The City & The Northern Girl #5

Those Little Things That Make the Grim North That Bit Brighter 

This week, Lord Howell (George Osborne’s lovely Tory father in law and former Energy Secretary) has caused outrage by insisting in the House of Lords, that the ‘beautiful rural areas’ of the South should be spared from the controversial drilling. Instead there are ‘large, uninhabited and desolate areas’ of the North East where there is ‘plenty of room for fracking’. And to add insult to injury, when nationally condemned over his comments he then insisted he had made a mistake and he actually meant the North West.

Are you kidding me?  As a born and bred Northern lass, let me assure you, the word ‘desolate’ can only be described as complete abuse to the beauty that is the rugged north. Forgive me if I exaggerate, but this isn’t the first time a right-wing suit has condemned the north and, unless my grasp of history is mistaken, it was successive Conservative governments who did their damnedest to put the north into such a position from which it needed to recover. Now they say that we are the ones to be written off?

I came down to London with my own preconceptions of the South as snobby, stuck-up and posh. It’s an opinion that Northerners grow up with. To put it bluntly, I left the North with the departing words: “ey, don’t you be turnin’ into one of them Southern fairies now d’ya ‘ear me?”. What I naively didn’t expect was the South’s even more degrading view of the North. Ever heard the saying “it’s grim up North”? Well I am going to change that preconception right now…

THE PEOPLE

We are friendlier. There, I said it. We are nicer, politer, more down to earth and genuine to boot. We don’t issue death stares on public transport if someone, god forbid, decides to strike up a conversation about the weather. We don’t participate in London’s fast o’clock rush hours, in which on my first experience I stood frozen to the spot as commuters swarmed around me like angry bees. And we certainly don’t issue a torrent of abuse if someone stands to the left on an escalator.

In fact, we quite like to just stand on escalators and allow nature, and wonderful mechanics, to take its course. Hurtling down the escalator at 100mph is something I will never understand – a tube comes every 2-5 minutes and you’re worried in case you miss the one which is currently stood at the platform? Maybe northerners are simply not in such a hurry, as the need to earn big money isn’t so acute. When you’re in a hurry all you think about is where you’re rushing too, not the old lady who you almost sent flying in your haste to make the next train.

THE ACCENT

There is no denying that the Northern accent is distinctive in its own right, with our diverse range of dialects. Scousers, Mancs, Geordies, we have them all. Friendliness is hard-wired into Northern discourse by the use of ‘pet’ and ‘love’, as our Southern counterparts look on in confusion at our obvious affection for anyone and everyone.  The speed in which we talk can baffle even the most well-educated man, as proven by a number of my seminar leaders looking at me blankly before asking me to repeat whatever it was I just said.

We abbreviate, h-drop, replace ‘th’ for ‘f’ and regularly just omit the word ‘the’ completely, as demonstrated perfectly by Michael McIntyre’s famous “t’Lion, t’Witch and t’Wardrobe” joke. And if you do ever fancy taking the mick out of our accent, just let us revert back to a southerners’ singular inability to pronounce the word “bath”. To date, not one of my southern friends has been able to explain where the ‘r’ in “barrrth” is.

THE FOOD

Imagine a world in which the North of England has simply been struck out (I can hear Lord Howell cracking open the bottles of champagne as I type). Strike out the north and you lose some of the country’s finest foods: Wigan’s pies, Cumberland sausages, steamed puddings, Bury black pudding, Cheshire potatoes, Lancashire cheese, Yorkshire pudding. Naturally, all of these dishes rely on access to the highest-quality produce and between Cumbria, Northumbria, Yorkshire, Lancashire and Cheshire you can find some of the best red meat, dairy and vegetables in the country! The epithet that northern food often gets labelled with is “honest” – simple things done well with incredible produce.

Take pies. Wonderful chunks of flavoursome Cumbrian beef dripping in gravy so rich it could afford to buy a two-bedroomed flat in London, all wrapped up in mouth-watering pastry. If there’s one thing I’ve noticed about the South is that you’re more likely to see things becoming needlessly overcomplicated. Walk into a pub in the north and you’re offered the old favourite ‘bangers and mash’. Walk into a pub in the south and you’re offered “Three succulent pork and apple sausages on a bed of creamy mash served with onion gravy” – this being on a menu with enough adjectives to rival a Marks & Spencer’s advert.

THE COUNTRYSIDE

They call it the Backbone of England, with its clean, spiky, unpretentious and beautiful landscape. It’s made up of vast lines of rolling green hills and dales that include not one, not two, but three national parks. The North has areas of outstanding natural beauty, stretching from the Derbyshire Peaks, through Yorkshire and up to Northumberland, wrapping itself around those still great industrial cities of Newcastle, Manchester, Leeds and Sheffield. My childhood is filled with memories of Trans-Pennine walks, bike rides around Lymm Dam and walking holidays in the Lake District.

I now board the train home at Euston with eager anticipation at being able to fill my lungs with fresh air and to be in a town, surrounded not by office blocks but by crop-filled countryside, as I happily leave behind the oppressive hustle and bustle of the capital. Perhaps Lord Howell should actually venture up North before labelling its Cumbrian lakes, rolling Yorkshire Dales and quaint Durham fields as “desolate”.

Don’t get me wrong, I love London. It’s providing the ultimate student experience that many only dream of as I continue to act like an over excited tourist, complete with an annoyingly slow walking pace and camera. But after my three degree years are up, I know exactly where I’ll be heading. Back home.

Image: George Rex. http://www.flickr.com/photos/rogersg/
Image: George Rex. http://www.flickr.com/photos/rogersg/

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