Thursday, August 27, 2009
I'm trying to concentrate on keeping my wheely bag straight, but the accents send my head whip-cracking. My mind's still mid-Atlantic, wondering at the impeccable behaviour of the four (drugged?) Hassidic children behind me, and here in the terminal every voice - the man overtaking me, the family dragging behind, even the tannoy announcer - sounds obscenely familiar. They are my long vowels. My illogical pronunciations. And I am home.
Growing up near our barracks in Northern Germany a young English voice meant someone I knew, or at least recognised by sight. Despite having the highest density of self-made millionaires of any town in the district (a fact I heard only once, and have since refused to verify or disbelieve) it wasn't the sort of place where tourists would go, and mine was the only British school within driving distance. Though there were Scots regiments and Northern regiments and officers and other ranks all the voices seemed to slur into one estuary English medley. In a small German town, it was easy to hear us coming.
Five years of boarding school and university left its mark on my voice, and stopped my head from swivelling, pack-like, when it caught familiar cadences in streets and trains and bars. And then Chicago, Tokyo, London - antennae raised, lowered and then safely shuttered down. Now in Brooklyn an English accent raises my hackles. I stare at them, and inside I say, in my coldest RP tones, Who are you, and why are you invading my territory?
But here, in the echoing corridors of terminal three I smile at the man and the family and the tannoy who sound to me like cider and black on a summer's afternoon.