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November 28, 2013 7:45 AM   Subscribe

How to write about the North
posted by mippy (63 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite

 
The North! Baltimore is the best approximation of metropolitan Northern England for Yankees. I, on the other hand, live in the place that's neither North nor South - The Midlands! However, there are some beautiful places up north - such as Halifax.
posted by parmanparman at 7:55 AM on November 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


You have to somehow mention rickets and malnourishment while also implying this happened totally unrelated to any other force in history and must be some kind of moral failing.
posted by The Whelk at 7:58 AM on November 28, 2013 [8 favorites]


Scandal. Absolutely no mention of "t'North" in a clichéd vaguely Yorkshirey but-not-really dialect? For shame.
posted by gohabsgo at 8:00 AM on November 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


However, there are some beautiful places up north - such as Halifax.

There are also some beautiful places down south - such as Bath.

It's weird, though, they don't say 'fuck' down there like normal folk, they say 'fack'.
posted by mippy at 8:00 AM on November 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


How the feuilleton has killed writing world-wide!
posted by Ironmouth at 8:02 AM on November 28, 2013


Absolutely no mention of "t'North" in a clichéd vaguely Yorkshirey but-not-really dialect? For shame.

I'll stop threadsitting, promise, but this reminded me of something: I went up to a meetup for a forum my SO posts on, and got talking to someone who had come with a friend.

'Where do you hail from?'

'Er...well, I was born in Blackburn, but my parents were from Liverpool, so nobody can really gues-'

'TUH NORTH! TUH NORTH! You're from TUH NORTH!!!'

Glottal-stop ignoramus gobshite.
posted by mippy at 8:02 AM on November 28, 2013 [3 favorites]


Glottal-stop ignoramus gobshite

Got my next username!
posted by gohabsgo at 8:03 AM on November 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


I can't actually remember reading a piece about 'The North' (other than this one).

That said I have noticed that a colleague from the North East is very patient with the reactions of apparently sincere surprise he invariably gets when asking for a white wine spritzer ("Aren't you on, like brown ale?").
posted by Segundus at 8:08 AM on November 28, 2013


FLESHPOTS
London is the only city to possess these. Write of them as an ever-present threat to young provincial footballers and trade unionists. Point to the N.U.M.'s removal to Sheffield as a 'move away from London's fleshpots'. Hint at a certain provincial puritanism, and weak-will among its representatives. Aside from pubs, clubs and knocking-shops, which are everywhere in any case, what are fleshpots exactly? Do not speculate.


When I read this article, I immediately thought of this from a few years ago. A horrible, depressing case as it was - the child was not, in fact, missing, but hidden away in the hope that her mother could claim reward money - it was astounding how different the tone was in the reporting of the Shannon Matthews case compared with, say, Millie Dowler or Madeline McCann, or even the working-class Croydon girl Tia Sharpe.
posted by mippy at 8:08 AM on November 28, 2013


Baltimore is the best approximation of metropolitan Northern England for Yankees.

As a native Baltimorean with friends in Morpeth, I'll vouch for this. I really felt at home in Newcastle.
posted by Faint of Butt at 8:20 AM on November 28, 2013 [3 favorites]


• Frame the existence of the North as though it is "catching up" with the South.
• Be sure to also insinuate that anything the North has but the South doesn't is "too good for them".
• Never doubt that failures in the North are personal or local failings rather than central government policy.
• If you do wish to talk politics, keep in mind that it's still 1832 and John Prescott is MP for The North.
posted by Thing at 8:29 AM on November 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


THATCHER
posted by Artw at 8:33 AM on November 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


However, there are some beautiful places up north - such as Halifax.

I can't tell if this comment is about Halifax in Yorkshire or Halifax in Nova Scotia, but I think I have the same question for each: how far north is "the North"?

From a Haligonian's point of view, are they in the North? For the Halifax in England, how can they be the "North" if they are south of Scotland (and Scandinavia)?

Where I live (British Columbia), I live in the south, and northerners would never let me forget it when I travelled around the province for work. But from the perspective of everyone else in the world, all Canadians are northerners.

In British Columbia as well, "northern BC" starts far south indeed, in Prince George - at least 11 degrees of latitude south of the Yukon border.

I think the north is more of a state of mind than an actual place.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:34 AM on November 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


how can they be the "North" if they are south of Scotland

Fun fact: one of the most Northerly points in Scotland is named Sutherland (Suðrland or "southern land") because it was one of the most Southerly points under Norse rule.
posted by fight or flight at 8:38 AM on November 28, 2013 [8 favorites]


Actually, I understand some of the scepticism of snobby food critics who hate leaving London.

It's not that there aren't good restaurants outside London, and particularly outside the south east. But some of the ones I've tried are heavily hyped by locals, charge London prices, have a big fish/small pond sense of satisfaction with themselves, and often fail on one big issue: they have to cater for a broader audience than a similar restaurant in London and don't serve very exciting food. London is much more competitive and while crap, overhyped high end restaurants exist most of them have to fight harder to get and retain custom.

Also, northerners do like to get their own back. London is full of professional northerners who left their home towns more than a decade ago but who still boast of their ability to keep it real, and who poo-poo the south as an expensive playground full of soft shite southerners who wouldn't last two minutes up north because if they didn't die of cold, or the shock of drinking proper beer, they'd be beaten up by the first 10 year old boy whose pint they'd accidentally spilled.
posted by MuffinMan at 8:38 AM on November 28, 2013 [7 favorites]


From a Haligonian's point of view, are they in the North? For the Halifax in England, how can they be the "North" if they are south of Scotland (and Scandinavia)?

In the same way Louisiana is in the 'Deep South' despite not being over the Mexican border.
posted by mippy at 8:39 AM on November 28, 2013 [10 favorites]


But from the perspective of everyone else in the world, all Canadians are northerners.

if it's not north of a line between milwalkee and toronto, it's not really north to this native michigander

and that includes a few million canadians who are east of me, not north
posted by pyramid termite at 8:43 AM on November 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


> For the Halifax in England, how can they be the "North" if they are south of Scotland (and Scandinavia)?

There's a half-joke in the UK about anything north of Watford, a few miles outside London, being 'The North'. Halifax is the north. I live in the town directly east, Bradford, and it's pretty much the exact centroid of the whole island if Scotland is included. Someone from the north east, Newcastle way, will jokingly call it the south. From a relative geographical viewpoint it is, but that misses the point entirely. 'The North' in England is a cultural construct. It's more what it's not than what it actually is.
posted by vbfg at 8:47 AM on November 28, 2013 [5 favorites]


The North is not a place. It's a state of mind.
posted by Acey at 8:50 AM on November 28, 2013


It means "working class".
posted by fullerine at 8:51 AM on November 28, 2013 [3 favorites]


Never forget, it's grim up north.
posted by MartinWisse at 8:51 AM on November 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


Meanwhile, the poor old southwest wishes it had the cachet of the north, forever condemned to being inbred yokel wurzel country.
posted by MartinWisse at 8:51 AM on November 28, 2013 [4 favorites]


Baltimore is the best approximation of metropolitan Northern England for Yankees.

As a native Baltimorean with friends in Morpeth, I'll vouch for this. I really felt at home in Newcastle.


Liverpool, which I enjoyed thoroughly, felt a lot like Baltimore with some bits of Newark and Philadelphia tacked on.

I usually say "imagine the rust belt with a coast."
posted by The Whelk at 8:52 AM on November 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


if it's not north of a line between milwalkee and toronto, it's not really north to this native michigander

According to Google, Toronto is 47N and Southampton on the south coast of the UK is at 50N.

So the entire UK is northern to you.
posted by antiwiggle at 8:53 AM on November 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


'The North' is a cultural construct. It's more what it's not than what it actually is.

I recall some years ago seeing a short bit on telly asking Londoners if they feel "Southern". They all said no and overall thought the idea of a North-South divide to be overworked and not really real. It's the invisible backpack thing.
posted by Thing at 8:53 AM on November 28, 2013


There's a half-joke in the UK about anything north of Watford, a few miles outside London

Different Watford.
posted by ninebelow at 8:53 AM on November 28, 2013 [3 favorites]


I'm not sure I'd agree with the state of mind or working class definitions. North Yorkshire is very much the north and would fiercely identify as such. Much of it has nothing in common with the former mill regions of West Yorkshire or coal mine regions of South Yorkshire. It's classic Tory country, but it's every bit northern.
posted by vbfg at 8:53 AM on November 28, 2013


So the entire UK is northern to you.

Europe in general is a lot farther north than most North Americans, including myself, imagine, especially because of the wamer climate of Western Europe. Barcelona (41 23' N) is farther north than New York City (40 40.2' N) but enjoys a considerably milder winter. Dublin, which doesn't seem to see very much snow at all, is at about the same latitude as the subarctic parts of Labrador.
posted by andrewesque at 9:04 AM on November 28, 2013 [4 favorites]


Non-UK people:

Technically, for southerners the north is supposed to be anywhere north of the Watford Gap, a service station on the M1 north-south motorway.

The Watford Gap is not "north" - it is in the midlands, southeast of Birmingham. It is also nowhere near Watford, the commuter town just north of London.

More northphobic Londoners, by which I mean the ones who typically point with wonder at the novelty of cows and fields, use actual Watford, the commuter town, as the guide to what is north. They don't really hate the north. They are scared of any and all places where the streetlights end, there are no roadmarkings down the centre of the tarmac, there are no takeaway food services, people are expected to talk to neighbours, and where the Daily Telegraph outsells the Guardian.

The exceptions are posh enclaves, of which some exist - to the west: Bath, Cheltenham, Oxford and the Cotswolds, as well as Rock and Padstow in Cornwall; to the east - Cambridge and coastal retreats like Aldeburgh, Southwold, Wells-Next-The-Sea and; in the midlands, Leamington Spa, Ludlow and Bakewell; to the north: parts of the Lake District, Ilkley and Harrogate. At a push, parts of Cheshire, including Alderley Edge: but so nouveau.
posted by MuffinMan at 9:05 AM on November 28, 2013 [3 favorites]


Stuart Maconie's own excellent Pies and Prejudice defines the North as starting at Crewe, iirc.

Thank you for posting this, mippy. I'm off work sick and miserable, and reading this really cheered me up.
posted by Catseye at 9:20 AM on November 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


In British Columbia's terms of reference, the Vancouver region is called the "south coast" (the BC coastline south of the Alaska panhandle is called the "north coast").

So, the "south coast" in British Columbia lies to the north of the Pacific Northwest in the United States.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:20 AM on November 28, 2013


I recall some years ago seeing a short bit on telly asking Londoners if they feel "Southern". They all said no and overall thought the idea of a North-South divide to be overworked and not really real. It's the invisible backpack thing.

Well, the M25 is real... Outside of that it's much of a muchness, init?

/ducks
posted by Artw at 9:22 AM on November 28, 2013 [3 favorites]


> "In the same way Louisiana is in the 'Deep South' despite not being over the Mexican border."

Yes, exactly. Although it is a little amusing to me that I live in the part of Scotland which is considered the effete South, which is, of course, well north of The North.
posted by kyrademon at 9:27 AM on November 28, 2013


When I travelled around rural and regional BC (including "the north") for work, there was a real animosity towards "southerners" that most people living in Vancouver were totally and absolutely unaware of.

One reason is that, at least in Canada, the "north" is hard to get to - it costs as much to fly round-trip from Victoria to Fort St. John in the northeast of the province as it does to fly to Asia, and driving just to Prince George (in the dead center of the province) from Vancouver takes 10 hours.

But the "southerners" I worked with in Vancouver who were of the class that runs this province were also incredibly arrogant and completely self-absorbed.

As a regional manager for this agency I often joked (sorry for Vancouver-centric humour here) that I represented British Columbia east of Burrard.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:29 AM on November 28, 2013


If you're writing about Iqualuit, capital of the Nunavut territory in Canada, for any reason whatsoever, you must mention that there is only one intersection.
posted by Kabanos at 9:48 AM on November 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


John Allison's excellent webcomic Bad Machinery is set in the North. THAT'S how you write about the North.
posted by infinitewindow at 9:51 AM on November 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


> how can they be the "North"… ?

Because Ghillie Jocko Land doesn't count. It's a bit like a cravatted elderly Yorkvillian claiming that East Toronto starts at Yonge and ends at the Don Valley. (Yes, I've experienced that.)

Watford is where the custard stops, as any fule kno.
posted by scruss at 9:53 AM on November 28, 2013 [3 favorites]


OK, then, how do you write about Hatfield?
 
posted by Herodios at 9:54 AM on November 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


if it's not north of a line between milwalkee and toronto, it's not really north

Woohoo! Go Ottawa! True North!

According to Google, Toronto is 47N and Southampton on the south coast of the UK is at 50N.

My own Googles say Toronto is closer to 44N

I think "North" tends to mean "fucking cold" around these parts
posted by Hoopo at 10:08 AM on November 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


Lots of planets have a north.
posted by bentley at 10:46 AM on November 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


OK, then, how do you write about Hatfield?

Never happens. It's too confusing for journalists - obviously not London, but also not quite far enough to be visited. Stevenage, however, often gets used as the last redoubt of civilisation beyond the Watford Gap.
posted by The River Ivel at 11:01 AM on November 28, 2013


There is no civilisation in Stevenage.
posted by Artw at 11:05 AM on November 28, 2013 [4 favorites]


There is nothing in Stevenage, and it is south of the Watford Gap anyway.

You wouldn't write about Hatfield, because it's awful!
posted by chrispy108 at 11:29 AM on November 28, 2013


Luton represent!
posted by Artw at 11:35 AM on November 28, 2013


Luton, Luton, isn't that a shitty airfield with a car park attached?
posted by MartinWisse at 11:36 AM on November 28, 2013


There's the Arndale center*! And some sink estates!

* now "The Mall, Luton", which is just crap.
posted by Artw at 11:40 AM on November 28, 2013


The Watford Gap's one of the those great things: a significant physical geographic divide which is utterly unnoticeable when you're actually there. As the Wikipedia article says, it is the gateway from the South East to the Midlands as it's the only route which doesn't involve climbing a (very mild) ridge.

It's also where the most distinguishing accent feature between southern England and the rest of England starts: the pronunciation of the BATH vowel (whether e.g. bath rhymes with hearth or with (archaic) hath). Which is my problem as a Midlander living the south: I feel it's a great affectation if I pronounce the name of the city I live in, Bath, like 'hearth'. On the other hand, no one understands me if I say it like 'hath'.

Fortunately, I moved here from Walsall, West Midlands, which is homophonic with Warsaw in all English accents except a West Midlands one, where the ls following as are pronounced. So I'm used to not being able to say where I live.
posted by ambrosen at 11:45 AM on November 28, 2013 [4 favorites]


Loving fook as a tag :)
posted by billiebee at 12:20 PM on November 28, 2013 [3 favorites]


Ambrosen: I've always wondered, how do people in Bath pronounce the word that means soaking in a warm tub of water?
posted by aspo at 1:29 PM on November 28, 2013


I guess I really mean the thing that you soak in, not the activity.
posted by aspo at 1:32 PM on November 28, 2013


aspo, it's exactly the same as the name of the city.
posted by ambrosen at 2:05 PM on November 28, 2013


That's just not right...
posted by aspo at 2:38 PM on November 28, 2013


Artw: There's the Arndale center [emphasis mine]

For shame, Artw. I think that you've spent too long in the colonies.
posted by Len at 2:56 PM on November 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


Apple did it!
posted by Artw at 2:57 PM on November 28, 2013


Bad workman, tools, etc. ;)
posted by Len at 2:59 PM on November 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


And just in case you wanted to know what an Arndale Centre is. (TL;DR - the first European malls, spread across northern England)

Most interesting thing I learned in the Wiki dive that led to that link: the expected lifespan of a shopping centre before renovation or demolition is 10 years. I mean, on reflection, nothing in Birmingham (where I grew up) has lasted much longer than 10 years, it just didn't occur to me that shopping centres really were that ephemeral.
posted by ambrosen at 3:36 PM on November 28, 2013


I really enjoyed the tour of the back-to-backs in Birmingham where the National Trust volunteer guide described life without a garden as a unimaginable horror of a bygone era.
posted by srboisvert at 3:38 PM on November 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


Anybody else think this was going to be a FPP about North Korea? Not that I'm complaining or anything.
posted by InsertNiftyNameHere at 4:40 PM on November 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


He forgot one thing. With the close of the 20th Century it's no longer a law that any article of more than 500 words about the North must somehow work in a mention of the Jarrow March. It's now more of a guideline, really.
posted by George_Spiggott at 5:41 PM on November 28, 2013


Until recently I thought "Life in a Northern Town" was about a guy in Canada. This thread is simply adding to my confusion.
posted by humanfont at 8:12 PM on November 28, 2013


I recall some years ago seeing a short bit on telly asking Londoners if they feel "Southern". They all said no.

The thing is, in the same way Scotland isn't part of the North, London isn't really part of the South. It is basically a seperate entity from the rest of England.
posted by ninebelow at 2:04 AM on November 29, 2013


As an (ex) northerner, I feel it my duty to point out that most of those stereotypes are, in fact, true. The ever-amusing Mr. Maconie knows this very well, too. Ah, Rotherham... *shudder*.
posted by Decani at 2:09 AM on November 29, 2013


Never forget, it's grim up north

As if we would! I'm off out t'fly me bloody whippets!
posted by Decani at 2:37 AM on November 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


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