Hills of the North
I never say I’m British, or even English, instead I tend to say ‘I’m Northern’. I use this as an excuse for pretty much any kind of behaviour; overenthusiasm, cheeriness, loud laughter, ranting. My love of rainstorms and general bad weather and my selection of a raincoat as garb of choice is also due to my geographical upbringing. We did not have cagoules as such, when I was growing up (psst, it was in the 70s!) we were equipped with raincoats, or the slightly smarter, Mackintosh. You might also have a trench coat, but that generally was used by grandfathers when they were actually digging trenches, on battlefields and then later, on urban council allotments. Cagoules are, as any fool knows, a Welsh invention. I have it from the dragon’s mouth; my husband is Welsh and therefore has waterproofed seams. If ‘cagoule’ is truly Welsh then it ought to be spelt with at least one ‘w’. My estimate at the correct spelling in Welsh would be ‘cygwyll’ and it means, roughly, ‘my banner against the wild wind’. When you are a hardy Northern type there is an advantage in being married to someone who is Welsh and that is that they will share your love of weatherbeaten castles and thunderstorm picnics. Sunshine? Pah. It’s for Southern softies.
No one would challenge the fact that my husband is Welsh. He’s got the accent down and he frequently wears the rugby shirt. I think I have a Northern type accent, it is not your broad brogue used by fishwives and costermongers on rainy Wednesdays in Burnley but it has squashed its vowels flat as anything. I surf t’internet. In recent times, however, my general Northern qualifications have been brought into question by my son. My accent is no proof at all of my heritage. ‘You are the most Southern person I know.’ he smirks. He has, I am afraid to say, a rather Southern perspective of all things ‘Northern’. I don’t, for instance, wear a tweed cap, say ‘eebygum’ or possess a whippet. Or a loft of pigeons. No, he argues, his reasoning is more scientific than that and is based on the methodology that I have now lived in the South for longer than I lived in the North. Therefore, says the scientific offspring, my essential Northernness has been eradicated. I have, if you will, been assimilated. He is just about to go out, pulling on his outfit of choice. It took me ages to sew all those pearly buttons onto his interview suit.
You can take me out of the North but, you can never take the North out of me. I believe the North is a friendlier place filled with warm people who will ask you the time at a bus queue and then fall into a lengthy conversation about, oh, I don’t know, space travel or fruitcake. I visited my dad recently and was taken aback at the warmth of everyone I crossed from the girl on the cheese counter in Katsouri’s in Bury market, to the man on the till at the Pendle Heritage Museum. I had grown unused to the interaction. People do not talk to you in the same way in the South West. In my new neck of the woods people are, well, ‘friendly enough’ would be the phrase I would use. They are more reserved and less willing to communicate. You can chat to a shop assistant and after a few moments they will press the panic button, which is fine, because then you can chat to the lovely security guard on your way out. My take on this is that in the South West the Vikings never had a stronghold. They were held at bay by King Alfred and therefore, the genetic memory of the South Westerner is to hold strangers at arms’ length in case they’ve come to invade.
Northern, and The North are on the political agenda at the moment. We were long forgotten and basically allowed to run wild but enough of that. The bods in Parliament now see fit to take a gander in our direction to see if there is any political mileage to be had.
Good luck is all I can say. Take this Northern Powerhouse mullarkey for a start. It might shock people to know but The North has always been a powerhouse, driven largely by steam engines and the rise of the factory chimney. We were weaving and firing up kilns when our Southern ‘cousins’ shall we call them, were chiselling Stonehenge from the edge of Wales.
What makes someone ‘Northern’ then? There is the idea of your physical geography of course, but then, I’m sure there are people who began life in ‘The South’ and then moved To t’ North. If an archaeologist files a bit off your tooth they can send it off to a lab and tell you exactly who you are and where you are from. This physical geography hasn’t got any borders. There are people in Shetland who, unsurprisingly, are basically Viking. Traces of our living landscape seep deep into us and stay there. Our journey is in our bones.
That’s why I’m still Northern. I grew up under the heavy grey skies bulging with rain, and the minerals from the land washed into me. My ancestors were Irish and Viking and Scottish and Romany. They were ostlers and hustlers. Where I live now in the Wild South West, is beautiful and I love the landscape and I imagine that some of the chalk is dusting my soul, but it is only dust, a light covering, something I can wipe off to reveal the loam beneath, the bones made of grit and the burning desire to invite you in, whoever you are, wild stranger, and ply you with tea.