In which The Author sees the Shadow returning
A few weeks ago I bumped into my friend Adrian T. in Aberdare. The sun was shining, there wasn’t a cloud in the sky, and we’d both dared to venture outside without taking the precaution of bringing a jacket. Adrian commented that Aberdare’s large resident population of Chavs didn’t seem to have noticed the change of season.
‘No matter what the weather’s like, they always wear the same clothes,’ he said. ‘It’s always a hoodie, jeans, trainers and a cap.’
Now that Adrian’s pointed it out, I can see exactly what he means. Rain or shine, there are a number of constants in their choice of attire. One Saturday afternoon last summer, a ropey-looking lad came into the pub wearing a padded jacket (fastened up) and a scarf. Furthermore, he kept them on throughout his time at the bar. The rest of us were wearing t-shirts, and a couple of the guys were wearing shorts, but this bloke was dressed for a walk in the middle of winter.
I was delivering some more leaflets yesterday, in the middle of a glorious afternoon. In fact, I was glad to cross onto the shady side of the street for a while. Near Aberdare College a gang of low life were making their way along the opposite pavement, kitted out for a Xmas Day hike up Pen y Fan.
I’ve got a couple of theories to account for this peculiar behaviour. Let’s look at them in turn.
1: Chavs tend to favour Burberry scarves and caps, ‘designer’ jackets and jeans, and branded trainers. They are the 21st Century equivalent of the sandwich-board man – walking promotions for garment manufacturers. As such, they live in constant hope that a cheque rewarding them for this unusual advertising space will drop through the letterbox.
2: Chavs need bulky clothes to conceal the fruits of their shoplifting expeditions. I was in Market Street in Aberdare one lunchtime, a couple of years ago, and I saw a remarkable sight. One specimen of low life, wearing the standard Chav uniform, had walked out of the Nisa supermarket, holding his arms close to his sides. He was followed a few moments later by a member of staff. She shouted after him, and he turned round.
‘I haven’t fucking nicked anything!’ he yelled, throwing his arms out in anger. At that moment, several packets of bacon and cheese fell from inside his jacket and landed at his feet. As they say in the tabloids, you couldn’t make it up!
3: This is a synthesis of the first two theories. Chavs are so paranoid (probably exacerbated by their heavy drug use), and so jealously possessive of their stuff, that they don’t even trust their so-called friends. The only way they can be sure their possessions are safe is to quite literally wear all their clothes all the time.
I’ve also come across something which might shed light on the manner of speech employed by a substantial section of low life. It’s in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, of all places.
In spite of what you might think, the story doesn’t end at the Grey Havens. There are also six appendices which sketch in the key events of The Silmarillion (which wasn’t published for another twenty years), give the history of the Men and Dwarves, and deal with the languages Professor Tolkien invented for his saga.
I tried reading the appendices first time around, but as they were much closer in style and spirit to The Silmarillion, I gave up quite quickly. This time, after finishing the book yet again, I decided to plod on and explore the backstory. Tolkien’s extraordinary invention continues with the story of Numenor and Gondor, the history of the kings of Rohan, and the tales of the Dwarves which forms the background to The Hobbit (book and films!)
You also learn what happened to the rest of the characters (Sam, Merry, Pippin, Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli) after the ‘proper’ story finishes. If you’ve watched the films and wondered where the love story between Aragorn and Arwen fits into the book, wonder no more: you’ll find that (and a lot more besides) in Appendix A.
As I told you in Tears Before Bedtime
, I used to be able to write all the Elvish script and the Dwarvish runes, well over thirty years ago. I gained that knowledge from Appendix F (‘The Languages and Peoples of the Third Age’).
Anyway, I was reading the very end of the book last night when I came across an interesting section in Appendix F. It made me think of my own use of language, from the very formal style I adopt when I’m writing a job application, through the semi-casual style of this blog, to the far more colloquial speech I use among friends. This is what linguists call ‘code switching’, and it seems to be a dying art for a lot of young people (see Communication Breakdown
). Tolkien, himself a linguist, was obviously aware of the phenomenon, as this passage makes clear:
It will be noticed that Hobbits such as Frodo, and other persons such as Gandalf and Aragorn, do not always use the same style. This is intentional. The more learned and able among the Hobbits had some knowledge of ‘book-language’, as it was termed in the Shire; and they were quick to note and adopt the style of those whom they met. It was in any case natural for much-travelled folk to speak more or less after the manner of those among whom they found themselves, especially in the case of men who, like Aragorn, were often at pains to conceal their origin and their business. Yet in those days all the enemies of the Enemy revered what was ancient, in language no less than in other matters, and they took pleasure in it according to their knowledge. The Eldar [Elves], being above all skilled in words, had the command of many styles, though they spoke most naturally in a manner nearest to their own speech, one even more antique than that of Gondor. The Dwarves, too, spoke with skill, readily adapting themselves to their company, though their utterance seemed to some rather harsh and guttural. But Orcs and Trolls spoke as they would, without love of words or things; and their language was actually more degraded and filthy than I have shown it. I do not suppose that any will wish for a closer rendering, though models are easy to find. Much the same sort of talk can still be heard among the orc-minded; dreary and repetitive with hatred and contempt, too long removed from good to retain even verbal vigour, save in the ears of those to whom only the squalid sounds strong (Tolkien, 1966, p. 412, emphasis added).
This seems to me to perfectly summarise the sort of talk you’ll hear from Chavs and their associated low life. There’s no appreciation of beauty or goodness; there’s no breadth of vocabulary or depth of content; there’s no attempt to ‘code switch’ when dealing with different people; there’s just a relentless aggressive torrent of swearing and abuse.
I think I’ll change my own use of language from now on. Instead of referring to Chavs and/or low life in this blog, I’m going to call them Orcs. It seems to fit nicely with their overall lifestyle, after all.