I have recently emigrated from the North of England to Oxfordshire.
When I say the North I mean seriously North as in virtually Scotland not namby pamby Leeds or even Derbyshire or some such nonsense that some Southeners call The North. We’d lived in Northumberland near Hadrian’s Wall for 16 years but last year we downsized, decamped and de-Northed to settle in a tiny village called Sutton near Witney. Last weekend we went up to see our fabulous friends and get a dose of the North, and I came home a little set back with tears in my eyes. We’d been planning the escape tunnel for a while since neither of us are actually properly genetically Northern. I love lots of things about the North – in truth I wrote an entire book about it called It’s (not) Grim Up North. It’s cheaper for a start. The houses are so much cheaper they are ‘buy one get one free’, we could afford a virtual castle for the same money as this modest but lovely place in Oxfordshire. We had a garden that was so large our friends from the South described it as a park, and a drive that virtually had its own post code. What’s more the North has got posher. Some of us soppy Southerners will be surprised to hear that you can even buy balsamic vinegar and organic vegetables!
However there were things that got me down about the North. I mean you can’t say them out loud when you are actually up in the North for fear of locals setting their ferrets on you, but I feel I have migrated home since I was brought up in the South. The big problem for me and it’s one that just didn‘t go away over 16 years was the weather. You get a lot of weather in the North. My disenchantment with the weather up North began the first Easter. I went to the garden centre and asked where the tomato plants were. “Do you have a green house?” I was asked. “No”, I answered. “You’re not from round here are you?” was the reply. I persevered for several summers trying to grow tomatoes outside on my sunniest most sheltered wall and two years running the net result was a garage full of jars of green chutney.
I would go to meetings in London in my winter coat only to find I would get there and everyone would be in their flip flops. Burdened with my coat which screamed “I’m from up North I am”. I became obsessed with the North/South weather divide. Watching the news I would be oblivious to the content but instead shocked to the point of throwing something at the screen when I noticed that I had been in my coat that makes me look like a lagged boiler all day and they were sitting at pavement cafes in full sunshine. I would call relatives or friends in the South to find they had been in the garden all day, or just had breakfast outside. Alas not us. Despite our gorgeous enormous park of a garden some summers I can honestly say that sitting outside after 6pm might only happen three times a year. Southerners will find that hard to believe.
What struck me immediately about the South is how much more middle class it is. I have been spending a lot of time in Summertown in Oxford recently which I swear is middle class mission control, and is the most expensive place to live in the UK relative to earnings – yes even more expensive than Notting Hill, apparently. It has an ENTIRE Farrow and Ball shop. Trouble is with 16 years in the North and working class blood in me I consistently get the colour choice just wrong. I know in order to appear posh I need to buy my paint from there, but get it on the front door or the window frames and realise I have not quite got the shade that all the middle class get. I’m just one or two shades too bright or too muddy. It’s as if God is saying to me “you know what lady you are not as middle class as you think you are”.
And the charity shops in Summertown are so upmarket I mistook most of them for actual proper shops. I recently discovered the most astonishing garden centre on my way home. Organic, obviously. I bought some leeks, a loaf of artisan bread, some eggs, a jar of marmalade and some broccoli and it came to over £20. As it got in the car I felt I’d been mugged, and yet simultaneously delighted with my purchase. And the dental bills! Having been used to the NHS dentist I have spent over £300 on two fillings this year. No more toffee or brazil nuts for me!! I simply can’t afford to take the risk.
Village life so far is proving much more friendly than I had anticipated. I’ve joined the Sutton Singers (more performers than members in the audience so far) and the local dance troupe, and have fabulous neighbours. … so I have to say the signs are genuinely good. I feel like I have moved into an episode of The Archers.
Here is my husband with his new Southern best friends. I still miss our gorgeous Northern friends but our new Southern ones are gorgeous in a slightly different way, and with a strict hat code.