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Stuart Maconie (one half of the nations greatest broadcasting duo) travels back up to the North of England to revisit his old stamping grounds, visit some legendary sites and experiences an England rarely seen on screen. The North eh? All flat caps, penny pinching Yorkshiremen and driving rain? Poverty, riots, stikes and misery? Not so, says Stuart, who ought to know having visited and explored at length. He travels through Liverpool, Manchester, Oldham and a plethora of other places; always eager to see beyond the cliche. Stuart Maconie's writings are never less than entertaining, be it one of his own books, articles in magazines such as The Word or even the Daily Mirror where he popped up the other day. He is a keen student of popular music (ex NME hack don't you know...) and never misses the opportunity to drop in a pop fact. Or for that matter to ingest whatever local delicacy is available at the time. I enjoyed this immensely and can't wait for the follow up - about the Midlands I believe.
This book is a witty tour of the north. You will find yourself laughing out loud as you turn each page, even if you hail from the South of England. Maconie writes so well as he takes you on a tour of the North (And London) explaining the history of the people, the lives they lead and why the North really is an amazing place. Maconie unsurprisingly writes a lot about the North West, the area of the country he hails from. However he does also cover most areas of the North. As he goes further north however you get the impression he is struggling to write about these areas as he doesn't know them as well. There are also large areas that should have had more wrote about them, or were omitted completely. In every chapter though there were things I never knew. I learned so much from this book, and had a good time reading it! Having lived in the South all my life but with Northern Exiled Parents, I thought this was a good book and it has made me want to travel the areas I have read about
My last review was for Transpennine Express, and in it I mentioned that it was reading this very book which inspired me to book my trip with said train company from Scotland to Manchester. I then realised some of you may wonder what on earth I was talking about, so it may be helpful to review the book. Stuart Maconie is well known these days as a DJ on Radio 2 and a "talking head" on many TV shows which involve lists, such as the 100 best love songs or whatever idea Channel 4 has to fill the schedule cheaply on a Saturday night. He used to write for the NME and Q magazine and seems to have an encyclopaedic knowledge of music and popular culture. He hails from Wigan, a town he describes as hopelessly "hick" and one which seems to instil a great sense of laughter in southerners. I reviewed the book on Amazon earlier this year and mentioned my husband's mirth and delight at travelling through Wigan North Western station, something I failed to understand. To me Wigan meant the Verve, George Orwell, Uncle Joe's Mint Balls and Wallace and Gromit. Doesn't seem so bad to me. In this book Maconie sets out to discover what the north of England is and what it means to those who live there. He starts his journey in Crewe, which, after some deliberation, he decides is the "start" of the north. He does most of his travelling by train, something I must admit I admire, as I find it the most civilised mode of transport myself. He makes a point of talking to people along the way and he manages to transplant conversations and encounters he has into words in a humorous and colourful way. He doesn't claim to visit everywhere in the north - but he describes the rivalry between Liverpool and Manchester. He paints vivid pictures of two mighty cities, strong enough for me to end up visiting both. He describes the new town of Skelmersdale, where he worked briefly as a college lecturer and talks warmly of the people he encountered then and of the town as it is today. I particularly enjoyed his chapter on Bury, somewhere I doubt I will ever visit. However his description of the market there was fantastic - he really brought the sights, smells and conversations to life with his prose. While I really enjoyed the book there are some criticisms. Maconie starts the book by pointing out that there is no "South of England" correspondent for the BBC. He claims he says this without "malice or anger" but throughout this book you can see he has something of a chip on his shoulder about the Londoncentric media's attitude towards the north. He also seems surprised that there are wealthy people who live in the north of England, almost as if this was the preserve of the south only. His chapter on the stockbroker belt in Cheshire is a little smug, almost as if he feels the need to keep up with the Joneses down in London, and also assumes the reader is unaware that wealth exists north of Watford. These are small quibbles however as the book is overall a very enjoyable read. Maconie is an excellent writer and although this is essentially a love letter to the north of England, it is full of humour as well, and allows the warmth of the northern persona to shine through. All in all a very good read and one I highly recommend.