Thoughts on the Divide Between the North and South of England

UK

This post was contributed by Samuel Blackburn.


What is classed as the North and what is classed as the South is rightly seen as the most divisive issue in Britain. Nothing has managed to cause so much uproar and anxiety than maybe Piers Morgan. As a proud Northern man, I have always said that you’re defined as being Northern if in your hometown, chips are a means of currency. Some Southerners in Watford or Birmingham are going around claiming to be Northern, a suggestion that is beyond insulting. As a rule, any place where there is a Waitrose – something that people in the North have as much familiarity with as Oyster cards and good living standards – could only be the in the South.  But I will not try here to debate where is and where is not Northern, but instead try and give as clear a description of The North as I can, so you can figure out where you are on the spectrum (for there are cultural Northerners as well). I will try and educate the people of the South on the North, and to provide Northerners with a lovely little, garlic-sauce-smothered slice of nostalgia.  But being Northern is more complicated than just living in the North. Places like Harrogate and York are culturally Southern, but geographically Northern, so it’s a spectrum – like gender, in a way. There are certainly exceptions; I have met people in London who ‘belong to the North’, as it were. So have a little read of this and see where you think you belong.

 

Firstly, the North is way more fun. Where else could a dance floor be the place for pissing, placing a drink, and sex – sometimes, all at the same time?

I actually have friends who were conceived in our local club.

A night out in the North is a purging of ego and emotion that provides a mental cleanse leading to a sense of pathos (yes, I did only learn that word through an online thesaurus); like Hamlet but with more bloodshed. But in London, the most shocking thing I have seen on a night out is the price list at the bar (once paid 9 pounds for a double vodka and coke, which is the price of a mid-terrace house in my village. If this seems reasonable to you, you know where you belong!).

This complete lack of adventure and disgust is what stops fun dead in its tracks; in all the clubs in London you feel like you’re dancing at gunpoint. Remember to look like you’re having fun is a thought I suspect many unfortunate Londoners have on nights out. But back home, when you stumble home at five in the morning having been in an alleyway with a divorced, thirty-year-old androgynous bouncer and had enough Lambrini and Red Square vodka to flood the navy, you can instantly look back in joy at a night that cost about a tenner. Sounds better, doesn’t it?

The people up North are generally funnier too, although I will admit not wittingly. The sight of some Northern girls falling out a taxi into their friend’s sick, or of them trying to comb “oh, I don’t know, it must be bird poo or something” out of their hair before going to bed, is a sight no Southerner will ever be able to enjoy.

People are more reserved in the South, far more private; something which can be a positive, but I would argue is a drawback. Only in the South could the tube, one of the largest underground rail networks on earth, be a place of complete silence excepting the occasional over powerful headphones, and a homeless man’s futile begging to a crowd of commuters who somehow never carry change.

 

If this was in the North, after each commute you would have heard about three divorces, two children (one of whom is a teacher, you know) and some grandchildren who are destined for greatness, all in a level of detail which even Dickens would struggle to match. My only communication with Southerners on the tube is either old people thanking me for offering up my seat to them, or old people asking me to offer up my seat to them.

The North is gorgeous as well. I live right next to a beach, which is both convenient to walk the dog on, and just a lovely thing to live next to and look at. Because the population is more spread out here too, all our natural spaces are open and empty. Here, Richmond Park and Brighton are packed 24/7, which makes privacy and subtle, beautiful moments much rarer. When at home, I always sing to myself or do a little dance when out in the open because, there, you can get away with it, something not at all true in the South – a lesson I quickly learned (he caught me doing a verse of Cher’s Believe in Mile End Park. If you are the one who saw me, please, keep it to yourself).

I once had a taxi ride at home which I think sums up Northerners quite nicely. The driver was a lovely man of about forty who was taking me on my weekly Thursday night pilgrimage to my local Wetherspoons (to my local area what the waterhole is to the characters in The Lion King, just with more groping and less water).

 


During the trip, he told me his life story, or as much of it as a ten-minute car ride will allow. As it turned out, he was once a heavyweight boxer but had to retire because of some injury I can’t remember. He told me that he was married and had children, something that he said being a boxer had helped him with.

I asked why that would help, expecting a light-hearted response about breaking up fights between his kids, or having the physical strength and capability to put up shelves (my best guess at what heterosexual marriage is like). Instead, he responded that it was actually useful because it meant that he could easily beat the hell out of anyone who looked at or flirted with his wife, something he told me he had done many times.

When I looked understandably shocked, he attempted to brighten up the conversation by asking if I had a girlfriend, a question all gays dread. Since we were nearly at the pub and I knew the car was tracked, I summoned up my courage and said, no, but I have a boyfriend (for at the time, I did). He looked as bewildered as I had done – but not annoyed or repulsed, which is surely better.

After some scary silence, we pulled up and I quickly got out. I paid him the five pounds for the journey, all in two-pound coins, and let him keep the change since I am a man of the people. When about to leave however, he leaned forwards and said, “You’re the first gay person I’ve met, and you weren’t even a freak.” Now, to a liberal audience that seems degrading, but in the post-industrial North-East, hearing that off an ex-boxing taxi driver is about as forward thinking as it gets.

“You’re the first gay person I’ve met, and you weren’t even a freak.”

Another thing about the North that people in the South will not experience, and thereby realise where they are on the spectrum, is mums on social media. Mothers and Facebook groups for villages in the North are hilarious, but in a unique way. Whereas the idea of a trivial mum post in the South is along the lines of “Can anybody suggest a good wine thermometer?”, the North is an entirely different kettle of fish.

My local village has a page called ‘Marske Uncensored’, something created because the original page, ‘Marske-by-the-Sea’ was apparently censoring its content. The page is mainly filled with local businesses advertising stuff, casual racism (do better, North. Do better), and updates on road closures.

 

I recently discovered on ‘Marske Uncensored’ that the name is clearly a joke as I was removed from the group for defending human rights, something I’d say is pretty much fine (yes, I am still bitter).

I hope this selection of verbatim Facebook posts demonstrates the social commentary and output exclusive to the people of the North on Facebook, the place where being technologically useless meets a belief in anonymity.

  • “The people have spoken.. they want to leave.. what don’t the polletitions understand… we don’t want another referendum!”
  • “Just my opinion. Murders, manslaughter etc regardless of age (etc: Teenagers) if convicted beyond a shadow of a doubt my feelings are that they should get a minimum of life. Meaning a life for a life or bring back death sentence so we don’t have to pay for a life of luxury for scum. As I said My opinion.”
  • “hello”

I suppose when I say the North is superior, I do not mean in any cultural or intellectual sense – as that list demonstrates. I think that the North’s greatness exists on a completely different level. The look between people that says ‘kin’ hell whenever a local nutter starts talking about caravans or the EU, and the silent admission in people’s accents that everything is secretly a bit grim, may seem like negatives to the average Southerner.

But they do not know the secret joys of this.

Daily life there is just always making your own fun.

The fact there is nothing to do is what makes it so wonderful; we form in-jokes on a whim, find everything funny, take no offence and treat everything as a chance for a laugh. To be honest, at this point in the article, you should know deep down whether all this applies to you or not – whether at heart you are a Northerner.

To prove this and indeed all my points, I will now share a deeply personal anecdote. Once, whilst on my way back from a bar in Amsterdam, me and my friends were in Grand Centraal station, struggling. No trains were being listed on the screen, and so I stood waiting for a train with a frightened, slightly drunken mind and a breath still smelling of… I want to say Daniel?

 

Distraught we were, until, like an angel’s harmonies or those first few beats of the Cha Cha Slide, I heard a Northern accent. A diverse cluster of Geordie, Yorkshire and Boro women stood only meters away from me, and suddenly, I was saved. I walked up to them, after a few moments of ensuring they were all Northern (as only one Southerner could be enough to render a conversation hostile and unhelpful) and asked for information.

Sure enough, they had also been confused but had sought help and gotten it; the next train was the one I needed – we were safe at last. On the journey back, we had a simply lovely conversation, and I discovered all about an older Middlesbrough lady’s life and her plans to write an autobiography (the bulk of which she probably told to me on the journey).

The women there had been to an international dog show – something many women in Middlesbrough can enter with or without a pet. Had they been fully fledged cultural Southerners however, I know, and so do you, that their reception would have been unhelpful, to say the least. Maybe my friends and I would still be there now…

But I am here in London and not there – in that respect the South has won. I do not know entirely why I am here. Perhaps the lure of London has drawn me in with its fancy museums and book learning.

But not for a second will I abandon my identity, something which many Northerners tragically see as the price for integration here. The North will always hold a place deep within my heart, even when I am parted from it.

Never in my life, I pledge, will I roll my eyes at a three-minute waiting time for a train, something Northern Rail passengers can only dream of. Not once will I eat Caviar or fully understand what physalis is. And on my honour, blood and soul, I promise to always find The Chucklebrothers and pensioners falling over, hilarious.

Thank you, the North; you have been good to me, and I will strive to be good to you.

 


Meet Sam: I’m a (very much) aspiring writer from Teesside, North-East England, determined to bring my distinctive gay-man-stuck-in-an-old-woman’s-body, post-industrial, Northern voice to the South and beyond. Enjoys period dramas and the V&A Café. Keep up with him on IG.

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