The Great Divide

I’m a Northerner. Born and bred.

I grew up eating dinner and tea in the back room, except on weekends, when we went swimming, and  Dad took us for chips and gravy after going to the swimming baths (that's baths pronounced with a short ‘a’). Where I grew up, wearing a coat was considered a sign of personal weakness.

But I’ve spent almost 15 years of my life living in the South East of England. It was a culture shock at first – I couldn’t get over how fast people walked, how they didn’t even apologise when they bumped into you on the Underground.  And I won a tenner in a bet with my first flatmate because she didn’t believe you could actually buy something called a ‘barm cake’ in the North of England.

But eventually, I started to go native. I began to eat lunch and dinner, and occasionally went for supper with friends. I bought a winter coat and a range of natty scarves. I told myself it was freezing in London – which would have been laughable to me a year or so earlier when I was fresh off the train from four years in Scotland. 

I even – to my brothers’ eternal amusement – learned how to swear with a Southern accent. My brother paid me a fiver in the pub one Christmas to tell his friends to 'fack' off, just so they could fall about laughing at the way I said it.

For now, though, I’m back in the North.

It shouldn’t be different. It’s a global economy and it’s 2010, after all. It really shouldn’t be different. But it is. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that I have five good friends in the small town we live in – and they’re all Southerners.

The problem is that even if I’m not quite a Northerner any more, I am definitely raising a small Northern person in my home. And every day, we live on opposite sides of the North/South divide. Take mealtimes, for instance:

“Is it time for dinner?” asks Flea.

“No, I’m just making lunch.”

“Oh, when’s dinner?”

“That’s tonight.”

“And when’s breakfast?”

Spelling is another potential minefield:

“Mummy, how do you spell you?” she’ll ask me.

I spell out the answer phonetically. “yuh, oh, uh.”

“I don’t think it is Mummy.”

“It is, I promise.”

She looks it up in her book. Shouts triumphantly: “It’s yuh, oh, UH,” she says in Northern tones.

“That’s what I said.”

“No, you said yuh, oh, oh.” 

“Facking teachers,” I mutter, under my breath.

We can go on like this for hours. If I try and imitate her pronunciation, she literally laughs in my face. For now, Flea has this weird hybrid accent. She’s perhaps 80% Northern and 20% Southern. Sometimes you can see that she’s wondering which pronunciation to choose, and the result comes out like mangled Australian. And it doesn’t help that my best friend is Canadian.

Lord only knows what’s going to happen when she learns to swear.


Sally is a full-time blogger and founder of the Tots100, Trips100, Foodies100 and HIBS100 communities, along with the MAD Blog Awards. She spends a bit too much time on the Internet. She’s also a very happy Mum to Flea, the world’s coolest ten year old.

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  1. 29th July 2010 / 6:39 pm

    It’s funny – I’m from the North (Manchester) and so’s my hubby. His brother was born and bred here too, but moved down south. He’s now married, and whenever we visit them (or vice versa), Hubby always mocks her accent, seeing as though it’s Southern. It’s hilarious!

  2. 29th July 2010 / 10:54 pm

    I was always told I sounded posh because I came from down south by my Northern cousins. How I wish that were true…

  3. 30th July 2010 / 12:02 am

    Ah, the old familial sport of laughing at accents. We do it with our cousins from Yorkshire, and they’re fellow northerns!

  4. 30th July 2010 / 12:02 am

    Okay, you have to explain the Irn Bru reference…

  5. 30th July 2010 / 12:02 am

    You mean you’re NOT posh??? *deletes Pippa from Facebook friends*

  6. 30th July 2010 / 12:27 am

    I’m constantly shocked by how *English* my children sound. The fact that they were born here and have lived here all their lives might have some bearing on that. I haven’t lost my accent at all, but it hasn’t rubbed off on them. Altogether now: Mummmmmmaaaaaay!

  7. 30th July 2010 / 12:33 am

    I know – Flea was born in the South and lived there until she was almost 2, but three years and almost every trace of that has gone. Which shouldn’t surprise me but it still does, quite regularly!

  8. 30th July 2010 / 6:53 am

    that’s great. accents are so funny. When my neice was born, her mother is english, her father is northern irish with a broad accent, her childmainder was a Kiwi, and they lived in Edinburgh. Despite being a homegrown child (no creche) and surrounded my this mix of accents, she developed an acute scottish lilt.
    Daisy, however, is like some genetic throwback. Hubby is from london (distinct from being just english!), I’m norther irish, and we live in Dublin. Yet, somehow our eldest child thinks she’s from Birmingham. We’ve never been to Birmingham. yet, we are breeding a brummy in all her glory. Isn’t life weird.

  9. 30th July 2010 / 8:30 am

    love it! and your tales of north/south differences very funny! It is fascinating the accents your kids adopt. we live on the welsh border, and so betty’s accent slips in and out of welsh – and she comes out with all the welshisms too ‘i like my baby sister, i do’ for example

  10. 30th July 2010 / 8:34 am

    ooohh i left a comment and it’s gone….
    loved this post. loved hearing about north/south divide, very funny! we too have funny accents going on with Betty, living on the welsh border

  11. 30th July 2010 / 9:32 am

    That is very weird! Sometimes Flea has this weird Aussie twang, I think it must just come from total confusion, though

  12. 30th July 2010 / 2:22 pm

    Love this post!! Hubby’s sister moved dan saf when she went to uni and when they get together it’s bizarre to hear them have conversations — hubby has this american/northern hybrid accent while she sounds like a right proper Southerner.
    I honestly don’t feel like I can breathe till I see the North Yorkshire moors. Everything south of there is like a foreign country to me! Not sure what I’ll do if we ever end up living dan there!

  13. Nikki
    30th July 2010 / 4:49 pm

    LOL love a good north/south divide chat. To me (born and bred in Berks) the north starts at high wycombe or the watford gap services on the M25 and my husband is from “the north” but he say’s its East Midlands – whatever, its north of here.
    We had an agreement that the kids would speak in the local dialect that they grow up in (my area) but they still pick up on his tones or bath, laff, path etc. I’m not supposed to correct them but I can’t help it!!

  14. 30th July 2010 / 5:26 pm

    You know, it’s funny because so long as I’m near the coast, I’m pretty content – and much as I adore the Lakes, I grew to love the Sussex Downs and Ashdown Forest just as much.

  15. 30th July 2010 / 5:28 pm

    I know! I’m horribly conscious that my own accent is pretty mangled – 17 years in the North, 4 years in Scotland, a couple of years in Canada and then living in the South – it’s a completely non-identifiable mess by this point. No wonder poor Flea gets confused!

  16. 30th July 2010 / 5:30 pm

    It’s interesting because you can TELL the words Flea has and hasn’t heard at school. So she will talk about ‘bath’ with a short ‘a’ but France with a long ‘a’. And ‘butter’ with a Northern ‘u’ sound, but ‘mutter’ has a Southern sound.
    To be honest, I encourag her Northerness because I know it drives my ex bananas. My bad.

  17. 30th July 2010 / 7:08 pm

    Ha, Loving this.
    We have the dinner tea/lunch dinner. I use dinner and tea like you do. Snaffles tends to use lunch and dinner. Occasionally he will use lunch, dinner and tea in an attempt to gain an extra meal!
    Its amaxing hoe easily you develop or drop an accent. I was born and raised in Canada until I was 5 and it took me several years to drop the accent.

  18. 31st July 2010 / 11:05 pm

    I live in Scotland and only realised recently that all the children of my daughter’s age speak with an English accent, just mine (half German) with a Scottish one. Suddenly it dawned on me that all my mummy friends around here happen to be English… north or south, but English throughout. Little wonder the weans blether so posh. And for mine – Irish childminder, German mum and she speaks in the broadest Glaswegian there is. Loving it.

  19. 7th August 2010 / 11:43 am

    And I’m worried about my kids’ accent…I’m american, living in rome and married to a sicilian…and they go to a british school with teachers that are irish, scottish and british (north and south!). Will my children even speak english at the end of this?

  20. AmsterdaMummy
    1st December 2011 / 11:19 am

    I see I’m a bit late to this thread. But I’m a northerner from Lancs living in Amsterdam, my eldest is four and started school in September, her dutch accent is perfect, she rolls her R’s and speaks from the front of her tongue and back of her throat, but when I talk to her in dutch, she really tells me off. I say to her that because I’m northerner I will never be able to say some dutch words properly, she gets ever so cross with me… i do find it funny when she talks english though, she has a deep U sound – so the word ‘dutch’ is said with a real ‘Ugh’ sound and we say butty and tea’s ready too… I love my northern heritage.