Monday, January 23, 2006

A Matter of Identity

Almost twenty years on, the question doesn't arise as much as it did when I first arrived in 'The North'. However, in those early days I was frequently greeted with the comment 'you're not from round here, doctor'. Fortunately for me, the comment was usually in a warm tone of voice. I always assumed that it had an implied question mark at the end, rather than being a veiled warning and an invitation to 'sling my hook'.

The revelation that I was from Kent quite often invoked the further enquiry as to whether I was a 'Man of Kent' or a 'Kentish Man'. It always amused me. It was as though my inquisitor was saying in a subtle manner, 'see, I do know something about The South!'

The fact is I am a Kentish Man; a revelation that invariably brings on the further question, 'What is the difference?'

Quite simply, to be a Kentish Man, one has to be born on the west side of the Medway. Conversely, someone born on the east side of the Medway is a Man of Kent.

Historians trace the difference back, some 1,500 years, to the Jutes. When they settled in the area of Thanet now called Kent, they gave the two parts different names - West Centingas and East Centingas. The traditional rivalry between the two halves is said to have sprung from the time of William the Conqueror, when the Men of Kent are said to have fought harder battles than the Kentish Men. (As a Kentish Man, I like to think that it was more the differentiation between 'brain and brawn'!)

However, like most counties with an inner rivalry, the people of Kent unite when it comes to the matter of 'incomers'. Such people cannot assume either title and are distinctly 'foreigners', albeit welcomed ones.

As, indeed, I have been welcomed in The North.

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