating. Usually indulged in before leaving the house to do something unpleasant. Often the opening salvo in a domestic battle:
“Would you ever stop faffing and get in the car!”

Feck
All-purpose, indispensable term. Milder than “fuck”, closer to “frick” but more versatile. “Well, feck you anyway. You just fecked off this morning and left me no fecking cornflakes.” Old ladies can safely say this in Ireland now. Reached its most inspired use on the lips of Father Jack in the Channel Four series _Father Ted_.
There’s also an old Dublin use of “feck” to mean pilfer: early in Joyce’s _Portrait_, boys run away from school because “they had fecked cash from the rector’s room”.

Witter

Verb. To ramble on inanely.

It’s Zed, not Zee! Zed!

To get me off his back, Ranger Tim has defined a useful rule:
    “All terms relating to technologies newer than, say, fire, are American.”

I am still having trouble with Canadian English. Producing it, that is. I understand it fine. It’s not even that I feel the need to pass; rather that I’m afflicted with an obsession with how people speak. Ranger Tim is patient with the elderly three-year-old who follows him around the staff kitchen.
“What do you call this? Tin-foil or aluminium foil?”
“Aluminium foil.”
“Do you ever say _al-you-MIN-ee-um_? Or is it always _a-LOOM-in-um_? ”
“Always a-LOOM-in-um here.”
“Hey look! The French side of the packaging writes “aluminium”, like us!”
“That’s really exciting, Dervala. But I don’t think that’s how it is in the periodic table.”

To get me off his back, Ranger Tim has defined a useful rule:
“All terms relating to technologies newer than, say, fire, are American.” I have limited access to post-Stone-Age technology in Lake Superior Provincial Park, but it’s good preparation for a return to urban life to deduce all by myself that Canadian phones are busy, not engaged. Canadian kids get diaper rash, not nappy rash. Canadian cars have trunks and hoods, not boots and bonnets. (This last is a sad loss. Bonnets are so much cooler than hoods. Think of _Emma_ versus Eminem.) Everything else is English-English, except that Canadians have asses not arses. Do asses count as technology? Maybe Britney’s does.

Not that it matters what words I use. No one in northern Ontario realises I’m a Paddy Without Papers. They assume I’m a displaced Newfie with a poor work ethic. Even my sister suffers this confusion, though she is less twangy than me. She has just arrived in Ottawa to start an MBA, and now sits through management lectures on ‘Sow-hwest Airloins’ by a professor from Co. Leitrim.
“So where did you do your undergrad?” she asked him during the designated suck-up period after a seminar.
Ireland. That’s in Europe.” he said. Pause.
“Yes, but where?”
“Cork. That’s down the south.”
“I know where Cork is. I’m from Limerick.” He gaped.
“Are you _sure_? ”

We’re learning. The Canadian “eh?” is addictive. I don’t know how I managed without this little nudge, at once wheedling for approval and inclusive. It is free of the slack-jawed tone of “huh?” and the hectoring note of “right?”. But I try not to overuse it just yet. Now that my haircut is growing in to a full mullet, no sense getting taken for an Ottawa Valley hockey player, eh?