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When her partner’s work was relocated to Greater Manchester Diane Southam, a confirmed Southerner, was faced with a tough choice: Singledom or Salford?

 

'According to SGI Buddhist President Daisaku Ikeda, Those who enjoy differences and discover the greatest beauty and value in them are masters in life. I happily embraced difference the world over with only one exception – that between the North and South of England.'

 

It wasn’t that I viewed them up there as all cloth-capped pigeon fanciers with indecipherable accents; it was more about the low mood which engulfed me the minute I hit Watford Gap on the M1. Two weeks ‘holiday’ in a sodden Scotland, where I was devoured by mosquitoes and nearly killed descending Ben Nevis hadn’t helped. But this was nothing compared to a visit I’d made to Salford many years earlier to see my sister who was living there while at art school in Manchester.

 

The minute I set foot in Salford I loathed the grey, Lowry landscape, dreary Coronation Street vibe, monotone graffiti and criminal undercurrent. My sister had returned from a weekend away to find her flat had been stripped clean of absolutely everything – they’d even taken her underwear. I remember thinking, as I boarded the homeward-bound train at Manchester Piccadilly, I’mnever ever coming back to this depressing dump.

 

Never say never in Buddhism. Because if you do, chances are that’s exactly what you’ll get. Granted, it’s usually for your own growth, although it may take a while to appreciate this fact. And I certainly didn’t when, two years ago, smugly settled in my sweet Surrey home, with the consultancy I’d worked hard to establish doing very nicely thank-you, my beloved came home and announced that the corporation he worked for had advised him he had to move up to Salford or face an uncertain future.

 

A recce in freezing May only confirmed my worst fears. After being gridlocked for two hours in Manchester city centre as a monsoon raged outside, we eventually arrived at our Salford hotel. I flopped on the bed and watched North West Tonight: Salford shootings, Salford sex offenders, Salford Hoodies chainsawing down a CCTV camera as it filmed them. I’d seen enough. I switched off the television and told him he could move up on his own.

 

But it wasn’t that simple. As a practicing Buddhist I knew there had to be a reason why I was being offered this ‘opportunity’ to move to one of my least desirable places to live on the planet. I also remembered that my sister, whom I’d introduced to Buddhism, had started practicing when she was in Salford and had received her Gohonzon there. Like it or not, there was a connection. And when my other half was given his rota, and we realised that with our different work patterns we’d be lucky to see each other once every three months, I decided to follow my man.

He moved up last March and I joined him four months later.

 

For our summer hols we usually head as far south in Europe as possible, this year I decided to challenge my negative attitude towards the North and bravely agreed to spend two weeks exploring it in late September in a small camper van.

 

Yes, I found some of the run down, industrial areas grim beyond belief. There is more poverty in the North – which manifests itself in obesity and depressive illness. Blackpool has the highest percentage of people on anti-depressants in the country. On the other hand, I was mesmerised by the Yorkshire and Northumbrian landscapes and the quiet spirituality of the ancient Christian settlement of Lindisfarne – also known as Holy Island. And what it lacks in terms of warm weather, the North makes up for in the warmth of the people.

 

Unlike the South, where a polite, respectful distance governs most encounters with strangers, everywhere I go up here people chat to me. Shop assistants regularly ask: Har’s youer dey gooin’ Loov? Okay, the down side is that when you’re in a rush you can spend twenty minutes hearing about theirs, but it gives me a sense of belonging; as do the local SGI-UK members. Wherever I’ve travelled in the world – from Lima to Lagos – after my first discussion meeting I’ve always felt more grounded and at home.

 

After a couple of months in temporary accommodation, we’re now happily installed in a lovely apartment (which we could never have afforded down South) overlooking Salford Quays, Media City and the Lowry Arts Centre – a colourful marvel of modern architecture. There’s not a pigeon in sight. Instead cormorants, Canada geese, ducks, seagulls and the occasional swan swim or fly past the window as we perform our daily Buddhist practice. From the balcony I’m able to watch the construction of the new Coronation Street set. Salford is undergoing regeneration and so am I.

 

As Nichiren Daishonin, the thirteenth century Buddhist sage writes,There are not two lands, pure or impure in themselves. The difference lies solely in the good or evil of our minds.

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