Monday morning and Mass at St Edward King and Confessor in Clifford. I share my pew with a man who welcomes me warmly with a voice redolent of the playwright Alan Bennett. In this part of Yorkshire people of a certain age refuse to yield an inch of diction to Estuary English. Consonants remain as firm as a Geoffrey Boycott forward defensive stroke.
The clarity of enunciation in God’s Own County may, historically, have been a legacy of work in the textile mills. Clear communication was needed to counter the din of the loom. There were strong accents, of course, but no glottal stops. Not if you wanted to avoid painful contact with a stray bobbin.
Walk around Leeds, Halifax or Sheffield now, though, and your hearing is assailed by upswings. The dialect is recognisably northern. But the rhythms of speech – to my ears, at least – hail not from Emmerdale, but EastEnders.
I am in North Yorkshire as the guest of a banker friend. He is highly chuffed with his new Land Rover. It is not yet driverless, but the onboard technology hints at the direction of travel for all of us. The car does a lot of thinking for you. As we motor down a darkened rural A-road outside York, the full-beam lights switch off automatically when the car identifies an approaching car which would otherwise be dazzled. Clever stuff.
My pal, to his credit, says the feature that won him over was not the robotics, but the hook in the passenger footwell. It was installed, he claims, because Land Rover drivers wanted somewhere to hang their Indian takeaway bags without the contents spilling everywhere.
A weekend in the Scottish Borders without the children. My wife has agreed to look at a house that is for sale near Lauder. The current owner shows us around. Half the house dates back to a time when there was still a kingdom of Jerusalem, and is noticeably cooler than the rest. Some of the rooms are let to visitors through the Airbnb website.
The vendor tells us it is tourists from the United States who are the most difficult and demanding. I’ve heard this lament before and find it difficult to reconcile with my experience of Americans as friendly, generous and kind.
Perhaps national stereotypes are simply unavoidable in the hospitality industry. My eldest daughter does casual work handing out audio guides at Stonehenge, and she observes strong distinctions between guests according to country of origin. She’s not keen on Americans (high maintenance), fond of the Japanese (comically polite) and wary of the Chinese (plain rude). In time, once she’s seen a bit of the world, my daughter will understand that a country is perhaps best judged by the people who live there, not by the tourists it exports.
My phone rang recently to herald a recorded message from my employers. It urged me to avoid Oxford Circus, where there had been reports of an “incident”. I imagine many thousands of phones were pinging with similarly vague but well-meaning advice. Added to the texts, emails and alerts on social media, the effect was a hubbub of unease which led to a dangerous stampede. The situation was not helped by a famous musician tweeting from Selfridges to his army of followers that shots had been fired.
As we subsequently learned, the “incident” was nothing more sinister than a couple of blokes having a ruck on a Tube platform. But the overreaction to this innocuous event felt like something new under the sun. Regretfully, in a world where everyone is plugged into devices, such cyber-angst is probably here to stay.
We may like to think that, had we been on Oxford Street when the panic began to spread, we might not have joined the runners. We know that images of Londoners clinging on to jangling bags of Christmas shopping, fleeing they know not where, do ISIS an undeserved service. This is, after all, a fight that is as much about publicity as territory.
How to stop it? Part of the answer might lie in a change of mindset. To encourage our citizenry not to see themselves as extras in a disaster movie, but rather as actors with agency and a role to play.
This might be nothing more heroic than showing some sang-froid when all around others are losing their cool. Walk, don’t run. But it could stretch to ignoring official injunctions to scarper and, instead, urging potential victims, who often outnumber attackers, to act in concert.
Follow Colin Brazier on Twitter: @ColinBrazierSky
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