Gravy guzzling Northerner? Or stick-your-pinky-out Southerner? Alex Chapman discusses the ongoing feud between students either side of Watford Gap in ‘The North-South Divide’
University life is never guaranteed to come without its fair amount of trials and tribulations, from the often crippling amount of coursework and revision to the realisation that, after living like kings for the best part of a fortnight after your loan going in, you’re probably going to be living like destitute hermits for the remainder of the term, tragically rationing a bottle of Vladimir between 6 people pre-Lash. But what’s ever more apparent, yet often accepted as the norm, is the massive regional divide between the North and South of the UK among students, leading to predominately friendly banter, but sometimes descending into sinister rivalry and pretentious stereotyping.
Traditionally, the North is regarded as the working-class society, the industrial side of England containing pie-eating, gravy-loving, Thatcher-hating folk. Historically, the north once sustained England’s core industries such as steel production and coal mining, yet despite this was never as wealthy as the south. Stemming back to the 1960’s depression, there was a focus on attempting to stitch back together the seams of ‘Broken Britain,’ and in the words of Harold MacMillian, ‘prevent two nations developing geographically, a poor north and a rich, overcrowded south.’ Whereas the South- East, namely London and its surrounding boroughs, possessing the title of capital of England and the biggest media hub in the UK, has the largest share of wealthiest households. On average, southern properties are £100,000 more than a similarly sized home in the North. Expensive homes equal affluent families, leading to the first domicile of student banter- the concept of ‘Little-Rich-Kids’.
Made in Chelsea, following the lives of the gloriously elite 20-somethings of the sophisticated London borough, depicts to its audiences across the UK that a party isn’t a party without a bank-busting budget and a swarm of tastefully-clad socialites. No argument can be resolved without throwing a drink in someone’s face and everyone has slept with everybody’s ex. But perhaps what audiences love the most about the tongue-in-cheek series is a peek at how the other half live. With at least four cast members’ heirs to multi-million pound companies, the incredible lifestyle that the Chelsea lot lead brings out the green-eyed monster in all of us. However it has been argued that Made in Chelsea is not a true representation of people from Chelsea, and the same has been said to other series such as The Only Way is Essex, the cancelled Desperate Scousewives and championing the North, Geordie Shore.
Geordie Shore, perhaps the polar opposite of Made in Chelsea, follows the wild antics of Newcastle’s finest Charlotte Crosby, Gaz Beadle and their ever changing co-stars. In stark contrast to the debutant lives of their Chelsea counterparts, Geordie Shore shows the crude and crazy lifestyles of the all-drinking, eternally-partying Northerners, with similar love problems to that of Made in Chelsea, but handled in a very different way. Frequent punch-ups are the result of male cast members stepping on each other’s toes, sexual endeavours are common and captured on camera with full-frontal nudity. Boobs are big, hair is bigger and tans are nothing less than carrot-coloured. Although the outlandish appearances of the female cast are of regular scrutiny, the dialect that could be alien to anyone outside of Newcastle is more often than not incredibly amusing and the dim-witted remarks Charlotte occasionally throws out, (‘He’s unreadable. He’s like the Spanish Bible’), bring limitless amounts of comedy to our screens. However scenes of bed-wetting, projectile vomiting and confessions of STI’s often make viewers wince with disgust, and lead to the general consensus that all Geordies are the epitome of the six/seven members relayed to us via the show. Many a time have Geordies been bombarded with chants of ‘DOWN IT, DOWN IT,’ because, naturally, the Geordie’s have livers of steel and an invincible stomach lining, and no challenge is big enough.
Studies show that Northerners are the heaviest drinkers, with 46% of men drinking above recommended safe levels in contrast with London’s 31%. In this study, every single region in the North (Merseyside, North East & West and Yorkshire) outdid those in the South in terms of binge-drinking, with those cheeky East-Midlanders rolling up 5th out of the 10 regions surveyed. With the addition of a cheaper cost of living in the North, they’re often seen as alcohol-consuming animals, and many a time in halls have I witnessed the competitive side of a Southerner emerge in the face of Northern competition: “SEE IF YOU CAN DOWN THIS PINT FASTER THAN THE NORTHERN LASS!” Used to £1 Jagerbombs and 50p shots, a Northerner affronted with the idea of shelling out near enough a fiver on a pint will probably have something to say about it, whilst Southerners who venture up north are usually dumbfounded at the cheap prices that are screaming out at them from every club, pub and poster.
However, it is impossible to make a sweeping statement and say that those from the north drink more than those from the south. Two of my southern flatmates have had some extremely amusing and downright unbelievable adventures on their nights out, resulting in my driving halfway across Cardiff to the house of a less than amused taxi driver, who was particularly reluctant in handing over the passport of one and the iPhone of another and said he would instead like to, ‘burn one and throw away the other,’ (the items left in his taxi, not my flatmates, although I wouldn’t have put it past him.) One of the same pair of my flatmates has been brought home after wandering the streets of Cathays by three cheerful policemen after attempting to purchase a delicacy from Mama’s Kebabs with his student card, and another of my halls’ associates from Cambridge has bashed himself on the head with a saucepan, eaten a bag of sugar and stuck his head in an oven in the midst of a drunken stupor. But is it really all a competition of who can outdrink whom? Most of the time, yes.
Another question to consider is, is it rare for the opposite sides of the country to venture into unknown territory? I have found that seemingly so few Northerners broke away and flew the nest as the majority of their friends from home went to nearby universities, such as Leeds and Sheffield. This lack of Northerners at southern universities leads to the terms like ‘token northerner’ being coined, and bad interpretations and impressions of Liverpudlian accents that always end up sounding Scottish. Equally, Southerners daring to travel up North to study are normally flabbergasted by the amount of Aldi’s, Lidl’s, Iceland’s and Gregg’s bakers, something I can relate to myself having introduced a Londoner to an Iceland (“Is this pizza mislabelled or is this REALLY A POUND?!”) They also suffer for their accents- Northerners probably think their posh, drawn out imitations of the Southern accent are completely dead on, but screaming, “It’s GRASS not GRAHHHHSS,” doesn’t really hit the nail on the head.
But hang about, let’s not forget the city we study in and its home-grown young people. Not allowing anyone to get away with their fair share of banter, the Welsh no doubt have a high alcohol tolerance (being the third out of 39 countries across Europe and North America for the heaviest teenage drinkers), a musical accent and a controversial status as ‘sheep-shaggers’ (I can happily report I haven’t met a legitimate one yet). From living all their lives in South Wales to suddenly being ambushed by the English, the Irish and the Scottish, many a time has a Welsh student put their head in their hands and valiantly protested at the idea that all Welsh people under the age of 25 are similar in any way to the cast of The Valleys. Lucky visitors to Glam on certain nights out have witnessed the dry-humping, the five-way kissing and the bitch fights that the cast members have to offer us, but having realised with relief that only the most outrageous of 20-somethings were selected in the process of making the most shocking reality TV show so far, I can conclude that the Welsh are some of the cheeriest, funniest and most passionate people I’ve ever met.
So to consider again the idea that amongst the student body a divide has gradually formed, through the cultural and industrial rivalries in the 20th century, we can regard it as the creation a sub-culture of university banter that is apparent all over the UK. Northerners are viciously proud to be just so, Southerners are equally aware that even if they could, they would choose to be nothing else, whilst poor Birmingham in the middle is ping-ponged between the two, as identifying oneself as a Midlander to anyone outside the Midlands will not suffice; “They’re a SOUTHERNER!” “No, they’re a NORTHERN!” But despite it all, uni would just not be the same without the presence of the humble regional joke, the cheeky dig in the ribs and the occasional N vs. S football match. While it’s considered to be ‘grim up North’ and ‘posh down South,’ the differences in regions often leads students leaving university with a huge insight into what life is like in different cities, a broader scope of fresh personalities and the drive to visit some of these mystical lands up and down the country. And, at the end of the day, you will find out that no matter where you are, a Southerner will enjoy a mountain of a kebab or a portion of chips smothered in all kinds of greasy nastiness at the end of the night just as much as any Northerner.