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In Good Company: Signs Of The Times?

...It’s most frustrating for a garrulous person like me having to waste valuable talking time in outbursts of ‘Pardon?’ ‘What was that?’ or ‘Eh?’ A bewitching smile is not always a suitable standby, especially if your mumbler has just confessed his mother is dying of leprosy...

Enid Blackburn is surrounded by folk who seem to speaking through clenched teeth, or with forked tongues.

Have you noticed how everyone is suffering from the ‘mumbles’ these days? We seem to be breeding a nation of ventriloquists. Everyone sounds to be speaking through clenched teeth or forked tongue.

Perhaps our stiff upper lips are so weighed down with inflation, clear speech is impossible – either that or I have suddenly been struck deaf.

It used to be difficult enough during my anti-natal days. Spread out on the tissue paper trying to decide what the doctor’s question was and whether it would be considered too pertinent to ask ‘his majesty’ to repeat himself yet again. Strangely enough with only a little strain one could hear Mrs So-and-So’s kidney trouble coming loud and clear through the adjoining wall. But what with the crackle of the paper at the back of one’s eardrum and rising nervousness, the voice booming above could have been asking me the name of next door’s cat for all I knew.

It’s most frustrating for a garrulous person like me having to waste valuable talking time in outbursts of ‘Pardon?’ ‘What was that?’ or ‘Eh?’ A bewitching smile is not always a suitable standby, especially if your mumbler has just confessed his mother is dying of leprosy.

With the abundance of expressive hand-waving and bleary eye-rolling peculiar to the occasion, our son often tries to communicate his Saturday evening adventures.

We manage to decipher a ‘Marsden Soach’ connection which crops up repeatedly, but the rest remains a mysterious slur. The only person who ever speaks clearly is my dentist, but unfortunately he always places me in an unanswerable position first.

Scholars have a unique jargon. ‘Yeralavter gerritermorror’ splutters one of ours in answer to my accusation regarding gym equipment, which seems to dwell permanently in a school locker.

We had one exceptional French mistress at our school. Apart from the fact that she liked me – an unusual trait in any teacher – she was an excellent elocutionist. We left her class with near perfect French accents, which was a miracle in itself, considering that none of us spoke English correctly. She had us all stretching and exercising our lazy lips until they felt elasticated; every time we opened our mouths she stuck a strange vowel in it. When she had finished with us even the Marsden lad who always pronounced ‘war’ as ‘woar’ sounded like Maurice Chevalier. Unlike the French we do not use our mouths enough in speech.

Mind you I am fiercely proud of my Yorkshire heritage and the accent that goes with it. Not that I haven’t made a fool of myself trying to talk all ‘cut glass’ as Dylan Thomas puts it, before I learned more sense. Trying to speak posh may round off the vowels, but it also stunts my speech – a painful handicap for me.

Twice a week I struggle through a conversation with a jovial Jamaican, who sits next to me on the bus. He used to sit behind until we got fed up of shouting our ‘pardons’ across the cloth caps. Although he opens his mouth wide over his nine-carat teeth, I find his accent difficult to follow sometimes. To cover any confusion I laugh when he does and he giggles with me.

But I am wondering if perhaps one could look too amused. In the middle of a hearty chuckle the other day, he gave my left kneecap an intimate crunch. I was inquiring about his Friday pursuits – like the males up our valley, did he join his pals, have a steel band rave up, perhaps? ‘When he workin’ day over man, he doin’ no such ting. Ma parents always bring me up not to be sick for work – that’s the way ah always try to be, man.’

Work for him meant up at 5.30am every day except Sunday. But Saturday is big night out – vigorous pressure to my left patella here, followed by a meaningful laugh from him and a nervous giggle from me, man! He certainly livens up a dreary journey.

After a weary day it is a temptation to drift through the ‘gibbers’ with a blank smile and let them get away with it. Sadly my curiosity will never allow this. I must know what is being said. A bus conductor muttered something as I was about to step off his bus the other night. It took five minutes of ‘sorry’s’ and ‘pardons, but to everyone relief I finally let the bus continue, with his farewell message, ‘It’s coming lighter now’ written forever on my heart.

The joker who rang me consistently recently without answering my ‘Who is that please?’ should certainly have my message imprinted on his eardrum.

After lifting the receiver to a silent caller three times in one hour, I eventually mustered all the power possible for my 5ft frame and screamed fractiously into the phone, ‘IS ANYBODY THERE.’ An immediate click was the satisfying response.

I have recently become interested in age concern – mine, and don’t mind admitting old age holds no charm for me. But how old is old?

A recent television programme took years off me when an eighty-year-old young lady admitted that there are compensations. This dear lady said that she actually enjoyed the peace that age has brought her. With troubles all behind, her life is now pleasantly peaceful and she had a lovely expression on her face to prove it.

I read recently that an eighty-one-year old granny has gained a BA degree with the Open University, fulfilling a life-long ambition. In the same London paper was a piece about the remarkable recovery of Norman Cousins (from the book ‘Powers of Mind,’ Adam Smith) who became dangerously ill with a blood disease. When he discovered a note left by a doctor that read, ‘We may be losing Norman,’ he immediately checked out of hospital and into a hotel.

There he tried to cheer himself up by watching a Marx Brothers' film and as he laughed he began to feel better. From then on he made laughter his main course of treatment and gradually he recovered. None of the doctors could find an adequate explanation. Nevertheless he was cured.

So laugh and be healthy is the message. Good news for brave people, who like me, can stand anything – except suffering!


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