View from up north

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When driving down the M1, we’re known just as ‘THE NORTH’: a definition of a different part of the country, a different place entirely and somewhere where we say ‘bath’ and ‘scone’ just a bit differently. But after spending eight weeks in Oxford, having left the equally culturally sophisticated Manchester, I’m forced to take a perspective on my new-fangled southernness. What makes me a northerner? What makes you a southerner? Are we really that different?

My friends gave me one warning before I came up to Oxford: ‘don’t become a southern fairy’. When I’m living up north my accent is apparently posh, whereas in Oxford I’m told that I sound ‘well northern’. Should I ever want to lose my northern accent? Does being branded a northerner make me any different to anyone else here? I mean, we’re an obvious minority, but are we any different to you southerners?

I mean sure, you guys might drink wine by the glass,  whereas the typical drink up north is the cheapest cider you can find. Pennying down here, we call ‘saving the queen’. We all have our fair share of lovely accents, senses of humour and  ‘interesting’ people  (Geordie Shore and The Only Way is Essex highlight these awkward social stereotypes). But then whilst we do have more rain up north, we’re also the home of Greggs (the bus journey to nearest branch in Abingdon gets more tempting as each week passes).

Of course these are stereotypes at their worse. Most southerners aren’t posh, stuck-up types and, of course, most people from the ‘bleak north’ aren’t completely unsophisticated and uneducated.

At this point some readers may note the emphasis on the word: ‘most’. There are of course differences between us, but my time in Oxford has proven that these aren’t as huge as first thought. I don’t think I’ve yet to meet anyone who’s treated me differently because I’m a northerner. Everyone has been hugely friendly and welcome, and although I have met people who don’t know who Peter Kay is (how this is the case, I don’t know), most people haven’t responded to me as a member of some kind of alien race. Perhaps the whole ‘north/south divide‘ doesn’t really exist, but is just a perpetuation of stereotypes.

I certainly don’t feel like I’m turning southern. I still miss certain accents, senses of humour and possibly even the rain. The water you have down here tastes funny and I’m pretty sure that cafés charge around 547 times more down south than in the north. But I’m a medic, so you still have 6 years to convert me into a southern fairy. Perhaps you’ll convert this northern lad into a proper southerner by the end of my time here.

I know that as I go back home for Christmas, I’ll return to my friends highlighting to what degree I’ve become a southern fairy. I kind of hope that they don’t think I’ve changed all that much. I hope that I’m still the normal guy they all know. I do wonder whether, eventually during my time down south, I’ll change for the good, or for the bad. Perhaps over the next year I’ll find out, but all I know is that in a few days I’ll leave the Oxford southern bubble for a while, to return in January as a renewed northerner, and for the process of becoming a southern fairy to begin again.

Mark Johnson