LGR’s reporter Michael Janes gives us a very personal view of ‘lockdown’.
We moved to Harrogate from London in September 2019.
Much since has changed in the world around us; the whole experience, worthy of reflection in normal times, has been eclipsed by the effects of a global pandemic.
My daughter graduated from The Northern Film School in Leeds and she fell in love with a Yorkshireman. They were married in Roundhay Park four years ago and live in a suburb of Leeds.
As we were already semi-retired my wife and I “upped sticks” for God’s Own Country to be near her. In a cruel twist of fate, because of lockdown, we are still separated.
At the time, we encountered few doubters. “Are you crazy?”, our friends remonstrated. The old cultural divide between the north and south resurrected. The reaction reminded me of the perception explored in the BBC television series and subsequent book ‘It’s Grim Up North’.
By intimation, those in the north complained of having fewer cultural opportunities; the book also provided a view of southern life as faceless and bland.
Is there any truth to this stereotype?
The Capital does offer a whole range of options not available elsewhere in the UK but remains overwhelmed by a blistering pace that is insatiable for some, and uncomfortable for others, often visitors. Londoners can be cold, even distant.
Dr Johnson’s much quoted, “When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life” is extreme. In reality, the whole scene in London can be exciting, but there comes a time in life when this ceases to be a priority.
On the other hand, in Yorkshire, common courtesy is observed as a natural way of life.
Strangers speak to you in the street without expecting a hand out. However, I have yet to come across a Yorkshireman who breeds whippets. There still exists a naïve ignorance regarding accents / colloquialisms. Most Londoners do not speak like Danny Dyer nor do they sound like Prince Charles.
Furthermore, it is rare to hear “eey by gum”, certainly not in Harrogate.
Similarly, the infamous Yorkshire frugality seems exaggerated. Actually, the opposite seems to be true or maybe I have encountered a generous circle.
Our property search led us to Harrogate.
We were looking for a location with a similar profile to Crouch End in North London; fairly central, full of bars / restaurants, interesting local shops but unpretentiously Avant-Garde. The area around Cold Bath Road known affectionately as “The Notting Hill of the North” ticked most boxes.
Early on, we discovered walks across The Stray and Valley Gardens. Both can be spectacular, particularly in cherry blossom season, certainly on a par with Kenwood or Hampstead.
Multi culturalism so prevalent in London is only a visible in pockets in the North. In some respects, I miss the cultural diversity which makes London intoxicating and, at times, on the edge, although not without its problems. More than twenty years ago, in the school my daughter attended, numerous different languages were spoken including Greek and Turkish. Her class mate taught her to count to ten in Arabic at the age of 11.
Another discernible difference is air quality – with Harrogate coming out on top by a mile. Wherever you are in London, air quality is compromised, although it always felt fresh at the top of the hill at Alexander Palace; with fewer cars now on the road, this should now improve.
The constant sound of sirens is part of the London way of life. I had not heard any in Harrogate until this crisis erupted. Now, sadly it’s every day.
There is still a north-south divide when it comes to property prices.
Harrogate is regarded on the pricey side but not by London standards. Although London prices fell post-Brexit with a more permanent correction pending, the huge discrepancy is unwarranted. As downsizing goes, exchanging a two-bedroom apartment for a detached house still seems surreal.
Harrogate is much subdued due to lockdown, which for us has prolonged the adjustment process. Every day now reminds me of Sundays before the trading laws changed were changed in 1994.
Friends tell me they have seen dramatic change in London. Apparently, the once special cosmopolitan ambience has all but evaporated. Camden Market is deserted. According to reports, Trafalgar Square, normally buzzing at night is a sad spectacle; clusters of homeless people wait on the steps of The National Gallery for food to be delivered.
Whatever they may tell us, in my personal opinion, I suspect things will never be the same again. On a positive note maybe the new normal will be an improvement on before? In the meantime, notwithstanding DIY projects, we are keeping busy. I still do some news reports by phone for LGR and Michelle has her painting. We are pleased we made the move but our hearts remain in North London. Looking forward to a better future.
Freelance Reporter, LGR.