Posted by Laura
Greetings from Planet London…
… I hope this communication manages to make its way through the dense barrier of urban metropolis, smog and short-sightedness to that distant place known as The Rest Of The Country.
Apologies, I’ve been a bit distracted for a while. Well, two months to be exact – the longest time I’ve ever stayed in such a confined area. For these two months my domain has remained firmly within the M25 (truth be told, I haven’t been further south than Wimbledon or further north than Islington, actually). I’ve busied myself catching tube trains, pontificating about the weather, and generally marvelling about how you really do have everything you need on your doorstep here, as us London-dwellers are wont to do.
The problem is, I’m going to be leaving this bubble at the weekend and I’m ashamed. I’m not from here – this vast city, where, if excitement and opportunity were gilded, the streets-paved-with-gold fable would surely be true. That’s why, being a northerner in London, I have no excuse for not really understanding just how horrifically my home city, and indeed many other towns and cities across the country, have been affected by the weather and flooding over the past two months.
Sure, I’ve seen the BBC presenters donning wet weather gear and wading through flooded streets bellowing “and right now, I’m up to my knees in water”, as if the pictures themselves weren’t enough to say in an instant what words cannot convey. Here on the homepage, particularly this week, we’ve tried to keep abreast of the latest developments in Gloucestershire and Oxfordshire.
Yet, despite all this, I still feel removed from the recent unprecedented events that have besieged our country, and, most importantly for me, the conditions that have hit Hull and the surrounding area, which is where I grew up.
When the ramifications were discussed and the inevitable finger-pointing began after the first northern deluge, Hull was branded “a forgotten city” by those who live there. Two of its MPs – John Prescott and Alan Johnson – were criticised for not reacting quickly enough to the crisis on their constituency doorsteps.
It is easy for me to jump on the northern solidarity bandwagon and agree wholeheartedly with these sentiments; long have I felt aggrieved that the region always seemed to be last in the queue for everything, and was often overlooked and ridiculed by the media. But it would be hypocritical of me to join the ranks of the critics in this case – because Hull is a place that I have forgotten too.
It wasn’t until my dad sent me local newspaper cuttings of streets in the village where I lived for 18 years submerged in water – cars peeping out with their windscreens and bonnets barely visible and children sailing down their driveways in dinghies – that I began to realise the extent of what had happened. Although my dad’s house escaped the flooding, he told me stories of his friends who were living in hotels, homeless, after the waters enveloped their properties. Finally, I was getting the picture – but this was a whole three weeks after the event.
I don’t want to start a debate on which areas have been worst affected – because the flooding has been an immeasurable tragedy for so many across different parts of Britain – but I can’t help concluding the media coverage of the most recent torrents in southern and western Britain has been more comprehensive.
The northerner in me wants to suggest this is because it affected the more affluent parts of the south. The cynic in me wants to go even further and say there is some kind of innate disinterest – among the big media organisations and politicians – for northern cities. It seems that the further the flood threat moves down the Thames the more news coverage it gets by the (largely London-based) news providers.
Perhaps it’s simply a case of the media being better prepared for the story the second time around – or maybe the nation became more gripped by the news as other areas became affected. One thing I’m certain of, however, is that if the floods ever hit the capital to the same extent, people here will ensure there is no part of the country – nay, the world – that isn’t aware of it.
Planet London is a great place, with jobs, sights, diversity and culture that other parts of the country cannot offer, but it is not the enlightened nucleus of knowledge many of its denizens, me included, convince themselves it is.
When I first came to live here seven years ago, wide-eyed, awe-struck and desperate for “bright lights”, I thought the city was at the forefront of everything that happened in the nation. Now, especially after allowing myself to succumb to the London-is-the-centre-of-Britain mentality, I realise that this mindset only exists because living here can make you immune to what is going on in the rest of the country.
I have become that person I always said I wouldn’t – a fair-weather northerner; someone who covets their regional identity but is so city-worn they are unable to recognise what that means any more.
I’m hoping this will change when I reacquaint myself with the survival spirit of my flood-weary home town at the weekend. I just hope the north welcomes its errant deserters back.
What do you think? Has the coverage of the floods been too south-focused? Are the big news organisations affected by London bias? Let us know.