Saturday, 21 August 2010

all she'd do was just...

Well, my little Doney gal, don’t you guess

Better be making your wedding dress, wedding dress, wedding dress

Better be making your wedding dress

Well, it’s already made, trimmed in green

Prettiest dress you’ve ever seen, ever seen, ever seen

Prettiest dress you’ve ever seen

Well, it’s already made, trimmed in red

Stitched all around with a golden thread, golden thread, golden thread

Stitched all around with a golden thread

Well, it’s already made, trimmed in brown

Stitched all around with a golden crown, golden crown, golden crown

Stitched all around with a golden crown

Well, it’s already made, trimmed in white

Gonna be married on Saturday night, Saturday night, Saturday night

Gonna be married on Saturday night

Well, she wouldn’t say yes and she wouldn’t say no,

All she’d do was just sit and sew, sit and sew, sit and sew

All she’d do was just sit and sew

There are those who say this Appalachian song is about a relentlessly hopeful and ultimately jilted bride. She’s stuck at the end of the song with nothing to do but sew away as all her chances pass her by.

They’re wrong though.

Well, I mean, nobody’s wrong in folk music. It’s all about interpretation.

But they are mistaken.

This is a bride who’s read up on her Greek myths, and taken a leaf from Penelope’s book.

ODYSSEUS: Pen, my dearest, I gots to go and do something manly. Be right back!

PENELOPE: Okay, honey. Telemachus, say ber-bye to your dad.

ODYSSEUS *doesn’t come back*

GENTS OF ITHACA: Penny, you are HAWT. You should totally marry one of us.

PENELOPE: No thanks!

GENTS (suddenly menacing): No, seriously.

PENELOPE: Oh dear. Well, as it goes, I’m inconveniently right in the middle of weaving a burial shroud for Odysseus’s dad. I’ll pick one of you absolutely as soon as I’m done.

PENELOPE:*weaves shroud all day*

PENELOPE: *unravels shroud all night*

PENELOPE:*weaves shroud all day*

PENELOPE: *unravels shroud all night*

GENTS: Ready?

PENELOPE:...Not quiiiite...

PENELOPE:*weaves shroud all day*

PENELOPE: *unravels shroud all night*

*twenty years later*

ODYSSEUS: Hey my lovely wife! Sorry I was ages. I missed you like whoa.

PENELOPE: Me too honey! Incidentally, there are about a hundred men around here I would really like you to say hi to, when you get a minute and have a sword handy.

This Appalachian girl doesn’t want to make a decision. “Nope, I’m still, not quite ready...try Tuesday week...oh, no, sorry, still not done...” The freedom not to decide is small but significant in a folk tradition where girls often don’t have a lot of power.

It doesn’t have to be husbands; it’s more that not making a decision - on anything - means you get to keep all the decisions open. The minute you make a decision, you unmake a million others. Once you decide to do x, then you know you’ll never do y, and it reduces the likelihood you’ll do a, b or c, too.

That you may not really all that much want to do y or a or b or c is academic. It’s just the fact of those possibilities existing, and not existing once you have decided. Penelope and the Appalachian bride keep their freedom to not make a decision by never being quite finished their weaving and sewing.

The socks don’t lie. I’ve got some decisions to make.

Monday, 16 August 2010

Floating accent, part the first


Scientists – yes, Scientists good and true – conclude Floating Accent Syndrome exists!

I first read about floating accent syndrome in one of Dave Gorman’s books (I have an imperfect memory on this, but I think it was the googlewhack one). Gorman claims to have the tendency of gravitating his accent to align with the person to whom he is speaking, completely accidentally and unconsciously. I think he also mentions it as an especial outcome of being from the Midlands, where we don’t really have much of a distinguishable accent ourselves. Well, Dave Gorman is a wise man, and now Scientists – Scientists! mark you – have confirmed it.

These Scientists say as humans we are likely to imitate those with whom we’re in conversation. It’s an empathetic reflex. I want you to feel I am familiar, so I will try to sound a bit like you and mirror your speech patterns and inflection and even the speed at which you talk.

I’ve said it before; if you live anywhere other than where you were born for any length of time, you probably should start to get a bit of a floating accent. (That is mostly because I have the world’s worst case of it*). Our surroundings should change us. We are supposed to respond and relate to what’s around us.

Unfortunately, in practice, this just makes us sound massively inauthentic. It appears we’re trying to be something we’re not.

It’s funny, because when you're learning a foreign language, mimicking is demonstrably the right way to do it. That’s how you learn it. My French sounds determinedly Québécois. I learnt French in school, but I learnt to use French in Canada. If you use your own accent when operating in a foreign language, you simply sound like someone who doesn’t care enough to try very hard.

My accent these days is an unlovely tattercoat stitched from the shreds of all the places in which I’ve lived. By someone who doesn’t entirely know how to sew. And who doesn’t have time to do much more than vaguely mackle things together relying quite heavily on iron-on hem tape and baling twine. Some things are quite ingrained: I haven’t ever got rid of my glottal stops (Ga’wick airpor’) or my non-rhotic intrusive R (Canada-r-and Australia-r-and New Zealand). Vowels are much less unequivocally nailed down.

The really irritating thing about my floating accent is that sometimes it will float in the opposite direction. Sometimes, with people posher than me – or with Australians/Kiwis – I will hear my vowels rounding out to match theirs (although I’ve never gone as far as grarss or barth). At other times, though, it will send me in the complete opposite direction and suddenly I’m channelling my colliery heritage and asking where ‘ast tha bin since I saw thee last? At what point wanting to belong becomes losing your authenticity, I don’t know.

My question for the Scientists, though, is this: who is mimicking whom? Because if I am trying to sound like you, aren’t you also trying to sound like me? Down what sort of wormhole is that going to end? are we ever going to get out?

*except maybe for Dave Gorman.

Tuesday, 3 August 2010


The Winterswimmers are of a different breed.

Never mind that it is actually almost 23 degrees outside. It’s Winter, so almost nobody is at the beach, and absolutely nobody is swimming.

Except, of course, for the Winterswimmers.

We love our Winter Sea, the Winterswimmers, and we love each other a little because of it. After all, everyone’s a Summerswimmer, so there’s no common ground, no unity among the masses. Winterswimmers have Shared Experience, a special nod, abbreviated interactions of recognition and acknowledgement. “How’s the water?” we will ask. And “Bewdiful,” we reply. We all know ‘bewdiful’ is code for ‘it’ll take your appendages off if you stay in too long’, but we participate in the code nevertheless.

Winterswimming, to be fair, is different from Summerswimming. Although the sun is blazing over 20 degrees at us, the sea didn’t get the memo, so it’s pretty cold. When the waves close around you, your body gets that physiological reflex to gasp in, which means you have to concentrate very hard and override your natural response each time you go under. The Winter Sea is unforgiving and unlovely. Its waves are a little choppier, its currents tug at you a fraction more magnetically. It swells snarled black mats of seaweed unexpectedly beneath you. It’s even a little more difficult to extricate yourself from, because the suckback of the waves as you stumble up the shore after Winterswimming is strong and unbalancing; the sandshelves fall away uneven beneath your soles.

For some time after I leave here, I know my body will fight not to relinquish its memory of being a Winterswimmer.