There are several ways of engaging with the season, other than coming to see the work live. The Northern Stages project is seeking thoughts and input about Northerness/Southerness, through the Northe research project. I'm also mentoring another of the 'conversations', Faye Draper's Tea is an Evening Meal - for which she is looking for input from the public, so if you have thoughts on, or stories about, regional dining rituals, Faye would love to hear from you.
As part of the programme I was asked to think about the relationship between Class of '76 and my adopted Northerness, and write something for the Northern Stages site. Here's what came out:
When we were first making Class of ‘76, (Version 2 - the version for Chuckery Infant School), 10 years ago, my initial thought was that this was a show about how a group of 35 kids happened to be in the same class at the same time, and how they happened to have their photograph taken together, and how, 24 years later (as it was then), they could have ended up anywhere, doing anything. They could have chosen to base themselves anywhere. How many would still be in the Midlands? How many would have moved South, North? And for how many would that have been a conscious decision, and how many would have just followed circumstance. How often, in fact, do we decide to exercise the control we have about where we live? And of course, does that ever change where we are from?
You can take the boy out of the Midlands... My moves North were accidental – I went to university in Lancaster, then Sheffield. That was because they were the courses that let me on. Plenty didn’t. But I had chosen to apply for those courses partly because I liked those cities. And most significantly, I stayed in Sheffield. There are all sorts of work, friends and family reasons for that, of course – but we have talked about moving over the years, and it was always going to be further North (the exception being some talk of moving to Bristol, because it “feels like a Northern city but with Southern weather”), maybe to Scotland. (The other exceptions being some talk of Spain. And Portugal.)
As a person somewhat obsessed with maps, I am very aware that the Midlands are not in the middle of the country, they are geographically in the South. (Sheffield, in fact, feels to me more like the centre of the country – but I know that there are several towns and villages that would dispute that, depending on how you measure it). The cliché when I was growing up was that Southerners think of Midlanders as Northerners, and Northerners think of them as Southerners. The other joke was that in England, the North-South Divide runs across the country south of Birmingham, but loops up around Solihull.
The reality, naturally, is more complex that either of those suggestions, and certainly being a Midlander, I think of the Midlands as a separate entity. Or should that be ‘originally’ a Midlander? I lived in Walsall for 19 years, and I’ve now been in Sheffield for almost 17. These days I refer to myself as being ‘from Sheffield’ as much as I do as ‘from the Midlands’. And being a father now, I am aware that, unless we do move, my girls will think of themselves as ‘from Sheffield’. My daughters are Northerners, with a Midlander dad and a Southerner mom.
As we prepare for the 10th anniversary tour of Class of ‘76, I’ll be thinking more about this, about the other 34 children in my class photograph, about when we were all from the same place, and where the adults they grew up to be are now.