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.

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