Jonathan Brown: 'After taking up residence in York, I realised it's more Bath than Barnsley'

Home And Away
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The Independent Online

L ast week saw an important milestone pass in the life of the family Brown. It is exactly a year since we decamped from the Essex badlands for me to take up a new life reporting for this newspaper on goings on beyond the Watford Gap. The job description of North of England correspondent has gone out of fashion somewhat in recent years, mainly for the good that few newspapers maintain a South, East or West of England scribe – at least not by title anyway.

But, in the past 12 months, I like to think I have done my best to try and remind readers the world continues to spin outside the congestion charge zone. For my efforts, I have clocked up thousands of miles criss-crossing the Pennines and, with it, developed the same kind of relationship with the M62 that I once "enjoyed" with the M25.

That said, the experience of the past year has convinced me of an intrinsic truth – that life in the North is simply better than it is in London and the South-east. Obviously that is not to say we are without our problems up here. Going about one's job as a newspaper reporter it is all too evident.

Try canvassing the opinions of potential BNP supporters living in the former Yorkshire pit villages on whether they think things have got better in the two decades since the miner's strike. Or find out what it means to be a young lad growing up in Liverpool's Norris Green or Croxteth where petty teenage disputes erupted in brutal and indiscriminate violence claiming the life of the young Rhys Jones.

Nor was there much to move the spirit while knocking on doors on a rain-lashed Dewsbury Moor where locals are still recovering from the tragic circus of events which surrounded the kidnapping of Shannon Matthews.

I could go on but that is not in the right spirit. For me and my family, life in the North of England has been a new beginning away from the horrors of the daily commute and well out of earshot of the braying City types one has to endure when working anywhere near the Square Mile.

But one of the reasons why things are proving so agreeable up here comes down to my wife, a native of the East Riding, who insisted that we take up residence in York. Of course there are many who would argue the city has never been a true part of the North. More Bath than Barnsley, the aroma of chocolate drifted across the city from its famous sweetie factories as coal, steel and textile mills closed elsewhere in the 1980s. And, despite the ravages of privatisation, York remains a proud railway town. Indeed, with 2,000 years of history behind it, a world-class university, brilliant museums, outstanding schools and proximity to some of the finest landscapes known to man, the city has afforded me the confidence to laugh off taunts of northern grimness – that most hackneyed of clichés.

I was reminded once more of York's many fine attributes only last Saturday as we set out in glorious sunshine with a battered old pushchair laden with victuals to enjoy a day at the races. We are lucky that the Knavesmire course is less than a minute's walk from our house. Horses have been raced on this verdant expanse since the time of Queen Anne, and this weekend it seemed the centuries had done little to diminish the appeal.

We were among 36,500 punters there that day – a course record. One of the attractions was the appearance on the bill of former contestants from The X Factor. I'm not sure whether anyone else paid them much attention, but our party completely ignored their trillings, preferring instead to pursue the time-honoured trackside pursuits of swilling ice-cold wine/lager and losing large sums of money to the bookies before adjourning to the pub.

Next month sees the annual Ebor festival – the high spot of a York summer when the bars are packed full of race-goers in full party mode. My brother-in-law assures me the sight of splay-legged revellers who have passed out on Micklegate is not a good one, but personally I'm rather looking forward to it.

I have to take his word for it, because last year the Knavesmire lived up to its name, and was more swimming pool than racecourse thanks to the terrible summer weather, resulting in the cancellation of the meeting and costing millions of pounds. As an adopted Yorker, I will be spending the next few weeks praying for sunshine and a few decent tips.