'Agree With Everything - Deny Nothing - Embellish All

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

"You'll Never Be A Cumbrian"

At least that's what I was told Sunday lunchtime by one of Renman's friends. We were sunning ourselves in the distinctly chi-chi surroundings of the courtyard bar of a well-known Cockermouth hotel. My accuser was himself an incomer, and I believe had no idea that I was brought up seven miles from where we were sitting. But it wasn't this that made me pause. A few years ago I'd have regarded these words as a compliment, a welcome recognition that I'd so elided my origins from my accent manners and appearance that I was cosmopolitan, a citizen of the world, an everywhere & nowhere man - and that I certainly didn't belong to a place that I'd abandoned many years ago.
When I first began to spend time back in Cumbria, I felt a real frisson at the clandestine nature of my being there: nobody who knew me from childhood knew I was there; those who knew I was there thought me an incoming southerner. It was thrilling to return and re-occupy the place of memories and experience without any assumptions or weight of expectations. Then there would be the surprise of recognition: "How did you know that? Do you mean that you're . . . . ?". So becoming a Cumbrian again was something that I made up as I went along, with a genuine spirit of adventure and originality. Now, I've long since given up bothering to explain to people that I grew up hereabouts, moved away, lived in America and the south of England and then returned. But I was troubled by his words, even moderately offended. What do you mean I'm not Cumbrian? I'm still recovering from the mild shock of this, something I never imagined I would feel.

11 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

But he's right, you know, and one day you will realise, that you can't return to the past, living where you can't see Skiddaw, or Saddleback, or looking the other way, Criffle, or should that be Criff fell. Changes one, I can't say for better, nor for worse, but you have grown up, and grown away. And if you have live in America, coarsened.

20/7/05 2:10 pm  
Blogger Irene Adler said...

Will the Cumbrians be unwelcoming, do you think, if we come and live in Cumbria, possibly taking a true Cumbrian's job and living in a house that a true Cumbrian could have had?

I was born in Peckham and spent my childhood onwards in Reading (the Pru relocated). Surely nobody
wcould want to oblige someone to live in a place just for an accident of birth/geography, when their heart is somewhere else?

20/7/05 2:41 pm  
Blogger Irene Adler said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

20/7/05 2:41 pm  
Anonymous Dr John said...

My father was born and raised in a village a few miles from Carlisle (where a small council estate was still called the Russian Zone 50 years after it was built). Yet in the village in Furness where he has lived for 15 years, he is still an offcomer, along with 90% of the rest of the population.

I have lived on and off in the same house in suburban Manchester for over 40 years (how sad is that?) but as I come over the top of the big hill on the M6 between Lancaster and Carnforth, I suddenly feel at home. I can't explain it. Call it spirit of place,perhaps.

20/7/05 4:22 pm  
Anonymous Dr John said...

My father was born and raised in a village a few miles from Carlisle (where a small council estate was still called the Russian Zone 50 years after it was built). Yet in the village in Furness where he has lived for 15 years, he is still an offcomer, along with 90% of the rest of the population.

I have lived on and off in the same house in suburban Manchester for over 40 years (how sad is that?) but as I come over the top of the big hill on the M6 between Lancaster and Carnforth, I suddenly feel at home. I can't explain it. Call it spirit of place,perhaps.

20/7/05 4:22 pm  
Anonymous Dr John said...

Sorry for posting twice. Blame the IT.

It isn't just Cumbria. Mersea is a small island connected to Essex by a causeway at low tide. If you are passing, call in to sample the oysters. The villages of East and West Mersea do not speak to each other and regard the respective residents of the other place as two-headed monsters. When recently interviewed on Radio 4, one of the oystermen was asked if he was local. " oh no", he said, "I'm from Colchester". That's 5 miles away.

20/7/05 4:45 pm  
Blogger RenMan said...

At what level would you cease to be offended: Cumbrian..... Maryport..... Street.
Being born in Cockermouth 'down the Goat' was better than being born 300 yards away in Derwent Street (Gas -Row). 300 yards the other way was Papcastle. Only Doctors and Dentists lived in Papcastle

20/7/05 7:19 pm  
Anonymous Eleanor said...

My, Nick, why do you think this person said it anyway? Working all the time with people who are very attached to the land (for others, I work at a land conservancy)has made me give this sense of place and home a good deal of thought over the last few years.

Looking out over the blue of Lake Michigan from atop a sand dune makes me feel very at home. But stopping in the local convenience store early in the morning to get gas does, too. If it's winter, and the ice is right, I might well run into a local, buying a 1/2 pint of Captain Jack, a pack of smokes, and some bait, and that makes me feel weirdly at home, too. Go figure.

20/7/05 11:40 pm  
Blogger Di said...

As a Yorkshire woman now sharing my time between living in Cumbria and South Africa I can honestly say the only place that doesn't feel home to me is Yorkshire... surely it is what you bring to a place - how you contribute - what becomes a familiar picture. In my little village in SA, where I have just arrived, I am greeted warmly by all and the incongruity of the sight of lemons in trees and daffodils growing together in my little garden is one of those familiar pictures but it also represents the ways in which difference can survive together.

21/7/05 1:10 pm  
Blogger Nick said...

Well this seems to have provoked a lot of heartfelt reponses - thanks everybody. It's almost worth another post in itself (no doubt in due course), but maybe I didn't express myself clearly in the original. I don't think the sense of self you get bound up in the sense of (the right) place has to correspond to any preconceived notion of 'belonging' to that place (otherwise we'd all want to be peasant farmers & never shift for generations). There are many many ways of being Cumbrian. It took me a very long time to come to see Cumbria as the 'right' place. (Renman - I don't think this has to do with the social nuance of which street you're born in, or whether Maryport's particularly desirable).
Irene - I'm sure you'll find a warm & friendly welcome when you move up here. Unlike our Welsh cousins we don't go in for burning cottages . . .
Anon - you are mistaken: living in America was a great civilising influence, not a coarsening one.

21/7/05 4:08 pm  
Anonymous Jane said...

I am from West Mersea,now living in the Teesdale. I did have a boyfriend once who lived in East Mersea.... I thought his lack of communication was something to do with being struck dumb by my teenage charms but clearly not, as Dr John has now explained. Farewell youthful illusions.

14/8/05 6:07 pm  

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