I met Hunter on his day off from his job as a head barista in a coffeeshop in Hampstead. But we stayed in his natural habitat, as he picked a lovely small café in Islington near where he lives. His family is from the East End and his mother was actually born ‘within the sound of Bow Bells’, but he grew up in Holloway in North London.
Hunter says that, when he started primary school, he ‘used to have a thick Cockney accent’, but was influenced strongly by his teachers. ‘All my teachers had different accents. When you’re young, you maybe don’t absorb the full accent but you take bits and pieces of it.’ Even though he doesn’t speak with a pure Cockney accent anymore, Hunter is one of the few young people, who would still proudly call themselves ‘Cockney’.
He thinks his parents might be the last generation to speak with a proper Cockney accent. None of his friends or cousins use it. It is ‘quite a rare sound to hear these days, it’s just not a well-known accent anymore’, and people have mistaken him and his family as being from Essex or Australia.
He says, ‘I do miss having my Cockney accent’, but, ‘you don’t need the accent to be part of the culture’. To him, there is ‘a Cockney lifestyle’, which is ‘very family-oriented’. ‘Family comes first and nothing else matters!’ That is probably why, to him, ‘Cockney is such a comforting sound to hear’. ‘Even if I meet a complete stranger, I feel more relaxed, more open around that person’, if they have the accent.
According to him, the Cockney accent is ‘very loud, very bold, very blunt, very charismatic’. ‘Mum always said she had “the gift of the gab”. She always knew what to say to the right person to get them to like you.’
Recently, he has been spending more time with his family and noticed that ‘some of the Cockneyisms come back.’ ‘Between me and me mum and me dad we sometimes use rhyming slang, such as going out for an oily (rag – fag).’