I met Ray in a very stylish café in Dalston that he chose. Ray was born in Leytonstone to Irish parents, but grew up in the Irish community in Holloway. He says he is a Londoner and Arsenal supporter, ‘but not British’.
Ray calls his way of speaking ‘North London’, which to him stands out for its ‘blandness’, with ‘some Irish sentence structure’. As a child he would say ‘I amn’t’, for example, ‘but that was laughed out of me’. He associates prototypical Cockney with the Isle of Dogs and hears it frequently through his work. What he appreciates about Cockney culture is that ‘it’s direct. If they don’t like you, you’ll know straight away, which saves a lot of time compared to middle-class politeness.’
Event though he’s not a regular Cockney speaker, ‘I get more Cockney if I’m talking to plumbers for example, and I get posher when I’m talking technical stuff or on sales calls. I don’t know if that is a function of the material, but I feel I need to do that to sound more knowledgeable.’ However, when speaking to some of his artist friends, ‘I do it in reverse to a make point. Because they think I am an ignoramus because of the way I speak, I will then go for a long time in a Cockney accent. It’s nice to be able to play with that sometimes.’
Ray encounters MLE mainly when talking to people in the street, but really enjoys it: ‘It’s so copyable. It’s so much fun!’ He sometimes uses it ironically, when asking ‘the fam’ if they want a cup of tea, for example, but only privately. ‘There’s certain phrases in the house where I might jump into MLE and that I wouldn’t dream of doing outside.’
Ray doesn’t like the term ‘Jafaican’. In his opinion, ‘kids want to be part of the group and wanna be able to converse with each other. There’s advantages to when the kids have a culture where they can group together like that.’ He sees MLE as ‘a safe place for kids to be in. It’s a way for them to slightly shroud themselves from standing out and to get through the difficult business of being a kid’. Even though ‘the standard view is that that’s a bad thing because noone is talking like a dictionary from 1873.’