A version of this article first appeared in the Lancashire Evening Post.
I'm at London Euston train station and I'm queuing for an overpriced BLT and a slice of cake. My train to Manchester is boarding but the cashier is in no hurry. She turns her face away from mine, straining as she fights off a laugh, eventually cracking through as she asks me for my order again. I explain, puzzled, that I want a BLT and a slice of cake. This was too much. Three cashiers burst into fits of laughter. I do that thing where you pretend to know what's going on and laugh along.
"I'm sorry," she said, spluttering through the hilarity, "I just love the way you say cake."
Aside from my slightly ginger hair, I'm teased more for my northern accent than anything else. People love to call up my radio show and mock the way I say 'cake', 'bake', 'road' or 'toad'. Not that toads feature in many of my conversations.
Our love for our northern homeland, and all the quirks it brings, knows few bounds. I wear my accent as a badge of honour. Though now, it seems, being from these parts comes with more risk than a light ribbing. We are literally dying for being northern.
Death records, released this week, show that dying early is 20% more likely to happen if you live in the north of England. The gap is starkest amongst the young. History tells us the young, a more vulnerable target, have always been the hardest hit in times of poverty and deprivation. There were 29 per cent more deaths among 25-35 year olds in the north in 2015 and the number of premature deaths has risen sharply since the 90s. In 2017, we find ourselves slipping into a bleak revival of Dickensian Britain - and it is absolutely no surprise.
The north of England was the foundation on which our country was built, it gave birth to our modern economy and continues driving it to this day. The dark satanic mills of the early industrial revolution laid the groundwork and now, down the road at the University of Manchester, the development of Graphene teeters on the edge of changing the world yet again. Graphene - a substance thin enough to cleanse dirty drinking water and separate nuclear waste, as well as being cheap enough to mass produce - is set to save millions of lives in the developing world and become one of the most prolific contributors to our new age economy. It could save us as much as it could save lives in Africa - and it's the north that made it happen. We funded it, housed it and provided the brainpower.
If we are able to find life in the deepest, darkest depths of our universe, it will be the ultimate feat of human exploration and endeavour - and it will be done in the north of England, with Jodrell Bank searching our skies and relentlessly pushing the limits of human knowledge. The rights and civil liberties that millions are today afforded are down, in no small part, to the northern-born suffragette movement. From oppression came opportunity and progress. Alan Turning developed the modern computer here and helped win the Second World War.
And what do we get in return for our founding contribution and our heart-warming nature? We are being left to die.
In the first crushing blows of the government's austerity agenda, northern cities and boroughs were losing £150 to £200 per head in 2011, while in the south-east, the West Country and the Midlands, the cuts ranged from £50 to zero.
The south of England receives six times more per person for transport costs than the north. Last week, planned work on the line between Manchester and Leeds was scrapped by Transport Secretary Chris Grayling on the basis that we cannot afford it, at the same time as billions being green lit for transport infrastructure in the south. More than half of UK investment in transport is in London. Not just the south at large... but London. Either Grayling has no sense of irony or his disdain for the north of England has grown so potent that it can no longer be disguised.
A recent study has found it would take something in the region of £700m to bridge the culture gap between north and south. Down there, you are significantly more likely to have access to arts and sports - two of the most powerful drivers of social mobility. Gifted to the south, held back from the north.
A major report last year found that schools in the north are taking £900 less per pupil than those in the south, with northern children beginning to fall behind their southern counterparts by the age of five. Had a southerner written this article, chances are it would be considerably better. Then those that do achieve any great academic success are most likely to leave for the south anyway. 'The great brain drain' means the north is losing 30,000 of its graduates and academic thinkers to London every year.
We love to boast of our northern pride and there is much to be boastful about. With the odds stacked against us, we have continued to lead and change the world. With one hand tied behind our back and enduring endless rainfall, we have still managed to build a prosperous Britain - and not to mention the fact that we are bloody lovely people.
The argument over the north-south divide may seem like a friendly, harmless back-and-forth and I love nothing more than a giggle at the way I articulate my lunch order - but it's time to stop laughing. The institutional anti-north prejudice, growing and more prominent than ever, is literally killing us.Suggest a correction