The Riddle of the Stains

Once up a time proper chaps and chapeseses spoke in RP, the BBC’s Received Pronunciation. Or we were supposed to, anyway. It was designed, created, invented even, when for the first time everyone in the country was being spoken to and could actually hear the words back in the 1920s and ’30s, when radio ruled. It wasn’t about snobbery, which is easy to assume now. It was about mass communication, a common pronunciation designed so that everybody could understand it, whatever their accent.

It doesn’t come from anywhere. That was the whole point. It blends aspects of lots of different accents into one. Like any other accent it became exaggerated for better or worse into the  strengled viles Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard used in Brief Encounter, which tragically, still does it for me. It was interesting at the university reunion last weekend to hear how many people were using it more or less, although none of us would have admitted it without water-boarding. Despite that, I tried to keep extreme accents out of Not Your Heart Away. Nobody’s commented on them yet, anyway.

I was talking to a friend about the general rubbishness of estate agents, the sort of conversation Celia and Trevor would have been quite at home with.

“Yes, I see thet.”

Splendid! The whole reason I was thinking about this at all was due to an estate agent, or rather remembering the way she spoke when I was selling a house once, back so long ago that you could actually (a) sell houses and (b) make a profit doing it! Rarely! It was true!

I’m not jaking!

Even then the estate agent woman was something of an anachronism. She didn’t just have a tartan skirt, but also a huge chrome safety pin for it, the sort of rig I’d never actually seen on anybody over six years old. She could safely have put a couple of decades onto thet.

The house was a bit of a wreck when I bought it. We moved the bathroom down a floor, put another one in upstairs, moved the kitchen from the middle floor to the ground floor, made a study and treated and re-stained the wooden beams in the kitchen, which is what I assumed the estate agent woman was talking about. She seemed keen.

“Rarely like the stains! Did you do them?”

Yes, I said, after I did the woodworming.

Rarely? You hed woodworm thar?

Lots of it. All fixed now. So of course the wood needed to be made to look good after that.

The woman looked at me to see if I was trying to be funny. She looked at the wall and the mullioned windows, the way the sunlight caught the mellow Cotswold ashlar masonry blocks and turned to me again.

Nay! The stains! 

Ah. Ok. The ones they dug out of a quarry a long time ago. No, they were already there. For the last 300 years and more.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have something in my eye.


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