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What Larks and Larfs

By Ashleylister @ashleylister
I’ve long been fascinated by accents. I think this must have begun at the age of 18 when I left home and went to art college in Leicester. I’d hardly been out of London before then, so the midlands seemed a world away from the big city, or at least the north London suburbs. On one of the first nights at college I remember an earnest discussion about where we were all from and how our voices differed. Up to that point I honestly thought I didn’t have an accent, but hearing my room mates fighting to be heard in accents as far afield as Shetland, Glasgow, Hull and Skipton I had to admit I did sound quite flat.

Although I found most accents more interesting and acceptable than my own, I was never keen on the sounds of the voices in the Midlands. Leicester, where I was living; Coventry, Peterborough and Birmingham, which we visited, all grated on my ears. I don’t know what it was but I’m still not keen on them to this day. There was something about hearing, ‘All right, me duck?’ that made me cringe. In my mind that phrase will forever be associated with faggots - a local ‘delicacy.’ Spotting the unappetising-looking items in a butcher’s window I’d gone in to enquire what they were. After the initial greeting (see above), I was persuaded to buy some (they were cheap and a student grant didn’t go very far), I took them home and cooked them. They tasted exactly as I’d imagined and went straight in the bin.After Leicester we moved to Leeds for a year and I loved the sound of those Yorkshire voices. Finally, we moved to Blackpool which, to me, was typically northern, and made me think of Coronation Street, and a lovely lady I'd worked with in London when I was 14. She came from Manchester and and was probably about 40 at the time. Surprisingly, we got on well and used to tease each other about our different pronunciations. We were friends until Faye died fifty years later.Living in Blackpool with a London accent could be a challenge at times, and when my own children started making fun of me, I decided I had to adapt a bit. I obviously hadn't adapted enough when my daughter and I walked into an ice cream parlour one day. She wanted a cornet, which was easy, but when I tried to order a tub the fun began. "Tab?" said the woman, with a frown on her face. "Tub,' I replied, as clearly as I could. "Tab??" said the woman, looking puzzled. The easiest solution would have been to point to one of the empty tubs on the counter, but my daughter and I were trying so hard not to laugh at this point, that we were doubled over and shaking. The woman stood her ground. "Tab??" she repeated. "Tub," I said, emphasising the northern 'U' sound, but this cracked us up even more. I got the requested ice cream in the end but I can never order a tub again without thinking back to that incident.Teaching in Blackpool was another challenge, especially when helping young pupils to read. I'm sure there's a whole cohort of children who went home asking to play on the 'grarss,' get in the 'barth' and walk up the 'parth.' Even more difficult was when we had spelling tests. I found it very difficult to speak with a northern accent in order to help them. It just sounded alien to me.Thinking about the subject of accents in preparation for writing this blog post, I pondered the variety of accents within my immediate family: Spanish from my Dominican ex son-in -law; Welsh from present son-in-law, Gloucestershire from one of my daughters in law; and of course, East Lancs from my husband’s side. The wider family has yet more variety: Irish, midlands, north west, Portuguese/French, Spanish, Kent (it took me a while to recognize the difference between that and London, but it’s certainly there), and London that’s a bit posher than my own North London.I knew from an early age that my grandma spoke differently from the rest of the family. We were all Londoners with accompanying accents, some rougher than others. My grandad was born in Kings Cross, which I guess is within the sound of Bow Bells, and made him and his large family true cockneys. My grandma, on the other hand, had a soft burr to her speech, which I found immensely soothing. I can hear her voice now, washing over me, as I cuddled up to her in bed as a four year old, battling sleep in order to hear the end of her stories. It turned out Grandma was from Yarmouth, hence the soft burr and slight rise at the end of each sentence.Years later, a funny story related by my dad gave rise to a catch phrase which we still use today. He had been away with his best friend, my uncle, on a boat on the Norfolk Broads. Somehow, they had run out of diesel and got stuck halfway back to their starting point. Trying to get help they had told an old local their plight. His only response, in a strong Norfolk accent, was an astonished, "You didn’t oughta’ gone to Beccles!"In the past I’ve been mistaken for an Australian - something about those long drawn out vowels - which was fortuitous 50 odd years ago when I decided to play a trick on a school friend. Judy had a penpal who lived in Brisbane. This was fine as long as Nyree kept her distance and communicated by email a few times a year. However, apparently Nyree had hinted she might be visiting the UK, and this had thrown Judy, as an anxious 15 year old, into a frenzy of panic. Kids can be cruel, and I was no exception. I phoned Judy, put on a thick Australian accent, and proceeded to tell her my plans. ‘Hello Judy, it’s Nyree here,’ I began. I heard a sharp intake of breath at the other end. ‘I’m in the UK and coming to see you tomorrow,’ I continued. All I remember, before collapsing in laughter, was hearing a lot of stuttering and stumbling. I don’t think Judy ever forgave me for that.My real introduction to strange accents began when I made friends with another art student. I often saw him around college and didn’t take much notice till he came up to me one day to ask if I knew of any rooms to rent. I had to ask him to repeat himself twice as it sounded like another language. As I got to know him a bit better I learnt that his accent was authentic Accrington, with that distinctive twang. Little did I know that I’d be living with it for the next 50 years.

What Larks and Larfs

I was introduced to the intricacies of an East Lancs accent in 1973

Shortly after we started seeing each other, Dave decided to take me to see his great uncle John, who owned a farm in East Lancs and spoke with such a strong accent that I honestly couldn’t understand a word. Despite being the 1970s, I remember his speech was peppered with ‘thees’ and ‘thous’ and ‘t’ instead of ‘the’. As a born and bred Londoner, I was intrigued by this old fashioned conversation, which Dave not only took in his stride but contributed to in similar vein.Now, I've lived in Blackpool more than twice as long as I lived in London. Up here, I get told I have a southern accent. Down there they think I'm northern. Me, I think I'm a weird mixture of north and south. I'll only know I'm a true northerner when I'm having a 'laff' and insulting Dave with,'nasty bastard!' instead of 'narsty barstard!' which inevitably cracks us both up and diffuses any argument very nicely.There's only one poem for me, this week. To be read in a Lancashire accent.

The Lion and Albert by Marion Edgar
There’s a famous seaside place called Blackpool,
That’s noted for fresh-air and fun,
And Mr and Mrs Ramsbottom
Went there with young Albert, their son.
A grand little lad was their Albert,
All dressed in his best; quite a swell,
With a stick with an ‘orse’s ‘ead ‘andle,
The finest that Woolworth’s could sell.
They didn’t think much to the ocean:
The waves, they was fiddlin’ and small
There was no wrecks and nobody drownded,
‘Fact, nothing to laugh at at all.
So, seeking for further amusement,
They paid and went into the zoo
Where they’d lions and tigers and camels
And old ale and sandwiches too.
There were one great big lion called Wallace;
His nose was all covered with scars.
He lay in a som-no-lent posture
With the side of his face on the bars.
Now Albert had heard about lions,
How they was ferocious and wild.
To see Wallace lying so peaceful,
Well... it didn’t seem right to the child.
So straight ‘way the brave little feller,
Not showing a morsel of fear,
Took ‘is stick with the ‘orse’s ‘ead ‘andle
And shoved it in Wallace’s ear!
You could see that the lion didn’t like it,
For giving a kind of a roll,
He pulled Albert inside the cage with ‘im
And swallowed the little lad... whole!
Then Pa, who had seen the occurrence,
And didn’t know what to do next,
Said, “Mother! Yon lions ‘et Albert.”
And Mother said “Eeh, I am vexed!
Then Mr and Mrs Ramsbottom —
Quite rightly, when all’s said and done —
Complained to the Animal Keeper
That the lion had eaten their son.
The keeper was quite nice about it;
He said, “What a nasty mishap.
Are you sure that it’s your boy he’s eaten?”
Pa said, “Am I sure? There’s his cap!”
So the manager had to be sent for.
He came and he said, “What’s to do?”
Pa said, “Yon lion’s ‘et Albert,
And ‘im in his Sunday clothes, too.”
Then Mother said, “Right’s right, young feller;
I think it’s a shame and a sin
For a lion to go and eat Albert
And after we’ve paid to come in!”
The manager wanted no trouble.
He took out his purse right away,
Saying, “How much to settle the matter?”
Pa said “What do you usually pay?”
But Mother had turned a bit awkward
When she thought where her Albert had gone.
She said, “No! Someone’s got to be summonsed!”
So that was decided upon.
Then off they went to the P’lice Station
In front of a Magistrate chap.
They told ‘im what happened to Albert,
And proved it by showing his cap.
The Magistrate gave his o-pinion
That no-one was really to blame.
He said that he hoped the Ramsbottoms
Would have further sons to their name.
At that Mother got proper blazing,
And “Thank you, sir, kindly!” said she.
“What?! Waste all our lives raising children
To feed ruddy lions? Not me!"Thanks for reading...........Jill Email ThisBlogThis!Share to TwitterShare to Facebook

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