If you’ve been following the news the last couple of days, you’re no doubt aware of the Cities Unlimited report published by Policy Exchange. A Tory think-tank, Policy Exchange has been ridiculed even by David Cameron for the absurdity of its proposals, such as how northerners should all move south because otherwise we’re doomed to failure. I wonder just where they expect people to move to, given that the south is already overcrowded and house prices are so high that most people can no longer afford to buy.
Today’s Guardian carried a feature written by no less than 11 well-known public figures explaining why they believe the north is better. I couldn’t agree more. Pretty much every reason cited is a valid argument for southerners moving north of Watford.
I was born in the south-east and still have my native accent even though I left my home town 34 years ago. I spent 6 years in the 1980s living in Leeds – a splendid city then and even more so today. I fell in love with the north when I arrived there. I was amazed to discover that northerners chat to strangers at bus stops – do that down south and people move away, eyeing you uneasily on the assumption you must be a nutter. I adore northerners’ friendliness.
So it was a bit of a shock when I moved back south to London in 1988 for work reasons. I loathed the crowded commutes on the Tube, with everyone hiding behind their newspapers. I hated the litter everywhere. The pollution was ghastly – only in London can you blow your nose and produce black snot (and if that’s what your nostrils trapped, what ended up in your lungs?). Some days I’d take the bus home from work – a 3 mile trip that would take an hour (!) and and involve being stationary in traffic jams for most of that time. Many was the time I’d get off the bus at my stop to throw up immediately into the gutter as I was literally sick from inhaling exhaust fumes.
I also hated the general overcrowding, the high rents, the price of food, the amount of time it took to travel anywhere (I gave up my car as the parking costs were ridiculous) and the feeling that I was stuck on some hideous treadmill as part of the urban rat race. I lasted 4 years and by then I’d more than had enough.
After a long spell abroad, I returned to the UK and it was to the north that I headed. The thought of living in the south-east again was unbearable – it has changed only for the worse in my absence and a couple of days is the most I can handle there.
Up here, I can breathe cleaner air, not feel hemmed in, pay less for all life’s necessities (and the pleasurable unnecessaries). Most importantly, I feel part of the community in the north, part of the human race, something I feel disappeared long ago down south. Granted it rains too much up here for my liking but it’s a small price to pay for a quality of life that is infinitely superior to that south of Watford.
Some of my northern friends call me a “soft southern jessie” jokingly to my face. I don’t mind, either the humour or the “insult”. True or not, I can’t imagine living in the south ever again. If it’s grim anywhere, it’s certainly not here.