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Donkin's World: Being Southern

...The rudeness of southerners has to be experienced to be believed. They have no trouble blanking you if you say ďhelloĒ when passing them in the street, even if you say it again, loudly and more aggressively, waving in their face the £10 note they have dropped....

And now Yorkshire-born Richard Donkin finds that he is turning into a southerner.

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I canít remember when it was or how it happened, but one morning some time ago I awoke as a southerner. Even then, I didnít know it. The awareness has been gradual and a little bit disturbing.

The conversion must have begun on the daily commute. A few years ago everyone hid behind their newspaper. That was their wall, erected to keep the rest of humanity at bay. Now Iíve noticed they hide within their electronic devices: mobile phones, i-Pads, i-Phones, Blackberries. 3G has been a Godsend to southerners, enabling them to communicate the words ďIím on the trainĒ to their loved ones in oh so many ways, even via Linked-in if they so choose.

It really is hiding because these devices do not command exclusive attention. No, the southerner is always alert for danger: the danger, for example, of someone sitting next to them on the train (fellow humans are held at bay by coats and bags left strategically on the vacant seat). Other southerners understand this coded behaviour and will do anything they can to find their own empty double seat and sometimes even stand rather than disturb the heavily defended seat.

There must be a bit of me thatís forever northern, since, if there is no alternative double seat I like to seek out the heavily defended seat and force its occupant to move the dumped accouterments to the overhead rack. But this northernness is swiftly suppressed. Once seated I do not speak.

The only time I have seen train-based southerners communing in recent months was in a discussion between three of them who had i-Pads, one of whom was a new user. The other two took great delight in showing off their skills to ensure that their fellow southerner was capable of maintaining his insularity, i.e. southernness. Being a southerner without an i-Pad, and, therefore, possibly poor (another race entirely to the southern middle class), I was not invited to speak. A true northerner would have chipped in anyway, something about it being warm for this time of year, but I hid behind a newspaper while remaining alert to every word spoken. Such behaviour reminds me how I have changed.

The rudeness of southerners has to be experienced to be believed. They have no trouble blanking you if you say ďhelloĒ when passing them in the street, even if you say it again, loudly and more aggressively, waving in their face the £10 note they have dropped.

When serving you in a shop, the southerner will look sideways, downwards, anywhere but directly at you, the customer. The message is quite clear: you are nothing, merely the piece of humanity attached to the rectangular piece of plastic which is the only thing that means anything to the southern shop assistant.

Southerners avoid displays of individuality if they can. They prefer to be part of the crowd. Itís a survival behaviour. They know that if they stand out in the workplace they may get fired. They also know, instinctively, that the best way to get promoted is not to rock the boat.

The worrying thing is that as an exiled northerner who has spent almost half my lifetime in this alien land, I retain a somewhat dated image of northerners as chatty, cheerful people, always ready with a smile and a cup of tea. But southernness is catching. Like a virus it has spread northwards in to offices and railway carriages, particularly among the young where everyone speaks like a metrosexual Jason Manford http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xc9exCMD_cQ and laugh themselves silly at southern comedian Michael McIntyre http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Es2l4yUBY6M who has, to his credit, performed the impossible in showing southerners how to laugh at themselves.

Friends sometimes ask me if Iíll ever go back north to live. But itís too late. I find myself in a social limbo, too southern to stand at a bar and chat about pies, too northern to understand the etiquette on escalators (that last bit isnít true; youíre dead if you donít learn to stand on the right pdq). Thereís only one solution: turn into Adrian Chiles. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pELOsg65piI


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