Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Grim Up North?

As a northerner, I can relate to Sting’s hit, An Englishman in New York. Not because, well, I am English and live in the Big Apple, but because here in the Big Smoke I just have to open my mouth and it is apparent I am an immigrant from beyond the limits of the M25. If I had a pound for every time someone asked me, “So, where in the north are you from?” I’d be quite few bob better off.
You see, Londoners are a little bit obsessed about the north/south divide. And I’m not just talking about the famous Watford Junction boundary. I am talking north or south of the river. Oh yes, it doesn’t matter if you are from Camden or Chelsea, you are united in your position above the Thames, in the same way Brixton and Battersea join forces on the opposite bank.
Maybe it’s because I am an outsider, but, dare I admit it, I think my loyalties are divided. Let me explain.
When I first moved to London I lived in Streatham, and, six months later, moved into zone two, five minutes from Oval. Okay, so I spent a lot of time heading over to the dark side to meet my chums, go shopping, hang out in Soho, but I was decidedly content. Brixton had some really cool bars, Camberwell (where I worked) was rapidly catching up, and my local, the Fentiman Arms, was a real joy.
Then, five years ago I got a new job in Camden and upped sticks to Islington – and my first ever sole tenancy. After a few false starts, I got used to not having to share the bathroom with some crazy gardener who was obsessed with sheds (no joke). But... well, I missed the south. Which is ironic, considering my wider geographical roots.
This weekend, I had the opportunity to indulge in a little nostalgia. Having arranged to meet friends in my old fave the Fentiman, I first met a friend in Brixton for a coffee. With half an hour to spare before my rendezvous at the pub, I had enough time to wander down my old street... and past my old flat. Bless it, it was still there, and its lovely new tenants had put some plants outside in terracotta pots and hanging baskets. I wondered if I would have done the same if I had stayed there.
The Fentiman was as lovely as ever. In fact, it has got even better – they now have a cocktail menu and blankets out in the beer garden in case your knees get a bit chilly. As for the food, my chicken burger and choc brownie with vanilla ice cream certainly hit the spot. Ah, happy days.
The following day, back in Holloway, I went to the cinema with Him Indoors to see Attack The Block. A movie about a group of hoodies who take on an alien invasion is not the kind of thing that usually makes you feel all warm and fuzzy inside, but I couldn’t help but feel at home when I saw Oval tube station flash up on the screen within the first few minutes.
So, am I being disloyal to my new hosting borough? Maybe. But not completely. Living where I do now, I am a bus ride away from Camden and Spitalfields market, and the 91 bus not only gets me to Kings Cross within 30 minutes, it also drops me off by the British Museum and Trafalgar Square. You can’t get better than that.
Having said that, if I were to move again, I would probably cast my eye south of the river. Okay, so it is a little further out, but it is cheaper, it has personality. It is on the edge. And at the end of the day it isn’t that much further away from London’s epicentre. Not that it relies on the West End for anything. It has a magnetic personality of its own.

1 comment:

  1. What is it about north and south....Sydney has the north south divide too....those who live south of the Harbour Bridge see themselves very differently from those in the North....maybe it has something to do with water....the divide of the Thames...the divide of Sydney Harbour...maybe human nature just instinctively wants to be separate and unique....or is it tribal. Are we still basically tribal and want to divide along geographical lines....who know humans are funny!!! the blog