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This book provides a light hearted look at the North/South divide from the point of view of a proud northerner, Judith Holder (author of Grumpy Old Women) and featuring many contributions from other proud northerners, along with a few 'southern wusses.' It's not to be taken too seriously, but as someone who was born and bred 'up north', but has spent a lot of time living 'down south' and is married to a southerner, I did find it amusing and well observed. The book explores the stereotypes that have made the north the butt of many jokes and which, like all stereotypes, have a kernel of truth to them. I enjoyed the style of this book. It doesn't pretend to be an objective account of the differences between north and south but it avoids reading like a bigoted rant or plunging into over-sentimentality. There are some good humoured digs at all those people who think that Britain revolves around "that stupid oversized grid-locked roundabout called the M25" and it does feel like a chance for northerners to get their own back and poke fun at southerners for their air of superiority. However, this is never done in a cruel way. That said, I cannot imagine this book would appeal much to southerners. Northerners, on the other hand, will read it with a sense of fondness. Judith Holder makes us laugh at our northern traits, but also instils us with pride.
Where exactly does the north start? Are northern people really friendlier than their southern counterparts? How do northern women manage to dress so scantily in extreme weather conditions? How does the weather really differ from north to south? All these and many more subjects are discussed in a tongue-in-cheek style. Judith Holder attempts to rebut the cruel proverb, "Yorkshire born and Yorkshire bred, strong in the arm but weak in the head" by listing a roll call of great inventors, writers and artists who have hailed from the north, to prove that northerners have brains as well as brawn. She also sets out to show that there is far more to the north than whippets, flat caps, racing pigeons and disused factories. She tells us that there is as much designer gear to be found in Knutsford as in Knightsbridge, "albeit in larger sizes" and insists that every northern town and city has its collection of smart restaurants, bookshops and million pound houses, although she adds the proviso - "ok, well not Cleethorpes, perhaps."
The chapter on regional accents was of particular interest to me, showing how accents have changed in radio and television since the 1950s and 1960s. I have to disagree with the author's statement that the media is still dominated by "southern clipped English" though. This book was first published in 2005, so perhaps things have progressed since then, but I'm certainly aware of many presenters with regional accents these days. There were some amusing references to people who try to 'poshen up' their accents, which reminded me of how my mum always had a ridiculous telephone voice in the 1970s, when she tried (without success) to hide her flat northern vowels. There are some extracts from 'Lern Yerself Scouse' and 'Lern Yerself Geordie' which made me laugh and references to quirky northern words and phrases which I am very familiar with, such as going down the 'ginnel.' I do wish I had a pound for every time I've had to explain to a southerner what a ginnel is.
Amongst the humour there is some more serious food for thought. The author ponders why everything has to be so London-centric, pointing out that not only is all the major investment, business and decision making concentrated in the south but many of the best museums and sporting venues too. "And if that wasn't enough, London will even have the blooming Olympics too, right there on their not-very-well-scrubbed doorstep." Holder makes the point that, whilst you would expect the capital city to be dominant, London holds on to a vast amount of the nation's resources and wealth with many so-called 'national' institutions being based there. Shouldn't we be promoting our other towns and cities a bit more?
There is a chapter about eating habits, which I enjoyed reading, particularly the section about 'supper', which means something different up north to down south. In this part of the book we discover the truth about lard, pies and tripe. We find out whether it is true that the fattest people live in the north and whether northern chips really are the best chips in the world. There is a fabulous quote from Jenny Éclair which sums up my thoughts entirely:
"The northern chip is a big chip, it's the kind of chip that if you drop one you've actually lost something. If you drop a southern chip what have you lost? You've lost a tiny little thing, what's the big deal? A big northern chip lands on the floor, you can hear it and I like that in a chip."
I would recommend this book to anyone who is proud of their northern roots, particularly those forced to live as 'ex pats' down south or those in northern/southern marriages where affectionate mickey taking forms an integral part of the relationship. Some people, southerners in particularly, might find this book too arrogant with an irritating element of reversed snobbery. However, anyone who is interested in how culture, identity and values vary from region to region might get something out of this too. The hardcover version is available from Amazon sellers from £1.05 plus post and packaging.
North of Watford (and west of Reading, for that matter) there exists a part of the country that rarely gets a look-in from our London-centric national media. Three-quarters of the country, in fact. And yet its London, London, London all they ever hear is London! Well, London and the South. The royals, the Olympic bid, film premieres, overcrowding at Heathrow, union problems on the Underground, something provocative at the Tate Modern, Congestion Charging, and Bridget bloody Jones. Surely theres a balance to be redressed here? A light-hearted and humorous look at what its really like outside the M25, Its (not) Grim Up North will be an education of sorts, divided into sections easy for Southerners to digest: Food, Weather, Culture and Money. Did you know its warmer in the Tyne Valley than in the Thames Valley? No? Typical! The author, like rest the series contributors, is from the North, and shes got a thing or two to say about life in the Provinces.