Monday, April 22, 2024
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I’m a Yankee Doodle Grumpy


MY children have been known to describe me as a grumpy old man. I deny this assertion. I’m not a grumpy old man, I’m a Grumpy Old Man. I don’t admit it, I revel in it.

In today’s world being grumpy is evidence of clear-headed sanity. There are so many areas where everything seems to be going to pigs and whistles that it is difficult to see light emerging from any area of modern endeavour: politics, the media, art, comedy, they all seem to serve no other purpose than to make us think of how much better they could be. Grumpy Old Men and Grumpy Old Women appear to be the only ones who have a modicum of common sense remaining.

My father, who served in the RAF during World War II, was quite certain of the source of much that is wrong in the modern world: the United States of America. ‘They were very good at bringing overwhelming force to bear, you could just never be quite certain who they were shooting at,’ was a typical grumble. Whenever annoyed by what he considered an egregious cultural intrusion from across the Atlantic he would mutter, suitably adapted for tender ears, ‘Overpaid, over here, and they brought Spam’. Although personally an admirer of much of the USA I have to admit that there are imports from across the Atlantic which cause me to go into full GOM mode.

In the Scottish village in which I grew up we went ‘guising’ on Halloween. This involved dressing up in home-made costumes and knocking on doors, singing a song or reciting a poem and getting a few sweets, an apple, or a clip round the ear. Today we have the imported ‘Trick or Treat’ which involves gangs of children going around the streets demanding sweets with menaces. If you think I am exaggerating by describing the ‘trick’ part of the operation as ‘menaces’, you have never lived in Glasgow.

At one time in Britain we had the most glorious assortment of accents and dialects, down to the most local level. In my old school in Dalkeith it was possible to tell which part of Midlothian other pupils lived in. Our teachers did try to get us to speak ‘proper’ English, so we did. It’s just that we never took it beyond the classroom: in the playground we would use our own accents and words. Many of those words have been lost, and we are much the poorer for it. Instead we have mid-Atlantic on radio and television which has steamrollered the wealth of voices which once enriched us. The only thing to be said in mid-Atlantic’s favour is that it has replaced its equally unattractive predecessor, Blairite Estuary English.

In Lerner and Loewe’s musical My Fair Lady, another American import, we find Professor Higgins sneering at the accents of working-class Londoners. Utter tosh. People had a community identity which helped give cohesion to society and which also told the listener something about them. At one time in my home village we would say ‘noo’ meaning ‘now’, and be reprimanded by our teachers. Today highly placed media performers tell us the latest ‘noos’; cricket commentators speak of the score in a test match between India and Noo Zealand. The desire to appear culturally ‘with it’ by aping the accents of Hollywood and the recording studio demeans the speaker and crushes the genuine cultural diversity we once had in Britain.

A pupil who does reasonably well is described not as clever or hard working, rather an American-style ‘A’ student. It is not uncommon to see stretch limos rolling up to take a group of giggling somewhat skimpily dressed girls off to the school ‘prom’. They do not mean a promenade concert where serious music is played, they mean a school dance.

At one time a small minority of men and women graduated from university in serious subjects. Now it is possible to ‘graduate’ from primary school before going on to secondary. In some places even children from nursery ‘graduate’, complete with wee gowns and mortar boards, before going on to primary school.

In all this we should not blame the Americans; they are merely doing what we did when we had an empire. One of my university lecturers recalled being in the midst of the South African veldt and going to a whitewashed Presbyterian church where the entirely black congregation were singing unaccompanied psalms with a West Highland twang. He said that if he closed his eyes he could have been in Lewis.

We have no one to blame but ourselves for allowing ourselves to be colonised.

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Dr Campbell Campbell-Jack
Dr Campbell Campbell-Jack
Campbell is a retired Presbyterian minister who lives in Stirlingshire. He blogs at A Grain of Sand.

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