Friday, 15 August 2008

You can take the man out of Sunderland ...

Many of you will be familiar with the London conference hotels that cluster in the hinterland between the Euston Road and Oxford Street; bland, anonymous 80s-ish foyers, conference rooms equipped with audio and projectors for the ubiquitous Powerpoint presentations, and kitchens equipped to dish out a 20 minute lunch. I would usually rather have a fork thrust in my eyeballs than spend a day in one of these places, but a couple of years ago, despite every ingenious effort on my part to escape, I was obliged to do so. These things are perennially popular with Northern middle managers for some reason; pompous, inflated little balloons of men who fiddle incessantly with their testicles and whose requests to ".. bring us a black coffee, will you, pet" to the Lithuanian staff are met with incomprehension.

Anyway, on this day the conference kitchens had excelled themselves. The buffet lunch was a massive stainless steel bed of crushed ice on which were laid salver after salver of living and dead water-creatures; oysters, green-lipped mussels, sea urchins, sushi and sashimi, several varieties of Nethrops, a poached salmon, nestling in beds of crisp lettuce from which the fluorescent glow of lemons shone as artistic highlights. In the queue before me a knot of Northern balloons worked their fingers frantically in their trouser pockets. "I can't eat that; it's bloody raw fish" "Lewk, George, there's some crabsticks there" "Where?" "There, in the corner by those slimy things" "Have you got any bread, love?".

If you visit the pages of the Sunderland Echo to gauge the reaction of that place to the news that Policy Exchange thinks we should stop spending our tax subsidies here, you will be presented with a recruitment video for the local Barclays call centre. A call centre worker steps from a limo of the kind favoured by suburban hen-parties to the corporate HQ; the camera pans lovingly around the corporate gym and the cafeteria, the chilled shelves of which will be reassuringly devoid of raw fish, and the shot closes with the monstrous sign over the corporate front door that reads "Through these doors walk the loveliest people in Sunderland. And you're one of them". You just know that as the head-balloon stood inspecting the newly-erected sign and counting his testicles that he longed to add a comma and 'pet' to the final sentence.

I suspect that Barclays confines its Northern middle-managers to their own call centres and an occasional two days at a London conference hotel. If these little bundles of wool-polyester pomposity were ever allowed into the bank's docklands tower to meet the teenagers with iPod earphones slung around their necks and take-away sushi boxes littering their desks who earn six times their own salary, it would have the same effect as a drunk with a cigarette at a children's balloon party. Scraps of wool-polyester and bits of limp testicle would lie scattered from Bow to ExCel.

And the adage that you can take the man out of Sunderland but you can't take Sunderland out of the man holds true. It would be cruel and unusual punishment indeed to take these fish from their small ponds to resettle them. The piece in the Sunderland Echo uncannily parrots the Onion in quoting "We have the Winter Gardens, the Glass Centre, the Aquatic Centre, the football team – and the only way is up". Alright, pet.


Blue Eyes said...

Brilliant post.

I think Policy Exchange were stupid to propose moving entire populations down South - but I suspect they made that point just to grab headlines. Some of their other policies such as fiscal localism and stopping throwing good money after bad are worth a look.

Newmania said...

Policy Exchnage had a point in a sense but the failure to take account of what people feel about their home was deeply un conservative and I was , overall , glad to see Cameron reject it.
There are some terrific comic touches here , I recently attended the Insuerers conference in Reading and felt as if I was in a social satire from play for Today in the 70s .

I don`t think I would be as cruel but you hit a coconut with every ball

Anonymous said...

Have you ever been to Sunderland? Maybe you should visit before you sound off with your ill-informed opinions.

If you ever went there you'd see the true Sunderland. And it's a MUCH WORSE shithole than even your post contends.

Viz's Eight-Ace is basically a documentary.


Nick M said...

As a Geordie...

Well Sunderland is shite. It has no redeeming features. Middlesborough is arguably worse and places like Blyth and Consett are... unspeakable. But the nadir is the 1950s (60s?) new town of Peterlee, named for a trade-unionist called Peter Lee. It is badly located, windswept (when you don't have sea-fret) and cold.

Anonymous said...

you silly little man.

Anonymous said...

Appreciation of raw fish really is a true indicator of class, refinement and superiority - those silly, foolish Northerners. Hahahahaha!!!

hatfield girl said...

Petal is rather an endearing endearment.

Blue Eyes said...

Oh dear Mr R - you have upset the small-testicled element of the readership!

Anonymous said...

As a Tyke, now returned home after 15 years spent living variously among the peoples in Newcastle, Gateshead and Sunderland - I can tell you, without a hint of doubt, that they are the kindest folk I've ever met. As for "pet", which is not (Hatfield Girl) a contraction of petal, that tends to be a Geordie affectation - with the Mackems, it's Hinnies all round.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous clearly didn't spend his time in Gateshead in Springwell Estate, Car Hill Road, anywhere on the High Street, the Old Fold. In fact he must've spent the entire time on the (rather nice) Low Fell in Valley Drive.


Anonymous said...

It's grim up north?
No say:
A manager for retirement housing
A community link worker
A sales and services adviser
An all centre worker
A full-time-mum
A civil services manager
An unemployed person

Where are the real jobs after all this regeneration?

Mark Wadsworth said...

Newmania "I recently attended the Insurers conference in Reading..."

Yup. Reading. Windswept post-war 'graveyard-with-lights' outside the M25. Barely a step up from Sunderland.

David Gillies said...

I lived in Bradford for six years. Biggest mistake of my life. Its only redeeming feature was the plethora of cheap curry houses. In all other respects, it became abundantly clear after I'd been there three weeks that the Luftwaffe had woefully underperformed the last time out: were a policy of freshly carpet-bombing the place to be proposed, it would have had my vote. The sea of cheapjack concrete box blocks of flats scattered over the moors as if dropped randomly from space. The lack of more than a handful of halfway decent restaurants when Chicken Tikka Masala palled. The miserable, god-awful weather (the Sun appeared one day and the troglodytic natives came out of their hovels and banged saucepans to make it go away).

After re-consideration, I think that nuking the place from orbit is the only way to be sure.