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Confessions of a Northerner

The North has an image problem. I love meeting new people because inevitably at some point I will have to tell them I’m from Bradford, at which point, people delve into their attic of facial expressions and dust off the one reserved for the relatives of recent car crash victims. A mix of pity, mingled with a ‘thank-fuck-that-didn’t-happen-to-me’ sentiment. This is a widely held belief. In a recent comprehensive national survey I undertook myself: When given the choices between, (A) Waking up to find yourself in Angola, (B) Being within a five mile radius of Bradford and (C) being newly employed as Satan’s toilet cleaner, Bradford came a resounding third.

The weather does little to help. The only reason Bradford has hotels is so it can house the large number of fact finding missions for black and white printers, who go to Bradford to stare at the clouds and the concrete to make sure their pantone scales contain every conceivable shade of grey. However, the North has a bigger problem. It is this: It is not actually that bad. Some places, like Brixton, or the West Side of Baltimore (yes – I’ve just started watching The Wire), have a reputation for being bad-ass, and some people are attracted to it, presumably on the perplexing grounds that they might get killed at any moment (before the angry emails come, I appreciate that it isn’t always a choice to live in these places, and that socio-economic circumstances may force you to live in these, or indeed any other places – see how marketing executives are forced by circumstance to live almost exclusively in leafy suburbs). The North however, is rubbish at being rubbish. No longer do we all slave in mills, no more is the beer seasoned with gravel, though admittedly, we can’t do much about the weather. It’s actually quite a nice place to be, or at the very least, no more grim than anywhere else.  As Exhibit A in what, for lack of a better name, I shall call, The Campaign for The Resurrection of The North, I present the Canal  System. Canals have had a pretty bad press over the years. A failed technology that was never cool, even in it’s heydey. Not like steam engines – kids have never grown up wanting to be canal boat pilots, or the woman who makes the sandwiches on a barge. Grown men have been known to cry at the sight of a wooden galleon docking alongside modern cruise ships, but I’ve never heard anyone say they miss the days of leading the mule along the tow-path as it hauled a barge load of coal from Newcastle to Manchester.

Canals have a reputation for being dirty as well. Not for nothing do the early scenes of The Full Monty see the protagonists standing on top of a car in a canal, and when what passes for a criminal underworld up here had a body to dispose, they put it in the canal. Sleeping with the fish, if you will, except there were no fish, them having been killed off by arsenic poisoning.

In a roundabout way here, I’m getting to the point of this entry, I’ve spent a good part of the past few years walking along canals, and the one thing that has stuck out to me is that they’re actually quite enjoyably places to be. They’ve been cleaned, invested in, and there’s no-one on them that’s not there in some sort of leisure capacity, whether it’s the tow-path cyclists, the tourists on the boats, or the inhabitants of the barges who actually live there (for who I still can’t see the attraction,) In the last decade or so, councils have actually got their act together, and actually spent some money in places people might appreciate it. That’s not to say the region’s perfect, you only have to look at the road quality in Sheffield centre to remember it’s not one of the poorest regions in Europe for nothing. But by and large, The North is an alright place to be. So to the next ill-informed ‘poo-pooer’ of Bradford,  no longer will I use Leeds as a well learnt cover up, I shall stand up and proudly declare, ‘Am frem Bratferd ‘n’ proud!’

Samantha McLean

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7 Responses

  1. ok…i am probably going to sound like a right dick in saying this..but i am from newcastle and wouldn’t class bradford as being in the north. In fact I get pissed off when Manchester and Liverpool get brandished as being in the North…hell Liverpool and Manchester are closer to the Midlands than Scotland. I see the north as being us up in Newcastle…just because it is further north than London, doesnt mean to say that everyone is from the north. i don’t mean any offence to anyone, thats justa typical geordie view (a geordie for those who don’t know are people from newcastle)

  2. I know what alex means, being from Scotland, its funny to hear things below you being described as ‘north’. However I guess in the scale of Britain it is more north. My family are also from Newcastle and feel they are ‘real northerners’. But to me they are from the south! I guess its all relative

  3. I was reffering to the North of England, and mainly because if anybody from the south hears my accent they immediately fling me into the ‘northern monkey’ bracket. Whilst backpacking this became most evident. The banter between ‘Southern Fairies’ and ‘Northern Monkeys’ was immense. My blog was written on more of a sarcastic, tongue in cheek platform than I think it has been received. Sorry to any geordies who feel wronged by my blase approach to geography!! tee hee

  4. Dear Alex,
    Although I understand that living in Newcastle is further North than say Manchester and Liverpool, the BBC does class them as being in the North, the North West in fact so hopefully that won’t ‘piss you off’ as much.

    Dear Sam,
    I really loved the article, I think a lot of people will be able to relate to it. Coming from Blackpool, don’t worry Alex-I’m from the North West, I get one of two reactions coming from two kinds of different people-those who have been and those who haven’t.
    People who haven’t had the pleasure of spending time in my seaside town are usually bright eyed and bushy tailed thinking that I can afford to go up the tower or to the Pleasure Beach on a weekly basis, whereas those who have visited, usually on an alcohol fuelled binge, will see that although Blackpool has weird and wonderful characteristics it is unfortunately a small town struggling to hold onto the past.

    Joy
    x

  5. Manchester etc are definitely in the ‘North’. I guess it does depend on where you are- people in Scotland might look on Newcastle as being ‘Southern’. Depends on which way you’re looking!

    I liked the article Sam- and it is not all grim up North!

  6. I’m stumped at the controversy this blog has provoked.
    :-O
    I too loved the article Sam. I thought it was wittily written. xx

  7. I didn’t mean to sound offended sorry guys! Just stating the point of view as it is, admittedly in a slightly blunt fashion. That’s the Beeb for you…based in London so they pile everyone else together. Why does everyone have to be branded anyway and tarred with the same brush, people and places should be judged by individuals on the individuals own merits.

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