Another great interview I did was with Mariana and Nieves, who, like Andy and Eileen, live on the Cressingham Gardens estate in Tulse Hill. Mariana moved to Brixton from Nigeria when she was 18, and Nieves, now a pensioner, is originally from Manila in the Philippines. The two are neighbours and friends and Mariana helps with Nieves’ care.
Nieves has lived in different places in Central London working as a nanny, but moved to the estate in the 1980s. She has a strong Filipino accent, but says, her relatives in the US and in the Philippines can tell that she has lived in London for such a long time. They say her intonation is different.
Mariana has lived only in Brixton and raised her four children there. She says: ‘I love it here. I meet my kind here.’
She has been shopping in the Brixton markets since the 80s, but recently she stopped. ‘Brixton used to be cheap, but it’s too expensive now. I was not happy there.’ But shopping there and making friends with Jamaicans in her neighbourhood taught her Jamaican patois, which she performs fluently and like a professional comedian.
Mariana hears MLE in Brixton but associates it more with East London and places further out like Croydon and Enfield. She finds that London accents are difficult to observe now, because people have moved out of their original communities in inner London. She has relatives in Ealing, Brentwood, and Enfield. But she also spends time in the Nigerian community closeby. ‘Peckham is like going to Lagos in Nigeria. I don’t need to pay to go to Nigeria, I just go to Peckham’, where the cinema and food are more affordable.
She tells me her children are all fully English and ‘middle-class’ through their father. When she took her daughter to Peckham once, she said to her: ‘Mum, what is this? I’ve never been to a place like this!’. And when Mariana addresses her in Patois, ‘she goes: Are you alright, mum?’
Her children don’t normally use MLE, either. She tells me of one incident when her youngest son used slang on the phone to a youth football team he was coaching and was told off for it by his older brother. She said: ‘Leave him alone. He’s a South London boy, he’s picking up these street words.’ Her younger son replied: ‘The person I am talking to wants to hear “yeah bro” or it will not get through to him! If you want to engage them, you want to be at their level.’ ‘But you don’t go to their level – you bring them to your level!’, Mariana laughs.
Mariana and Nieves agree that, despite the strong Filipino, Nigerian, and other immigrant communities, it is not easy living and raising a family in London. They also agree on something else: Mariana says, ‘I love the English. They don’t like the foreigners, but they like foreigners’ food. If you want to have a good talk with the English, cook your foreign food!’