The riots in England were all over the news in the Netherlands. ALL OVER the news. Being the only British person in my department at work, I became a sort of involuntary spokesperson for the UK as the unstable events unfolded across the nation. Now, I am the first to admit that I didn’t always have a massive awareness of current affairs. Throughout most of my early-20s, to me, current affairs meant purchasing a copy of Heat or Cosmopolitan magazine. Now that I have matured, I always reach for Grazia magazine. The riots were current affairs that I could not ignore. I was British and people wanted answers.
With the issue of the riots literally burning around me, people were talking about them wherever I went. ‘Ah! You are English! You can tell me what is happening with the people in England. Are they mad?’ Yes, they most likely are, I thought. I didn’t really know what to say to people. I felt the albatross around my neck…the guilt… as though it was me that had stolen 2 new plasmas from Dixons.
I am from a family where we feel culpable for everything. It is in my DNA, passed onto me by my mother. We seem to possess a catholic guilt without actually being catholic. If ever someone was looking for a wingman to rob a bank with, do not look to me. Before we would have time to put the tights over our heads, I would have run to the police station and confessed to mass genocide, never mind the robbery.
Anyway, my embarrassment hit full swing when the lootin’ and a shootin’ migrated north to my home town of Manchester. Admittedly some parts of Manchester you might not have been able to tell if they had been caught up in the disturbance or not – the before and after would have looked remarkably similar but for the most part, you could tell. The police in Manchester took a more ‘hands-on’ approach to dealing with the problems that in the South. That is Northern brass. I felt inflated with pride – they were defending the city. However inflated I felt, I didn’t want to admit to actually being English, never mind from Manchester and especially not in a Body Combat class at my local gym.
I understand a little Dutch now – to the Dutchies reading, beware – so I was able to understand the gym instructor in the Body Combat class when he said ‘Come everyone, let’s punch the air like we are British, let’s fight, be like you are from Manchester!’ This verbal encouragement continued for a few minutes as we punched the air and squatted and kicked. Suddenly a moment of conscience came over the instructor, when he gently asked ‘there isn’t anyone English in the class is there?’ Now, I was in a class with 35 other Dutch and I had been punching the air and squatting and kicking like I was from Manchester but I wasn’t going to admit that. What if they all started to ask me questions? No thanks.
So, nobody says anything. Phew, there is nobody English in the class, he thinks. Then a small squeak next to me. I had spoken to this girl to the left of me a few times since I joined the gym and to my ERROR I had told her where I was from. I knew what was coming. ‘She’s from England!’ She yelled, pointing wildly at me. ‘And, she’s also from Manchester!’ I had to think fast. I was under pressure. The music had been switched off. Two choices, I could be proud and British or just not. I went for the not option. Out of my mouth came the words (probably from watching too many episodes of Fawlty Towers for those that know it)
‘No, no, I am not from a-Ingerland. I am a from a Barthalona’.
Ever since this dreaded gym class, I have to continue with this accent whenever talking to, well, anyone in the gym. I have a two year membership. Let’s hope and pray I don’t run into anyone who is actually from ‘a Barthalona.’