Thursday, November 26, 2009

Where do I come from?

No, that's not the question which usually ends in "Mummy?". I worked that one out a long time ago.

Rather, it's about where do I feel I belong. If I were a sheep, which bit of hill do I feel hefted to? If I were French, where is my terroir? And the truth of the matter is that I don't really feel I know, any more.

Crikey, matey, I hear you say; what's brought on this bout of introspection (and why is it in a blog about allotments, for goodness sake; keep yer pretentious tosh for somewhere else!).

It's because today I've been to a funeral, of my friend Billy. I find funerals difficult & I was quite upset by this one, in a manly sort of way. I confess I had to pull over on the way home because I couldn't see to drive. The stiff upper lip has had a definite quiver today.

Billy was a well travelled man but unmistakably rooted in the Northeast. We are of a similar vintage and come from small towns only 20 miles apart. I was born and raised in the south-west Durham coalfield, but feel no attachment to it. I left the Northeast at age 18 and never really went back.

I've lived in Sheffield for over 40 years but ask me whether I'm a Sheffielder and I think the answer is No. I wasn't born here and don't have that inbuilt identity. And if you ask me whether I'm a Yorkshireman the answer is emphatically No. I recoil from that slightly synthetic, slightly jingoistic, assertion of [it seems to me] slightly false identity. I do feel a pull towards the Durham Dales (Weardale & Teesdale) but not sufficiently to want to live there.

So which hill am I hefted to? Well, that's partly about the pull of the allotment. If you ask me why I have an allotment it's only partly about growing things, outdoor exercise, fresh food etc, although all of those are important. A lot of it is about land; it's my land. Subject to only fairly light touch regulation I can do what I like on my small patch of land. My inner peasant isn't far from the surface.

So if you ask me about my identity, what I am, where I come from - what do I say? Quite often I say I'm a European. I do feel something of a supra-national identity, although I've never lived in any other country than the UK and am now unlikely to ever do so. I don't think of myself as English, although I am, but quite like the inherent diversity of British. Driving down the motorway today I coined the identity of a Modern Briton but aren't quite sure what it means. If that were an exam question it would be followed by "Discuss".

To get you started here is a plaque you can find close by the Rockefeller Centre, New York.



RobD said...

Woah Woody, that's a bit deep!

However, I can kinda see where you're coming from. I was born and raised in Northamptonshire but feel no attachment to the area, despite the rest of the family still living there. I've been in Sheffield for over 20 years now and my children were born here, so I do have more of an attachment here because of that but I'm not 'from' Sheffield and certainly not Yorkshire. However, I am English. Not British, English!

Sorry to hear about your friend.

mc55 said...

oh dear, sorry to hear about your friend. Funerals make me very reflective and have a quiet way of putting everything into perspective.

Nutty Gnome said...

Hope you're feeling a bit better about Billy now Woody.

You might not feel like a Sheffielder, but you are starting to sound like one .....another few years an' it'll be raight!

I'm English first, then Yorkshire - but I don't often confess to being from 'Rothrum'!

Riggs said...

I feel the same, I'm from a city that punish others by think in another way, we need more information but everbody lie.

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mccardey said...

Hi Woody - I've just found your blog, and I'm loving it :)

That "where do I come from?" thing - in my country (Australia) the indigenous people speak of a "belongin place" - a place that, well, I think it kind of translates to a place that *owns* you, that *knows* you - a place you will always be tied to. A place you belong in and belong to.

No, I don't have one either. But wouldn't it be wonderful...?

I'm sorry to hear that your friend died. Losing friends totally sucks. As the Americans say.