Rod Liddle

Is it grim up north? It’s too expensive to go and find out

8 December 2012

My flight to Italy a couple of weeks back was held on the runway for a while because of some altercation back at the departure gate. After a while the pilot appeared at the front of the cabin and, full of self-righteous anger, explained that ‘two Italians’ had been rude to the gate staff. He would not be allowing them onto ‘his’ plane, he said, and then began to lecture the rest of us as to how he wouldn’t tolerate any form of rudeness on any of ‘his’ flights, certainly not to ‘his’ staff, it was something up with which he most certainly would not put, he barked, puffed up to the size of a small planet. Just get behind the joystick, or whatever it is, and head for Naples, you pompous glorified bus-driver, I expect most of us were thinking; certainly this is what flashed through my mind. Along with: why are you lecturing us? We weren’t rude to those half-wits. I had planned to be rude, as it happens, because I was still smarting from the usual rip-off over a normal-sized suitcase filled with normal stuff but which had been deemed too heavy, and I’d have to pay another forty quid. But as I came up to the desk the notion somehow deserted me and I just trudged through obediently, head down, minding my p’s and q’s, strapping myself into a seat seemingly designed for Karen Carpenter in her last weeks, and preparing for the usual barrage of instructions about what I could and couldn’t do.

I made a promise to myself last year that I would travel by plane much less frequently henceforth, so unpleasant has the experience become these days. It is encapsulated in that pilot’s tirade: MY flight, and you bastards always try to spoil it. Passengers as a loathsome impingement. But here I was again.

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Why? I needed a small place, away from the world, to concentrate on writing for a couple of weeks. I really wanted to go to Middlesbrough, my old hometown, and work during the day and maybe go out for agreeable drinks with local friends at night. But remarkably, the cheapest apartment I could find anywhere in the Teesside area turned out to be exactly three times more expensive than a flat in Positano, on the Amalfi coast, that supposed haunt of the louche, the mega-rich, of playboys and the jet-set. Doesn’t that strike you as absurd? Admittedly, in the Boro I wouldn’t be distracted by exquisite architecture, or that astonishing vertiginous meeting of land and sea, or the profusion of cheap and excellent restaurants, or tempted outside by extremely clement weather. But hell, that was a sacrifice I felt I ought to make in the cause of economy.

And getting there? Three hundred or so miles to Middlesbrough and thirteen hundred to Positano? No contest: even with the excess baggage con it was still much cheaper to fly to Naples than get the train to Middlesbrough. Even for someone who hates flying and loves trains, and adores the north-east of England and has never been hugely convinced by southern Europe — this was a step too far. Why would anyone go there? Why would anyone take a break in Britain when it is so much, so much more expensive here?

I was mulling this over back in Britain when I chanced across an article by the former Sun editor Kelvin MacKenzie, about how he was sick of his hard-earned dosh going to useless, indolent northerners. He seems intent on starting his own party, a sort of geographically reverse equivalent of the Liga Lombarda: He wants the North to ‘pay its way’ at long last, etc, start forking out money from their own pockets for tins of food for their whippets. Much as I like Kelvin, his article struck me as being little more than the whining of an over-remunerated spoiled brat. The taxes he carps about leave us in the South all a hell of a lot better off than the people living north of Derby, who struggle by on the minimum wage — and more usually sub-minimum wage, with restricted hours — which is the reward for 95 per cent of employment up there. His notion that they should all come down here and see what it’s like to pay large amounts of taxes struck me as fatuous and petulant. Our economy struggles along by paying northerners next to nothing to do economically vital work; it always has done. A bit of a subsidy seems a small price to pay; personally, I would double it, or triple it, if it meant greater investment in industry and skills in the north of the country. In any case, there already is a, even if it has been negligent in claiming the domain name. It’s called the Conservative party.

But, still. I do wonder if the North — and the West, for that matter — is pricing itself out of one of the most potentially lucrative growth markets we have; tourism, with all its knock-on benefits. I wonder how many others have been put off visiting the place because of the weirdly astronomical cost? Holiday cottages and the like quote tariffs which could appeal only to the most well-heeled Kelvins of the South; they seem to bear no relation at all to the local economy. If you were a foreigner you would not choose to visit the North, because of the price, and if you are from the north of Britain you would far rather hop on a flight to somewhere warm. Even if the pilot is a sententious ass.

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Show comments
  • jazz6o6

    Any pilot who held his aircraft n the runway whilst berating the passengers would almost certainly be fired.
    Many airline pilots have big egos, Mr Liddle’s pilot seems to have been an extreme example.

  • Michael Harris

    How can rents in Middlesborough ,home of unemployment, be so high? The result of Housing Benefit, paid to keep middle class second home owners in profit. This in turn keeps rents and house prices absurdly, and artificially high. This is all done in the name of socialism, so beloved by Rod!

    • John Baruntse

      The Tories are in power so high rents are the fault of ‘socialists’ and the unemployed. Keep on taking the tablets! Paid for by a ‘socialist ‘NHS.

      • puss-in-plimsolls

        The Tories of history — and of your imagination — no longer exist.

        Yes, socialists run the show now, and have been chipping away at the meaning of ‘Tory’ for the better part of 50 years.

  • robert hong kong

    I had a similar UK tourism experience when I was in Manchester last summer. I wanted to take my family for a day at Llandudno by train. The fare for the four of us was well over a hundred pounds, even with a railcard. We decided not to bother.
    How many millions of tourist pounds are not spent in places like Llandudno because of these ridiculous transport costs?

    • Michael Harris

      Yes, Robert-if they just left the market alone, no reduced or special prices, no subsidies, after initial pain we might have a decent rail system. It’s a pity there is no Conservative party…

      • mikewaller

        This is nonsense; once the motor lorry came into large-scale availability with its road costs shared with millions of private motorists, there was no economic future for a railway without subsidy.

        • First L

          You should remember that it was the railways which built our holiday towns in order to entice the non traveling Victorians to travel and make the railways viable in the first place. Perhaps if the railway companies employed the same logic today, prices would be cheaper, towns would have investment and we’d all be traveling freely once again instead of being priced off the railways.

  • maurice12brady

    Everything’s predicated on something else — It was forever thus! One wonders if the guys (& gals) daubing paint on the cave walls at Altamira in Spain weren’t preoccupied with notions of having a dirty weekend Tyneside — But had to settle for a short break in Santander. Good to have you back.

    • puss-in-plimsolls

      It would certainly be dirty, from what I understand of the weather. Foul, in fact.

  • Eddie

    I can practically see Ireland over the water from where I live – but a return by ferry costs 5 times what I pay for a return to Italy from Bristol. Mad accommodation prices in the UK too, without a doubt. Why? Fuck knows! Houses are cheap oop north, aren’t they? So why are they high? Cartel time perhaps?

    Still – look on the bright side. At least you’re not making a complaint through the NHS. If you were you’d be told that the NHS will not tolerate offensive behaviour towards their staff – just for the eye-rolling look on your face! Still, look on the bright side – at least the pilot wasn’t French.

    Clement weather eh? What the focacio happened to the terrifying thunder storm then?

    Did David Icke sort it for you? 😉

    • terence patrick hewett

      A return to Dublin from Southampton with a railcard, which includes ferry is £81

      • First L

        Yep. I can get a return plane ticket to Venice for under £30. If you know the right places to look.

        • Eddie

          Exactly – I flew there for a weekend last year for half the price quoted for Southampton to Dublin – and I didn’t have to buy a railcard either (though I couldn’t if I wanted, not being a student or pensioner).

          Really, accommodation is the UK is so expensive.

          And the ferry to Ireland from here costs way more than the price quoted by terence. Maybe his return is via the olde-worlde oirish ferry – ie a couple of pissed up blokes ina rowing boat?

  • John Baruntse

    Mackenzie has been sneering at Scots for a long time precisely because there were low wages in places like call centres. He is a low life overpaid douchebag and I cant understand why anyone would pay for anything he’s involved in. He’s a thug. Now I see he’s having a go at struggling people in the North of England. I was never a great fan of Scots Independence, but the thug is changing my mind. James Whale is another who likes to sneer.

    You are right about overpriced Britain but I can’t convince people on websites I’m on when they say what a cheap hotel they found on the continent. I tell them its not that cheap what they found, but they’re so used to paying through the nose they are well conditioned.

    Given that the writer had the chance to name the airline here, why didn’t this happen? You’ve let them off the hook. Shame.

    • mikewaller

      Would it not be better to stay within the UK and devote your life to doing something about the appalling Mackenzie? [:-)]. I hold him second only to Murdoch in the yobbification of this country. The one positive thing to come out of the terrible Hillsborough tragedy is that Mackenzie found himself on the wrong end of the kind of vilification to which he and his like are happy to subject other people.

      That said, I do wish that more attention had been paid to the brilliant TV series that Simon Hoggart presented just before the 1997 election. Called “The Hollow State” its central thesis was that at just about the point that voters had formed the view that the State could be expected to sort almost everything out, globalisation was getting underway and creating a situation in which individual national governments were relatively powerless to influence events.

      As a great trading nation, globalisation is not something we can back out of, so it really needs to be borne in upon every citizen – be they Scot, Northerner or whatever – that they are going to have to find their own salvation as the funds (much of it borrowed) that in previous decades flowed from richer areas to poorer ones are simply not going to be available..

  • puss-in-plimsolls

    Good points by Rodders: no surprises there, then. My favourite line is ‘strapping myself into a seat seemingly designed for Karen Carpenter in her last weeks’. Heh heh heh. My hubby, at the time a tad on the hefty side and not willing to squeeze his privates into pancakes between his thighs for the duration of the flight, was given an upgrade once for that very cause.

    As a resident of a place that certainly knows about tourism and its ‘knock-on effects’, I can certainly agree. Florida has become more expensive, but then again it has become more rewarding in the past 20 years. It is still one of the most reasonable-cost places to have a good time on the planet. And I’m not even talking about *my* house and my personal cellar (wine, not S&M you understand).

  • First L

    Rod. It’s not our fault coming up here is so expensive. It’s the ruddy trains. Which we hate. £5 from Leeds to Bradford? They are having a laugh.

    Might I therefore introduce you to a pleasure that many of us up North have experienced, from necessity – that of the Megabus.

  • Sara

    I used to live oop North, and haven’t been back to visit for a long time as it costs too much to get up there by train, unless I happen to be able to go at 10.55pm on a Tuesday night. Having said that, I’m considering moving back up there because living costs in the South are ridiculous and forcing young professionals out of even the rental market.

  • Picquet

    Easyjet, eh? Yer pays yer money…

  • michael

    No tax on aviation fuel and provincial european airports are heavily subsidised by the EU.
    Ryan air and the like are only around thanks to their ability to farm these subsidies.

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