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Spitfires on the Line.

I’m in the middle of making a short series for Radio Four with producer Mary Ward-Lowery about a series of journeys we’re taking along the line drawn by Prof. Danny Dorling of Sheffield University which divides the north from the south.

We have met some wonderful people, including the sagacious Sir Michael Darrington, esrtwhile boss of Greggs, the orchidaceous psycho-geographer Tina Richardson in Leeds, the makes-you-glad-to-be-alive poet David Morley in Warwick, and, in Louth, the funniest man on Earth, top biscuit entrepreneur Graham Fellows.

Danny Dorling is a little vague about the exact moment the line hits the Lincolnshire coast; ‘Somewhere between Cleethorpes and Mablethorpe,’ he told us; but if you look closely at the map, the line seems to cross the coast round about Tetney; very close to where the Meridian Line leaves the coast heading north on its journey up from Peacehaven.

So Mary and I drove out to Cleethorpes, and then south a few miles to Tetney Lock. On the way, we listened to Vikram Seth on Desert Island Discs. He chose as his favourite recording nightingales singing in a Kent wood in 1942. In the background, the sound of bombers on their way to Germany. It is incredibly moving.

I know a recording of nightingales when I hear one, because my friend Richard played me lots in an Oxfordshire car-park in the absence of real ones. And I know the sound of a bomber because shortly after the show ended, a Lancaster bomber flew over the car; and while we were interviewing some dog-walkers out by Tetney Lock (which we had finally chosen as our ‘starting point’), two Spitfires in formation flew low above our heads.

Apropos of nothing this story, I guess, except to say that this is the kind of coincidence that is so hard to pull off in fiction, even though they happen in life everyday, and to notice that the RAF are still much easier to hear in the countryside than nightingales.

The programmes are available on BBC iplayer. This is the first programme, and this is the second show.

12 comments to Spitfires on the Line.

  • Surely the North-South divide follows the borders of Danelaw, roughly from the Mersey to London?

  • Yes, I thought that; roughly the line of Watling Street. But not according to contemporary human geographers, although the A5 near Hinckley does still form part of the ‘boundary’.

  • Dru

    I was rather pleased to go to the BBMF site and see that I’ve flown operationally in one of their aircraft. OK, it was an air experience flight in a Chipmunk (Jan 1976) but hey. I feel all herstorical now!

    Have you heard a nightingale in England? -I’ve been on a few forays, but have yet to succeed; all the ones I’ve heard were in France; as when camping with Richard in woods below Thiepval, on the site of a former casualty clearing station; the nightingale song was beautiful and especially poignant in such a location.

    Here’s hoping for this year.

  • No, I don’t think I’ve heard a nightingale. but I’m not sure (see new book!) I too flew in a Chipmunk, but in 1971, when I guess they weren’t historic. What do they train pilots in now, I wonder?

  • Dru

    Tucanos, I think. Looking at my Air Cadet log book, I see that my first Chipmunk flight was in 1972. Happy days! I’ve been having fun on Google Earth, ever since I descovered that the tools menu includes a flight sim. Floating silently round Welsh mountains and valleys…. v dreamlike.

    -yes, time to read your book. Getting onto it forthwith.

  • john simpson

    I’m a History/Geography teacher at United World College Maastricht. Originally from Lancashire I am very interested in this subject. I found a very interesting article here: http://www.historytoday.com/keith-robbins/north-and-south-then-and-now
    It is from 1988 but very relevant today and also mentions Scottish independence. Basically it argues that the north and south divide is interesting but ultimately very complex and impossible to distinguish.
    Kind regards, John Simpson

  • Dan

    Sligth change of topic but a good friend of mine is a train driver – and as such observes much on his travels. One day I was talking to him once about the fairly ingrained ‘working class’ nature of communities along the Notts / Derbys border – where I had travelled with him as a passenger in train he drove. He remarked that this feeling goes north well into S Yorks, and in his view south in to at least North Leicestershire – he made the clear connection with the band of coal running from the Leics coalfield up into Yorks, and the former mining communities – and I feel sure he is correct in this – although of course it is never quite that simple, as we agreed – but I felt a valid view.

    Looking at the Dorling map it seems the Leics area fits the south – but I can’t see the fine detail. Places like Coalville would strike me as being rather different to most southern places, but then there are fancy places in other parts of leics / Rutland area – inc into Lincs, that are very ‘southern’ in their feeling. It’s complex and could perhaps require a ‘fuzzy boundary’.

    However, it may be that there are still ‘northern identifiers’ in outposts of the south – like the ex Kent coalfield?

    Skegness is south of Mablethorpe I think, and that is not very ‘southern’. I suspect Lincs is a mixed picture….

  • Dan

    By the way – when is the likely broadcast? sounds like a v interesting prog.
    D

  • Thank you for these comments, friends. Dru, you and I were in the Air Cadets at the same time, though I reckon I left in 1972. John Simpson… sadly you need a History Today subscription to read the link; but there is no doubt that it is complex. Dorling accounts for his line in lots of ways… one of the most interesting, I thought, was that north of the line, if you drive out of one of the richer enclaves (Altrincham, say, or Southport)you very quickly come to areas of deprivation; whereas in the south, if you drive out of the areas of deprivation (such as Newhaven, or the Leicestershire coalfield towns described by Dan), you are quickly into a priveleged hinterland. Interesting too, as Dan notes, that the line roughly maps onto the geology; outliers like the Leicestershire coalfields notwithstanding. The real line, of course, is the one marked by the M25.

  • Dan

    That is a very interesting distinction Ian – I will watch out for it on my travels.

    Hastings could be the exception that proves the rule – when you clear the Old Town you come quickly on to deprivation – then you go back into prosperity though….

    Talking of travels – have you ever noticed that deprived areas have much better bus services (as a rule of thumb) than the richer enclaves?

  • I quite like living here, despite the deprivation, or for some selfish reasons, because of it. The main reason being it appeals to me to live in a place where if you go any further south you have to swim.
    I saw your mum this week Ian. She’s read the new book. She told me that you’d been reluctant to have her read it. You silly bugger.
    x

  • Phil Stickley

    Hi Ian,
    Sounds like an interesting series.
    This is a subject which fascinates me as I live a mere stone’s throw from the Warwickshire-Worcestershire border and therefore right on the divide. I have always considered myself to be a midlander but I guess this is hard to define. It makes me chuckle to think that the line puts me a few miles into the leafy south; but my favourite boozer- just down the road- is in the land of the flat cap.
    Also, I have just finished Something of the Night, which is brilliant.

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