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Here I would like to meander around some more of those things that the authors felt made us British, the first of those being ‘Accents’ which had the subtitle, ‘Regional dialects; English as a second language’. Now I have lived in the south or south-east of England for just about sixty years and thought I had no accent (as those of us who’ve been here for a while tend to think) when my life was turned upside down as I was introduced to someone who I’d never met before and they said, “Do you come from the West Country?” My response was, “Oh my goodness, do I have an accent?” Naivety is a bit upsetting sometimes.

Anyway she nailed me because until the age of ten I grew up in Herefordshire which has a real ‘country-boy’ accent. Now Devon and Cornwall have their own accents that are not dissimilar as do parts of East Anglia and of course there is a real Essex accent, isn’t there. The thing about accent, I suspect, is that we don’t recognise it. Is that true of a Glaswegian I wonder or if you are from Birmingham, to cite two very distinct accents? Perhaps we should note that accent is not the same as the use of different words. We have these but I have a feeling that ‘different words’ are more common in the north than in the south. We don’t ‘mash’ tea in the south, for example.  

Accents use the same words but with a different sound. I came across this quote on one website from a person who obviously knew Wales: “West Wales accent is awful, as is the Cardiff accent. Newport accent is just weird and the Valleys one is rough sounding. I think Swansea has the nicest of the South Wales accents.” That person could clearly differentiate between the slightest differences in that area whereas most of us wouldn’t have a clue. That can’t be said for the Scots, the Welsh and the Irish generally where it’s impossible to miss the beautiful cadence that identifies each of them.  

The book I have referred to suggests that certain regional accents are perceived as being trusting, honest and understanding. As long as I can understand them I don’t think I mind what the accent is. I know a particular insurance firm we used to deal with always had Scottish women on the other end of the line and they always seemed clear, warm and friendly – but can’t anyone sound like that with some training?  Up until a few years ago I believe TV presenters were required to have a neutral flat London  accent, yet now the BBC’s main news presenter is clearly inoffensive Welsh. I put it like that because there is another channel on Freeview that used to have a most grating Welsh-accent presenter (to my ears at least). I once had an uncle who had the most soft and gentle Welsh brogue (I know that that’s a word that technically usually refers to the Irish or even West Country, but it seems to fit here) and it seemed to match his gentleness.  It’s obviously all to do with the person.

But don’t most countries have many different dialects or regional accents? Indeed accents are one of the defining marks of a nationality aren’t they? I know a lady with an incredibly strong and beautiful French accent living in this area (the real thing, not the parody of ‘Allo! Allo!). I believe she has been married to an Englishman and lived here in the UK for getting on for forty years I would guess, but her accent is still as strongly French as you can possibly get. I know I don’t have any trouble identifying Americans, Spanish, Australians, or South Africans, for example, purely by their accent.  So yes, maybe our individual regional accents do define who we are in a measure, but I suggest that is probably something that defines all people groups around the world, which is fascinating when you think about it.  But here’s my Silver Surfer pondering: as a young person I was never aware of regional accents but was that because we rarely escaped out of ‘the West Country’?  I’m not sure. I remember when I started a job that took me all around the country I came across the various accents found in the different regions but again they did not impact me. I wonder is it since we have become a multicultural society that we have become more aware of our differences because there are so many of them? Or has it got something to do with TV? Ponder on.

Sadly accents (national ones perhaps more than regional or local ones, although clearly it is true of more parochial ones) can have the effect of creating divisions, but maybe the more accurate truth is that they simply highlight the divisions that already exist. Threat and fear, I suspect, create those divisions nationally and the accents of the individuals in question only mark them out as “those people who are taking our jobs” or whatever it may be that creates the angst. In a similar but different way, accents make us aware of habits, actions, procedures or ways of doing things, and certainly experiences, that are different from region to region. Is that why, sometimes at least, there is suspicion of the south of England by the north, and vice-versa? It’s that fear of difference that drives a wedge, so instead of relishing a wonderful Yorkshire accent we focus on the stereotypical Yorkshire man with a flat cap, tight wallet, but warm and friendly, proud about cricket or rugby league, eating Yorkshire Pudding or Wensleydale cheese and keeping a ferret - and you get all that from his accent! Don’t read too much into what your ear hears, is obviously the lesson!  But let’s move on to another of these things that apparently make us British.

Accents tend to make us think about the rest of the country, so let’s pick another of the subject from this book that does the same – weather forecasts! Or to be more accurate, “Long Range Forecasts” Now I have had experience of those parts of the world where tomorrow is almost as certain to be the same as today with amazing heat in the morning and heavy rain in the afternoon, or just simply heat, morning, noon and night. The certainty of the weather is revealed in the area of Los Angeles when rain appears from nowhere and pileups appear in numbers on the freeways as hapless motorists fail to understand (because it happens so rarely) that when it pours with rain you slow down and give the vehicle in front of you more space. Long-term forecasts for them are really a waste of space.

Being a keen weather observer, it has crossed my mind more than a few times, when I have been watching our forecasters over a period of time, that as long as our weather remains rather like that in Los Angeles – somewhat stable – then our forecasts are, yes, pretty accurate. However sitting on the north eastern side of a very large expanse of water where the prevailing wind is from the south west, stable is not the word that applies. Changeable is the word that best fits British weather and the Met Office don’t do changeable very well. In fact moving towards the close of January this year (2015) one forecaster spoke of the see-saw weather we’ve been experiencing and words like ‘perhaps’ and ‘maybe’ have had their fair airing.

A little while ago the BBC, I think it was, were advertising the weather service as something that would help us on a daily basis decide what clothes to wear and which day to hold a barbecue. That last part gives the game away – it was still the summer which this year veered towards the dependable. I haven’t seen those adverts recently!

Maybe the fact of knowing what is coming (well theoretically at least) is the thing that maintains our love-hate relationship with the Met Office. The thought that they have spent millions in recent years on high technology forecasting maybe helps make us more secure. It is fascinating when you are abroad seeing the BBC’s world service forecasts covering entire continents round the globe. We have certainly moved on a long way since feeling the seaweed hanging outside the back door. But we still enjoy the times when the BBC forecasters get it completely wrong (in see-saw conditions naturally) and we still delight in the apparent wrong forecast that appeared to miss the 1987 gales. Let’s not name the poor presenter who did that one; he’s been pilloried enough already.

But as, I think about this love-hate relationship that I referred to just now, we do have these split personalities when it comes to weather forecasting. One side of us expects that with all this expensive technology they ought to get it right, while the other side of us holds this somewhat sceptical outlook that is almost surprised when they do seem to have read the seaweed properly. In the cold light of day we know that the technology is there to plot and view from satellite the clouds and the sweeping rain and we’re pleased to be able to see it and acknowledge that the icons on the webpages were pretty accurate as to when the rain would arrive. On the other hand we know that the weather is changeable and so trying to plot what happens when this cold front hits this warm front and three lows are competing with a high, the odds are that just maybe we should hold lightly what they say ‘might’ happen.

Oh, just one more thing while we’re at it – well two really. Can we learn to differentiate, first of all, between, “snow in Scotland” and mild weather here in the south. There is a pessimistic streak in many of us who hear the word ‘snow’ and hear nothing else, and we are expecting schools to be closed and the roads to be bad. It was Scotland for goodness sake! That’s well over three hundred miles away!  And when they are talking about minus fifteen degrees or sixteen inches of snow, they are talking about on the top of mountains – in Scotland again!  Stop translating minus fifteen in the highlands into ‘really very, very cold in Southend’!  Let’s start listening a bit more carefully and abandon the nationwide game of expecting the worst. Pessimism is rife – especially when it comes to listening to weather forecasts. Some people should be banned from watching forecasts, or maybe the forecasts should come with a health warning – “This forecast may damage your health and create worry and anxiety in some of our viewers, especially those of a careless nature.” ‘Nuff said!  Sorry, I am getting on in years. A touch of the grumpy old man creeping in! Let’s see if we can, in the tradition of these pages, find a few light quotes to finish with.


What’s the difference between the Italian Mafia and the Glaswegian Mafia?
One makes you an offer you can’t refuse; the other makes you an offer you can’t understand.

I've always had a penchant for dialects. I remember getting detention and being told, 'Have a think about where doing these funny voices might get you someday.'

Nolan North

“When did the skin on our bodies, the difference in our voice, or the direction I heart takes us decide whether we should have human rights?”

― Isabella Poretsis

Weather forecasting

"An unsophisticated forecaster uses statistics as a drunken man uses lamp-posts - for support rather than for illumination. "

"Forecasting is the art of saying what will happen, and then explaining why it didn't!”

The trouble with weather forecasting is that it’s right too often for us to ignore it and wrong too often for us to rely on it.

Patrick Young

Don’t knock the weather; nine-tenths of the people couldn’t start a conversation if it didn’t change once in a while.

Kin Hubbard


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