Even climate change has it in for the North

Northern culture is distinct: the comedy is kinder,  the economy crueller, the dole more doleful. And  now, even the weather divide is widening...

Share

‘The North,” declared The Fall’s Mark E Smith, a classic specimen of a particular type of northerner, in one of his band’s most clamorous anthems, “will rise.” Unhappily, during the past few days the North has looked more likely to collapse into a palsied heap. Not only has the lowering of the unemployment rate shown marked regional variations, mostly in the north of England, but it now appears that even global warming, previously thought of as an indiscriminate climatic scourge, has been hard at work separating one part of the country from another.

According to a survey carried out by scientists at the Grantham Research Institute and the University of Warwick, and published in the journal Environmental Research Letters, temperatures in the south of England have risen much faster than in the north. The paper’s lead author, Dr David Stainforth, has remarked that “in Britain, climate change will feel very different if you live in Northumbria than if you live in Oxfordshire”. The latest statistical data confirms that the hottest days of the year are now a good 2.5C hotter in the south-east of England, but have risen by only a meagre 1C in the North-east.

It is difficult not to feel that there is something horribly symbolic about these findings, and that, seen in the round, they offer a dramatic example of nature (albeit a nature subverted by human agency) adding to the existing separations of culture, politics and even psychology. At the same time, there are substantial distinctions to be made. To divide England up into two geographical building blocks known as “the North” and “the South” is absurdly reductive. It assumes, for example, that there is some hard-and-fast boundary – the river Trent, perhaps, or some phantom ley line traversing the Northamptonshire plain – that, mysteriously, conditions the attitudes, the political preferences and the employability of the people who live either side of it.

It also implies a homogeneity to English life that manifestly isn’t there – its logical extension, after all, is that a Suffolk farm-worker and a Gloucestershire small businessman living hundreds of miles apart from each other are somehow spiritually conjoined – while ignoring the spatial particularity of the debatable lands to east and west. In this context, I can remember once at university being told by some truculent northern ingrate, who may have come from Doncaster, that I was a “fucking southerner”, and pointing out that were you to lay a ruler horizontally across the map of England, Norwich is actually further north than Birmingham.

On the other hand, no social historian, or political analyst, or linguist, who casts an eye over the past century or so of English history can ever quite deny that there is a profound behavioural chasm between the person who lives in Henley-on-Thames and the person who lives in Durham, and that its roots lie not merely in the latter’s habit of not voting Conservative but in a complex tissue of cultural affiliations and moral stances that can be detected in nearly every form of high and popular art.

The variety hall critics of 80  years ago noted the difference between “northern comedians” (sympathetic, inclusive, inviting the audience to laugh with them, poking fun at themselves) and southern gagsmen (brisk, smart-alecky, wanting the audience to laugh at someone else, poking fun at other people). But the same distinction applies to “northern” popular music, which, whether recorded by the Beatles, the Smiths or the Gallagher brothers, makes a positive virtue of its dolefulness and its sexual fatalism. You doubt whether Joy Division could ever have come from Crawley.

Then, of course, there is the whole question of cultural attitudes, and the way in which – given the difficulty of establishing that these entities exist in the first place – the north perceives the south, and vice-versa. One of the most enduring characteristics of the pre-war London literary world was its hostility towards that great northern sage,  J B Priestley. Anthony Powell enjoyed annoying him with the introduction of some patently dimwit character who then emphasises his dimwittedness by expressing a liking for Priestley’s books. Graham Greene once received  a libel writ for caricaturing him as the  sub-Dickensian popular novelist Q C Savory in Stamboul Train.

What exactly had Priestley done to deserve this opprobrium? Part of the explanation, alas, lies in the fact that he was a bluff, assertive, pipe-smoking Yorkshireman with a flat Bradford accent. In much the same way, my father used to observe of his time in the RAF during the Second World War that there was never any danger of not knowing what to do in any given military situation as the people from Yorkshire knew everything and what they didn’t know the people from Lancashire did.

The significant thing about this dislike is not merely that it was reciprocated in spades – this was to be expected – but how often the northern counter-attack took on a moral focus, with northern bluntness, plain-speaking, spade-calling, toughness and healthy moorland air being turned into dazzling emblems of ethical superiority. George Orwell remembered travelling by car through the East Anglian countryside in the 1930s with a Yorkshireman who remarked, as they passed through a village full of picturesque cottages and shining greensward, that it was all very beautiful, but the people who lived in the cottages were absolutely worthless. This, Orwell diagnosed, was straightforward northern resentment of the “soft” South given a self-justifying moral twist. The East Anglian might have lived in a picture book, but the northerner in his wind-blown hovel was the better man.

Practically everyone who comes from a definable locality with its own customs, manner and accent will at some point have found themselves mocking someone else on straightforwardly “regional” grounds. I will cheerfully own to having stood in the lunch queue at the college canteen chanting “Ee, Sidney, ah do lakh a nice pie” as various overweight Lancastrians loaded up their plates with pastry, and being lampooned as a “carrot-cruncher” in return. But then to the Yorkshire NCOs my father was a “swede-basher”. All this is probably an integral, and in some ways necessary, part of what it means to be English, even in a world of multiculturalism and polyglot schools, and when one of the commonest sounds in a northern city is the muezzin’s call to prayer. Although politicians continue to talk about the “North-South divide” few of them realise that its manifestations are as much behavioural as economic.

Whatever the changes in the political map, however many jobs are created in run-down mining villages, you suspect that the North is set to continue with this centuries-old exercise in self-mythologising – and that these variegated shifts in the nation’s temperatures will make it even keener on its innate self-worth.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Office / Sales Manager

£22000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Established and expanding South...

Recruitment Genius: Administrative Assistant / Order Fulfilment

£14000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity to join a thrivi...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consulta...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consulta...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Syria's Kurds have little choice but to flee amid the desolution, ruins and danger they face

Patrick Cockburn
A bartender serves two Mojito cocktails  

For the twenty-somethings of today, growing up is hard to do

Simon Kelner
Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones