Tuesday, January 08, 2008

In search of The North

There are any number of terrifying things to potentially encounter in life: notorious mass murderers strolling in the the streets; a pigeon scrambling about on the other side of a single-glazed skylight; groups of small children given permission to sing aloud in public. I could go on, but won't. And yet none of these is remotely as terrifying as something I've been forced to encounter on numerous occasions in my short, illustrious existence: people from the south who don't know where Middlesbrough is. Most upsetting.

These dim southern tosspots can be found with alarming regularity in our towns and cities - often propping up the bars in trendy, refurbished public houses with laminate flooring - cradling copies of the Daily Express and sporting smug, inane grins. It seems there is some form of bliss to be garnered from geographical ineptitude. Well, as Rage Against The Machine once said: "If ignorance is bliss, then knock the smile off my face."

When you tell someone from the south that you're originally from "near Middlesbrough", the initial reaction is usually for their retinas to cloud over and their attention to shift elsewhere in the room. In recent months, however, there has been a slight increase in vague recognition thanks to the so-called findings of the bourgeois television programme Location, Location, Location: "Oh, the worst place to live in Britain!" I suppose this can be considered some form of progress. It is at least slightly better than "is that Scotland?" (no, that's Midlothian) and "is it just outside London?" (no, that's Middlesex, MIDDLESEX!), both of which I've encountered. The worst one ever was: "Do you really consider yourself a northerner, then? It's somewhere in the middle isn't it? You know... Middle-sbrough" (no, no, no, nuggetfucking NO).

I'd suggest that the southern geographical awareness of those of us from the north is infinitely superior, mainly because that half of the country is forced down our throats by the London-based media, but also because we're generally less self-obsessed. I know where lots of inconsequential places in the south are: Weston-Super-Mare; Basingstoke; Tring; Diss. Again, I could go on, but won't as I consider this short list to be proof enough.

At the moment I'm reading Stuart Maconie's excellent 'Pies and Prejudice', which is all about the north and northern identity (see, I told you we're less self-obsessed). In it, he describes this same, peculiar southern mentality:

To many a south-based viewer... 'Up North' is a long way away. You wouldn't want to go there. It's a long trip, as in 'West Ham face a long trip to Hartlepool for the third-round tie'. Note it's never the other way round. It's OK too to be blithely approximate about northern geography. Some years ago, we northerners chortled when Des Lynam suavely announced on Final Score: 'Chesterfield 0, Chester 0. So no goals there in the local derby.'

Good work, Des. Good work.


Blogger Nabby Adams said...

If you REALLY want to find the True North, find a copy of 'The Idea of North' by Peter Davidson, published by Reaktion and available from Amazon.co.uk

It's wide-ranging, informative and extremely well written. Recommended.

October 05, 2008 7:21 pm  

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