It may be grim up north, but we’re gritty – AND sociable

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North Northumberland in winter sunshine: don’t tell me that such glorious landscape makes us less sociable!

Warmth is better for us: The Times on 28th November declared that “22C is ideal for a sunny disposition”. According to Oliver Moody, science correspondence, research by Lei Wang, professor of psychology at Beijing’s Peking University, demonstrates that “People who grow up in more clement areas tend to be more extroverted, curious and open-minded, possibly because balmier conditions make us more outgoing”.

The suggestion is that, if the weather is warmer, people go out more: so they meet others more, and from an early age to get used to talking to them. Which makes them better at interacting socially.

This implied that we northerners, huddling by our coal fires, inevitably get out less and are thus less good at talking to people. And, since we humans are a sociable species, it’s suggested those of us who socialise less miss out.

It turns out that the ideal temperature for incubating sociability is an average of 22°C: that puts us squarely in Sicily. I confess that (after my recent holiday there), I could find life pretty comfortable on that island. Its pleasant and clement climate draws people out of doors: a particularly attractive aspect of Italy is the way in which, in the early evening, everyone heads out into the streets for the passeggiata. Old and young, all shapes and sizes are out and about just for the pleasure of being there and meeting people. They may enjoy a coffee, ice-cream or drink together: but the main purpose is just to be out.

So how does this compare with the North-East of England, particularly my beloved Newcastle and Northumberland?

Geordies could rarely be argued to take to the streets in the same numbers (though, to be fair, the Toon can sometimes be “ram-packed”, as Jeremy Corbyn might say, on a Friday neet oot). And, with the exception of the Bigge Market crowd famed for wearing only a T-shirt even in January, most of us wrap up warm in the face of the wintry chill.

But are we really less sociable than the inhabitants of warmer climes? That’s surely not a description that fits the average Geordie. People on Tyneside are open and friendly to the point of being garrulous. Ask anyone who has moved North (us Traffords included): in the street, on public transport, people talk to you. And wry humour is readily shared when the next inevitable delay strikes the Metro: we moan and laugh together.

Move further north to rural Northumberland, and you won’t encounter the same bustle in the streets: it’s countryside, and sparsely populated. But find yourself in a pub, such as Milfield’s Red Lion, and conversation and banter constantly sparks across and between groups – not to mention the spectacular one-man cabaret on offer when my fellow VOTN-blogger David Banks is holding forth!

In truth, this contrasts with our newly retired life in Oxford. To be sure, the climate’s noticeably warmer, a 3° or 4° difference that continues to surprise us. But, being the south and within an hour’s journey of London, the city exhibits that preoccupied busy-ness that leads people to rush by rather than pass the time of day. I’m not complaining: that’s how the south is – which is why, stimulating as it is, we have to return regularly to Northumberland.

Take the picture at the top of this piece, the view from our garden, on a bright, cold day last week. To be sure, we weren’t fancying a coffee at a pavement table in Wooler. But, while we were out walking, every driver waved, every fellow-walker greeted us warmly, as they always do.

The North is cold: that’s indisputable. But it’s far from grim and, though we joke about being gritty and northern, it’s only a joke. People in Northumberland do have more time for one another. We’re genuinely interested in our neighbours, and give them the time of day. Indeed, we are sociable.

Professor Wang’s research compared areas of China and America: I can’t speak for those. But in Northumberland, we can boast not only of chilly weather – but of warm hearts, too.

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