Late again. It would be shameful to specify the time I crawled from my pit this morning but, then, I was writing deep into the early hours to get an article sent off for the start of Monday. I now need to write myself out of my grogginess, induced by a deep and vivid dream in which the actress Stephanie Powers was chopping down trees… (No, I have absolutely no idea, either. Stephanie Powers?!)
I’ve been pondering some more about the government’s rumoured plan to give us all a £500 voucher and, yes, if it does sound like I’m slightly obsessing over the money, it’s because I am obsessing over the money. I’ve watched almost the entire country go on furlough, friends off work for months on full pay, whilst the people closest to me who are more much vulnerable to this virus have had no help through these difficult months when everything has been more expensive. The idea of a little help from the government feels like a light at the end of a tunnel. It’s a shame that light will have so many strings attached… Okay, dropping the light metaphor now.
Yet the voucher scheme did make me again think about class. Rob raises a good point in the comments that class is real but largely based around wealth and your parent’s profession. It’s a good thing for me to remember because discussing class sometimes makes it sound like the Divine Right of Kings, some esoteric magic lingering from previous ages. A lot of this has to do with the habits of our family, the things we do as a group. I watched Brooklyn 99 again last night where a character was talking about his fear of becoming a father because he feared being like his father. It’s not exactly a deep insight into human psychology but it is certainly true. We are shaped by our upbringing. Myself, I had very caring parents, but we always struggled. My psychology is entirely adapted to struggle. We never enjoyed holidays, so I don’t holiday. We learned to occupy ourselves at home, so I’m hugely invested in my interests. We never ate at restaurants, so I’ve never been comfortable eating in restaurants. I just don’t do it. It feels too alien to my way of life. Even when I do, I often apologise to the staff. I can’t handle being waited upon.
It’s why I’m already looking on the government’s voucher with considerable suspicion. It feels like one of those places which could all too easily expose big differences based around class. Let’s say they did limit it to use in the hospitality sector. Well, at the moment I wouldn’t be able to use it since I intend to stay sheltering until I have a better sense of how safe it is for people around me, should I resume my normal life. Even then, it would take me years to get through £500 simply eating outside, based on my habits of a rare coffee and panini. I guess others could blow through it in a few meals. As for my family members who have to stay at home, I can only imagine the frustration they’d feel if they couldn’t use the voucher unless they ventured out of doors. It seems extremely cruel. What began as a carrot ends up looking like a very big stick.
Now, I accept this is largely down to me being me but I know enough people who live similarly modest lives. At the same time, I know people with the same background who blow through money. My neighbours could probably spend that entire voucher if they were allowed to use in the garden ornament section of B&Q. I hear those illuminated rockeries with fairy fountains don’t come cheap.
But that only speaks to the other thing about class: it’s no more than a useful shorthand. There’s always room for huge variability in behaviour, outlook, and, of course, wealth.
The same is true of accent. Rob says that I sound comparatively posh, which I think is probably fair but that’s probably because our notion of accents are themselves shaped by culture. The Lancashire accent is relatively soft, with broad vowels. I’d told that people think it sounds gentle and kind, but it has the advantage of very little cultural baggage beyond Wallace and Gromit movies. There are other accents which are routinely mocked for no apparent reason. Brummie, George, and Scouse are too often the butt of people’s jokes. People with those accents are reduced to awful stereotypes: thick, rough, criminal.
It’s a shame since dialects are so complex. I think I just speak like anybody from around here. I come from the same town as Rick Astley. I think our accents are identical except I probably have a better singing voice…
A couple of miles away, is where Johnny Vegas was raised. His feels close to my accent but much thicker – I can do a half-decent impression if pushed. Get as far as the other side of St Helens, and into Whiston, Prescot, and Huyton, and accents become progressively Scouse. Yet in London, people assumed I was from Liverpool. I can’t hear Scouse in my accent but people tell me otherwise. Want to get on the wrong side of me: ask me if I’ve robbed any car wheels recently.
Dig deeper and you discover that Scouse isn’t even a single dialect, as proved by the Beatles. Lennon was said to have had the poshest Scouse. So too Paul. George spoke with a much more working-class Scouse, whilst Ringo had the thickest accent of all, having had the poorest upbringing. People in Liverpool can apparently hear which part of Liverpool other people are from.
In this little corner of the UK, there are so many distinct accents within a 20 mile radius, I guess an expert could spend a lifetime studying them, from all the various Scouse accents to the West, different types of Mancunian to the East, the wonderful Wigan accent (heading up to Peter Kay’s Bolton) to the North, and then all the accents south of here up to the Welsh border.
Last word on class…
Ennio Morricone has died. He was probably the closest I’ve come to being a fan of classical music. Again, that’s much to do with how I was brought up. Films were my first love and only came to know classical music through its use in films. I’m the same to this day. As I sit here writing this, I’m listening to Schubert’s Piano Trio in E-Flat Major, Andante con motto… Or I guess that’s how a posh person would write it. I only know it as the music from Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon.
Everybody will naturally talk about Morricone’s music for the Sergio Leone spaghetti westerns but, for me, he’s the guy who wrote the soundtrack to one of my favourite films, Brian De Palma’s The Untouchables. Looking back on it now, the film can feel dated but perhaps that’s just me being slightly ashamed at how much I adore it. In a small way, it changed my life. Blew me away when I saw it in the cinema. First, it’s Connery at his gnarly best. Sod Connery as Bond. I like Connery in the films he made with Sidney Lumet (another of my favourite directors). The Untouchables also turned me on to the writing of David Mamet, a love which led me out of my old life and into, I hope, a better one. Morricone’s score was – tempted to say instrumental – so central to that. The percussive title is perfect, but my favourite is the music around De Niro as Capone. The stuff up the sweeping staircase, especially with the blaring horns… Lastly, there was De Palma, being just enough De Palma to be brilliant, but not so much De Palma that we’re left dizzy. Cannot recommend it more highly if you’ve not seen it.
Okay. I’ve waffled on enough for one day. I have an afternoon clear ahead of me. Have to make progress on something today.