Oh, Gentle Reader, what a day we APs have had in Cambridge. So much has happened that I deem worthy of a blog post, I feel I must post several blogs about July 18 in Cambridge. This is not, however, going to be a June 16, 1904 series of blogs and I am no Leopold Bloom or James Joyce, but it is the quotidian that provides us with life’s lessons and the small encounters of life are the stuff that dreams are made on.
I won’t start at the very beginning, with a full English breakfast in College Hall. That will be the subject of another posting. I want to start with our Mother Tongue: English. Bill Bryson wrote a fun read about the topic titled English—The Mother Tongue & How It Got That Way. He spends a good part of the book talking about the differences between British and American English. I am not sure that he always gets things right, but he gets it funny. While there certainly is a difference in the expressions that Brits and Americans use, for me, at least, that’s less interesting than listening to the lilt of spoken English by the British. Shaw in Pygmalion had Henry Higgins making fun of it and Lerner and Lowe set it to music (well, Lerner actually) in My Fair Lady. Higgins laments, An Englishman’s way of speaking absolutely classifies him. The moment he talks he makes some other Englishman despise him…There are even places where English completely disappears. Well, in America, they haven’t used it for years.
I love to listen to various British accents. As far as I am concerned, every British male over 65 sounds like Michael Caine to me. I love Michael Caine’s accent. It is working-class south London cockney. Michael Caine has an accent. It’s a great accent. I suspect even Michael Caine thinks he speaks with an accent.
But not all Brits think they have an accent. Take, for example, this “bloke” that Dennis and I chatted with this afternoon in the Champion of Thames Bar. By the way, I’ve posted photos with brief descriptions on my Facebook page which I think you can access by scrolling through the blogs and finding my Facebook link at the bottom. There you can meet the lovely and talented Beth, bartender at the Champion of Thames Bar (and daughter of the proprietor). But I was talking about this bloke we met. He was “passing through” he said. “Aren’t we all?” I replied. He had married and divorced an American woman with whom he lived for a time in Allentown, PA. where, he said, “she had a very nice house.” But now, divorce almost final, he had returned to the UK to take care of some family business. Dennis and I talked with him for more than an hour. He was a personable guy. Very pleasant. He had an accent. Or so we thought until he set us straight, with good humor, and maybe his tongue, Mother or otherwise, slightly in his cheek. “I was born in Oxford,” he declaimed, “where we invented the English language [no, not really, but who was I to say different even though I had read Bill Bryson’s book?]. I don’t speak with an accent, you blokes speak with an accent.”
Fair enough I guess. But, dammit all, I thought he sounded a lot like Michael Caine.