Friday, 14 January 2011

A north-south divide

I'm a South London girl, through and through. Those of you reading this from other parts of the country, or indeed the world, might not realise the enormous difference between being just a Londoner and being a South Londoner. I know lots of countries have a north-south divide; with one half of a country deemed to be more prosperous, productive and progressive than the other. I know I've occasionally made an ever-so-slightly derogatory comment about my beloved's birthplace being in the north of England. But the truth is, in my heart, the north-south divide centers on the River Thames. All the good people live south of the river, the others, well they're just Londoners.

I'm fiercely proud of the few square miles where I grew up. Who needs London Zoo when you can feed the ducks in Dulwich Park? Who'd want a dip in the Serpentine when you might swim all day at Brockwell Park Lido. Why crane your neck to admire the Docklands skyscapers when you could gaze up at the Crystal Palace Tower and pretend you're in Paris?

None of my family still live in the area, so nowadays there's very little reason to go back. But once in a while, when I'm brave enough to take the car into London, I'll go slightly out of my way to follow the route of the no.3 bus, slowing down as I pass our old house in Croxted Road, and again when I hit the congestion of Brixton High Street.  Then I'll remember the shopping trips to Brixton with my Mum, me traipsing around behind her while she did her shopping; bored, but comforted by the knowledge that we'd always end up going to Marks & Spencers for chicken-flavoured crisps and a packet of iced biscuits.

My first ever Saturday job was at Clark's the Bakers in Brixton's Electric Avenue.  Wikipedia tells me now that the street gained its name from being the first in London to be lit by electricity. I didn't know that then, but I did know the different names for all the types of bread; from farmhouse to bloomer, split-tin to baguette. I remember the way our fingers got sticky from the cakes, then black-sticky from handling the money, and I know how horribly smug I was that I could add up the prices in my head while others needed to jot them down on the back of paper bags. I haven't thought about that job for years, but as I write this, I can still picture the brown and white checked overalls we had to wear; a bit like a doctor's housecoat, only nasty and nylon. I can still sense the feel of sticky fingers on synthetic fabric.

And when I think of working at Clark's I can't help but remember my first ever boyfriend. Eddie lived in Brixton, and on Saturdays he worked in Electric Avenue. I never minded tidying up the trays of belgian buns and doughnuts, when it meant I could look up to see the tall grinning Irish lad, selling yams and green bananas from the market stall outside. After work, it was so much nicer waiting outside Woolworths for the bus home, when you had someone warm to wait with.

Perhaps the relationship was doomed to last only as long as my job at the bakers, but it wasn't helped by events on the night my Mum threw a party, on a river-boat on the Thames. Copious amounts of free drink and the gentle rocking of the waves proved too much for Eddie and he ended up being sick over the side of the boat. It might perhaps have been ok, if I'd known before then about the false tooth he wore. The one right at the front. The one that flew out in a stream of vomit, into the river that night.

At the time I was mortified and even though the tooth was soon replaced, I could never look at him quite the same again. Many, many years later, with the benefit of hindsight and perhaps a slightly less shallow perspective, I can be much more forgiving. Who knows, maybe his nausea had nothing to do with the drink, perhaps it was the strange foreign air he was forced to breathe on leaving South London and entering that no-man's land of the Thames, the great north-south divide.


legend in his own lunchtime said...

Isn't it strange how N/S divides are developed. From the North of England myself, I am aware of the prejudices that thrive, but they even exist between Newcastle and Gateshead. In case anyone thinks this might be a modern construct, the train driver who first crossed the new railway bridge between Newcastle and Gateshead back in the late 1800's was reputed to to have said, " Aye Jacky, it's either Hell, or Gatesheed".

Dani said...

It must be kinda nice, though, to have a place you're fiercely proud of, even if it does cause problems among people. I personally don't feel that attached to PA, and don't really plan on staying.

I'm having a giveaway over here! Come take a look if you like.

Pat said...

I was born and bred in Lancashire but left home at 16 and now regarded as a 'bloody southerner'.
Nothing wrong with having a northerner for a husband. As long as he's from the right side of the Pennines.

Helle Kristine Tumbridge said...

Great post. I too acknowledge the differences in London, however, my north/south divide is placed firmly in Watford. I was brought up in East London/Essex, then became an honourary South Londoner for many years. However, my partner (who is a bit too posh, to be honest) brought me to West London. 'Fraid I've been brain-washed. However, he hid the fact that his father is a proper Northerner from me. The thruth will out. Hah!

dys·func·tion said...

"perhaps it was the strange foreign air he was forced to breathe on leaving South London and entering that no-man's land of the Thames"
Amazing sentence. I found this one to be the best, almost an epilogue filled with poetic humour.
Beautiful. Thank you.

otherworldlyone said...

I loved this.

Here, the divide here between north and south isn't as pronounced as it once was, but there are still plenty of border prejudices. Sometimes they're funny and sometimes they're not. I often make fun of growing up in the south, but I'm proud of it. I really am. This post reminded me of that.

And I loved the bit about working in the bakers and your boyfriend. Irish, was he? Swoon. :)

caterpillar said...

I understand how the divide's all the same here I add to it, we have a different language per state...another thing to defend...:) I feel bad for the Irish guy though...

Jane said...

I really enjoyed reading this - you took me back to South London where I spent 10 years or so.
I lived in various bits of Brockley/ Forest Hill & had a boyfriend who lived in Croxted Rd.

There's a north / south divide in Dublin too.
South of the Liffey women wear real fur & have fake orgasms whilst North of the river they wear fake fur.......

Mr London Street said...

This makes me want to read more about your teenage years - so vividly done, those tiny details perfectly captured.

It's people in the Midlands I feel sorry for, not one thing or the other. Like the place itself.

Nessa Roo said...

I enjoyed this post from the N/S divide right down to the toothless boyfriend.
We have our own division in the US, but I don't have to worry about the differences because I'm from Texas, and that's all that needs to be said about that.

Bth said...

Living in Southfields, can I call myself one of those 'good people'?! I loved hearing about your Brixton memories - they were so vivid. I walked down Electric Avenue last weekend - lovely that I can picture you there!

Sensible Footwear said...

Some of those places you mention are so familiar - Dulwich Park in particular.

And oh dear - poor Eddie.

I've lived in South London for more than half my life but whenever anyone asks where I live I always seem to add where I'm from originally - if you get what I mean. Don't suppose that ever leaves some of us because it's so much a part of who we are.

Happy Frog and I said...

I was brought up in the East End of London but had a lot of friends all over the place including South London. I completely agree that there was a bit of a divide, though it was very friendly. I really enjoyed reading about some of your experiences and places that you love. I look forward to more hopefully.

Sharon Longworth said...

Legend - my other half is from Hartlepool and I know he has to put up with a lot of stick at this end of the country, but you're right, there are many other divides between different towns and communities, maybe it's just a way of making ourselves feel like we belong?

Dani - I've known plenty of people who couldn't wait to get away from the place they were living. It's strange though, how many end up going back and then even start thinking of it fondly.
I must get over to have a look at your give-away.

Pat - I agree that Northerners make fine husbands, though I suspect you might think mine's from the wrong side - he's a North-easterner.

Helle - I've worked in Essex for a few years now, but it still seems like a foreign country to me. I'm rather ashamed to admit that I've never really got to know West London at all - perhaps I should try to put that right.

Sharon Longworth said...

Dys.func.tion - Hello and welcome to the blog - thank you for your very kind comment and also for following - hope to see you back here soon.

OWO - I've always had a bit of a thing for curly-haired, smiley-eyed Irishmen (as well as Northerners called Philip obviously, so I'll join you in that swoon.

Caterpillar - even though we have the same language, that doesn't always mean we understand each other! Don't feel too bad for the Irishman, I'm sure he went on to find a much better girlfriend.

Jane - Croxted Road was home for the first 19 years of my life, so still very much in my heart.
I love the comment about Dublin girls!

Sharon Longworth said...

MLS - much to my horror, I'm getting to that age where the longer ago it happened, the better I can remember it...

Nessa Roo - thank you. I have to admit my only view of Texas was formed from watching Dallas on tv -appallingly ignorant of me and I must take the time to update my understanding one day.

Bth - I already had you down as one of the good people. The fact that you live in Southfields only confirms that.

Sensible Footwear - I simply love Dulwich Park, it has so many happy memories for me of Sunday walks with my Dad - it might get a blog post all of its own one day.

Happy Frog - My Mum traces our family tree and she tells me I've got plenty of ancestors who came from the East End of London, so I guess we have something in common!

Corte Inglesa said...

I lived for five years in London- was aware of the north south divide but didn't realise it ran so deep!