Man's World

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Indy Lifestyle Online
THERE'S MUCH talk about the increasing homogeneity of this country but the North is actually astonishingly different from the South. Geoff Boycott is one good example of this.

I went there with my young sons from my London home last Saturday and, being a native Yorkshireman and a veteran of many a Scarborough daytrip, had taken care to dress like Captain Oates, only with a few extra jumpers. But still I was shivering.

In search of warmth, we walked into a joke shop. (Scarborough, incidentally, is the joke-shop capital of the world; every other bar of soap on sale in the town is designed to make you - or preferably someone else - dirty, not clean). The proprietor pointed to a set of miniature dentures standing on two plastic feet and, for the benefit of the boys, he wound them up with a little key so that they danced across the top of the counter.

"Ideal for t' weather," said the man, "chatterin' teeth." "It is incredibly cold, isn't it?" I said. "Aye," conceded the man after a while, although he himself was quite skimpily clad. "It's t' wind in't it? Nothing ter stop it."

So saying, he gestured at the North Sea beyond his window. It was a scene of incredible grandeur: not just the boundless grey waters, but the mountainous cliffs stretching away to the South. In Scarborough, the shops offering (with all due respect to my teeth-selling friend) bizarre bric-a-brac for daytrippers are juxtaposed with a landscape that resorts accessible from London can't match, and which makes questions of mere tastefulness irrelevant.

Space, in fact, is the saving grace of the entire north. My sons warmed up by running across the deserted beach tracing wobbly letters in the sand 50 metres high, giggling continuously, and seemingly intoxicated with the freedom. Then we all did a pee in an echoing Gents where the urinals stretched as far as the eye could see, presenting you with a small crisis of indecision as you entered.

A few minutes later we waited for a bus alongside a middle-aged local man. After a quick exchange about the time of the next bus, silence fell, but a few minutes later the man turned and winked expertly (ie near-subliminally) at one of my sons. The effect, even on me, was thrilling, and it was a good lesson for the boys in manly charm.

It goes without saying that this man did not possess a mobile phone. Actually I didn't see so much as a pager in the entire town because they know in the North that, sometimes, it's good not to talk.

Heading back South on the train I felt tired in a good way - that paradoxically warm tiredness that comes from being in clean, cold air - and the atavistic thought occurred to me: the North is for men; the South is for women. Reflecting on this whilst listening to my sons, I realised for the first time that they have southern accents. That bothers me.