So I have a terrible confession to make, a dark secret that I’ve been hiding for the last 25+ years, one that I’ve been in denial about and tried to ignore. I’ve been fooling myself and trying to fool everyone else about it but I think it’s time I came clean and owned up.
The sad fact is that I am an Irishman. Yes, I know, the shame, the shame. I have tried to hide it since I moved from Ireland to London twenty five years ago but as Shakespeare said, the truth shall out ya and there’s no use pretending any more.
At the start it was difficult, when I first moved here I struggled with the lingo and it took me literally years to learn how to pronounce words the way Londoners do, at home we’d naturally say fur instead of fair, hur instead of hair, tar instead of tower. I practised and practised and after many years have finally learnt to say fair and hair but even now it doesn’t come naturally. And I have tried my best to stop using Irish expressions like ‘do you think I came up the Lagan in a soapy bubble?’ or ‘sure a blind man rushing past on a horse would’na notice’ or’ have you been up all night raking the streets’, perfectly legit expressions everyone uses at home but double-dutch in London.. And I have failed again and again the one big test for all Irish, we find it totally, congenitally and physically impossible to say film without sticking an extra ‘u’ in it so it becomes filum, it is our reverse shibboleth, everyone else can tell we are Irish because we can’t pronounce that word correctly.
I’ve tried to slow down my machine gun delivery, (no, I don’t get regular deliveries of machine guns – at least not these days) but we Irish naturally talk very fast and in a constant stream and at home it’s just normal but here in London no-one’s ears are attuned to it, to us Irish it sounds like everyone in London is talking really s l o w l y, like chatting with a child…very weird.
I’ve had to hide and deal with this affliction, I even signed up for Recovering Irish Anonymous but that didn’t really work out because it wasn’t really that anonymous, if your name wasn’t Shaun then it was bound to be Patrick. I would attend meeting and stand up and say ‘My names Patrick and I’m an Irishman’ and everyone would clap and offer support, we’d watch episodes of Brideshead Revisted and Downton Abbey and practise the pronunciation over and over again… like Julie Walters in Educating Rita until the chairman would say “by Jove, I think he’s got it, I think he’s got it!”
Being an Irishman does have one advantage; whenever I address a stranger I can say practically anything I like in my first sentence and I’ve done this frequently, I’ve said to folk on first meeting them “did you know your shoes are on fire?” and I know they are too busy trying to figure out where my broad accent is from to even think about what I actually said. In London by the second or third sentence they usually figure it out and then tune their ears in and I have to stop talking nonsense but when I go to America I can spend the entire holiday talking bollocks and no-one notices…they don’t think I’m speaking English at all, they think I’m speaking Gaelic constantly..
Sadly all this work on my accent (and my attitude) has been mostly in vain, yes most Londoners can now just about understand me but I only have to go downstairs at work and talk to the Irish girl who works there and instantly twenty five years of elocution lessons are undone and we ‘spake’ to each other like we never left home.
Perhaps I should just keep my gob shut and learn sign language..