I was a child of the north and the south.
My dad (born Manchester) met my mum (born and buried Gravesend, Kent) in Glasgow. They had their first date at the Citizens’ Theatre. They married and had 4 children.
We repeated the pattern – one of us born north of England, one south, met Glasgow, Citizens’, married, 4 kids.
Recently, I learned that the south-to-north pattern, or a similar version, goes back another generation. I’d always assumed my dad’s dad hailed from Manchester, since that was where nanna and grandad Bassett lived. But though she, a stern scold, was from Bradford, he came from Westerham, also in Kent. He moved north in search of work, met his wife and they had 3 (almost 4!) children.
Like my mum, my paternal, southern granddad was kind and soft. I can still feel the warmth of his hand as he slipped half-a-crown into my palm: Don’t tell your nanna!
I knew all about my mum’s side of the family – they were close. Was I ignorant of my dad’s side because, taking after his ironhanded Yorkshire mum, he was harsh to us, making my childhood an unhappy place to explore?
I discovered more about my father’s forebears by researching family history. Seems to be what you do when you get to my age. North and South, now and then. The past can also be another country, where they do things differently.
My research started with an old newspaper cutting about the funeral of my dad’s first cousin, a Charles John Bassett, who died at just 29 in 1944.
We traced him to St. Mary’s churchyard in Westerham. Not only is he buried there, but in the next grave lie his parents – Cecilia and Charles Bassett, my great aunt and uncle.
The young Charles John, a lieutenant in the Royal Engineers, was killed trying to defuse a V1 bomb. His name is also on the war memorial which dominates the entrance to the graveyard.
As I look further into my ancestry, perhaps I’ll find more north-south, past-present, bonds and rifts.
For now, I have at least my own story. When I was 7, we moved from my dad’s northern home to my mum’s southern town. I went to school in Gravesend, but always felt drawn back to the top half of the country, going to Lancaster Uni and, via Bristol, moving to Glasgow. Forty years on, I’m still here.
The date I migrated from the south-west to Scotland may offer a clue to my Hyperborean hankering. It was 4 May 1979. Maggie Thatcher became prime minister, spawning the Tory grip of England. And it’s still going on, once-red walls Boris-blitzed.
Except for viewers in Scotland. Driving north at the end of the seventies, I felt like I was escaping a country embarking on a right-wing coup to somewhere preparing to fight it. Since then, that feeling and that fight have grown stronger.
I was a child of the north and the south. But I know where my heart lies now.