I’ve spent most of my life denying that I’m a professional northerner. It sounds too chippy. But it’s not that there isn’t plenty to be chippy about. Recently I was reading Max Hastings claiming that London was just so obviously the cultural centre of Britain. Another day it’s Quentin Letts mocking some politician’s northern accent. I know, I shouldn’t read my wife’s Daily Mail.
She’s a Londoner, along with my children, so they won’t sympathise, although the kids have showed some atavistic loyalty by supporting Bolton Wanderers. London is 250 miles from where I was born and back then only business people and football fans made the trip, it was too far for everybody else.
My county of Lancashire has produced the best comedy and rock music of the last century, and with the Yorkies some of the best novelists. Who couldn’t prefer Peter Kay’s observational humour, or Lee Mack’s stand-up, to the facile, middle-class, patronising tittering on something like the News Quiz? On over half the occasions both in history and since the war, the top English football division has been won by a Lancashire side. Over the hill, the Yorkies win the cricket championship most often, and us Lankies the one-day stuff. About a third of the English population have a full-on Northern accent with the short a being preferred by more, perhaps making it more the norm than the southern alternative. A recent survey showed that Yorkshire women were assessed as sounding the most intelligent in the UK, with those with that dreadful term, ‘received pronunciation’, in second place. I won’t take offence in future when I’m asked in the south if I’m from Yorkshire!
A big difference between north and south is in the way we view our cities. For us, Manchester is in Lancashire, Leeds and Sheffield in Yorkshire. Liverpool may be a slight exception to this, but the scouser too is proud of his north-west heritage and friends from there were as chuffed as I was a few years back when, playing out of Aigburth, Lancashire won the county championship. Our towns are too big and too numerous to be satellites. Bolton will never be part of Manchester, nor Southport Liverpool, despite Edward Heath’s crass local government reorganisation.
I don’t mind Cheshire MP George Osborne’s attempt at a northern powerhouse, I think it’s well-intended. But not that long ago, the historic counties of Lancashire and Yorkshire were of equivalent size and weight to London. People in these towns, and the surrounding villages, have either a manufacturing or a farming culture so Financial Services are not thought to be a public good; they don’t go out of the gatehouse in a lorry.
And here I don’t knock the Londoner. They have a different style but once through the reserve are good with outsiders. Some of them even have an embryo sense of humour. We are one people, we just don’t have the same centre.
John Uttley, 69, was born in Lancashire although he now lives just outside London. Where’s Sailor Jack is his first novel. Not fancying a memoir, or his family’s story, John instead recorded his Lancastrian sense of humour as well as documenting a tumultuous, exciting period of British history. History John just happened to live through. John had a successful career in the electricity industry, being there for the start of the National Grid Company, the Miners’ Strikes and the Sizewell Inquiry. He recently studied for an external Divinity degree.
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