Southern Jessies: Try Going North!
A grim statistic surfaced in the press this week; for every 12 new jobs created in the South, there’s 1 job lost in the North of England. This is after a much-fanfared promise of devolution to city regions which proved such a hot topic in national and local government, when chancellor George Osborne set out a vision for building what he called a ‘Northern Powerhouse’ to compete with the other half of the country.
The fact that it didn’t happen is partly down to property prices; the average southern property is now 13 times the average wage. Places like Grimsby, Blackpool and Rochdale languish at the bottom of the poverty tables and have been all but abandoned to the decline. When business rates are 3 times more than the rents, nobody’s going to open a shop. The long-term plan is still to devolve powers away locally, as Manchester has signed an agreement to do, but the effects are unlikely to be felt for years, and meanwhile the gap continues to widen.
And to many in the South, it seems to become a self-fulfilling prophecy that the wider the gap gets, the less likelihood there is of Southerners heading North. But do they even remember now what they’re missing? The North becomes a vague memory. Here’s what the late Roger Ebert had to say about Terence Davies’ award-winning documentary on Liverpool, ‘Of Time And The City’;
‘The way Davies and cinematographer Tim Pollard regard heritage buildings and churches, their domes and turrets worthy of an empire, suggests that he, like me, prefers buildings that express a human fantasy and not an abstract idea…(memories of the city) are suggested with remarkable archival footage collated from a century: crowds in the streets and at the beach, factories, shipyards, faces, movie theatres, snatches of song, long-gone voices, an evocation of a city tuned in to the BBC for the Grand National, a long-gone horse and rider falling at the first hurdle, the wastelands surrounding new public housing, children and dogs at play and yes, the Beatles.’
So much for the past – what holds Southerners back from visiting the North of the present day? I held a scientific survey (a bunch of big Southern jessies in the pub) and here are their attitudes, with my comments;
1. People will be aggressive and unfriendly to Southerners.
I’ve never found that to be the case, except in Blackpool where a man threw chips over me because he didn’t like my accent.
2. There won’t be much chance of finding anything decent to eat.
There are too many bad chains, but once you get away from those there are incredible indie restaurants without Southern attitudes or prices. Although I did once make the mistake of going North with vegetarians.
3. Weather will be horrible and everything will be remorselessly drab and awful.
Every time I go to Manchester or somewhere across the border, it seems to be baking hot. Harrogate is glorious in summer. Winters anywhere near Morecambe are as grim as a decommissioned crematorium.
4. It will feel dangerous.
Yes, in places. Newcastle’s like Baghdad on a Saturday night. Some towns have been ruined with too many bars and nightclubs. Generally I’ve found most city centres friendly after dark. I do not recommend Barrowlands at night (or indeed at any time during the day).
5. Everything will be cheap.
Not necessarily; hotels make you book for two nights – we seem to be the only country in the world that does this – and many charge for wi-fi. I’m sorry but wtf? This is 2015. Outside of London, many places have less competition and become extortionately expensive.Try not to look startled when you get change from a fiver for a pint.
6. Isn’t it all conversations about whippets and bowel movements? I will have a horrible time.
Only if you take your attitude with you. There’s beautiful countryside, amazing civic buildings, great galleries – Manchester’s city art gallery is particularly glorious – innovative theatre and a general air of end-of-the-world conviviality you don’t get down South. Best of all are the people, who in my experience are well-read, inquisitive, good conversationalists and extremely funny.
Might I recommend some Northern reading? ‘Northerners: Portrait of a No-Nonsense People’ by Sefton Samuels is a lovely look at places and characters. ‘The Wit and Wisdom of the North’ by Rosemarie Jarski is very funny indeed. And ‘Up North: Travels Beyond the Watford Gap’ by Southern Jessie Charles Jennings got him into a lot of trouble. Try Keith Waterhouse, David Nobbs, Alan Sillitoe and Peter Tinniswood.
I’ll be heading North for signings and PAs later this year, so watch this space…