I was sat drinking tea early one morning, enjoying the peace before I had to wake Joel, and I had a faint feeling of happiness which I couldn’t explain. Was it because I still had 15 minutes of uninterrupted bliss before I had to tell Alexa to wake up the little shit (he listens to her more than me)? Or was it because I’d managed to sort out my car insurance with minutes to spare and wouldn’t have to risk that morning’s school run, uninsured, with two crazy spaniels in the boot, two mute teenagers in the back and a miniature Duracell-powered wittering machine sat next to me, while wearing cheap reading glasses from Poundland? It suddenly dawned on me that this albeit small sensation of contentment may be because I’d just typed some quick notes about my next blog and was pleased with the results. So, a few sentences via a cracked touch screen could put me in a good mood? Who needs a husband then?!
I had been thinking about what it meant to be Cumbrian. Firstly, whenever I fill in any type of official form, I am English, not British. I don’t have anything against the other home nations. I spent three enjoyable years studying in Scotland’s capital and return annually. I have told people for as long as I can remember that I am one quarter Irish by way of my Tipperary born grandmother, with whom having a conversation was like being attacked by a machine gun loaded with words as she spoke so quickly! As for the Welsh, I’ve always imagined their country was pretty much like Cumbria – hills, sheep, rain – so I never felt the urge to visit! Maybe I write English as an act of rebellion; the other countries aren’t particularly fond of us so why should I announce myself as one of them? It’s fine for them to celebrate national days and flaunt their identity. If we so much as raise St George’s Cross, we are the infidel, the colonialists, scum of the Earth. But whenever I leave our idyllic isle and find myself in alien lands amongst other English people, it is then I stop being English and become Cumbrian.
For us Cumbrians, especially those in the West, even travelling to your holiday destination is an adventure in itself. Just reaching the motorway is akin to journeying to Mordor to return the ring (I would have used a Game of Thrones reference but, much to my husband’s chagrin, I’ve never watched it.) For us poor Cumbrians, the journey to the airport can take longer than the actual flight. The A595 is a perpetual obstacle course, constantly throwing up obstructions to try and impede your progress – lorries, tractors, roadworks, the occasional sheep – all on single carriageways. The expedition to leave the county is a game show in the making! Once you have reached the outskirts of the county, strange things begin to happen. Dual carriageways appear. Motorways spring up. Cars move at speed. Lorries can be overtaken. Us Cumbrians have rejoined the 21st Century.
And once you’ve arrived at your destination no one can make out your accent. Geordie? Scottish? I was even called Welsh this year in Galway (although I have serious doubts that the person I was talking too even knew such a place as England existed!) So, once you’ve established you’re neither from the North East nor north of Hadrian’s wall, you have to set about the task of explaining where you live. Cumbria? Blank faces. The Lake District? Slight flicker of recognition. Near Sellafield? Over enthusiastic nodding.
So, I’ve narrowed my home town down to being within 15 miles of a nuclear processing plant. Who needs Derwentwater or Scafell Pike as reference points when you have Sellafield?! And that is as where the conversation ends. Because your new English friends couldn’t pinpoint Cumbria on a map, despite it being the third biggest county in the country! Cumbria is an anonymous county. Despite its size, it seems it is only us Cumbrians who know of its existence. I would wager a bet that most people couldn’t tell you in which county the Lake District is located. Nor could they tell you why Carlisle titles itself ‘The Great Border City’. If you’d asked me as a ten-year-old, I would have replied it was because it had such attractions as an escalator in shops bigger than my front room. Or it had a B&Q where I could go mad and buy every possible piece of furniture in black ash for my new study to set against my red desk lamp and bin! You then stupidly proceed to mention famous Cumbrians to try and jog their memories into recollecting something about your county. What doesn’t help is our lack of notable personalities in the modern sense of the word. Mention Wordsworth or Coleridge to anyone younger than 40 and you’ll be met with a puzzled expression. I have to admit though that once I’ve uttered ‘I wandered lonely as a cloud’, I’m stumped! We’ve produced such luminaries in the literary world as Melvyn Bragg, Hunter Davies and Margaret Forster – I can see you all now typing their names into Google and still being none the wiser! So, then you decide to bring out the big guns. Once you say this name, every English person will know exactly where Cumbria is. Their eyes will light up, their mouths will open wide, their arms will flail round in excitement. “You remember It Bites?” You start singing the title from ‘Calling All The Heroes’ because three kids later, you’ve forgotten the other line that you once knew. Back in 1986, we thought this band would put Cumbria on the map –well it’s always been on the map but maybe now people would know where it bloody was! Egremont was going to be the centre of the universe! At this time, the little market town was booming thanks to the injection of money and increase in population by Sellafield. And here we are, back at Sellafield! You stop repeatedly singing the title of the song after realising that it hasn’t worked. To them, you’re still just an English person with a strange accent and they’ll just carry on asking you if you’ve ever met Gazza.
After proudly announcing that I am Cumbrian, I realise that this then that tars me with the same brush as people I don’t necessarily want to be associated with! First of all, those south of Sellafield with the Lancashire postcode. When did they come along? When did we, all of a sudden, become good enough for Barrovians? Apparently, it was in 1974 – happy birthday to me! It’s always in the news about immigrants having to take tests in British citizenship. Well. they should have been obligated to sit strict entrance exams with a 100% pass rate before being allowed to assimilate into our great county!! Having recently travelled to Dalton, I’m of the opinion we’re still trying our best to rid ourselves of them, seeing as the main road to the southern depths of the county just disappears in front of your eyes and becomes a narrow lane between two farm buildings!! Was this not a big enough hint?
At least there is some distance between us though, unlike our closest neighbours 6 miles away. My first inkling of any rivalry or animosity with Workington was through rugby league. The fact that the crowd would double in size was a clear indication. And for years, I honestly thought our derby rivals home ground was called Donkey Park!! Furthermore, we have a perpetual and heated discussion about which of us are called the ‘Jameaters’. Only in Cumbria could a spreadable fruit preserve be a centuries old argument! Well, the answer is simple – Workington folk are the Jameaters. Our miners ate rum butter so that discussion can be put to bed once and for all.
Travel another 9 miles north of Jamland and, even though still in Cumbria, they speak a completely different language. During my first forays to Scaryport to see the husband’s family, I frequently had to turn to him perplexed so he could translate what had been said. Apparently, I looked ‘flayt’ and we shouldn’t hang about after our lunch because it was a good drying day, so I should ‘git yam n wesh mi clars’. I’d no idea what these people were saying; I was just wanting to go home and do some laundry. There are obviously Cumbrian terms which I understand and indeed use. It’s always fascinating to hear non Cumbrians use such words as ‘laddo’ or ‘bait’. Spoken in a different part of the country, they sound strange, but I feel proud that they have left home, are seeing different parts of the world and are equally as loved in their new home.
So that is how I feel to be Cumbrian. Anonymous, unmemorable, indistinctive. But as someone who is shy, reserved and reticent, that suits me just fine.