P is for Paragon, S is for Snob

Many childhood memories are more about how we felt than what was said. When I was six we moved to Luxembourg, part of the new social experiment in being European. It was the first time I knew of a world beyond East Yorkshire, and my first experience of snobbery against the place of my birth. Our teacher, dressed in a floral kaftan, hard-face disguised with half-smile, sat at her desk and told us we would play an alphabet game, a letter would be selected, and the object was to name a station that began with that letter. Naturally when she pulled out a P my little hand shot up. Oh I knew that! Everyone would know, surely, that the only station that began with a P was Paragon, Hull’s main station. I cannot remember the words, I do remember the impassive face, the titters, the hint of a sneer, my little Yorkshire voice a dying echo. And in case you were wondering Paragon Station was not selected, heavens no! I think we plumped for Paddington or some such. Quite so, much more suitable. Or was it Pimlico? Couldn’t have anything quite so unappetizingly northern cluttering up her little game, could we? Well, and excuse my French as we say in the UK, two fingers to her. But little by little my sense of belonging in the place of my birth, my sense of pride, began to wilt like day-old lettuce in the sun. My accent….hmmm, what happened to that? A bit too funny? Perhaps best learn to change it. I do remember being ‘corrected’ for not saying water ‘properly.’ Now, I could write the whole episode off as bad teaching at best. But unfortunately the woman is it seems in the company of thousands and thousands of people who are, mmmm, what’s the word, snobs. They work for the media, perhaps, inhabiting twee North London suburbs, penning mirthful little articles about a city they do not know, that they do not want to know, that they are too ignorant to know. And like peripheral bullies, the ones that lurk, waiting to tease the unloved, they pick on places that fall short of their fashion sense. Arbitrarily they vaunt places as “wonderfully gritty,” “refreshing,” “dynamic,” and others, like Hull, as “dull,” portraying us as some kind of Shrek, the Incredible Hulk of culture. What they think actually does not matter. I have a lot of experience of bullies,and what they want is to get a rise out of us. But after all those years, still I get butterflies in my stomach when my train approaches Paragon Station and I know that of all the places in the world, this is the region of my birth. I am proud I was born here. P is for Paragon, and S is for Snob, and I know which I chose.



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