‘Where you’re from…’ or, ‘Where ya from..?’
The Stone Roses’ Ian Brown said, ‘It’s not where you’re from, it’s where you’re at’, which has since been quoted ad nauseum in … well, in articles like this mainly. Ian, I love you, but I think you’re wrong. On a small, populous island like ours, where you’re from has a good deal of cultural currency. And while it’s certainly healthy not to get caught up in regional identity to the detriment of personal voice, sometimes, if you’re Northern, that’s not always an option.
You might have guessed from the opening quote that I’ll be mainly focusing on Manchester during my guest blog posts, but hopefully the things I’ll say will have some resonance for ideas about ‘the North’ generally. Just as so many ideas about ‘the South’ are reduced to a vague idea of social privilege, the Thames Estuary and its concomitant dull accent, ideas about the North are… well you know what they are, which is probably why you’re reading this post.
So by way of an introduction, and to challenge remaining notions that there is a definitive North; where am I from, and where am I at?
I was born in Douglas on the Isle of Man. Most people born there were born in the Jane Crookall Maternity Hospital. That’s true for me and also true for the Bee Gees, more of whom later. Not to blind you with geography, but the Isle of Man’s a funny one. Being an island, it’s not part of Great Britain, though I have a British passport, nor is it part of the UK, and hence not part of the EU either. It’s a ‘Crown Dependency’, a phrase that makes a Republican like me balk, but it’s not as ‘dependent’ as all that; the island looks a hardy little bugger sitting out there, equidistant between England and Ireland. That’s a little psychogeographical tick that I like about being Manx-by-birth: my Mum is from Dublin and my Dad is from Blackpool. The Isle Of Man sits in the centre of a neat little triangular trajectory between those places. I also like the spoken homonym, ‘I love man’, as said in my accent at least.
I digress. Because the Isle Of Man is not mainland, I am not Northern by birth, but by adoption. I grew up in Blackpool. (Another psychogeographical link: the Viking name ‘Dubh Linn’ translates as ‘Black Pool’). I’m not a true ‘sand grown ‘un’, as I wasn’t born in Blackpool, but from the age of one-and-a-bit, to eighteen, I lived on the Fylde Coast, either Blackpool town centre, or Poulton-le-Fylde. Just as you don’t really know that you’re a Northerner until you travel out of the North, you don’t really know what kind of Northerner you are until you go elsewhere in the North.
Generalisations about The North make little sense to people who live here. The generic Northern accent employed to indicate somebody is from ‘up North’ is some weird conflation of Yorkshire and Lancashire. You are assumed to be working class too. In the heyday of Britpop, the media interpretation of Oasis was configured entirely around their Northernness, which was conflated precisely with being working class. You only had to pick up the NME and see one of Liam’s ‘fuck’s transcribed as ‘fook’ to realise who was writing the music press and who they were writing it for. Newsflash: ‘fuck’ is spelled ‘fuck’ and is pronounced ‘fuck’ too, thank you.
I digress again. Blackpool is about as representative as Lancashire and the rest of the North as London is of the Cotswolds. The population is transient, the work seasonal, it’s statistically deprived and psychogeographically resplendent, and to be honest, a massive ball-ache to grow up in. From twelve onwards I got into films and music and grown-up books, and the idea of a life away from Blackpool arrived in my head. In unconscious defiance of Billy Liar I configured this new life around two places, and neither one of them was London (though also in defiance of Northern stereotypes, I would rank that city as one of humanity’s greatest achievements). The two places were New York, and Manchester. My obsession with both was eventually manifested in the name of my blog, Manhattanchester. The idea that someone in the North might want to run away to someplace else in the North seems as radical now as it ever did.
I have now lived in Manchester sixteen years, and while I might’ve grown up in Blackpool, I did my real growing up in this city. My forthcoming posts will try to sing up my reasons for being here and for staying here, and hopefully in the process I will contribute to a greater project to dismantle hackneyed notions of the North, though if one of those clichés is that Northerners are too passionate about their bit of the North, I might just leave that one intact.
Oh, and I said I’d come back to the Bee Gees, didn’t I? Not only was I born in the same hospital as them, but one of the houses I lived in in Chorlton was on Oswald Road, right opposite their old school. There’s no point to be made, it’s just really cool, isn’t it…?