As you may or may not know, I am from the North. Specifically the windswept and rainy coasts of Northumberland, England; a place that, I am wont to remind people, is north of the wall. It’s a fuzzy and grey place that isn’t quite Scotland, but isn’t quite England either; it’s a county that the rest of England tends to forget. A lot of people don’t really think there’s anything north of Newcastle other than a vast expanse of nothingness, they’re not far wrong either. There isn’t anything that could be even remotely described as a city and the largest town has a population of just shy of forty thousand. The population density (as I have mentioned before) is only 160 people per square mile, making it the most sparsely populated place in England and forever meaning it plays second fiddle to its neighbouring sibling of Tyne and Wear. You may be wondering where exactly I’m going with this. Being from Northumberland very much defines who and what I am. The things is though, it never used to.My northerness was something I never really used to fuss about, it was just an arbitrarily defined, geographical descriptor of where I happened to live. Everyone else I knew was northern, we were all northern; it was just a thing, a fact; something which I just took for granted, accepted and paid little to-no attention to. The south was just a vague and amorphous other-world which occasionally we’d visit or go on holiday to. Then I left.
In late 2004 I moved out of my parent’s house and went to university in Nottingham. Nottingham was not the north, the vast majority of the people there weren’t northern and that, I suppose, is when it all started. it started small at first. A lot of the people I met were from a fair way further south than Nottingham; to them, Nottingham was the north. Of course there were also the handful who considered anything past the Watford Gap to be the North. I did not take too kindly to this and drew a line in the sand, defining what I believed to be the north and what wasn’t. From there it only got worse. The north became to me an almost Nirvana, a paradise where everything was better than the south. Maybe not actually better in terms of infrastructure or amenities, but somehow purer, just fundamental right. I exalted the place, I ranted and raved, waxed lyrical about it. It became a place that everywhere should ultimately aspire to be. I began hoarding facts about my belovéd Northumberland; facts like the aforementioned population density, how it is the most heavily fortified area of the country (there’s castles everywhere, well, bits of castles at least) and how the northern dialect has astounding similarities to old Anglo Saxon and the languages of Scandinavia.
My accent is another thing that’s changed a bit too. My voice has, from an accent point of view, always been fairly bland. The only indicators of my northern upbringing was a slightly elongated diphthong in some of my words and the fact that I pronounced path and bath like a sane and sensible person; there is no r in these words, Southrons take note of this. A lot of people gradually have their native accent eroded through extended periods of time elsewhere. But not me, oh no. I started slipping in half forgotten regional colloquialisms into everyday conversation and delighted in the bemused looks of my peers. And with certain phrase I’d lay it on the accent really thick. The two simple words of “Going Home” became a mangled travesty of tortured syllables and distended vowels, becoming the northern words “Gannin Hyem”
All of this had been a fairly slow process, gradually evolving over the course of almost eight years. Then I found myself in deepest darkest Berkshire and it really kicked into over drive. With the south pressing in from every direction, being ever-present, ubiquitous, inescapable, I’ve felt more than just a little threatened. I’ve found myself clinging to my northerness like a life-belt. I’ve been vocal about it, I’ve laid it out for all to see. I may as well be standing on a large hill with a megaphone screaming “I am Northern! Just thought you should know!”
In my pride and fear, I have become a sad and slightly pathetic parody of myself. A thing of vague ideals and half remembered experiences. A person looking at the past through spectacles tinted a heavy, heavy rose. I have become a militant northern, and anyone who doesn’t like it can just hadaway.
December 17th, 2011 at 1:11 pm
Oh no! You live north of the wall and winter is coming! (I’ve been watching far too much Game of Thrones)
Thanks for the insight into the history of your accent. I’ve been in Australia for over 15 years now, so my English accent is definitely gone, but on the odd occasion I’ve been back there I can’t help but pick it up again. They are a funny thing, accents.
December 17th, 2011 at 3:30 pm
It’s such a shame that Hadrian’s wall is so unimpressive in comparison to Westeros’ 😦
I don’t know what I’d do if I lost my accent completely and had it subsumed by another. I’m not sure I’d know who I was any more. Even if it still lurked at the back of my mind, ready to be picked up and used again; I think I’d feel oddly vulnerable.
December 22nd, 2011 at 7:21 am
I guess I was pretty excited when people started telling me I was sounding more Australian. I was a very shy kid, so school was a nightmare for a nervous, strange-sounding foreigner. I miss it now, but there’s never been any sense of losing my identity. To be honest, I don’t think I even noticed until it was pointed out to me.
I only wish sometimes that I hadn’t been so keen to blend in…I would have loved to have a British accent anytime post-primary school!
December 23rd, 2011 at 10:11 am
Kids are cruel and vicious creatures. Not blending in would have marked you out as prey, they would have fallen on you like a pack of wolves/dogs/dingos. I doubt most people would have done any differently. And at the end of the day everyone loves an Ozzie 😛
December 23rd, 2011 at 10:15 pm
Haha. Yes, well, thankfully they weren’t the cruel vicious creatures that some can be, but they were exceptionally interested in me and being the centre of attention was something I absolutely dreaded. I like to think I now have the best of both worlds, my Aussie accent and my British heritage 🙂