Wednesday, May 25, 2011

We've come a long way, baby

Husband is very interested in genealogy and he's been doing some research in old newspapers. It turns out that one of my ancestors, Sarah Chegwidden, was a fishwife in Swansea and she was arrested at least twice, once for fighting and once for selling dodgy fish.

She was, let me think ... in my great-grandmother's line, and sounds like a fishwife as defined by Chambers: both a seller of fish and a coarse, loud-mouthed woman. It used to be a popular term of abuse but has died out, I suppose, because young people don't know what a fishwife is or was.

Among her descendants are graduates of Oxford and Cambridge and a pupil at Eton as well as the rest of us who live comfortable generally law-abiding lives. And only behave like fishwives when we're really cross.

Although some of us haven't come quite as far as we'd like to make out.

My cousin, who grew up in a terraced house in one of the poorer areas of Swansea, went to university in the south of England. The first time I saw her after she'd started there was in her gran's house. She'd brought her boyfriend to visit and, when she spoke to me I nearly fell off my chair. She'd adopted this accent - I think she was trying to imitate the Queen - a terrible affected drawl of an accent. I stared at her - I might have been open-mouthed - and thought, in today's vernacular, she's having a laff.

But she wasn't.

I was transfixed, kept waiting for her to forget and return to her ordinary Welsh vowels, but she must have been practising hard. I don't know how she managed to keep it up.

I saw her again for the first time for ages last year - and she was still doing it, slightly modified, not quite as affected but definitely keeping up with the Smyths in Surbiton where she and her family live.

We've not come that far, baby.

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