Thursday, January 19, 2006

Whassat, mate?

I had a fun day out in the smoke yesterday. I do a bit of writing on the side and I'm helping someone, I'll call him Tony because that's his name, with his autobiography. Now Tony lives in a shiny bit of London, one of the bits dripping with Bentleys and concierges who do nothing all day except say "Hello Sir" and he enjoys a standard of living rather more comfortable than mine. Whenever I visit him I see things around me that would have the swarms of Crewe chavs dragging their chins along the ground leaving a trail of drool to lubricate the passage of their knuckles. Tony wears a Lacoste shirt from the Lacoste shop, not from JD Sports, and he wears it with understated style and panache without having to tuck his trousers into his socks. Despite this, he's well grounded and proud of his East-end Jewish boy roots and is a top-hole bloke.

Because he's able to, he pays for me to travel down by choo-choo from my nest here in Crewe as the railway town is 200 miles away from him and it's not a pleasant trip in the car. Because I was brought up to be a spendthrift, I always try and get the cheapest fare possible but Sir Richard Branson's team has deliberately confused their online booking forms of late to placate the whingers who were complaining about having to pay £100 to sit next to the likes of me who'd only paid £12 for the same trip because we were able to book well in advance. Consequently, the cheapest ticket I could get was a £28 one. Still dead cheap but, hey, it was in First Class and that meant I got a free breakfast.

Breakfast in one of Virgin's new Pendolino trains is a bit of an experience. They are able to go round curves without slowing down because they can tilt. This isn't the same as the old British Rail tilting train that had to have the vomit hosed off the insides of the windows every time it went out, this kind of slides up into the bends much the same way as a motorbike on a wall of death. It's barely noticeable, unless that is, you're eating or drinking. This is because the g-forces involved, although relatively minor, still conspire to make your motor co-ordination go rather askew. I struggled manfully with my tea cup in an effort to get it anywhere near my mouth on a curve somewhere south of Lichfield and I'm sure were I to have been eating one of the rather very nice sausages, it would have ended up poking out from my right ear. All good fun.

The other delight were the crew, who were all from Liverpool. Scouse is an accent I've never really got a handle on. In fact, growing up in the home counties and London, I don't class myself as having any kind of accent at all until people say "pardon, duck?" around here and I suddenly realise I sound as alien to them as Scots. I narrowly avoided a potentially very confusing conversation with a steward yesterday morning when he asked me, in that raised last word query tone beloved of both Merseysiders and Australians, "Soce?" I wasn't aware of what he was carrying, except that it was a tray. I thought he said "sauce" and was just about to say something along the lines of "I haven't actually got my breakfast yet but yes, I'll have brown and some ketchup, please" when I realised he'd actually said "Toast".

At least it was English. I marvel every time I go down to London that English "as she is spoke" is a language fast disappearing from the London sounsdscape. I'm relegated to a series of "pardon"s and "sorry, I still didn't get that" each time I ask for something in a shop or café. In fact, asking for a coffee is a torture. Not only do you have to have an ear for accents uncommon in London 20 years ago (we were all familiar with the friendly Italians and Cypriots, no problem, innit), we've got to negotiate a weary and humourless tirade of "is that mocha, latte, cappucino, Americano, bla bla?" My mum wants to say white coffee, please not caffe con leche. She can't say it anyway, it would come out "caff con er...le...lee...leeches. What's that anyway?" and no-one would be any the wiser. (Bless her. Despite the fact that it's been on telly for aeons, she can't even say "Poirot"; that comes out "Pruro" and once we were served up with "Chicken Chaucer". Which isn't chicken done by the Wife of Bath, it's chicken chasseur). The bizarre thing is, at Euston there's a newsagent with three tills in, all manned by heavily accented Asians and one of those post-office style queuing systems that says in impeccable WASP RP, "Cashier number thrrreee, please". It's just so incongruous when in the queue of 15 people and the three cashiers, there only appeared to be two English people. London isn't the capital city of England any more, it's the world's city, desperately struggling to find some kind of identity among the morass of confused humanity writhing about in it. But that's another blog.

0 Vegetable peelings:

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