Chavs, scallies, Essex girls and the Manc swagger

I’ve been having conversational lessons with a marvellous client and I’ve been briefing him on all things Anglais. It must be said, I’m becoming a bit of a Daily Mail complainant about English life. I need to stop reading British newspapers with their doom, gloom and minute-by-minute analysis of the economy, because it’s making me miserable about my home country.

It confuses me that French newspapers seem not to print pictures or stories that are inflammatory. A fellow forum-user posted some pictures of the riots in Lyon in response to the recent strikes about retirement age, and I have to say I’d seen nothing like them in the press here. Whilst on the one hand, it’s kind of dishonest to ‘hush up’ the extremity of the violence, the riot police, teens up-ending cars and so on, it’s also a little more gentle. England, however, seems to revel in inflammation. If a newspaper can act as a catalyst for emotions in England, it seems to take every opportunity. Today, I was mostly incensed about a man from Bury who hanged his dog from a bridge when he was drunk and has got 10 weeks of a prison sentence. I went through the whole gamut of Daily Mail emotions – anger, frustration, a desire to become a mercenary and go out and do the same thing to him – posted links to Facebook and got myself all upset about a dog which, as Steve says, is probably better off dead than it was with its owner.

I wonder if such things happen in France. Undoubtedly there are cruel people here: France isn’t necessarily renowned for its sentimentality about animals, but they do love a ‘hand-bag’ dog. Perhaps a crime in itself to keep a dog in a handbag or dress it up in little coats, but I never saw a story like this in the French press. There’s been a Tony-Martin-esque story down in Toulouse, but it’s not really ‘national’ news. The news seems much more political, much more intellectual, lots less American and lots less sensational.

And I have to query what this sensationalist news reporting has done to me.

Back to the client, I realised when writing up my vocabulary list after today’s session that I’ve taught him about chavs, painted a picture of England beset by teen thugs, taught him that Britain’s cities are poverty-stricken and violent, taught him about Jeremy Kyle, teenage pregnancies, ‘rainbow’ families, discussed bullying and intimidation and when he asked about Colchester, I informed him about Essex girls and squaddies on drunken rampages. It sounds not unlike a third-world warzone. “The Only Way is Essex” can’t, surely, be how it is in Essex. Yet it’s how I think of it. Blonde WAGs, boob jobs, hair extensions, sunbeds… and all images planted in my mind by the media. The people I know from Essex aren’t like that at all. Admittedly, I only know four people from Essex, but not a one of them conforms to this image. So is this cynicism worsened by the media?

But then he got me on the subject of Manchester. And my love came swimming back. Buzzcocks, Joy Division, The Smiths, New Order, Stone Roses, Happy Mondays, Oasis – the bulk of great English music in the past few years has come out of Manchester. And I love that.

I told him about my friend who had come up from London to work. After a couple of weeks, she told me she was going out with a ‘musician’. I laughed. Virtually every Northerner I know is in a band of a sort, or can play an instrument. I know about 20 bass guitarists, a good load of singers, drummers and guitarists, all of whom are ‘in bands’. If you aren’t kicking a ball about, you are making music in Manchester. You might be 35, live at home with your mum and have never worked a full week in your life, but if you can’t aspire to be the next big thing, you haven’t got any Manchester in your soul. This is Manchester.

It’s a little sad that my client now knows the words ‘chav’ and ‘trailer trash’ and ‘scally’. It’s very sad I told him about Essex girls. I think I need to be more kind to my home country, though it hasn’t always been kind to me. It’s still within me to wax lyrical about the wonders of Manchester. I hope that little bit of wonder doesn’t turn sour!

Coincidentally, I picked up a French book about the top 100 cities in the world. Manchester was in there – alongside London. I looked and it made me feel very proud to be Manc through and through. I might not like the scallies and the chavs, and men who throw dogs off bridges. I definitely don’t like the fact I was mugged by 30 teens and not a single thing happened to those criminals, and I don’t like the fact my car was keyed. I disagree with the quangos and the bureaucracy and the civil servant state. But I still love my Manchester, warts and all.

2 thoughts on “Chavs, scallies, Essex girls and the Manc swagger

  1. Hi Justine:

    We have a customer in the bookstore who comes over a couple of times of year from Manchester. He sells used books, and his name is John M.

    I wondered whether the riots in France were affecting you or not. They were certainly all over the news here.


    1. They have been a backdrop to our own lives – I read the two most popular French papers, and they’ve tended to focus on the politics. Even our own local paper, Charente Libre, seemed to focus more on legitimate strikes and the politics and had pictures of grandmas with placards. It might as well be happening in Egypt for as much as it has affected us. That’s why you have to wonder which media gets it right… the French for almost ignoring the riots and keeping the rest of the country fairly calm… or the English/N.American media which seem to like ‘Pulitzer Prize’ stories, or, in the case of England, sensational stories with inflammatory pictures. My own moral jury is still out.

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