Sunday, June 25, 2006

England, Their England

When I was out with Smat last weekend she gave me a right telling off for referring to the England football team as 'us'.

"When are we playing next?," I ask her. "What do you mean, 'we'?," she replies. "We aren't in it."

Smat thinks I should think of myself as Scottish, like she is. Like her, I was born there and I grew up there. But unlike her, and my brother, and my two cousins, I never had a Scottish accent. My accent has always been quite posh and English to the core.

The primary school I went to was full of English kids, because we lived by an RAF base, which was full of flight lieutenants and squadron leaders on postings from sister bases in Cornwall and Lincolnshire. My secondary school was a posh public school full of rich English kids whose Dads worked in the City and thought that a spell of roughing it in the North of Scotland would do their kids good. (Mostly it didn't.)

I developed a strange fondness for England from the first time I went there at the age of about 12, and realised that in England, fields are separated by hedges, not fences. For some reason, this was the one thing that made me really want to live there. Fences are horrible. Hedges are nice.

As it turned out, I went to live in Italy before I ever lived in England. Upon leaving school at the tender age of 17, I dispatched myself on a nightmare 48-hour coach trip from Inverness to Florence, where I'd got a job as an au pair. I arrived at five in the morning, to find no one there to pick me up, and unable to speak a word of the language. It wasn't an auspicious start.

It rapidly got less auspicious as I realised that not only was I rubbish at being an au pair, I also wasn't the least bit interested in the things that 17-year old Italian girls were interested in, namely handbags, makeup and Italian boys. In fact I still can't see the appeal of any of these things. The Italians struck me as being obsessed with outward appearances, from clothes to makeup to interior décor, and not so hot on the things that I liked, namely being moody, writing avant-garde plays (obviously Luigi Pirandello was a bit of an exception, but I didn't know about him then) and thinking a lot.

In the end I got so depressed by it all that by Christmas I was on tranquillisers.

Fortunately by Christmas I was also more or less fluent in Italian, and when my employers told me they no longer required my services, I realised that I had achieved what I'd set out to do (i.e. learn the language), and was free to go home. Hurrah!

I finally got to move to England a week shy of my 19th birthday, when I fetched up at the furthest possible university from the parental home, namely Exeter. With no disrespect to any of my Scottish friends (er, that'll be you, Smat), I thought that England was the greatest place on earth. I thought I'd found somewhere I really belonged. It had proper shops, and proper goths, and bands played gigs nearby, and it was full of proper small-town indie kids with proper Arthurian-style* hippy leanings. It was great.

My university chums had other ideas, though. Most of them came from towns and counties within 100 miles of Exeter, and to them I was some sort of exotic outsider. They were constantly teasing me for having a Scottish accent, which was very odd, because I don't**. My name is sort of Scottish, and they assumed that so too was I. So in the end I felt like I didn't really belong at all.

Even after having lived here for 17 years (give or take a couple of years in France), I still don't fully feel like I belong. When I go back to Scotland, I feel like I belong there even less. It's not like I'm an immigrant from some far-flung country. In fact it's such small-scale rootlessness, it's laughable. But even so, the words 'English' and 'Scottish' throw me into a bit of confusion. And even after 17 years, the Cross of St George seems alien to me, while the St Andrew's Cross seems right and familiar.

I'll still be supporting England this afternoon, though. Sorry Smat.


* Well, somewhere between Arthurian-style and Neil-from-the-Young-Ones-style.

** Unless I've been labouring under a misapprehension all this time, and I do in fact talk like a character in an Alan Warner novel. In which case, could someone please let me know? It'll do wonders for my sense of identity.


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35 comments:

Dave again said...

Oh yes, you have a terribly thick Scottish burr. At times I can hardly understand a word you say.

Chaucer's Bitch said...

I never felt like I belonged, either. Pack a rucksack, stick out your thumb, and start bumming around until you find a spot that feels right. (I recommend australia)

Billy said...

You do have the advantage, at least in this world cup of not having to choose between Scotland and England.

patroclus said...

Dave: Burr? There's no burr in the north-east of Scotland; that's Somerset you're thinking of. However, Smat can tell you all about 'the Doric', which is the local - and largely incomprehensible - dialect. Luckily she makes a concession for me and her other not-Scottish chums, and talks in proper English like.

CB: My hitch-hiking days are well and truly over (although the stories I could - and probably will - tell!). The place where I've felt most at home, apart from London, is San Francisco. I'd move there like a shot if it wasn't on the other side of the bloody world.

Billy: 'Tis true, you don't often see Scotland in the World Cup. But you do quite often see Inverness Caley Thistle beating Celtic, which is always wonderfully heartwarming.

Dave again said...

Perhaps I meant brogue.

Or is that Irish?

Heather said...

Hmm, identity is a peculiar thing. I'm born and raised in Glasgow but have a mild accent that doesn't sound Glaswegian, so much so that I'm always being asked where I'm from. However in Edinburgh where I lived for 4 years everyone knew instantly upon speaking to me that I'm Glaswegian.

The thing is I don't feel like I belong in either city anymore. Maybe I'll give England a try, hedges in fields do sound enticing.

frangelita said...

So you're not one of these Scots who will be deliberately supporting Ecuador today then? I'm putting the weight of my emotions behind Ghana cos they seem to be the most pleased about getting through.

patroclus said...

Not at all, Frangelita, it would be churlish of me to support Ecuador (especially as they just lost, haha). Although I must admit that I cried when I learned that Togo got a national holiday when they qualified. Other things that have made me cry this week:

- A 'lost cat' notice alerting locals to the disappearance of 'Daffodil', who is a 'beautiful black cat with a pink collar'. Losing a pet is very sad, but I can't help thinking that if I had been named Daffodil and been made to wear a pink collar, I might want to run away too.

- A 'found cat' notice alerting locals to the fact that a 'lovely young tabby cat' had been found injured after being hit by a car in Paddenswick Road and taken to the animal hospital in Richmond.

I've been having a somewhat emotionally sensitive week, all in all. No prizes for guessing why that is.

DavetheF said...

I'd say your accent was "neutral". But it was a noisy pub.

Urban Chick said...

in england, i was constantly being asked if i was american or irish (or occasionally australian - very odd)

here in my hometown, i'm not sure most people realise i am scottish although i am already sensing myself hamming my accent back up a bit

patroclus said...

DaveF - Neutral, eh? Like Switzerland, eh? Now I'm worrying that I'm afflicted with a monotonous tone of voice. I might have to adopt the Antipodean lift, or whatever it is they call it?

UC: Long time no see! Hamming up the accent is all part of the pleasure of returning home, or so I'm told by people who have accents. Like Smat and Tabby Rabbit, for example.

realdoc said...

Being a Northern Irish person who came to England at 18 and stayed for a long time and married an Englishman I have similar feelings about England. There is a bit of history between the 2 nations(duh) and on our return I found I felt more English than Irish. When I voice support for England at anything but especially football I get roundly abused by friends and family.I got emailed 15 Paraguay flags for example. Not only that I get a history lesson about all the awful things the English have done to the Irish.So I sympathise.
Destined not to belong I suppose, maybe that's a good thing.

Smat said...

you're one of the few people who think I still have a Scottish accent (except for during the couple of weeks after a visit "back home") - I'm almost fully assimilated now I'll have you know - I can do the vowels and I pass the Tebbitt test and everything.
The Doric though, that's a whole other world...

patroclus said...

Smat: That's like Tabby Rabbit thinking she doesn't have a Welsh accent. Actually by now she might have developed one of those Boston accents.

What I don't understand is how I never got a Scottish accent in Scotland, but when I went to live in France I picked up the local accent straightaway. Interesting. (Well, it's slightly interesting to me, probably not to anyone else).

PS What's the Tebbitt Test? Is it when people make you say 'four brown balls' and then laugh uproariously?

First Nations said...

im a regionalist, not a nationalist. as long as i'm on the pacific side of the coastal range, i'm home.
but yeah, wow. scottish accent. you sound like mr. thrrrrrifty of thrifty foods (ancient chain of grocery stores, SO dating myself.)
the tam o shanter and the bagpipes are a dead giveawy too if its the british look you're going after. try a bowler hat and and a tightly rolled brolly. boil up a steak or something to get you in the proper mood.

cello said...

Some of us would like to swap our English identity for one that is a little more loin-stirring, football loyalties aside. Scottish roots would do fine - and the scenery is rather better up there than in Hertfordshire.

I blame being born in the East Midlands, a more soul-detroyingly bland region it would be hard to find. I have been known to invent a spicier and racier ancestry by pretending that my Irish mother was the descendant of a ship-wrecked Spaniard from the Armada. It would explain why I tan so easily, but is really a cry for help.

Leighton Cooke said...

After watching Portugal and Holland kickboxing last night there was a grim silence in Amsterdam. Holland is quite nationalistic at the moment with its politics dominated by right wing racists. As a rootless expat I often wonder what I identify with. Most of my close friends are multilingual Europeans who feel most at home in an international setting. We are rootless cybernomads.

Pashmina said...

The Tebbit test is notionally about cricket, but is still a pretty vile way in which to categorise people.

Over the course of a similar conversation to this one during the weekend, I established that despite my exotic*-sounding surname I am ovewhelmingly English. Not so much as a look-in for any of the Celtic nations. There's nothing interesting about being a member of the majority.


* if you think the land of Phil Collins, cuckoo clocks and Nazi gold is exotic. Which I don't, frankly.

Roberta Swipe said...

"My name is sort of Scottish.."

I'd have had you down as more Greco-Roman myself, Patroclus....

patroclus said...

Patroclus (or pa-to-ro-ko-los, as Homer might have had me) proudly flies the little-known flag of ancient Achaea, Bob.

I just *know* that Interpreter Pavlov is going to pull me up on that one, as well. It's like the oriflamme fiasco all over again.

patroclus said...

Also, he doesn't have any hands.

Interpreter Pavlov said...

Oriflamme fiasco? Not at all...Homer spells him Patroklos, so you could decline him:

Nom. Patroklos
Voc. Patrokle
Acc. Patroklon
Gen. Patroklos
Dat. Patroklo
(no ablative).

Actually your spelling is very interesting (and I wonder where you got it from) because it's the Doric (i.e. pre-Homeric by several hundred years)Greek of a word/name meaning 'glory of the father'.

patroclus said...

Erm, I expect I got his Doric spelling from Michael Ventris.

Was Homer a real person, then?

patroclus said...

Mycenaean, rather than Doric.

This is all getting a bit abstruse.

Betty said...

My father was a Serbian who grew up in Croatia, and I definitely don't feel a strong connection with that side of the family. I'm completely English through and through - I can't be doing with all the spontaneous shows of emotion, hugging, kissing, warmth and family love that seems to go with being Yugoslavian. Ugh! Give me the stiff upper lip and people keeping themselves to themselves any time.

I still speak with a droning west midlands accent after living in London for ten years. I think this all means that I'm not very adaptable.

Heather said...

Ahh Cello, if exciting Scottish roots are what you're after I'm your woman. My ancestors were responsible for forging Rob Roy MacGregor's claymore in their shop in Argyle St. way back when. Also Rabbie Burns wrote my family grace, on my grandmothers side anyway. On my mothers side I'm connected to the stewards of the king.

All very long ago however, I'm no one special - although my ancestors may have been.

patroclus said...

Totally agree Betty - spontaneous displays of affection, yeuch.

Heather, that's some interesting ancestry you have indeed. Can't compete with that, although according to my Mum, my Edinburgh-dwelling great-great-grandmother (or something) was once followed down the street by Burke and Hare. I'm not sure of the veracity of this.

Interpreter Pavlov said...

Mycenean is just about the next stop down the line from Doric, which in any case was a kind of Ur-Greek that can only be reconstructed conjecturally, like Pictish. Another life's work for you here?

Perhaps you speak with a Pictish accent?

Heather said...

Oooh Burke and Hare, I used to live just next to the bulding where they had lived and committed all their murders. Luckily I didn't discover this until after I had moved out. Edinburgh's old town is more than spooky enough on its own without my imagination running wild about gruesome murdering going on next door.

Still it was a fantastic place to live, and very handy for the Grassmarket, which strangely enough was Burke and Hare's favourite place to go for a drink after a hard night's graverobbing.

BiB said...

Shouldn't the genitive of Patroklos be Patroklou?

Pats, I suppose you could always try and pull off the British identity, though few seem willing or able to. Being in a different place is undeniably queer-feeling-making. I am English and live in Germany. An English person I met here recently told me I had a strong English accent in English. What CAN that mean? Mind you, in a way, I almost find it easier being English/British here than 'at home'. A German will just accept that I am British/English without any questions asked. I too am chock-full of Celtic roots. In England, perhaps they 'dilute' my Englishness. Here, they're an exotic ps.

Interpreter Pavlov said...

Bib: Goodness, yes. Thank you.

Patroklou.

Oh, the shame of it.

patroclus said...

Oo, this comments thread is shaping up to be a bit like a quality Radio 4 panel game. Or QI, though I've never actually seen that. Marvellous.

BiB - I'm currently ploughing my way through your chum's book. Apparently blogs were trivial and unimportant until the 2004 US election, when the US media discovered them. Blogs are always being rescued from the enormous condescension of unimportance (prizes awarded for spotting misquote from E.P. Thompson) by the 'proper' media. I seem to remember writing about that back in 2002. And the BBC discovered blogging again just yesterday. At this rate, blogging will have been discovered more times than Atlantis.

Sorry, just realised I'm ranting at no one but myself - unless Chuffy!'s around and fancies a spot of postprandial sophistry...

Spinsterella said...

I have a similar problem.

I am a galloping Irish republican. But.

I've lived in England since I finished school. Most of my friends are English. I love living here. I think willing England to lose is a bit juvenile.

So: I am benevolently neurtal.

That's all. (sorry)

BiB said...

Pats, do feel free to engage Herr Berger in some sophistry, although you might have difficulty coordinating to make it postprandial for both of you due to the time difference. He'd most enjoy it, I'm guessing, with you both sloshing big glasses of red, but you can't have everything.

patroclus said...

You know, BiB, I might just do that. My last comment might have come across as quite rude, but nothing was further from my intentions, I assure you. Herr Berger gets a nice little write-up at the back of the book, I notice. Splendid.