So Where Are You From?
The weird homesickness of not being Southern at Cambridge
I have never really had an accent before.
In fact, for most of my life I was told I sounded “posh”, probably because according to Midlands standards, I just don’t sound like I come from anywhere. Occasionally I’ll use words which are very Scunthorpe-specific (orming, anyone? Taffled?), but in the most part it’s not an accent you could place.
Here, I very definitely have an accent; or rather I don’t have the accent everyone else has. Obviously there’s as much dialectical variation in the South as there is in the better half of the country , but to my untrained Lincolnshire ear it’s a haze of long vowels, “yahs” and the word “chirpsing.” Clearly not everyone from below the Watford Gap knows each other, but sometimes it can feel like they’re from another planet- especially the Londoners, who all went to the same lacrosse tournaments and love to swap their worst anecdotes about the Tube (get on the Call Connect bus, lads! Then you’ll have some tales!).
For most of those from major cities, this is something of a step down. There’s far less variety of things to do – and by that I mean the clubs are crap. On the other hand, I come from somewhere with exactly one club, which is a 30 minute taxi ride away. We have two theatres and it’s rare they’re both full. This weird, antiquated, peaceful place is the most exciting place I’ve ever lived, and it’s not something I think you can understand if you’ve never had the experience of knowing that the only thing available to do on Friday night within 20 miles is a Blues Brothers tribute act.
There is a very peculiar homesickness here I think unique to those of us who aren’t surrounded by our own voices every day. Not to say that you can’t be homesick if you’re from the South – of course you can [if your trust fund runs out too soon] but you're still in the same cultural area. My dad picked up the phone the other day with “Now then” and it almost made me cry; we’ve already had multiple conversations on our floor about dinner vs tea. Everyone goes out here wearing coats and you can’t even mock them for it. A pint here is just shy of a fiver and no-one bats an eyelid. *cries*
Yet it also brings people together. For example, on my first night here I told someone to “crack on” and someone else overheard and was delighted as they hadn’t heard it in ages. Whilst wandering back to Clare drunk I ended up shouting various northern colloquialisms with another pal from beyond the Wall (tick!) as our Polish friend looked on bemused – we're attempting to teach her to say 'cheers' and 'ta' properly. The struggles of public transport (specifically the lack of), the intense boredom of living in the middle of nowhere, the ubiquity of the word “duck”: all of these things are conversational essentials for fellow stranded aliens.
Of course I’m being dramatic. We’re all in the same homesick boat here, and the point of university is learning that even within Britain’s 93,000 square miles, millions of individual experiences and cultures exist. University means being able to mock people for having never had cheesy chips and being unable to not laugh when they think you don’t have trains “where you’re from.” It's realising that some people actually do shop from the top shelves in Mainsburys and that Manchester really is the only city some Londoners know above Cambridge.
I miss the warmth of the Midlands – the way people call you “love”, the way you do actually interact with strangers – but I don’t miss the boredom or the overwhelming sense of never getting out.
Despite the whole Oxbridge stereotype, and even though Cambridge really is almost terrifyingly beautiful, I don’t feel “other” here.