‘Could be better, could be worse’

Ron is a churchwarden in a small village near Upminster in Essex together with Frank. Ron’s parents were from the East End, spoke with an East End accent, and Ron also spent his formative years in Hackney. However, when his family moved to Upminster in the 1950s, his accent changed, ‘because in those days there wasn’t that strong an East End influence there’.

Now, he describes his accent as ‘neutral’: ‘I suppose you might describe it as snobbish, because I wanted to get rid of my East End accent and everything associated with it.’ He hasn’t been back to the East End for a long time, but sometimes visits it virtually on Google street view to see which of the places he knew are still there.

He says he doesn’t really change his way of speaking in different situations, not even with fellow East End expat Frank. But he has noticed that ‘if I’m not careful I can start imitating the person I am talking to. I love trying out other people’s accents’.

One of the few East End phrases still in his language is the idiom ‘Could be better, could be worse’, which he associates with Jews he knew in Hackney as a child and uses as a convenient reply to the greeting ‘How are you?’ – Something I have to remember, when put on the spot again by this very English non-question!

Ron from Bulphan in Essex
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