Southern Jessies: Try Going North!

Great Britain


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…

Beautiful North

15 comments on “Southern Jessies: Try Going North!”

  1. Ken Mann says:

    I can recommend Charles Nevin’s “Lancashire – Where women die of love”.

  2. Vivienne says:

    When I have a minute or two, I have been walking round the coast – started at Berwick, so have done NE England. I walk in the day and mooch around the towns at night. Friendly people (though I recognise that blokes might find it harder to talk to me, on my own, in a pub), haven’t always had to book 2 nights, things to eat, but the food is often not served very late: arriving at 8 pm in a pub is often too late. Doesn’t feel dangerous to me, though I do go round all the odd bits of London too. Wonderful scenery, good weather, I swim in the North Sea, and I am now really quite fond of the not so lovely industrial bits: Blyth, Middlesbrough, Hull (where I had a whole pub to myself one night and a whole Pizza Express another).

  3. Wayne says:

    A good post this one, thank you Admin.

    I set up my stall here in the north a good few years ago. I would came from the south, London, and now I am here I have no desire to return South. The country just gets more and more beautiful as you head north and the friendly folk become more so as you travel from South to North.

    So the economic aspect isn’t as good up North, but there are many good things to enjoy to compensate.

  4. Jo W says:

    As a veggie I can say that eating out isn’t that great down here in the south either. But sometimes you get more than one choice. Have to agree with you,Admin,about Peter Tinniswood. Still have quite a few of his books-so good. ‘Didn’t know you cared.’ 😉

  5. Alan Morgan says:

    Well, as the resident southerner-in-the-north it seemed almost inevitable I would pipe up. Here then is the inevitable.

    I’ve been in Cumbria for almost twelve years. Both my daughters were born here. Nearly to the day that makes it twelve then I and my eldest are moving further south, as she finishes primary school. So much for me, so to answer a few of the points once one extra is addressed in that Manchester is not in the north (it is in the midlands). Northerners would have it so, and just as it is the youth that decides if you are still young, then so it is the same for Manchester. It and Liverpool mark the divide. Liverpool in what was once Mercia it is the midlands (though that means London too aha), and if a scouser discovers they aren’t quite northern then they’ll fight you with insular scoffing that Manchester is otherwise. Hey, I don’t make the rules!

    1) People are far from being horrible. It’s almost a cliche that they are far friendlier, and this is completely true. People nod and say hello when you pass them by up here. They stop and answer for directions without any suspicion. They are open, and funny, and simply can’t do enough for anyone. It took some time to get used to strangers passing the time of day with me on the bus, or bringing me into conversations in the pub, but this is a funny point from city-southerners who walk looking at their shoes, scowl, and exhibit a defensive dismissal of all things, say, Not-London, that can be breathtaking. The same, for the last, can be said for Liverpool so perhaps it is cities? In Liverpool for example if you cross to live far more cheaply in the Wirral (literally across the river) you are cut off completely. It is taken as a dire insult. Honestly, my chums in London come up to see me more often than do those of my girlfriend to see her since she moved three miles away!

    Northerners are generous to a fault. When a good friend of mine the other year could get no reception on his smart phone in the pub he quailed when two lads, hearing him declare ‘what is it up here, don’t they have f*cking technology’, came over to address the point by lending him, a complete stranger, their own phones to use.

    2) The same as in the south probably for everyday eating. I don’t get to many grand eateries so it’s probably true since London has hundreds. Equally though a Londoner in, say, Salisbury, or Reading, might be just as pushed. Cockermouth has a big food festival every year. It’s great. The quality of all the farm produce and little artisan companies is astonishing.

    3) Weather in Cumbria is bloody wet. That’s why there are lakes 😉

    4) Plenty of areas in London people might not care to go in nice shoes. Lord knows I’ve lived in most of them.

    5) Beer is. Circa three quid a pint, less for the fizzy tap stuff. Big local brewery here too. Housing can be. My daughters-mum got a mortgage based on her earnings on the counters at ASDA.

    6) Conversation much the same, lots of people watch X Factor too, or are mad on football. Conversation is the crowd you’re with, not where you are. It is however easier to join in a conversation. Sometimes whether you care to or not. What isn’t discussed, ever, is the south. In the twelve years here with my very-not-north accent not once, never, has anyone commented on it, and certainly not from being round there. No one adopts a funny southern accent. No one spirals off into an account of how everyone in the south works in a bank, or lives in a big house, or is soft, or really enjoys high-energy disco, or whatever the cliche is (that isn’t). Go to a local book group and the talk is of books, not coal mining. Go to the bring-your-own-instrument folk night at the pub and never a flat cap is conversed about.

    Apart from Cockermouth the same shops are the same chains.

    But yes, there aren’t any jobs. Cumbria’s tourist industry is the Lakes. That means there is seasonal work in hotels and guest houses. It’s not a theme park, there are no rides. Keswick has to be seen to be believed where whole streets are given over to outdoor pursuits. So shop work too, but as with anywhere. Surely there are only so many walking boots one can sell? So many people coming to go hiking forget to bring theirs? The big employer is Sellafield. There aren’t many jobs going at Sellafield. When an ASDA opened in Workington there were something like 3000 people chasing a tenth that many minimum-wage jobs.

    But, y’know, live in a small village with an occasional bus and no car, working at home, then you discover that life can be a very dull Truman Show. The view is spectacular. From my window now there is the river valley, then fells and mountains*. Over there. It takes me longer to get to the train station, than it takes to get the train to Liverpool from it (London only a little outside this since the train zoooooooooooooooooms there).

    Having said all this I’ve never quite been at home. It’s all still a foreign country. It’s back to a proper city in a few months.

    *Or it would be but it’s pissing down and there’s nothing beyond the trees at the end of my garden. Vague sheep perhaps.

  6. northernsoul says:

    As a northerner I am disappointed at all the assumptions made about life in the north and the people who live here. Also the narrow view of what is in reality a diverse and multi cultural part of this country offered by people who have never been here.

    What is meant by ‘the north’ ? To me it is many things a huge geographical area with vast open landscapes, sweeping coastline, small towns and villages, cosmopolitan cities, history, art, culture just so much to offer any visitor.Like ‘the south’ it is not necessarily one place but many.
    I lived in the south, for a number of years, and found people just as friendly as ‘up north’ but felt the lack of people free space suffocating.

    I did my own little bit of research ‘in the northern pub’ and found the the views were about feeling sorry for those poor southerners who have to commute miles to work, sit in traffic jams, on overcrowded tube/trains, pay so much for the chance to live in a tiny place inan overpopulated place.

    My soul finds it easier to be free in the north so I returned to enjoy the vast open spaces, the wonderful views, the chance to walk, drive, cycle and not see another person. To be able to buy a home, okay I am lucky I managed to get a job.

    But really I think those in the north secretly feed the myths held by those in the south because we value our space and do not really want it overpopulated!! So I think the message was for those in the south to stay south if you are happier there and leave the north to those who appreciate it.

  7. Brian Evans says:

    Alan-what a well reasoned and balanced review of oop North.

    I moved to London in 1971, came back to live in a village near Southport (between the whippet farm and the chip pan factory*) 14 years ago. I love it up here. I still spend about a week out of six in Kings Cross, but prefer it here.
    Oddly enough, late Fri or Sat nights are quieter in Kings Cross than Southport.

    I did have a 6 year break many years ago and lived in Hastings. It was a ghastly experience-a dump with dreadful unfriendly people.

    People do seem a lot friendlier up here, or perhaps they just talk more.

    The Lake District, Ribble Valley, Yorkshire Dales, Derbyshire Dales, Cheshire Plains and Snowdonia are reasonably handy-and beautiful. And Manchester and Liverpool are vibrant cities.

    Admin-Sorry about the chip fiasco in Blackpool. Just your luck to find someone with enough disposable income to be able to afford to throw some away.

    * I jest. We lost the chip pan factory a couple of years ago.

  8. Wayne Mook says:

    Well being from and still living in Manchester I guess I should say a few things. The wet is actually an East-West divide, hence Glasgow is wetter than Edinburgh. It doesn’t rain a lot in Manchester just often. Newcastle is a lot drier than Cardiff.

    In Manchester the Whitworth Gallery is due to open again, they have a grand opening on Valentines. There are some interesting comedy gigs in pubs in the town. The Science and Industry Museum is also splendid. Sadly the rest of Lancashire seems to be losing people as Manchester grows. The problem with Manchester is that it destroys its past at a frightening rate, it almost seems a city of cranes at times.

    As for down South I’ve always found the people friendly (once I ended up playing charades on the tube with a bunch of strangers), there are some fine pubs off the beaten track in London which I’ve found easy to chin-wag to people and The Natural History Museum is just one of my favourite places. Devon & Cornwall are lovely places with some of the friendliest people. I even like Brighton, well I found some nice pubs to drink in.


  9. Helen Martin says:

    Is Glasgow the North or the extreme South? I suppose it depends on your viewpoint. We found Glasgow friendly – I’ll never forget the lady who complimented us on our good taste in photographing the art school (before that fire). York was so much fun, especially the neighbourhood restaurant with the whole region having Sat. lunch, a meal reasonable in price, fresh in materials, and delicious.
    Remember “Yes, Prime Minister”?

  10. Fiona says:

    I think it’s less North vs South and more London vs everywhere else. Coming from the West Country, I can say that they probably have more in common with their Northern cousins than anyone from London. The job situation is dire, they suffer from more expensive housing due to being somewhere people buy holiday homes, thus pricing out the locals. They have poor transport links and you need a car to get anywhere. There’s a high level of pensioners due to people retiring there after making their money elsewhere, which then impacts on services like the NHS. It rains a lot. There are pluses of course but I get annoyed when people go – oh, Southerners have all the jobs and money. Erm, trying visiting Plymouth sometime and see what the job situation is like there. The one thing that is different is there aren’t the same type of large city that has the poverty and issues that some of those in the North have. Plymouth is a city but it’s not that big in comparison. I would say that people in the West Country are friendly and welcoming for the most part. Life is slower there and you do get some decent weather in between the rain!

  11. John Griffin says:

    It’s a bugger to generalise. I think being insular etc is an interaction of cultures. My stepson was horrified at the phone culture in Kuala Lumpur (natural selection favouring those with prehensile necks); I’ve lit upon some very snobby or unfriendly places (Barton on Sea one lunchtime was a snobby blue-rinse horror-show).
    Mostly people are OK to amazing, everywhere in this country. There are some wonderful pockets of culture – the folkie bits of the NE always amazes me, a complete alt-England.
    I must however take issue with Newcastle as Baghdad. Any town where girls go out on a weekend night in a boob-tube, pussy-pelmet skirt, high heels and NO knickers has got to have a lot going for it. My Mrs and me were sat in a pub there once, and she spotted three girls sat with their feet on chairs – ‘two shaved and one natural’ was her comment 🙂

  12. Helen Martin says:

    Merciful heavens, John Griffin! I’m not sure that Newcastle is all that desirable going by your description, but whatever turns your crank as they say. Only got as far west as Bristol and Portsmouth, but have a feeling that Portsmouth may be having a bit of a rough time with so much of the naval work having died or moved and tourism, though healthy, not being a really great substitute. We met rain in Bristol, drenching pouring down, wet to the skin rain, but there was sunshine too. That was the week they were opening the new hospital and we were fascinated by the before and after footage on the news showing us what was being replaced. I wanted to get up the nerve to to ask John Llewelyn Probert whether he does surgery there, but it seemed more than cheeky so I didn’t. Because we were down by the museums, etc. we saw several “hen parties” and I just don’t get that. I couldn’t spend an evening in public with a ribbon saying “matron of honour” or “mother of the bride” and a pair of pink deelie bobbers bouncing on my head. We had rain in Portsmouth, too, but it didn’t seem to matter so much. It was holiday time and there were school classes touring the shipyards, the Victory, and the Mary Rose, but what else happens there? People were queuing for a dramatic performance and the Isambard Kingdom Brunel was doing a rousing business but what else?

  13. Vivienne says:

    Is Admin stuck in the North with no free Wifi?

  14. admin says:

    Not in Northern England, no – see latest post…

  15. I travel up and down the country all the time. I think the differences between the North and South are far less obvious than most think.
    I’ve lived in London for 30 years but only know a handful of real Londoners. Most of the rest of my friends are from around the rest of the UK or abroad. I had a dinner party last week and half way through realised I was the only white, UK born person there. And I only realised that because UKIP came up in conversation.
    Where I live in Hackney, I know dozens if not hundreds of people by name or by what they do. I can’t walk to school with my daughter without stopping to talk to someone I know. Just today a stranger in the street sang a cheery hello at me. I’ve got loads of great eateries around me etc and Hackney is one of the greenest places in London. So whilst I can’t go onto the Dales from my backdoor, most of my needs are covered. It’s by far the nicest place to live I have visited but as I say, that’s because a lot of my friends are from a diverse range of places. I think because the South has the higher property prices and hosts the centre of government, the North-South debate is nearly always conducted in terms of “If you Southerners all think us Northerners are…..” when actually I don’t hear people in London moaning about the North but I only have to spend five minutes reading a message board to find defensive comments from Northerners having a go at Southerners. I don’t really understand it (from either end) – I think of the UK has having this diverse range of cities and each has its own place. I love visiting Cornwall but I was very excited to be in Manchester and Liverpool again last week but equally happy to be back home in cuddly Hackney again now. It’s a very small island people – more binds than separates us.

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