‘I was in a world of my own.’ – young man outside Tesco, Piccadilly Gardens.
The morning light slithers under the curtains and into my eyelids, rousing me from a good night’s rest on the most comfortable of beds. I’m being hosted by Jacqui in Trafford in the south of Manchester. We drink coffee and make plans for the day.
The previous night we’d plotted some places to explore together, Jacqui having the day of work and looking forward to venturing across a city she’s still not entirely familiar with. After stopping by her workplace, Siemens, a lego-brick creation on Princess Avenue, we jump on Manchester’s tram system and head towards Salford Quays.
‘London? Too full of people.’ – heard twice in an hour, Berwick.
It’s a deliciously sunny and golden morning in sleepy Berwick, and I gaze out at the empty pier and lighthouse in the distance. Sat next to me is the ghost of L.S. Lowry, occasionally peering up from his easel as he converts the glory of the morning sea into one of his characteristic Berwick seascapes.
I am on the threshold between two countries, England and Scotland, one which lacks any real idea of its own identity, and another which realises it, and recognises the importance of political independence.
In truth England does have a kind of identity, one that belongs to upper middle-class London and the south-east. It has been aggressively normalised through school education, the centralisation of financial and political power in the capital, the Received Pronunciation of the BBC, the London-centric bilge that passes for popular journalism, and decades of casually ridiculing and economically depriving other regions of England. But this is not England, and the different regions I’ve travelled through have either quietly asserted their identity (like Yorkshire, or the West Midlands) or cried out for one (like south Essex).