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14 July 2011

It shouldn't happen to a ket - putting the accent on accents

ONE of the most noticeable aspects of expat life is that you are part of a diverse representation of the British people. Not like at home, where the vast majority of those you interact with are from your own locality.

There’s a row of six villas opposite my house in Guardamar del Segura – with owners of six different nationalities, including all four home nations. Throw in a Russian and a Pole and I’ve got a ticket to watch the Europa League.

My pick of the accents around me has to be that of my Welsh neighbours June and Graham, who sounds just like my late father. Dad hailed from a Charm Dynasty in South Wales (well, an anagram of it anyway – no one believes there’s actually a place called Ystrad Mynach, let alone that anyone was born there).

I’ve always been fascinated by accents. Back home in Manchester, virtually everyone greets you with the obligatory ‘’Hiya, yore-rite?’’ (In  English, that equates to ‘‘are you all right?’’). Out here in Spain, you hear just about every accent under the sun, some of them so garbled you swear they are Martians.

But it’s great fun guessing the hometown of the people you chat with in any bar because they are as likely to be from Newcastle, Nottingham or Norwich as from Brighton, Bristol or Basingstoke.

I am originally from South Wales but lived in Manchester for well over half my life. To hear a valleys accent in Lancashire is as rare as finding a Man United fan who’s not from London or Dublin. But come 1,500 miles south to the Costas and there seem to be Taffs all around you. I love it – makes me feel 20 again, mun!

I’m actually pretty good at recognising accents, having been fascinated by speech patterns ever since having a bizarre childhood spat with my maternal grandmother at her Birmingham home..
Grandma Davis had a ginger cat called Marmaduke (or perhaps it was Marmalade?). She was also a Brummie – albeit a refined one.
‘’Grandma, where’s the cat?’’ asked this nosey little Welsh waif. ‘’Cart, what cart?’’ echoed the old lady’s voice from the kitchen.
‘’I didn’t say cart, grandma, I said cat,’’ I called back.
‘’What do you mean ‘CART’? was her indignant response this time.
‘’The CAT!’’ I shouted. ‘’Marmaduke. the CAT.’’
Grandma suddenly realised what I meant. ‘’Oh, you mean the KET! You kept saying CART.’’’
‘’It’s not a KET, it’s a CAT,’’ I pleaded, but grandma wouldn’t have it.
‘’They don’t teach you proper English in those Welsh schools,’’ she tut-tutted. ‘’It’s a KET– please stop saying CART.’’
My 11-year-old granddaughter Daisy absolutely adores that story and makes me repeat it perpetually. But that’s exactly how it was…I really threw the ket among the pigeons that morning!

To this day, the subject of accents regularly throws up amusing incidents and anecdotes.
Like the family from Derry in Irelandwho have a villa near me. There’s nothing they like more than to have a good natter natter…and they are so friendly that you just have to sit and chat with them. Problem is, most people don’t understand a word they say - particularly when they've had a few drink . I can even understand Alex Ferguson better!
It’s a case of nodding your head and saying ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ depending on the answer you think they want to hear.
So which British or Irish accent is the most difficult to understand? Brummie, Geordie, Glasgow, Derry? My personal No.1 is pure Barnsley – borne of a foggy winter afternoon when I parked my car on a piece of waste ground purporting to be a car park and was chased by a steward yelling: ‘‘Thah’s lift thee leets oon.’’
‘’I’m sorry, I don’t understand,’’ I said after he repeated the phrase.

‘’Yoove left yer bloody lights on!’’ he said, realising he was talking to a stupid foreigner.