Camp moustaches, organic hummus and a cheap pint are all prevalent in our region, according to a book on Northern stereotypes.
Ruth Addicott asks author Tim Collins to elaborate further.
"T HE North is one of the few places outside the Middle East where heterosexual men still sport moustaches,”
says Tim Collins, attempting to shed some light on the North/South divide.
According to Collins, who has just written a book on the subject, facial hair, flat caps and tracksuit bottoms rolled into sports socks are all style classics associated with the North.
A proud Northerner himself (despite uprooting to London 12 years ago), Collins is now hoping to dispel such myths for good in his book The Northern Monkey Survival Guide – How to Hang on to Your Northern Cred in a World Filled With Southern Jessies.
Packed with tongue-in-cheek observations and stereotypes about the South as well as the North, it covers everything from fashion and football to music. There’s a guide to understanding slang such as ‘ow do’, ‘howay’ and a ‘Middlesbrough Toothbrush’ (chewing gum), and helpful hints for Southerners thinking of venturing North of the M25 (‘don’t ask for a lager top’ being one of them).
“They imagine the North to be populated by men returning home from t’pit with their faces covered in soot and women with rollers in their hair and wrinkly stockings scrubbing the front steps,”
This then leads to the assumption that every shop is like Arkwright’s from Open All Hours, he says.
Collins has compiled a Northern Celebrity Hall of Fame (Derek Acorah, Ant and Dec, Jimmy Savile and Kerry Katona), and a Hall of Shame (Kelvin MacKenzie, Brian Sewell and Michael Winner, who described food in the North as “terrible beyond belief”).
Another area he focuses on in the book is fashion, including the obsession in some Northern towns with tracksuits and large logos. “Nothing will get people rushing out of their doors to tell you to get away from their cars faster than tucking your tracksuit bottoms into your sports socks,” he notes.
As for that other fashion favourite, the ’tashe, Collins claims the North is on its own when it comes to facial hair.
He says most Northerners grew them because they wanted to emulate football heroes such as Ian Rush and David Seaman.
But while the rest of the nation removed theirs with the rise of Freddie Mercury in the Eighties, a lot of Northern men, for some reason, chose not to follow suit.
“Whatever the reason, we should be proud to live in a region where men are comfortable enough with their sexuality to sport such camp facial furniture,” he says.
Apart from being “dour”, “bitter about the South being richer” and “not PC” (he blames Bernard Manning and Roy ‘Chubby’ Brown for this), the other issue facing Northerners, according to Collins, is the “we ate all the pies”
He claims the media is largely to blame for this, citing the pictures in 2006 of mums in Rotherham pushing junk food through the school railings after chips and pies were banned as part of Jamie Oliver’s healthy eating campaign.
“Add to this the sight of Kerry Katona eyeing up trays of chicken dippers as though they were made of gold in Iceland ads and you’d think we were all hooked on the kind of diet that will have you in the ground before you’re 50,” he says.
COLLINS points out that ‘cuisine’ in the North has become significantly more sophisticated in the last few years, with Waitrose expanding, several restaurants being awarded Michelin stars – and Tyneside bakers Greggs introducing a low-fat range of sausage rolls.
Northern cuisine is not all about tripe and dripping, he says, adding that Northerners are just as likely to buy sun-blushed tomatoes and organic hummus from Marks & Spencer’s Simply Food as take their chances with some unmarked tins from bargain stores.
“Some restaurants even put tables and chairs outside on the pavements now, so we can all feel like we’re dining out in Paris,” he says. “Although the Champs Elysees has slightly fewer older people on mobility scooters complaining that you’re in the way.”
Born and bred in Manchester, Collins moved to London 12 years ago and has been the butt of jokes about his Northern roots ever since.
(Even though there is no trace of an accent and if you didn’t know better, you’d think he was born in Islington).
Although he says London suits him because he’s “naturally unfriendly”, one feature the North will always have over the capital is that the people here are a lot more friendly.
Northerners are far more likely to start chatting to someone they don’t know on a train or at a bus stop or offer their seat to a pregnant woman. “You wouldn’t sit on the Tube and strike up a conversation with the person next to you. They’d think you were a nutter,” he says.
Another redeeming feature is that it’s a lot cheaper here. Crisps cost 35p in the North and a pie, £1.20.
Down South, you get hand-cut vegetable shavings for £1.45, and a filo parcel for £8.95.
Collins claims that as things are cheaper, effectively Northerners are richer and often have a much nicer lifestyle. Asked why he thinks so many stereotypes still exist about the North, he believes it’s because most Southerners have never been.
Aside from the astronomical cost of train tickets, he believes there is still an element of snobbery.
“What interests me about people from London is they’ve been to China and India and all the villages in Tuscany, but Leeds and Liverpool aren’t even on their radar – they think the South-East is England,”
“People know about Newcastle, but they don’t know much about Middlesbrough, Sunderland or Darlington.”
He may have lost his accent, but Collins hasn’t forgotten his roots and has his heart set on moving back for good one day – as soon as he can persuade the wife, he says.
■ The Northern Monkey Survival Guide by Tim Collins (Michael O’Mara Books, £4.99)