Society Spy: It’s Grim Up North

…Or not. The Society Spies infiltrate the North Society and address the North-South divide.

Cambridge Cambridge University downing Happy Mondays Homerton Johnny Vegas London Manchester North-South Divide Oasis Society Spy Stone Roses Tab The Smiths the tab The Verve

Cambridge has a whole host of societies that celebrate foreign cultures: the French Society comes together to talk about frogs and over-use the phrase 'oh, la la,' (we presume); the Russian Society comes together to down copious amounts of vodka (we presume); so therefore the North Society comes together to sup ale and massacre pies.

Well actually, we don’t have to make any assumptions about the last one because this week, Society Spy interviewed Joe Christopher, founder of the up-and-coming Cambridge University North Soc, who informed us that this is exactly what the northerners in the city of Cambridge come together to do. Is northern culture is really so different that it merits having a society all of its own? We have to point out at this stage that we are writing this article entirely without bias: one of us is a northern lass and the other a southern yokel; when our opinions are combined they form a ‘perfect’ balance (either that or we will have killed each other before reaching the last sentence).

When Joe first started at Queen’s, he was immediately singled out as ‘Northerner of the Year’, which led to people joking that he should start a society…so in true northern spirit, he did. He soon realised he wasn’t the only one who took pride in his northern roots and North Soc quickly gained a substantial membership. The southern half of Society Spy would like to suggest that membership rapidly grew because pies were offered as an incentive rather than anything to do with northern pride and this is included in the article in the interest of free speech. However, the other half has close links with Johnny Vegas and would like to assure all northern readers that he will be notified of this comment at a suitable time (ie: when he’s had a few bevvies and is in no mood for northern slights). Initially the society was only open to those from north of the line that runs roughly somewhere through the Midlands but it soon opened its doors to honorary southern membership. Must be the attraction of the famous Northern Soul…

North Soc is for the time being an informal society, meeting up to have ‘posh teas’ – aka formal, northern style – and is hoping to organise a ‘flat-cap formal’ later this term, where the passwords will be ‘Ee, bah gum,’ and, ‘Ecky thump’. Joe really believes that the North has a culture of its own. He recognises that there is a real debate as to whether a north-south divide, in terms of economic disadvantage and inequality, exists today but thinks that the real difference is in people's attitudes: ‘On trains and buses at home it’s like a social club – you find out about Vera’s six grandchildren and what they’re up to and she’ll ask all about your life whereas here, it’s iPod in and gaze mindlessly out of the window’. He also points to the music that has come out of Manchester (Oasis, The Stone Roses, The Happy Mondays, The Verve, The Smiths) as being very defined and believes this is because it is the product of a unique culture.

When we interviewed other students about what they think about North Soc, we received mixed responses. Some northernerswere concerned that the society may propagate a stereotype and create a false divide. Tom Wilson (Downing), a Stoke lad said, ‘I’m not convinced it’s a good idea. It would give the southerners another excuse to feel superior’. However an anonymous southerner from Homerton thought the society was a good idea and even went as far as to suggest they should segregate the ‘pie eating bastards’ into a different college, being inventive enough to come up with a name for it: ‘Pleb Hall’.

However, in all seriousness, some northern students recognised that there are cultural aspects that are unique to the North and that it would be nice to feel that they have these aspects in common with others. Amongst suggestions made were: Rugby League is a big thing up North and it might be nice to find others to go down to the pub with when the game's on (especially if you come from St Helens and find a much-loathed Wiganer to watch the match with so that you can gloat when your team wins, although North Soc’s founder will definitely not endorse that comment!); it always produces the feel-good factor when you find somebody else who understands that a ‘split’ is chips and peas and that ‘skrike’ means cry; it just isn’t fun competing in drinking contests against those with half your beer capacity. (Northerners need to find other northerners to provide a challenge.)

The fact that your Society Spies have had a considerable number of disagreements during the writing of this article suggests that there are some differences between northern and southern culture. This leads to the proposition that North Soc is a good idea but also that perhaps there should be South Soc or maybe societies for different regions within England. However, the fact that neither of us has committed murder would suggest that we can all live in harmony celebrating our differences, unless you’re French or Russian (we presume).