Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Column, December 18, 2007

THE conversation goes something like this.
New Acquaintance: “So do you come from Liverpool?”
Me: “No, North Wales.”
NA: “Oh really, you don’t sound Welsh..”
Me: “Well, this is what people from North East Wales sound like and trust me, it’s not a Scouse accent.”
NA: “It sounds a bit Scouse to me.”
Me: “It’s not.”
NA: “Are you sure?”
Me: “I lived there for three years, yes, I’m sure.”
NA: “Go on, I think you’re a Scouser really aren’t you?”
Me: “Yep, the game’s up, kiss your hubcaps goodbye and here’s my impression of Yosser Hughes….gissajob….nut!”
OK, the final line is a fantasy lived out in my head while manners make me smile as sweetly as I can manage. And not that there’s anything wrong with being a Scouser mind you, it’s just that I’m no more Scouse than they are Welsh.
My accent or the lack of stereotypical Welshness in it has been the subject of tedious dinner conversation or offensive pub banter for as long as I can remember.
The longer I spend among the English the less ‘Welsh’ it is and the more the Scouse gene asserts itself and while I could never have taken up residence on Brookside Close, I do could pass muster as an extra on Bread, a sort of Scouse-lite that everyone can understand.
Give me half an hour or so back in God’s Own Country though and all of a sudden there more of a roll to every ‘R’ I pronounce and give me the odd double l, d, or even a bit of nasal mutation and all of a sudden I’m doing a Rhys Ifans impression.
But what I’ve never considered doing, even if I could manage it, is to lose my accent.
And yet, according to a survey, that what half Welsh parents want their children to do.
Now, the problem with a lot of these surveys is that they’re done on a shoestring and they ask so few people to take part they are utterly meaningless.
But this one, for the Combined Insurance company, sampled 2,300 people – which is a respectable sample size – well it’s about as many as they poll when they’re trying to figure out who’ll be elected as the next government.
So what do we make of that, half of us with children want them to lose our accent?
I blame the homogenisation of our youth. They may think they’re expressing their individualism, but in actual fact the mass media with which they are so familiar means they are all equally exposed to popular culture.
Keeping a Welsh accent is just one way of standing out from the crowd, and it’s not always easy to do that.
But that doesn’t explain why parents should want their children to lose their accent.
Could it be that parents are worried about how their children will be perceived outside Wales? That Wales is seen, however wrongly, as somewhere backward, insular and ill-educated and their children will suffer from people’s prejudices if their accent gives the game away?
There are many, many examples of role models in the media, but when you start listing famous Welsh people it becomes a bit of a desperate attempt to curry favour with the English by listing as many as you can before hitting upon someone they like. It’s rather like the Scots’ pathetic bleats that one of their number invented television and they are therefore all deserving of our respect.
Personally I think such exercises in self-justification are a little futile and we should all get a bit more bloody-minded about it. I don’t think we should justify our existence just because Rhydian made it to the finals of X-Factor and Gethin did well in Strictly Come Dancing.
We, and our accents, were here first and we’ll be damned if we’ll surrender them to some homogenised drawl that’s a vile cross between estuarine English and US drawl. And no, we don’t all sound like miners from the Valleys.
In a world increasingly dominated by US culture, our accents are one of the few things that set us apart and so, far from being encouraged to lose them, our children ought to be taught to treasure one of the remaining signs of their identity.

SO the nation was given a free vote on what project they thought was deserving of £50m and what did they choose?
The Sustrans Connect2 project to expand its network of cycleways and footpaths, that’s what.
So, with the nation so universally in favour of expanding this network, you would think it would have to be a pretty stubborn, short-sighted, small-minded local authority that would stand in the way of this sort of development wouldn’t you?
And just which bunch of burghers would cut themselves and their town off from the national cycle network and the massive funds that Sustrans would pump into such a development?
Step forward Conwy County Borough Council, who in the face of huge public support for cycling, as evidenced by the Lottery Giveaway vote, still insist that cyclists should use dangerous roads rather than the North Shore Promenade, and in doing so went against the advice of their own environment scrutiny committee.
Their reasons apparently rest on reasons of public safety so tenuous and without evidential support that they border on the fictitious.
If the roads of North Wales were littered with the bodies of those killed by lunatic cyclists you might think they have a point, but they aren’t, so they don’t.
Local authorities around the country are queueing up to work with Sustrans to create safe walking and cycling routes and the continuing refusal by Conwy CBC to see the benefits of this development to Llandudno and the people who live and work there is simply shameful.

NEXT Tuesday being Christmas Day I won’t be around, which should aid the digestion of the turkey – especially if you’re a Conwy councillor.
So I would like to wish you all a very Merry Christmas and I will be back in the Post on ?????

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