Good God. Have I turned into a Soft Southern Shite?
Nicky Doherty 1st February 2016.
I have been ‘Up North’ now for five days, and, as I reel between icy, gale force winds and the suffocating heat of my ageing parents’ house and childhood home, I think about what ‘home’ actually means. In particular, where is it?
I was chatting to a friend yesterday about why she would never move to London – something I myself stated quite vociferously many years ago.
Her reasons were understandable, and in general, justifiable. I have lived in ‘that there London’ for nearly fourteen years, but is my heart Down South now? Or is it still Up North? As we talked I felt a sudden urge to bust some myths and – get me – actually defend my Southerly ways.
Firstly, ‘The people are soooo unfriendly.’
I’ll give you this. When I come Up North, the people serving in shops and cafes and those coming in and out of the toilets in the Metro Centre are happy and polite. The bus driver says ‘ta-ra’ and I’m asked half a dozen times by three different people if everything is alright with my meal.
People Down South are grumpier, but I put this down to their relentlessly awful daily commute. By the time we get to work in the morning in London, we are not in the right frame of mind to be nice to people. And that is it. Driving is like swimming through tar, getting onto a bus or the tube is like an episode of Survival, and the journey thereafter a lesson in managing asphyxiation. Cycling is just downright stupid.
So feel pity, and send a little goodwill their way because, whilst I remember the annoyance of the Number 1 bus in Heaton during term time, it was nothing in comparison to the Northern Line between the hours of 7.00 a.m. and 9.30 a.m.
‘Aren’t you scared all the time? I wouldn’t feel safe.’
When people say this I get a Dickensian image in my head of London’s streets being full of muggers and prostitutes, murderers and gangs of kids with knives. Well, yes. You would be right. But this is contained in very specific places, as it is anywhere in the UK, and I see more bizzies out on the streets of London than I do anywhere else (read into that what you will…). Personally, I have experienced much more crime against myself, my home, my car and my possessions Up North than in 14 years Down South.
My friend stated the law of probability – that the more people there are, the more chance you have of getting punched in the face by a stranger. I thought about this, and actually, whilst London is indeed bursting at the seams, it is this that makes me feel safe, even if, statistically, I’m not. Only a few years ago I waited on Tynemouth Metro station for a train at about 10.30 at night, and not a single other soul was on the platform. That made me feel vulnerable. There is safety in numbers.
‘It’s just so BIG!’
Yup. London is about as big as it gets. My pal lives in a beautiful village in Northumberland with a population of around 3000. She likes the ‘community feel’. But actually, London is very good at fostering community. In fact, it is highly territorial. My other half is from East London. He doesn’t like West London. North London is a wasteland of aliens, and God forbid he should have to go south of the river. But unlike Up North, London’s communities are changing rapidly. They’re becoming shockingly middle class.
In The Prodigal, Lee comes across a couple of rough women with dirty kids in their battered buggies, Greggs sausage rolls squished between the toddlers’ fingers. I see this regularly in East London. The women (or their beardy men) push their unkempt kids in ‘upcycled’ buggies, dirty because being too clean isn’t good for their immune systems, washing clothes too often is bad for the environment, and hair should be allowed to grow as nature intended. That said, the kids tend to be squishing an organic banana between their fingers rather than a savoury lump of fat. Gentrification is turning London into a whole series of ‘Villages’.
As cynical as I am about what’s happening to London’s working classes, this village feel makes me feel right at home. I go to the same, familiar pubs and restaurants, my friends are generally local, and I know the postman to say hello to. In a way, I feel lucky to have two homes. They may feel like worlds apart, but I’ve got the best of both of those worlds. I have to be honest, however. My heart is still in the North and probably always will be, even though it will be residing for some time yet in the bosom of the Big City.
There are many things I miss about being Up North, but there are things I miss about London when I’m not there too. I can securely say, that one thing I don’t miss about being up North is the cold. Right now, I think the roof of my mother’s house is going to blow off and I don’t actually want to go outside, it’s that cold. Things I do miss most about Up North are really quite simple:
- The coast.
- The fresh air.
- Chips and gravy.
Not necessarily in that order.