The Great Divide
The Great Divide
On a recent holiday I read a great book written by the radio DJ and journalist, Stuart Maconie, called “Pies and Prejudice: In Search of the North.” I would heartily recommend it. It describes the North of England (Crewe through Newcastle as he describes it) from the proud perspective of a Northerner’s eyes (Stuart’s own) and has vivid descriptions of places that are familiar to me, interspersed with football and music references that bring those places alive.Unlike most books on the North it is pro-Northern. It sings the North’s praises and honestly describes its shortfalls without pandering to the dark, gloomy, stupid, flat cap and whippet idea of the North which other similarly titled/themed books, such as Charles Jennings’ “Up North” and Bill Bryson’s “Notes from a Small Island” portray, in an obvious attempt to appeal to the Southern (Jessie) market.I thoroughly enjoyed Maconie’s book but it did get me thinking about how easily my own homeland gets lost. Overlooked. Misrepresented. Maligned.I am a Midlander. I was born in Walsall and I lived in Birmingham until I went to university. The Midlands, by their very definition, are neither Northern nor Southern. I am proud of my heritage and I do not wish to be Northern or Southern.
I am a Brummie. From Birmingham. I am a Bluenose – a fan of Birmingham City rather than Aston Villa. The City does not often get a good press. Jane Austen once wrote, “One has not great hopes from Birmingham. I always say there is something direful in the sound.” J.B. Priestley seemed to be in agreement when he stated, “During the half hour or so I sat staring through the top windows of that tram, I saw nothing, not one single tiny thing, that could possibly raise a man’s spirits.”
The accent is not well-liked. It is second only to Liverpudlian Scouse as the worst dialect in the UK. For the avoidance of doubt, I am nothing like the stereotypical Brummie as portrayed by Benny off Crossroads. I must admit that I have left some things about Birmingham behind. I don’t wear white socks anymore, except when playing sport. I don’t eat sarnies anymore, preferring sandwiches or butties. I have lost a lot of the accent but I still look in a book (pronounced “luck and “buck”) and clean my teeth with a toothbrush (“toof brush”).
Despite the aspersions repeatedly cast, Birmingham has done none too badly over the years. You may have heard the proud Brummie mantra of “more canals than Venice, more trees than Paris and more green areas than any other town in the UK.”
Birmingham is the UK’s second city. The “city of a thousand trades”. Well perhaps not today but it was during the Industrial Revolution in Britain when it was referred to as “the workshop of the world”. The Empire was built using bullets from Birmingham (and soldiers from Ireland and Scotland). Birmingham is a diverse place. Some 30% of the population are from ethnic minorities.
Lawn tennis, the Landrover, Cadbury chocolate, microwave ovens and the balti curry were all local inventions. The NEC is the UK’s largest exhibition venue and the City hosts the third largest St Patrick’s Day parade in the world. After New York and Dublin. Lloyds and the Midland banks started here, as did the Odeon Cinema. You should check out the development around Brindley Wharf . Very chic. And Rackhams has now been dwarfed by Selfridges (the Boob Tube) and Harvey Nicks in the Mailbox.
Bill Oddie, Tony Hancock, Jasper Carrott and Lenny Henry; Trevor Eve, Charles Danse, Ian Lavender (Pikey in Dad’s Army), Kat Deeley, Felicity Kendal, Julie Walters. Brummies all. As were JRR Tolkien and Barbara Cartland. The City has given us music as diverse as Black Sabbath and Judas Priest, Dexy’s Midnight Runners, Duran Duran, Musical Youth and UB40.
That said, I also agree with Maconie. The North is not too bad either. I am very happy living in leafy Cheshire and the lure of the shops and restaurants of Knutsford, Wilmslow, Chester and Manchester. Things could be a lot worse. You could be a Southerner…….