It’s all down hill from here

One thing that I think should always be cherished about the UK is the number of regional accents that co-exist within such a remarkably small place. Given that we’re talking about a country which could practically fit within New York State, it’s pretty astonishing that you can get as diverse range of styles of speech as Brummie (Birmingham), Cockney (London), Geordie (Newcastle), Scouse (Liverpool) and so on. And that’s before you even think about Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Ask a random Brit to identify which part of the country I come from, and I think most of them would probably struggle. Of course, part of that assumption comes from everybody’s belief that they “don’t really have an accent”. Even when that person speaks like someone rejected at the auditions for “Liverpool: The Musical” for being too unintelligible. But really any unambiguous accent I might once upon a time have had has been beaten out of me by years of school, ten years in London, and my current sojourn in New York.

My desire for belonging, however, is such that whenever I make a trip back home (as I did this weekend), my native accent ratchets up a few notches, until I’m sounding a little like Liam Gallagher from Oasis on occasions. It’s an experience that is particularly odd given that I don’t even come from Manchester.

In part, it’s probably a reaction to my abject terror of ever being thought of as having an American accent. Every time I head home, I’ll be part way through a conversation and somebody will inevitably pipe up with “glad to hear that you haven’t lost your British accent”, as if they’ve been expecting me to come back talking like Janice from Friends. Little do they realise that I employ the services of a small Filipino lady who once lived in Chiswick, to follow me around and attach electrodes to my testicles in the event of me saying a-loo-min-um.

Sadly I couldn’t afford the plane ticket for Juanita to join me in the UK this weekend. And while I managed to get through with my reputation largely unscathed, I now have to concede that I am unable to pronounce one particular word in the way that language experts (also known as ‘the English’) intended.

Zed’s dead, baby. Zed’s dead.

Three times during the course of the weekend, I attempted to use the word that has come to represent the 26th letter of the alphabet. Yet whether I was trying to get from A-Z, or was considering the implications of x, y and z, my brain reached into its well thumbed dictionary and provided me with the word ‘zee’.

Each time it happened, I looked at the person I was talking to in order to gauge whether they had noticed. And each time my head dropped as the listener recoiled in horror at the z-bomb that I had just dropped into conversation.

Sure, I attempted to explain that I had been talking about a conversation with an American, or that I had been referencing something that happened to me in New York. And people nodded understandingly. But we all knew that the game was up. After many years of good service, zed is packing up its bags and saying goodbye to its vocabulary chums. It’s a dark day.

One down, 19,999 to go.


I don’t really talk about personal things on this blog, certainly not in specifics. But I can’t really write about being in the UK this weekend without saying why I was there.

Long-time readers might recall a character within these pages called The Beancounter. His real name is Jonny, and he’s been a great friend to me since we were both 11. And just to be fair to him, the only beans he counts these days are the baked variety that he shovels into his mouth.

On May 4, Jonny’s lovely wife Jo passed away at the all too young age of 32. I spent a few months living with the two of them a few years ago when Jonny and Jo were looking for a new place to live. While they both thought that they were a burden to be taking up a room in my house, little did they realise that I was gutted to see them leave, such were the happy times we’d shared while they were there. What was clear then, and what was clear from the words of the packed church at the service to celebrate her life, is that Jo had a huge impact on everybody that she came into contact with. She was kind, compassionate, funny, smart and great company. Frankly, the world’s a less well-off place without her in it.

Words can’t really do justice to anyone who leaves us far too early, but I couldn’t let Jo’s passing go unmentioned. She will truly be missed.

10 thoughts on “It’s all down hill from here

  1. Expat Mum

    Oh, that’s tragic. So sorry.
    Not much more to say except I’m still proudly clinging to the “zed” – when I’m with Brits or in the UK at least.

  2. Iota

    I’m sorry to hear the reason for your trip. That is so sad to hear.

    The thing with zee is that it becomes so much more than just a letter. It has a whole identity as part of the double act ‘Ee-Zee’ that abounds. Every service or product has it’s own Ee-Zee version.

    And then there’s the store Lazboy, which for ages I thought was pronounced Lazboy, but of course now I know better. Zee: not just a letter but a useful syllable.

  3. John

    Yes. You are right.

    Incidentally, you don’t sound that much different from when you were at school and you can be immediately placed as coming from the North West. Which is good.

    I too seem to “remember” my original accent as being Bez from the Happy Mondays. Which is odd given that the Chester accent was (we have to admit) closer to scouse than mancunian.

  4. John

    I am assuming that you would still ask in a shop for a London A to Zed, mind you. So all is not quite lost.

  5. Alasdair

    First, my commiserations on the loss of Jo … it hurts when we lose special people from our Life … fortunately, such special people leave us with so many wonderful memories, that we still have gained a lot from knowing them …

    My standard response, when someone asks me “What’s your/that accent ?”, is “*I* don’t have an accent. *You* do !” …

    “Where’s your accent from ?” earns a response of a variation on “My mouth/throat.” …

    When followed by “No, I mean, where are you from ?”, my response is “Glendale” … (Los Angeles is a suburb of Glendale, California – well, actually, it’s a conurb, but we are talking with Americans, in such a conversation … (grin)) …

    “No ! *Before* that ?” gets ’em “North Hollywood …” …

    The intelligent ones ask “Where were you born ?” or “Where are you from, originally ?” – and they earn the response of “Glasgow, Scotland” …

    When the mood strikes me, and the discussion gets around to the element Al, I often explain that, in the UK we call metals by their ‘pure’ or element name, not some commercial alloy name … so the element is “Aluminium” (Al) and the commonly-used alloy is “Aluminum” … just as an incandescent lightbuld will have a Tungsten filament which contains the element Wolfram (W) … and they nod, sagely … (grin) …

    The fish is still ‘chew-na’ … and the day remains ‘tyoo’s-day’ …

    And I say “jooty” rather than “doody” when I have to talk about it being done …

  6. wicked step mum

    I have spent today with Dave and elaine from \\\birkenhead and I had trouble understanding even the simplest of phrases!

  7. TampaLimey

    Sorry to read about what happened to your friend. Times like this when 4,000+ miles is too far!

    Must confess I the zee thing made me smile! I have the same problem when I get home. Also the same accent over-compensation when I reach darkest Wiltshire. I recently even caught myself in a terrible tomayto mishap!

    My current plan is to retaliate for the “dark days” by subverting Tampa. I’ve converted the office to the way of PG Tips, “water” increasingly has the ‘t’ put in, “cheerio” is sneaking into common use along with a most expressive expletive that rhymes with banker! (huge grin on my face the other day when the boss started using that word!).

  8. awindram

    Since moving to the US and not wanting to go all trans-Atlantic I’ve found my accent has become even more pronounced – I swear I’m starting to sound like Derek Nimmo.

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