Firstly, I should apologise for such a misleading title. It was a cheap trick to get you to click on the link. I don’t hate the North of England. Nor the North Pole. Nor walking in a northerly direction. What I hate (and I am aware hate is a strong word) is when people refer to anywhere north of London as “The North”.
I find this expression interesting. You see, when you are in “The North”, you never hear people refer to “The South”. People in “The North” use the names of places (at least, the people I know do). London. Brighton. Southampton. Even if they don’t reference cities, they are specific about what county they are referring to. Cornwall. Kent. Berkshire (although I don’t really know where that is).
You see, there is something in this generic expression for a huge chunk of the country that implies a certain bigotry. In my mind, it’s like saying somebody is African rather than Senegalese or Zambian. Just like Morocco is different from Malawi, Leeds is different from Liverpool, Lincoln, Lancaster, and Leicester (which, contrary to popular belief, doesn’t even count as “The North” in a "Northerner"’s books). I know we’re talking about geographies of largely differing areas, but it’s intriguing to me how people can be so consciously politically-correct when referring to another continent, yet are willing to sweep a vast expanse of the their own country under one non-specific phrase.
Of course, there are times when it’s appropriate to say “Africa”. Or “The North”. Recently, however, I have been aware of an appalling over-use of the phrase. Largely, this has been from my own boyfriend, but I am increasingly conscious of the number of people who show absolutely no grasp of the subtleties and differences within “The North” itself.
For example, how many of you knew that depending on where you come from in the North East, you are known as either a Geordie, Mackem, Smoggie, Sand-Dancer or a Monkey-Hanger? Certainly not one of my colleagues at school, who asks me every holiday if I am going home to Durham. For those of you that don’t know, I went to Durham University. But I am not from Durham. I am from Wetherby, which is a small market town in Yorkshire, getting on for 100 miles south of Durham. I have definitely told her this on numerous occasions. Thus, the assumption that I should return ‘home’ to my University town can only be suggestive of a few things. One possibility is that this colleague firmly believes that people in “The North” only go to Universities in their home town – they are not brave enough to venture any further afield. Alternatively, it might mean that she doesn’t know the name of any other Northern towns (in which case she would get bonus points for not using “The North”). Or perhaps she has heard that Durham is a nice place, unlike most of “The North”, and therefore it is more than likely that I would just go there and pretend it was my home for sh’iggles. Whichever it is, despite her well-wishing small-talk, it’s bloody rude.
Perhaps I am being over-sensitive, but it’s hard not to be a little emotionally hurt when people hold such an oversimplified and gloriously uninformed view of your home.
The emotional pain also comes when Boyfriend uses the phrase “The North” interchangeably with another of his favourite generalisations - “The Provinces”. “Provinces” is another interesting word. A quick flick through dictionary.com aligns it with words such as “territory”, “governed” and “under jurisdiction”, but the key idea is that it signifies areas “situated away from the capital or population centre”. Within all of these definitions is a suggestion that the capital, in our case London, is in some way superior to “The Provinces”. I know there are those of you reading this that probably believe this is true. So let me tell you why you’re wrong.
Certainly, London has many fantastic things that Leeds does not. The underground. Free museums. The Queen’s house. But, Leeds also has many fantastic things that London does not. Vacant parking spaces. Pubs where you can get a pint for £3. The Butterfly House at Tropical World.
Many of you will go on to suggest that all of the important business happens in London. The government? Fair enough. The banks? Fair enough. The flagship stores of our biggest shops? Fair enough. But who elects the government? And where are the call-centres, branches and the majority of banks’ customers situated (another perk of “The North” – you can actually speak to cashiers outside of London without having to wait three hours)? And how much money does a flagship store take versus all of its stores in “The North”? Yes, London is a concentrated area of business, but it’s easy to forget that much more exists elsewhere.
Which leads onto my next point. Size. So often, we’re conditioned to believe that biggest = best. In which case, the size of London surely secures its superiority. But the problem is, in bunching together “The North”, you’re actually creating a super-power much larger than the measly 8 million people who live in the capital. Yeah, you didn’t see that coming, did you?
But there’s still another argument I have to quash.
Boyfriend’s most frequent claim is that “London is just better!” What’s key here is that the word “better” is subjective. It is an opinion. Not a fact. So in claiming that your own home is “better” (rather than simply “different”) than another area of the country, you are being ever-so-slightly insensitive and more-than-slightly arrogant.
So next time any of you end up talking to a “Northerner” about “The North”, show them (and yourself) some respect. Nobody’s expecting you to visit Hull or anything, but you could at least educate yourself a little and spare us the generalised gags about flat-caps, ferrets and racing pigeons.
Oh, and the accents. Don’t EVER attempt our accents.