Northern folk are so much friendlier than their southern counterparts, says John Tomsett. Hang about – there could be a movie in that…
If I said to you, “I gave my china a backy down the twitten when we were skiving” I wouldn’t expect you to understand!
I’m from Maresfield, a rural Sussex village where everyone would grasp what I meant with natural ease; it’s a line I use with my English students to exemplify the difference between northern and southern dialects. The York equivalent is, “I gave my mate a croggy down the ginnel when we were jigging.” There, that’d get a Crystal Mark for PYE – Plain Yorkshire English!
I’ve always been fascinated by the north/south divide since I came to York as an undergraduate nearly 30 years ago. I read English and learnt about the north/south divide both linguistically and culturally.
Linguistically, I’ve developed a hybrid accent. I say, “staff”, not “starf”, and “bath” not “barth”; but what this means is that my remaining family and friends in Sussex think I sound like a northerner and York-based friends, colleagues and students think I sound like an extra on Eastenders; I feel linguistically lost somewhere near Derby.
Culturally, I love living in the north. I know this is a massive generalisation, but living in the north is a much friendlier experience. As a southerner, it took some time to get used to complete strangers greeting me in the northern streets! I’ll never be a northerner, of that I’m quite sure, but I feel profoundly proud to live in York and play a small part in the life of this magnificent city.
When I started teaching in York I was soon working with Karl Elwell, a talented English and media teacher who worked for the BBC in a previous life. Obsessed as we were by film as part of our teaching, we worked up a treatment called The Allotment. It’s been germinating for over a decade, and at its heart is the north/south divide…
Rupert meets Kate, a proper Yorkie, in the local pub. She tolerates Sara and Tristan, but falls in love with Rupert. Rupert gets dragged down by work. One day, when he’s stuck in traffic for the thousandth time along Scarcroft Road, he sees a wholly relaxed tanned, weathered bloke leaning against the shed with a steaming mug of tea, the epitome of happiness. With his stockbroker bonus secured Rupert decides to take a year off work. It’s November.
He quickly secures a plot at the allotment, after a proper grilling from the Allotment Committee Chairman, who happens to be Kate’s dad, a true no-nonsense Yorkshireman. Rupert’s relationship with Kate grows. Lots of funny allotment set pieces, including Rupert ordering manure and the local manure man bringing his horse to Rupert’s plot to ensure the manure is “reet fresh”. A seemingly insignificant scene sees Rupert plant a bed, but the audience cannot see what he’s planting.
Kate’s life is tough. Her dad lost his wife the previous year and he lives miserably and resents Kate having a boyfriend. Kate dare not tell her dad that Rupert is her boyfriend. Kate is torn between her love for Rupert and her affection for her dad.
Rupert’s southern mates visit in late Spring. It’s a disaster. His mates are arrogant and rude to Kate. Worse than that, Rupert reverts to type and doesn’t defend Kate. He goes out on the town with his mates and returns to the house to find Kate has packed her bags and left.
Rupert loses himself in his allotment, which is glorious. Kate is forlorn, but resolute. It’s high summer and tension builds as the Annual Allotment Fair approaches. The Plot of the Year Award is up for grabs and Rupert is in the frame.
The night before the Annual Allotment Fair Rupert bumps into Kate. She deigns to speak to her ex-boyfriend. He persuades her to walk in the late evening sunshine to his allotment plot. He makes her close her eyes and leads her to the bed he was planting in the seemingly insignificant scene from earlier in the film. When she opens her eyes she sees a bed of Forget-Me-Not flowers which forms the words “Marry Me?”
It’s 31 August and The Annual Allotment Fair sees Rupert win The Plot of the Year Award. Kate’s dad makes the award. Kate grabs the microphone and announces to her dad and all assembled that Rupert is her boyfriend and that they’re getting married. Joy unlimited!
Final scene; the Wedding Reception. As we hear the toast to the bride being made, the camera tracks down the menu where every course is made from fresh produce from the allotment. END.
We know it’s not high art; rather it’s Four Weddings meets Brassed Off, a bit of Love Actually mixed in with Billy Elliot to taste. We sent the treatment to Richard Curtis but heard nothing. If he’d been a northerner I reckon we’d have had a blockbuster on our hands!