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About A Week: One England, Or Two?

Northerner Peter Hinchliffe muses on England’s great divide.

OhMyNews reporter Dona Gibbs offered me a piece of advice last week.

Her journalistic eye spotted a mistake in one of my stories in the daily on-line newspaper. Dona also writes the After Work column for Open Writing.

I was deploring the environment-damaging folly of importing bottled water into a country where tap water is pure and palatable, pointing out that Claridge’s offers water from countries around the world, some of it priced at nearly $100 a litre.

And I said that Claridge’s is an up-market department store.

Idiot me!

Dona, a United States citizen, currently living in Florida, sent an e-mail reminding me that Claridge’s is an hotel. Not just any hotel. It is one of London’s foremost hotels.

“You really must get down to London more often, Peter,’’ was Dona’s friendly suggestion.

I had confused Claridge’s with Selfridges, which is indeed an up-market department store. The confusion arises out of a northerner’s ambivalent attitude to his country’s capital city, and its institutions. My Yorkshire upbringing taught me to be suspicious of London, and all things southern.

A story in last Sunday’s edition of The Observer newspaper confirmed that I am not alone in my ancient “tribal’’ instincts. It announced that millions of Britons have never crossed the north-south divide.

Around five million southerners (15 per cent) have never visited the north. Some 2.3 million northerners (10 per cent) have never visited the south.

Two thirds of all southerners thought the north was “bleak’’. The very word “north’’ makes them think of mining villages and fish and chip shops. Fewer than one in twenty of them have ever been to Leeds or Newcastle.

One in two of all northerners regard southerners as arrogant, snobbish and unfriendly.

The survey was carried out for the hotel chain Travelodge.

Richard Sharpley, professor of tourism at the University of Central Lancashire said, “Although the findings in the research are very broad generalisations of regional stereotypes these distinctions, whether factual or perceptual, do exist.’’

Of course there is no official north-south dividing line in England. An argument as to where even an imaginary line should be drawn could go on for a month.

To people from other lands it may seem incredible that such divisions could exist in a country less than half the size in area of the US state of Arizona. I live around 150 miles from London, but I rarely go there.

I was brought up to believe that the “the south’’ began when you passed Doncaster, the last Yorkshire town on the rail line to the capital. But then a southerner would probably see me as an archetypal northerner: raised in a mining village, living opposite a fish and chip shop. Leeds is still my nearest big city, and I worked in Newcastle for five years.

Of course there are major genuine differences between the north and south of England. Wages in the southeast are much higher than those in the north. Those working in public service – teachers, policemen, etc. – receive a London “weighting’’ in their pay.

House prices in the London area are, in many cases, at least double what they would be for an equivalent house in the north. A friend of mine sold a fashionable mews house in Chelsea some five years ago. “We’d call it a terrace house in Yorkshire,’’ he told me. “A two-up and two-down.’’ It went for around $2,400,000.

Of course to some Britons the idea that Yorkshire is in the north would seem laughable – particularly so to five million Scots.

One of Scotland’s most famous sons, Hollywood star Sean Connery, said at the weekend that he thought his homeland would achieve independence within his own lifetime.

Connery, otherwise known as James Bond, is 77.

Writing in the Scottish Sunday Express he said that Scotland is “within touching distance’’ of achieving home rule.

Scotland was granted the right to have a separate parliament in 1997. The Scottish National Party now holds power in that parliament, controlling its own budget.

The Scots are a proud people, yet many recognise the economic benefits of being part of a United Kingdom, and it is questionable whether the majority would vote for independence.

The recognition of England’s north-south divide is not new. Novelist Elizabeth Gaskell published her classic novel North and South in 1855. The major theme of the book contrasted the harsh life in the industrial north and the more comfortable life in the “soft’’ south.

My own northerness is based on a love of my county, Yorkshire, rather than on anti-southern feelings. The county’s on-line magazine Ayup! declares, “We’re England’s answer to Texas – big, bold and beautiful’’

Yorkshire even has its own anthem, which reflects the dry sense of humour in these parts. It concerns a chap who went walking on Ilkley Moor while not wearing a hat, and in so doing risked catching his death of cold. Many of the county’s dialect words come down to us from the Viking invaders who arrived some 1,300 years ago.

Wheear 'as tha binn since ah saw thee?
On Ilkla Moor baht 'at
Wheear 'as tha bin since ah saw thee?
Wheear 'as tha bin since ah saw thee?
On Ilkla Moor baht 'at,
On Ilkla Moor baht 'at,
On Ilkla Moor baht 'at.

Tha's bin a coortin' Mary Jane
On Ilkla Moor baht 'at
Tha's bin a coortin' Mary Jane
Tha's bin a coortin' Mary Jane
On Ilkla Moor baht 'at
On Ilkla Moor baht 'at
On Ilkla Moor baht 'at

Tha's bahn t' catch thi death o' cowd
On Ilkla Moor baht 'at
Tha's bahn t' catch thi death o' cowd
Tha's bahn t' catch thi death o' cowd
On Ilkla Moor baht 'at
On Ilkla Moor baht 'at
On Ilkla Moor baht 'at

Then we shall ha' to bury thee
On Ilkla Moor baht 'at
Then we shall ha' to bury thee
Then we shall ha' to bury thee
On Ilkla Moor baht 'at
On Ilkla Moor baht 'at
On Ilkla Moor baht 'at

Then t' worms 'll cum an' eat thee up
On Ilkla Moor baht 'at
Then t' worms 'll cum an' eat thee up
Then t' worms 'll cum an' eat thee up
On Ilkla Moor baht 'at
On Ilkla Moor baht 'at
On Ilkla Moor baht 'at

Then t' ducks 'll come an' eat up t' worms
On Ilkla Moor baht 'at
Then t' ducks 'll come an' eat up t' worms
Then t' ducks 'll come an' eat up t' worms
On Ilkla Moor baht 'at
On Ilkla Moor baht 'at
On Ilkla Moor baht 'at

Then we shall come an' eat them ducks
On Ilkla Moor baht 'at
Then we shall come an' eat them ducks
Then we shall come an' eat them ducks
On Ilkla Moor baht 'at
On Ilkla Moor baht 'at
On Ilkla Moor baht 'at

Then we shall all 'av etten thee
On Ilkla Moor baht 'at
Then we shall all 'av etten thee
Then we shall all 'av etten thee
On Ilkla Moor baht 'at
On Ilkla Moor baht 'at
On Ilkla Moor baht 'at

Pride in one’s own town, county and region is no bad thing – provided it does not tip over into enmity of those unlucky enough not to live in your area.

I’ve just been browsing through a bulky guide to city holiday breaks in Europe. Amsterdam, Paris, Berlin. Rome, Barcelona, Madrid…

You know, I think I’ll follow Dona Gibbs’s advice. London really is rather a nice city. I think I’ll spend a few days there.

Though I won’t be popping into Selfridges for a glass of water.

Sorry, sorry!

Claridges.

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