Sep 272012

Zoë Fairbairns

I don’t think he sought me out to speak to. We just drifted into each other’s orbits at the party after the funeral. He was in his 50s, I guessed, like me. Smartly dressed. A local man, a Yorkshire man. At some point, he asked me where I lived.

“London,” I said.

“Whereabouts in London?”

“Crystal Palace.”

“Oh south London,” he said, as if I ought to have made that clear before, as if it was generally understood among right-thinking people that the word “London” does not encompass “south London”.

“That’s right,” I said.

“We’ve got a girl in our office,” he said, “who comes from south London. She’s got the most marvellous accent.”

Somehow I got the impression that when he said “marvellous”, he did not mean mellifluous, fascinating, cultured.

“Has she?” I said.

“But she’s south London born and bred. You’re not south London born and bred are you?”

“More or less,” I said. “I wasn’t actually born there, but I grew up in a south London suburb.”

“Not Crystal Palace?”

“No, Richmond upon Thames.”

“Oh well,” he said, as if that again made it different. “It’s not exactly south London is it?”

“Parts of Richmond upon Thames are south of the river,” I said.

“This girl in our office,” he said, “she’s all…” and he started to make a strange honking, hawking sound, all dropped aitches and glottal stops. When he had finished, he resumed his normal voice. “She’s marvellous,” he said.

“Does she mimic the way you speak?” I asked.

He seemed puzzled by the question. “No,” he said.

“Perhaps she does behind your back,” I suggested. “You know, when you’re out of the office. Perhaps she’s doing it now.”

He turned away. The last I saw of him, he was hot-footing it towards the exit. I later heard that he complained about me to our hosts, saying that I was a snobbish southerner who had made fun of him for having a bit of Yorkshire in his voice.

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