Thursday, August 14, 2008

The Great Divide

A right-wing think-tank has said that people in northern cities should all move south. If this is "thinking outside the box" then those stupid twats should be put back in the box, the box be weighted down with cobbles and dropped into Liverpool's Albert Dock.

The Guardian's G2 has today responded with a feature on what's great about The North. Jon Ronson has a little piece about his first bus journey in Manchester. Buses and bus stops often feature in stories about northern humour and friendliness.
Ronson describes a girl on the bus playing a game in which she whacked her boyfriend with a newspaper every time she spotted a blue car.
When I lived in Gateshead, which has one of the largest Orthodox Jewish communities in Britain, children on the top deck of the bus would sometimes play a game of Spot The Jew. Two kids would sit on opposite sides of the bus and see who got the highest tally. I then started playing it silently to myself and pushed the score up by including every passing Volvo (all the Jews in Gateshead drove Volvos).

When I first moved to Tyneside, a girl who was a fellow refugee from the south told me that travelling to new areas by bus posed no problem. You asked the bus driver to tell you when you reached your stop. Not only would he actually do so but other passengers who had overheard your conversation with the driver would give you a running countdown: "Only three more stops to yours, pet."

I once had a more extraordinary experience. Travelling from Gateshead to Newcastle one evening, the driver stopped the bus just before we crossed the river. I heard him coming up the stairs and thought that the bus had broken down or that I had given him the wrong fare. But he told me that he had finished his shift and as I was the only passenger, was there anywhere else other than the bus station that he could drop me off? It took me a few moments to realise that he was putting his bus at my disposal as a private taxi service. "Within reason, like..." as he put it.
Tempting though it was to be delivered to the queue at Newcastle's largest gay nightclub by my own bus, as though enacting a scene from 'Priscilla, Queen of the Desert', I declined his kind offer and settled for the bus station.

When I moved back south it took me a few weeks to adjust to a culture where talking to strangers at bus stops produced startled looks and people would edge away from me as though I were a drug-crazed, paedophile, illegal immigrant. Just an innocuous comment on the weather would have them hiding behind their Daily Mails.

I've just realised that some of this links to my comments on 'reciprocal altruism' in my recent post on Dawkins on Darwin.
Here's another example of almost crazy altruism.
I once took my broken Hoover to a small electrical repair shop in Gateshead. The owner told me it would cost £25 to repair. I was then living on benefits so I said I couldn't afford it. As I was leaving, he called me back and said he wouldn't charge me for the labour, only the cost of the part and would do it for a fiver.
I doubt that man is now running a multi-million pound business empire. But he's a much better man than most people who are. He's one of those bit-part players in my life who I'll always remember with gratitude and affection.

As is the Gateshead newsagent from whom I had ordered The Guardian. On the first day, the supplier hadn't delivered it. "It doesn't matter. I'll get one in town", I said. But nothing could dissuade him from getting in his car and driving several miles to the wholesaler to get me a Guardian.

That's probably enough northern anecdotes but allow me one more because it always makes me laugh. A very small boy was stuck up a tree in a park in Gateshead. His two sisters said they would go and get help. As they left, they said: "We won't be long. Stay there."
"What do youse mean: 'stay there'?", the boy shouted. "I'm not fucking going anywhere, am I?"
That's one of my favourite real-life comedy lines.

Because I abhor generalisations and stereotypes I must add the rider that the north has its share of miserable sods who wouldn't give you the time of day and in the small southern community where I now live I have some very friendly neighbours, although in some cases it took them ten years to progress beyond a nod of the head.

I also exempt London from my strictures on the south for like any metropolis it has an ethos of its own that is influenced by its sheer size. In the years that I lived there, I always liked the fact that you could sit on the tube painting funny faces on your penis and nobody would bat an eyelid. Not that I ever did that, I hasten to add.

But I think I once wrote here about my encounters with the Phantom Groper of the Northern Line.
As his hand gently moved from my inner thigh to my genitals, I carried on reading Russell Grant's horoscope in the Evening Standard, which curiously omitted to predict any surprising travel experiences.
This was perhaps an example of reciprocal altruism. He was getting his dangerous thrill and my usually boring journey home was spent trying to think of the word 'frotteurism' as though it were a crossword clue. The only thing that came up (literally) before Kings Cross was 'frottage' but that didn't have enough letters. Not that it mattered because I wasn't actually doing a crossword. More to the point, 'frottage' is a surrealist painting technique and whatever Fingers was doing down there it wasn't something you learn at art college.
It might also be considered altruistic that I didn't shout "Get your hands off my cock, you fucking pervert!" However, I must be honest and say that, having been born and bred a southerner, I didn't want to make a scene.
One hopes that Mr Textbook Frotteurism never pursued his hobby north of Watford. Try that kind of interaction with strangers on the Tyneside Metro and you'd be lucky to escape with your life.


At 8:43 PM, Blogger Vicus Scurra said...

I have never been groped. You can be so cruel sometimes.

At 11:18 PM, Blogger Tim Footman said...

I was groped once. It was at a Marc Almond gig, so I couldn't really complain.

At 3:38 PM, Blogger cello said...

I completely and totally love North-easterners, whether Geordies or Maccas(?). I think that is part of my love affair with Ant 'n' Dec.

I spent 4 years up in Durham at university and then working in theatre in education. We once had the temerity to present a portion of Resoration comedy to a working men's club in Consett. They couldn't have been more charming. If it had been Liverpool, Bolyon or Rotherham we might have just got out alive, but we certainly wouldn't have escaped with any diginity.

It's people like your repair man that make one wish there was indeed a God, so he could reward the righteous. But the fact there isn't makes his behaviour even more noble.

As for being groped, it can happen anywhere in the country but the Tube makes it almost obligatory.

At 3:32 PM, Blogger Willie Lupin said...

vicus: I feel your pain, though nothing else.

tim: was Marc singing 'Tainted Love' at the time?

cello: what a wonderfully surreal scenario that is: restoration comedy in a working men's club.

I knew a man who had a primitive type of artificial arm and hand that was at a right angle from his body with upturned palm.
In the London rush hour the poor man was always getting his face slapped by women who thought he was groping them.

At 7:14 AM, Anonymous chav gav said...

I encounter Reciprocal Altruism almost daily in Edinburgh.

The local bus service offer a Day Saver ticket for £2:50 which allows an unlimited number of journeys for that day on any of their buses. It's common practice for people, myself included, to offer their ticket to anyone waiting at the bus stop when they alight from their final journey of the day, thus saving them the cost of their fare. Tickets are usually either gratefully received or politely declined if they already have a Day Saver or a bus pass (over 65's travel free in Scotland).

I'm always a little disappointed if there's no one to offer my ticket to but I've noticed recently that people have started to slip one edge of their used but still valid ticket into a little gap in the bus shelter and leave it fluttering in the wind like a streamer for anyone to use.

As my Gran always says, it's nice to be nice.

At 4:31 PM, Blogger Willie Lupin said...

chav gav: that's an outstanding example, though I wouldn't be surprised if the bus company finds a way to prevent it happening.


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