I’ve been upsetting the spell-check facility on my computer a lot lately. It doesn’t seem to take much some days. It has never been keen on the fact that I write quite a lot in French for a start. But it can handle that, reluctantly, once it has had time to think about things for a minute or two. It simply sighs and switches dictionary. You can almost hear it grumbling under its breath as the fan kicks in.
It offers a minimal amount of protest for the odd bit of Latin. Perhaps it assumes I am being academic and doesn’t like to admit it doesn’t understand.
It has never been happy about some of the more arcane languages that creep in when I am writing on esoteric subjects. It has grudgingly opened the dictionary for me to add Hebrew words, and will permit me to include ancient Egyptian names, as long as they are written with an upper case letter. It has, of course, completely lost its temper on the odd occasion where I have transcribed Enochian, underlining whole paragraphs in violent red.
But the worst offender, as far as spell-check is concerned, is nothing so eldritch or profound. It is the dialect of my home. It seems to think I am being deliberately provocative, and underlines every word, space, punctuation mark and spelling with every virulent colour at its disposal. It completely withdraws the ‘add to dictionary’ facility in high dudgeon and persistently reinstates every coloured line as soon as I tell it to ‘ignore’. And let’s not even begin to explore its attitude to Yorkshire grammar…
It is, of course, well known that Yorkshire is ‘God’s Own County’. It says so on Wikipedia, so it must be true. It therefore follows that its language should be accorded a certain reverence. Perhaps spell-check is simply in awe? Even the ‘national’ anthem of Yorkshire is in dialect, for goodness sake!
Wheear ‘ast tha bin sin’ Ah saw thee, Ah saw thee?
On Ilkla Mooar baht ‘at….
So as my next book, a magical fantasy, is set in Yorkshire, it is of course obligatory for at least a little dialect to creep between its pages. To me, it is the sound of Home, of memory, love, laughter and people. It is fresh brewed tea, scones and the smell of warm bread. It sings to my heart.
Regional accents have a way of drawing us back to childhood, I think. They are, thankfully, now widely accepted in a way they were not when I was a young. The voice of the BBC has softened that acceptance as it has changed over the decades. Which is just as well really, as I do not have the modulated tones of a 1960’s announcer, but the accent of my home, and in April I have to stand with my Lancastrian co-director (he can’t help that, you know…) and present the School to the world, with an open soul and no pretence to be other than I am.
It is seldom ‘broad Yorkshire’ these days, of course. Time spent in the south in married quarters as a child, years in France and other places have altered it and left their mark. So have the various jobs and social strata through which I have moved. Life does that to us, doesn’t it? Time, place and experience leave a layer of accumulated difference upon us. It is easy to lose oneself beneath that accretion, in the same way as the golden sandstone of the north became darkened by industry.
I will never forget the revelation of the town hall in Leeds… a glorious piece of Victorian civic pride… when the scaffolding came down in 1972 and the black stone, now cleaned of the accumulated grime, was unveiled in pale gold.
I look at myself in much the same way… though smaller and far less stately. A lifetime of experience has overlaid the essential me with so many traces and layers that have changed the outward appearance both physically and in other more subtle ways. Sometimes from habit, sometimes almost in self-defence. It would be easy to lose sight of the fact that this is just a veneer, a thin overlay, and that beneath those layers the essence is still there. It may have aged, and grown, there may be signs of erosion and a bit of wear and tear, but I comfort myself with the knowledge that in a building that would just add character, a sense of living history and presence.
It does make you wonder though, whether stripping back the layers to the essence of Self would let us see ourselves all golden again.