I don’t get the chance to watch much TV these days. Not as much as I used to, anyway. The TV which will always get picked off first in our TV Recording box merry-go-round are programmes about food, travel, food and travel, and very hard quizzes. We’ll accept a bit of social history too, as long as there is plenty of food involved in it all. We don’t have time for much else any more. Too little time for TV.
We have been watching a TV series recently called “Back in Time for Tea”. Based on a previous pair of series, called “Back in Time for Dinner”, it chronicled the evolution of British home cookery, but from a Northern English, rather than a pan-British, perspective. The title refers to the fact that in the North of England we tend to refer to our evening meal as “Tea”, whereas southerners say “Dinner”.
The original series, it seems, was more London-centric than it perhaps should be, but being inured to such bias in the British media, I didn’t notice. Oops. Either way, a very similar set of white, middle class, people – a family – pretended to live through a variety of eras, eating their food, and looking at how they lived at the time. How they kept their jobs was always my main source of confusion.
My issue was that the family were from Bradford. Bradford is a city in West Yorkshire, and home to a number of bands I grew up listening to. The problem is, being from even further North, I have never accepted that anyone from further south than, say Teesside, has any right to consider themselves as being regarded as Northern. That’s a massive improvement: I used to regard the Tyne as the border.
My issue was what I regarded as a Southern family being paraded to the viewing public as a modern exemplar of all things Northern. I saw them as Midlanders, in this island of Great Britain. I am from the North of England, not the North of Britain. I live and work just over half-way up the island of Great Britain. Calling anything roughly a third of the way up the island “North” just seems odd.
Geographically I haven’t got a leg to stand on. I know that. The North is defined by exception. If you are not part of the affluent South, then you are “Other”, and that mostly means Northern. They save separate, special, forms of abuse for the West Country and the West Midlands. It still rankles at me, however. But that’s because I seem to feel the need to wear my Northernness as a badge of honour.
I have a complex about my accent. I was gently mocked at school and uni for being too posh to be a real Geordie. Over the years, and in several different jobs, I have been asked by colleagues in the North East of England where in the country I am from: they thought my accent was so non-Geordie. At the time I openly revelled in such misunderstanding, but deep down it definitely bothered me.
I feel insecure about my accent; I feel insecure about my class. The two are inextricably linked, like it or not. While people find the Geordie accent comforting, a lack of accent is seen as simply better.
I was born in to a family who were curious and interested about the world, yet we were poorer than many of the people I went to school with. My parents had unskilled jobs, so I assumed/assume that we were working class. I felt intimidated by the lives of my friends; this never really goes away.
I am well educated, doing a job which requires professional qualifications; so does my partner. Our household is fairly affluent. I assume that we are now middle class. I should have nothing to prove. Yet, a couple of situations have come up recently where it shows I still do feel I have things to prove.
We’ve had tradesmen in recently: blokes from the local area; blokes with local accents; blokes who are good at working with their hands. I have felt at pains to use local words as I interact with them: “mam”, “champion”,” aye”. I felt the need to do this to prove to them that I am a local lad, that I am a working class bloke; that I am not the liberal elite, effete middle class wet wipe I actually identify and live as. Having them here makes me want to pretend that I never make my own houmous.
It gets worse. Some of my colleagues are based in County Durham. When I am on the phone to them I try to drop in Geordie words and phraseology as often as I can, so that they will recognise my heritage and accept me as one of them. When I am in their office I will use any excuse to prove my Geordieness. Some of them are from the area I regard as being the true North – North of the Tyne – but the majority are from an area I have only recently accepted as North: Wearside and Teesside.
What on earth is wrong with me? Is my need for validation and acceptance so desperate that I want to accost strangers and ask them to throw their hammers to me? I am a successful human being. I think I quail at my real need to show off my Geordie credentials more than I quail at the notion that some people might think I’m not Geordie enough. I am embarrassed by my need for acceptance.
Am I the same about other aspects of my culture? I have written extensively about metal in this context, so definitely in that direction. Any others? I mention atheism occasionally, but I was raised Catholic, and part of me identifies culturally there. Do I have such a complex about my Catholicism? Probably not – or at least to a lesser extent. But why not? Growing up, it was a defining feature.
I suppose it’s about usefulness: Walking around telling everyone that I went to a lot of mass when I was at school, but that I haven’t been since the 1990s isn’t as useful as the notion of a shared place. One is wispy, poised to invoke a shrug; the other is solid, and likely to raise a smile of recognition: a barrier can be lifted and a bridge be built. A tradesman mentioned my home town with a degree of cultural embarrassment: the fact that I grew up there raised a smile and humanised me somewhat.
Either way, Yorkshire is not Northern: it’s too bloody big for a start. And Manchester is right out.