This weekend marks the 19th anniversary of my relocation to the West Midlands: first arriving in Stourbridge on the first weekend of January 1990.
How things have changed..!!??
Since 1990 I’ve had three children, got married (and subsequently divorced), had various jobs (from working in a UCI Cinema through stockbroking for Charles Schwab to co-authoring a report for the European Monitoring Centre for Racism and Xenophobia), completed a degree at the University of Wolverhampton followed by the successful completion of my PhD at the University of Birmingham. Between these I’ve had many trials and tribulations that are not the sort of thing that need to be repeated here…!!!
But two things that haven’t changed: the first that I still identify myself as a Londoner (more precisely, as someone from Bermondsey); the second, that I haven’t lost my (strong) Cockney accent.
Why is this…?
The first is probably more easily explained and is something that I have written about previously in the Birmingham Post, Speak Out magazine and here on ‘Walls…’.
In each of these pieces I wrote that despite being born in London, it’s been interesting to see how my children – all born in the West Midlands, Stourbridge to be more precise – unquestionably belong to the region. Unlike myself, they each have a strong emotional attachment to Stourbridge and the West Midlands in that it was the place they were born and have since grown up.
Despite being here for 19 years, I do not have this same emotional attachment. Almost unexplainably, my emotional attachment continues to remain in Bermondsey: home to the Tabard Inn from Geoffrey Chaucer’s ‘Canterbury Tales’, regular haunt of Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist and Little Dorrit, and various other historical figures albeit real or fictional. Despite the years, Bermondsey is – to me at least – where my heart belongs. My head though tells me that today’s Bermondsey is far from where I belong and that I undeniably belong where I am now.
It is my head then that tells me where my home currently is. Given that I now live here, work here, my children go to school here (one even works here she’s grown so much), and that I may even eventually die here, the West Midlands is also currently where I belong. All this whilst remaining a Londoner by definition and by identity.
As for the second point about the retention of my accent, most people who meet me will testify that it is very distinct and readily identifiable as being of ‘Cockney’ origin. Immediately this ‘places’ me within people’s understanding, whether that means in terms of who I am or where I am from including the attribution of a whole host of stereotypes that are made about people with strong regional accents. In terms of Cockney stereotypes, these include having a penchant for crime, being a loveable rogue, of working class background (barrow boys et al), being dishonest, poor, unintelligent and to a large extent, illiterate. In terms of positive stereotypes, at least people think we’re hard working and ‘salt of the earth’ types…!!!
Sadly, stereotypes have a real and lasting impact and I regularly encounter them in one form or another. In many ways, these stereotypes cause prejudices and discriminations that are often too easily ignored or dismissed in today’s British society.
So why, despite it being 19 years, do I think that my accent has been retained – possibly even strengthened?
Well I think there are two possible explanations. The first is that it is something of a sub-conscious (conscious?) effort on my part to retain a strong sense of association with the place where I was born and where I believe my heart remains attached to.
I am certain that there must be some truth in this but I also feel that it might also be the fact that for the past 19 years I have lived in locations where other strong and distinct regional accents are prevalent and dominate: in Birmingham and the Black Country. Because of this I wonder to what extent my sub-conscious (or, again, conscious) effort has been informed by a resistance to the prevailing regional accents and by consequence, the desire not to lose a distinct and important part of my identity: ultimately, of who I believe I am.
19 years on and the Cockney, Bermondsey, London accent and identity are therefore still intact – and I hasten to add – proudly at that. Because of this, I strongly doubt whether either will be any different in the foreseeable or un-foreseeable futures quite irrespective of whether I’m here in the Midlands for the next 19 years or indeed somewhere else. They are an integral part of what makes me who I am, what I am and where I believe that I will always belong.
Long may that be the case and long may that be a cause for celebration. Here’s to the next 19 years…!!!
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