I WAS brought up with a jaundiced view of the South. My mother believed we had more in common with the working families of Europe than with the toffs down South. London was a foreign land.
On my first visit, at 17, I took a tent. I slept in Euston station until a policeman kicked me awake. My second trip was to see Newcastle United lose at Wembley in 1976. The same year, I moved to Reading with my girlfriend of five years. It ended the relationship and I returned to Tyneside.
Two years later, I ventured South again – to Darlington. I lived there for five years and in Winston village for nine, married a Darlington girl and had three County Durham-born children.
Professionally, I visited London many times, but my views were not diluted. It was a time of Thatcherism and the North-East was underrepresented and misunderstood. Then the unthinkable happened. I was offered a move up the ladder. There was, of course, a but. A big one. It was in the South.
After much soul-searching, we said farewell to Durham and hello to Sussex. That was 20 years ago. Today, we are almost accepted. The natives no longer ask if we keep coal in the bath or if I wear white socks with my suit. They do, though, still drift into a “why-aye” type accent when talking to me.
The question I am most asked, though, is which do I prefer. So, to mark 20 years in exile, here is my look at the North-South divide.
IT is simplistic to say the South is affluent; the North poor. There is wealth and poverty in both.
The figures do not lie though – the North-East has the highest unemployment, the South-East the lowest.
Our business has thrived and my children have no problem finding jobs.
My eldest studied at Northumbria University and has stayed in Tyneside. However, his work is in the South, and a move looks inevitable.
My youngest, Sussex-born, is determined to return to his family roots. But with average salaries in London £14,000 higher than in the North-East, I suspect he will be back.
EATING OUT AND PUB LIFE
SOUTHERN living has introduced us to a colossal culinary choice. Even our village pub does pigeon and chorizo tapas and local wild boar.
But last week I had Thai fish cakes and duck in Newcastle’s Grey Street. It was first rate, as was the service, and far, far cheaper.
In the South, I have never had proper fish and chips (and don’t start me on the pease pudding issue).
Southern pubs can be just as friendly, but my main gripe is that the beer is awful – usually served flat with no body. I drink it out of duty.
A pint of Landlord in my Northern local, the Old Well, in Barnard Castle, is £3; in my Southern local it is £3.20. In London, I regularly pay £4 a pint. And a 250ml wine will knock you back at least £6.
IN the North, friends would pop round for coffee without invitation. That rarely happens here.
The Southerner is a reserved beast and I am an “oddball” because I chat on trains. That said, the belief that “Southerners are cold fish”
is a myth and we now have great friends in both regions.
TEESDALE has views that I badly miss – but we are surrounded by impressive woods and seacapes.
It wasn’t until I moved South that I kept bumping into badgers and deer. The North is wilder and rugged, the South quainter and more manicured.
Teesdale edges out the Sussex Downs though, and the South Coast beaches (did you know Brighton is all pebbles?) can’t hold a candle to the Northumberland coast.
TRAFFIC AND TRAVEL
SOUTHERNERS may live longer but that’s to compensate for the time in traffic jams. It is little better by train.
I live 63 miles from London and it takes 90 minutes to get there. It only takes two hours from York. And meeting friends for a pint after work isn’t always easy. A round trip by Tube can take three hours.
On the other hand, because we are 45 minutes from the Chunnel, we can go to France for Sunday lunch.
THERE is no escaping it – the South is warmer.
There are 400 more hours of sunshine each year – and it is warmer sunshine, too.
We used to leave Darlington in overcoats and remove layers, arriving in Sussex in shorts and T-shirts.
It is warmer, drier and the leaves stay longer on the trees. That said, Northern evenings are lighter – and a smattering of snow and the South grinds to a halt.
A FAMILY of four with an income of £50,000 in the North-East is comfortably off. In the South, it would be more of a struggle.
House prices are the big one. Last year, the average difference grew to more than £100,000.
I wonder if my children will ever afford their own places. An annual train ticket to London from our village is £5,188.
Parking at the station is £684 a year.
It doesn’t end there. Fast food, hotel rooms, a cup of coffee and petrol are charged “according to the local market”.
Things such as bread and milk can cost 30 per cent more.
PEOPLE in the North are fiercely proud of their heritage. Northern roots pervade the workplace and family life. It is often “us against the world”.
I go to Newcastle United away games and the fans are the perfect illustration of the difference.
The passion for simply “being Northern” is something the regular Southerner does not understand.
SO there you have it. We enjoy the best of both worlds – Northern souls with Southern weather.
We have no regrets (except perhaps the beer and my children’s accents). But, as retirement looms, would we come back? It’s a tough call.
Buy me a proper Northern pint and we’ll talk about it.