One Sunday morning, a couple of weeks ago, we were pottering around the house, and Anna was chatting away to my husband about the sleeping accommodation for her toy cat. “Why not let the cat sleep in this basket?” he suggested.
She gave him a very strange look, and said “Silly Daddy! Why do you say ‘barsket’ instead of ‘bAsket’?”
That’s my girl, I thought, but the battlelines were being drawn.
As I have mentioned before, I’m from Liverpool, and so the way I talk is completely different to my Hampstead-and-grammar-school husband’s well-modulated vowels. To be honest, accents have always been a bit of an issue for me. Because I don’t really have a strong Scouse accent either. At school I was tormented for ‘talking posh’, which made me a snob, of course. Then when I went to Oxford for university, one Eton-educated young man of my acquaintance claimed not to be able to understand me at all as “your accent is simply too strong”, so I couldn’t win. Too posh for Liverpool, not posh enough for Oxford.
My accent is, in reality, is what someone described to me recently as ‘generic soft Northern’. Some people can detect the Scouse in it, but actually the way I talk seems to owe as much to my dad’s Yorkshire roots as to my Liverpool ones, and of course Oxford, Birmingham and now East London have probably added their own indefinable something along the way.
One thing is for sure, though, I sit on the grAss, never the grarse. When I read fairy stories, my princesses live in cAstles, not carstles, and my cat would only ever sleep in a bAsket. And as I’m the person who spends the most time with Anna, she’s clearly picked up my vowel sounds. I find that amazingly gratifying; my little East London baby, (born in the same hospital as David Beckham, innit), is clinging on to a little bit of her linguistic heritage, and in an age where television is almost obliterating a lot of regional accents this is very comforting to me.
Not so much my husband. He goes round muttering darkly about ‘the Queen’s English’, and ‘BBC English’, and, certainly when I’m around, his current rendition of bedtime stories would actually have the Queen running off for elocution lessons, should she ever hear them.
Of course, it’s all irrelevant. In September Anna’s main influences will become her teacher and her classmates, and, as one of the things I love best about the area we live in is that it is a complete cultural and linguistic melting pot, she could end up speaking with almost any accent at all. But it’s all swings and roundabouts – one of my best friends from school is a primary school teacher, and now lives in Cambridgeshire, where a whole generation of children are growing up with a seemingly random Scouse accent.