Wednesday, 9 January 2008

Broken down by age and sex

A Whitehall planner apparently once asked Alnwick District Council to provide details of its inhabitants, broken down by age and sex, and received the reply: “Nearly all of them.”

At a dinner party I attended many years ago, a former Alnwick GP described his typical patient as a grandmother built like a brick lavatory, with the smoking qualities of an industrial chimney and the drinking capacity of a camel (though without its extraordinary endurance between intakes).

He said it came as a bit of a shock, when signing their death certificates, to realise that they were only 40, but they had lived full lives on fast forward.

How times have changed. Monday’s Journal revealed that Alnwick is now a thriving hub of female entrepreneurship, taking its lead from the inspirational Duchess of Northumberland. Fancy starting out with absolutely nothing and creating a world class tourist attraction from scratch; it’s a heart-warming rags to riches story if ever there was one.

Both sides of my family (because my parents were second cousins, which explains a lot) have been wasting their lives in or around Alnwick for at least 300 years. I am the last in a long line of rustic no-hopers.

The striking thing is that none of us has ever gone far, in any sense. My father only left the country because the Durham Light Infantry shipped him to Normandy on a landing craft in 1944. I went to one of my increasingly rare business meetings in Newcastle on Monday, and immediately started moaning that we could have held a conference call instead.

Although the left like to pretend that we are all the descendants of recent immigrants, the old Northumbrian language actually displayed a remarkable continuity with the Anglian of the Dark Ages. Having somehow made that treacherous crossing of the North Sea, those settlers clearly thought “never again” and put their feet up. It’s not the approach of a lot of go-getters.

So perhaps the key thing about Monday’s successful entrepreneurs is not that they are women, but that all of them are incomers: from Edinburgh (the Duchess), Manchester and Cheshire. Inviting this question: does the survey actually tell us anything useful about female enterprise, or merely illustrate the economic benefits of migration?

Keith Hann is a PR consultant who tries to blame his sloth on his genes.

Originally published in The Journal, Newcastle upon Tyne.

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