Why should this be? I have just had a phone call from my bank (I think). I was in the middle of typing a post for my sadly neglected Multiply blog and also trying to sort out photographs of the walk I completed yesterday and, oh yes, I'm halfway through sorting out my Morocco pics, but I just had to break off and tell you about it. Or am I asking you about it? Or am I (more worryingly) asking myself about it? Should I then reply to myself?
Anyway, this man rang. He was from Newcastle, or possibly from Middlesbrough (or possibly from Cork - I'm not great on regional accents.) He might of course have been from Madras. I remember once, when I was living in Glasgow, watching a televison interview with a Bangladeshi man who was being extradited for passport offences. They were probably 'lack of passport' offences actually. Have you noticed how we do that? 'He had cleanliness problems' (meaning he was dirty). 'She had sociability issues' (she was unsociable) (or maybe anti-social).
Where was I? Yes, Middlesbrough. Oh no, Glasgow. So, this Bangladeshi in Glasgow was interviewed about his extradition. I paid slight interest. I mean it was news that he'd been here 6 years before getting thrown out, but that doesn’t mean he was supposed to be here, does it. 'So what do you feel about this then, Mohammed?' I just picked this name at random. I don't remember his name now. It might have been Hussein. But I was reading in the paper today that Mohammed is now the most popular boy's name in Britain. Did you know that? Of course it's not exactly true to say ‘popular’. Well, it is true, but what I mean is that there are a lot of Muslims living in Britain and they have a lot of sons and they always call them Mohammed because, if they call them Doggy Doggy Snoopy or Dave, they might not get to meet those virgins later. So it's hardly what you'd call 'popular', is it. And it's only amongst a certain (admittedly large) section of the community too.
Er . . . yes, so, Mohammed? And he replied, "Och aye, it's nay say guid at a', ye noo". And I thought 'golly' (I'm toning this down a little in case of younger readers, although I suppose 'gosh' might be even less offensive, especially in this context), 'gosh,' I thought, 'as far as I'm concerned, he could be Scottish.'
Did you notice the 'as far as I'm concerned' I slipped in there? I can tell from someone's accent whether they come from east or west Brighton, or from north or south Brighton, if it comes to that, but everyone else's British accent slots neatly (in my ears) into a small number of regions - Scots, Irish, Welsh, north, Londonish and somewhere around the west. So Mohammed might have sounded a bit like me trying to imitate a Scots accent for all I know, but he certainly didn't sound Bangladeshi. In fact, if he had sounded Bangladeshi, I might have thought he was Welsh anyway, because those two accents are pretty hard to distinguish apart. Not for Welsh people maybe. Or even for Bangladeshis I suppose. But they are much of a muchness to the rest of us.
So this guy who just rang then might have been Indian, but living in Middlesborough, or somewhere right up there. 'I M from Bockleys Bink, I'm yur porsonal binker and I thowght it were time we had a quick accownt review. There may be mowr we could do to maximise yur personal financial investment return utilisation satisfaction experience'. This actually came out as 'parslfinlvesttoonutlshunsatsficsence'. But I think I know what he meant. Hang on a minute, I don't have a clue what he meant. 'Yes', I said firmly. I always like to sound as though I know what these people are talking about. ‘May I heff yur dit o birth?' 'Thenk yu. And the lost 3 lettuce of yur mither's midden name?'
I suddenly, had a thought. Who actually is this man? 'No, wait a minute,' I said. 'How do I know who you are?' It's tricky that, isn't it. I could have asked for the name of his pet or something I suppose, but it wouldn't really have helped, and I don't have his PIN number or anything. 'Whan yuv guven me yur detels, I'll tell yu yur sart cowde and the lost three nombers o yur accownt'. Sorry, I thought to myself. How do I know this is my bink, I mean bank? Why is this being done on the telephone? Am I being blinded by science? Actually I was lost after he said, 'Bockleys'. 'No, sorry, something's just cropped up. I have to go.' 'OK, sor, heff a naice day.' (I think his accent might even have slipped a bit there. Or is that my memory? Or my typing for that matter?).
But I thought afterwards, would I have reacted the same way if he'd come from west Brighton? East Brighton obviously yes, but west Brighton? Are people from oop north more inherently suspicious (or worse - more criminal) that those down south? If so, why don't they change their accent before ringing up poor southerners to trick them out of their bink accownts? So did that make him more trustworthy that he hadn't changed his accent to try to fool me? Or am I just more comfortable with my own kind? No, that can't quite be all there is to it; I have lots of northern friends. Maybe I've never really trusted them? I'll have to think about that. Maybe that's where my Atomic Kitten CD went? And what do people up north think? If I rang someone at random from the Teesside telephone directory (does such a thing exist any more? The last directory we had through our door was supposed to be 'your local area', but all it seemed to have in it was menus from tandoori houses in south London), yes, Teesside directory, and said I was from Bockleys Bink, would they immediately assume that I, with my nice reliable southern accent (I suppose I'd have had to say 'Baaarcleys' though), must be trustworthy and spill out all the details of their mothers names, the name of their first pet and the details of their bank account? Since no one has a job up north at the moment and presumably no money, maybe it wouldn’t help to know anything about their bank account, maybe that’s why people from up north are ringing me about my bink accownt. But you know what I mean. Do I sound inherently trustworthy? Of course I do. Does everyone from Middlesborough sound pathologically untrustworthy then? Or is it just to me? And do people from Cornwall sound slightly less dubious? Or maybe, if people up north haven't any money, they've been forced into some sort of recessional shifty speech? No, to my shame, I think I’ve always reacted the same way. But maybe the reverse is true too - to a Geordie, does a Geordie automatically sound trustworthy, or does he just think 'hmm, sounds like me, can't trust him then.' And is it just accent? Maybe it's something about the way people from different regions behave. Can I detect some note of criminality in their voice? They are a bit more forthright than me; I’ve never trusted that in a person. Oh, God, do I only trust shy southerners then? And that’s another point – just saying ‘oh, God’ made me think, I don’t think I trust people who say they’re Christians either. And as for poofs . . .
I’d be useless in an equality human rights inclusivity class, wouldn’t I. Or do I just assume everybody’s crooked? I could of course just be careful and wise. Am I, on the other hand, justified? And am I basing this mistrust on my long experience of dealing with other people? Or maybe it’s because I know I can’t be trusted either?
Ah well, back to my pics.