Every year I go back to Oldham, the town where I grew up, and take aim at what was once my local. On Christmas Eve, the Rose of Lancaster is full of people I went to school with and see, at best, annually. We mainly look the same as we did in the 1990s. Some look slightly swollen. Some look better. Some confirm my theory that every young white male in Greater Manchester eventually ends up looking like Mark E Smith.
As the night goes on. My greetings to these old chums evolve – devolve, I suppose – as JW Lees's bitter takes its toll. Here's an approximation:
"Hello. How are you doing?"
"Hi. How are you? "
"Hiya. Are you alright?"
"Are you alright?"
John Willie Lees may have some part to play in this glottal descent, but more likely it's an unconscious desire to fit back in by reverting to a strong Mancunian accent that I never reeeally possessed. It's clearly a weak attempt to convince my friends at home that I've moved away for 13 years and suddenly now – at this point – started speaking like Terry Christian. More likely, they wonder why I began the night sounding like the person who reads out stops over a bus Tannoy. This dismal bit of gooning precedes the inevitable conversation about how much I'm paying in rent before one old pal takes me to task for how I just pronounced Finsbury Park.
It's tricky when you leave home and never go back. When people hear what a colleague described as my "low-level non-specific northernness" and ask where I'm from, I tell them "Manchester" (sometimes "Oldham", if I'm feeling accurate). But I'm not really.
I spent four years in Wales and nine in different parts of London. I'm not really from anywhere, any more. And I've started to sound like it – one of those drones that you can't quite place. We're moving again soon and my son is going to grow up in the Home Counties, home of the placeless accent. I would confidently offer £1,000 to the first person who could accurately mimic a Buckinghamshire accent.
We've just watched an election based around regional identity and a campaign defined by regionalism – which is intriguing, bizarre even – to a nomad like me; one of the hundreds of thousands of people who ditched any claim to a regional identity by moving to London.
The capital sucks people up like a cod trawler in the Barents Sea and before it's sent you packing back to the suburbs with a kneecapping of a mortgage, it can squeegee any regional identity right off you. It's a bit like how people very swiftly become New Yorkers as soon as they move there from Shitsville, Ohio.
The alternative route is that it acts as an amplifier and makes even the most unaccented former Mancunian (to stick with my example) into a swaggering youshouldaseenmeatheHacienda expat, despite logic suggesting that moving away would flatten out your accent. Not that there's necessarily anything wrong with that. When I left for university, I immediately draped myself in a City scarf – I am Manc, hear me roar. I then quickly blew it by opening my mouth and sounding more like Gary Barlow than Gary Mounfield (aka Mani).
The result: the local identity forged over 18 long years is reduced to following a football club owned by an autocratic multibillionaire from the Middle East. But at least I still don't pronounce "bath" with an "r".
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