More Bardsey than bard

HERE'S a little quiz question for you: What is the missing place name, in this sentence from a new book?“His accent was broad *******, with scarcely any vowels coming through and the consonants all clattering into one another.

HERE'S a little quiz question for you: What is the missing place name, in this sentence from a new book?

“His accent was broad *******, with scarcely any vowels coming through and the consonants all clattering into one another.”

Does that sound like any accent you know? I'll reveal the answer below - but first a slight amendment to what I wrote here a couple of weeks ago.

I wrote then of how the internet was leading a general dumbing-down of knowledge.

Of how the sheer quantity of available information went hand-in-hand with a lowering of reliable quality.

There's enough to be said on the subject for net entrepreneur and former university lecturer Andrew Keen to have written a whole book about it, The Cult of the Amateur.

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He makes a lot of good points.

Like the threat posed to professional news gathering services by the growing army of amateurs who lack both access to sources and accountability.

Like the insidious link between “free” content and advertising.

But let's not run away with the idea that the net is bad and books are good, or that “experts” necessarily know best.

Writers, expert or not, have always been prone to errors. That may be slightly worse online, because it's so quick and easy to type and publish before your brain's engaged or your facts checked.

But it's also easier to correct a mistake on the net than one on the library shelf, even if most bloggers seldom do.

Once you get to know a bit about your chosen subject, you can usually spot howlers in others' work.

I've found some, for example, in books and pamphlets on Suffolk churches. I've made a few errors myself, but because they were on the web, I was able to put them right.

There's nothing like finding flaws in the details you know to make you mistrust what you are told about other things.

It can affect your enjoyment of fiction too. Which brings me back to that mystery accent.

Did the description sound like Suffolk to you? No, nor me.

Suffolk vowels are emphasised and elongated, not done away with. The broader the Suffolk, the longer the diphthongs.

You and I know this, but John Preston doesn't. That curious description I quoted above is from his much-praised new novel, The Dig.

You'd think one of the first things anyone writing a book about the Sutton Hoo discoveries would do is visit the place.

But just listen to Preston's description of driving into Suffolk from Colchester: “The land grew flatter and flatter. It looked just like a prairie.

“Occasionally I caught glimpses of the sea, although the flatness of the land made it almost impossible to tell where the land ended and the water began.”

It's a clichéd, stereotypical idea of Suffolk that couldn't have survived actually having made the journey.

In Preston's prose Bawdsey becomes Bardsey, while the topography of Woodbridge also appears to have been gained from a badly-read map - though even that should have told him that the town has neither a Market Street nor a High Street.

More than once he calls the Deben an “estuary”, yet at another point he says it is almost dried up for lack of rain. It must have been a very long time between tides in 1939.

Preston, author of three previous books of English whimsy, is the television critic of the Sunday Telegraph, which may be how he can call on Griff Rhys Jones for a dust-jacket quote.

Griff calls the book “exciting, evocative and beautifully written”. But he should know Woodbridge and Suffolk well enough to know that whatever The Dig evokes, it isn't the real thing.

In his author's note, Preston admits: “Certain changes have been made for dramatic effect.”

How flattening the landscape and sharpening the accent enhance the drama, I'm not sure.

****

SO Sheffield United STILL don't know what league they'll be playing in next season. And neither, despite their crowing confidence, do West Ham.

What a mess the Premier League has made by failing to act properly on the Carlos Tevez affair in the first place.

If they'd docked the Hammers points - as they should have - months ago, and banned Tevez from playing for them, it would all have been sorted by now.

By allowing Tevez to play on until the end of the season, they brought the present wrangle upon themselves. The kind of wrangle we thought only happened in Italy.

The appeals tribunal can hardly relegate the Hammers now - or can they?

AFC Wimbledon were thrown out of the FA Trophy and docked 18 Ryman League points last season for fielding a disqualified player. The penalty was reduced to three points after a tribunal decided the league was as much at fault as the club.

On that basis, I calculate West Ham should be docked four or five points - one sixth of the 27 they gained in games Tevez played when not legally their player.

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