As I left my home in Manchester and headed down to the big smoke, I almost expected the north-south divide to be a physical barrier halfway down the M1 where the temperature gets warmer and the people get colder.
However, since arriving at uni this phenomenon hasn’t really materialised on the scale I expected. In saying this, though, there have been some very noticeable discoveries. The original and most obvious divide is the classic accent debate – its week 4 and we still argue about the correct pronunciation of ‘bath’ (it doesn’t have an ‘r’ in it). Whilst I find it infuriating, I don’t have it too bad – my accent is comfortably northern without being one of those that leaves southerners needing subtitles.
My friend Elsa, on the other hand, is from Leeds and trust me – you know about it. She has the most fabulously thick Yorkshire accent which, whilst being a great source of comfort to me, does incur some mockery from our southern friends. Its rare if she gets through a sentence without someone trying to imitate her as accurately as possible, which naturally begins a mass competition to see who can ‘do Leeds’ the best. Those same friends take great pleasure in reminding us on a daily basis that we come from a ‘shithole’.
I offered up my house in Manchester for a trip over Christmas and one asked if they’d need a passport, the other one told me they didn’t travel above Birmingham.
There’s a culture shift that had Elsa and I puzzling over a cuppa in week 1, and its that age-old stereotype about Northerners being friendlier than Southerners. I’d dismissed this as a sort of urban myth, and then I tried smiling at people in the street. People looked at me as if i’d just shat on my hand and presented it to them.
It was incredible how weirded out they were by what I consider basic, universal niceness. There’s rarely a ‘thank you’ when I hold the door, or a ‘sorry’ when they charge into me on a corridor. Essentially, there’s a distinct lack of human kindness down here. Occasionally I get a smile back, or a thank you, and genuinely, it makes my day. Either they’re a reformed southerner who have realised the error of their cold and bitter ways, or they’re just another lone Northerner in disguise.
There’s a lot of fundamental northern staples which simply don’t exist here. I’ve seen one single Gregg’s in the last month, it was worryingly glamorous and shiny. Like those branches of McDonald’s which cover themselves in arty wooden cladding and sacrifice the brash yellow logos in favour of a minimalist earthy colour palate, it was one of those Gregg’s that is kind of reluctant to accept that it’ll never be artisan. It was a Gregg’s in denial. It also didn’t sell pasties, which means it isn’t real.
I’m not used to being outside a 10 metre radius of a Gregg’s, and quite honestly, I miss it. I’ve missed seeing their bizarre selection of googly-eyed Halloween biscuits peering out at me from the window display, and I’ve missed the potent scent of their worryingly oily yet completely addictive cheese and onion pasties. And it isn’t just Gregg’s, cheese pies and chips and gravy are simply unheard of.
Maybe its a Manchester thing, but i’ve also noticed a distinct lack of northern tunes down here. So far, no-ones brought Joy Division to the table, and there’s been a gaping whole where The Stone Roses and Oasis should be. I’ve tried to overcompensate by blasting out the Smiths for several hours each day but it gets to the point where Morrissey is singing me into a bleak and self-reflective pit of poetic misery, so there’s only so much I can do.
My real sympathy goes out to the Midlands – this whole north-south divide has given my midlander friend a borderline identity-crisis. Where does she fit in in this bitterly divided nation?
What even is the Midlands? In all honesty, I had to google it for the purpose of this article. I still don’t get it.