The North South Divide at Cambridge
I’m from North Yorkshire not North London
At Cambridge, the North- South divide is real. Last week (tossing hair candidly, yet elegantly,) I matriculated at Cambridge University. I know, I know; future employers and potential canditatures for espousal, please form a straight line.
Southerners, get to the back. I am from Yorkshire, and have become increasingly so over the past week. Yorkshire, as we know, is England’s best and biggest county; it has been divinely ordained as ‘God’s Own Counteh’; yet its representation in Cambridge is tragically low. This sad state of affairs is true not just of Yorkshire, but of the North in general: Geordie-land, Scotland, those lucky enough to belong to the U.K. City of Culture 2017. Yes, I had suspected that, in applying to Cambridge, I would lose my comforting Northern blanket; that I would be a cat amongst the Home County pigeons. But never did I realise just how many of my new pals would be from The South.
It became increasingly clear in the days preceding my arrival. A friendly group-chat icebreaker (ANYONE FROM YORKSHIRE?????!!!!!!) was met with but a couple of responses. I did meet one, a Sheffielder, on my first foray into Life. During the glorious two hour extravaganza that was the queue, we bonded, wistfully reminiscing of the North. The Tees, Bernard Castle, Doncaster; a greater poetry than William Blake – West London native- could have hoped to pen.
Phoning the Porters' Lodge , I made the geographically correct statement that I was ‘coming down’ to Cambridge. Howls of laughter ensue. ‘Don’t you mean’, splutters the porter, ‘that you’re coming up’. (???!!!) Am I eating Devonshire clotted cream? Am I within spitting distance of David Cameron’s £5000 shed? Have I visited the Queen? No. I am not ‘coming up’ to Cambridge, with the phrase’s associations of moral ascendancy; I am lowering myself, geographically and morally, condescending to come to The South.
Working out who falls where on the North/South divide has greatly occupied me since arriving here. Some of my friends are already frankly taking the piss, pretending to be from geographically ambiguously areas – Lancashire, Greater Manchester, the Midlands. Although understanding this information to be factually correct (having of course examined documentation), such a lack of North/South clarity is unhelpful.
‘But are you North or South’ I demand, waving a beer can in my new staircase-mates’ faces. ‘DO YOU SAY ‘b-ah-th’ (I relish the neat short ‘ah’ with relish), or do you (my face contorts) say ‘b-aaaaa-th’(introducing a mocking, sheep-like tone.) ‘I don’t know’ whispers my new friend; please let me go to my room, and my lack of identity.’ (I paraphrase)
The matter was further complicated by non-English U.K. and international students: how can I mentally organise those from Hong Kong, Australia, Ireland, into my aggressively binary North-South divide? Did it mean, I wondered, that I was imposing a redundant and artificial divide onto a group of people who, regardless of origins, were all the bright young things I’d been waiting to meet my whole life? No; it couldn’t be that.
There are obvious differences. I miss the community spirit of the Northern counties; I miss the range of spicey accents: Maccham, Mancunian, Yorkshire – even Hull, at a push. I miss chatting about the weather, my A-levels, and my day, with friendly bus-stop lurkers, who call me ‘duck’ and ‘love’. £1.50 pints and Greggs pasties; here, the ‘Greggs line’ veers as far away from Cambridge as do strangers from my friendly Northern greetings on the street.
Hundreds of miles from the Vikings’ adopted cities, to be surrounded by Southerners can be an alienating experience. London, and the Home Countries, are the Status Quo; it does feel as if everyone south of the M1 knows each other. From my experience, approximately 60% of all group conversations eventually descend into two Islington insiders comparing mutual friends –'Yah, I also used to have trombone lessons with Penny at the Ed Miliband School of North London!’.
Despite the occasional bout of social alienation, I can’t, however, complain. In the space of only five short days, I’ve met many interesting, lively, and even lovable Southerners; it’s been a great chance to make new friends, from beyond the Penines. Frankly, I feel sorry for them. They're the ones permanatly stuck in the land of expensive pints and soppy Surrey towns – whereas I get to go back up North.