Friday, 29 July 2011

Blog on the Tyne...

Ok, ok, I know that's such an obvious and over-used title for a blog written from and about the North East of England, especially as I'm not even anywhere near the banks of The Tyne at the moment, I'm in County Durham, but Blog on The Wear doesn't have quite the same ring to it does it?

Anyway, today I thought I'd talk a little bit about my beloved North East of England, because I'm proud to be a Geordie.  Very proud.  Mind you, I have to say, there are some instances when I sometimes wish I wasn't - I've cringed my way through an episode of 'Geordie Shore', and 'Geordie Finishing School For Girls' currently showing on BBC Three isn't faring much better - but I know, deep down inside, that those programmes only serve to highlight stereotypes and that the sensible and intelligent ones amongst us know that there's always another side to every situation.

Because the North East isn't just poverty, deprivation and coal fires, oh no, in fact, if you care to head up to my old stomping ground, the coastal town of Whitley Bay, there are some areas round there that might make you think you've wandered into an episode of 'Keeping Up Appearances'!  Take a trip round the local Sainsbury's and there are enough Hyacinth Buckets to fill a working men's club twice over!  I believe the expression is "all fur coat and no knickers" ... you get my drift.

Seriously though, we have some beautiful areas here in the North East of England, from the stunning Northumberland countryside to the vibrant and exciting cities of Newcastle, Sunderland and Durham.  The stereotype of the cloth-cap-wearing ferret-breeding Northerner has long gone - although we used to live next door to a bloke who wore a cloth cap and bred ferrets but that was the 70's, a lot's changed since then.  We've got indoor toilets and plumbed-in baths now, and even - get this - the internet!

I'm sorry if I sound a tad defensive but, watching 'Geordie Finishing School' the other night, some of the ultra-posh and extremely wealthy southern girls they'd sent up here seemed slightly surprised that we had electricity!  And I'm really not sure that that programme is doing anything other than widening the North/South divide even further!

But just why do I love the North East so much?  Well, lots of reasons really.  The people for starters, the majority of which are the most friendly, down-to-earth people you could meet.  When I moved to where I'm living now it was a completely new area to me, never been there before, but on a short walk to the Co-Op about 5 people had smiled at me, said hello, and I'd had three decent conversations at the check-out with complete strangers!  I remember Peter Kay once saying that he loved coming to Newcastle because it was the only place where you could stop and ask for directions and end up having a full-scale conversation!  He's not wrong!

And that brings me onto another reason I love being a Geordie - the Northern sense of humour.  And let's face it, we've got to have one!  But, in my opinion, you just can't beat it.  I was brought up in a working class family that didn't have a great deal of money but boy, did we laugh!  My late Uncle George used to have me in stitches, he was so funny, but it just came naturally.  We see humour in quite a lot of things (like I said before, you have to when you live up North - Cameron will never batter us down!), and the late, great Bobby Thompson proves that.  His 'Little Waster' 1982 performance at Percy Main Working Men's Club is one of the funniest examples of brilliant Northern humour and I cry laughing every time I watch it.  Just his opeing line, as he stands there scanning the room with a cigarette in his hand ... "I've had a look aroond here the night ... I bet there's some debt in here ..." starts me off!  Mainly because it was probably true.  Catalogues were very big around here in the 70's and 80's! 
And then you've got 'The Likely Lads', and 'Auf Wiedersehen Pet' - who can forget Jimmy Nail's portrayal of Oz!

There's just something about the North East that makes me feel safe, protected even.  It's a warm place (in terms of the people that is, not the weather!) and, even when we lived in Tenerife, we still gravitated towards a British bar ran by Geordies at leat once a week because it stopped me missing home so much!
It's an often mis-understood part of the country because it can get quite a lot of negative attention thanks to ridiculous shows such as 'Geordie Shore' that concentrate on a stereotype that is rife in any city in any part of the country.  But it's a part of the country that I suppose I will always gravitate back to should I ever leave it again, I know that now.  It's not perfect, but show me somewhere that is?  But I know that we have people here who will do anything for you, people who will make you laugh; people who will make you feel welcome.
The Tyne Bridge in Newcastle-upon-Tyne
That's why I love it.  That's why I always get that feeling of "I'm home" whenever I've been away and see the Tyne Bridge looming on the horizon (forget the Angel of the North - that's just turned into an accident blackspot now, and I never saw the appeal anyway), I like that feeling.  I like being a Northerner, and I love being a Geordie.

And I could probably write a thesis on just why I love this part of the world so much, but instead let's just say that it's not only a great place to live, it's also giving me a chance to use that brilliant Northern humour, and everything I love about the people and the places around this region that I adore, in my writing. My second book 'Too Much Trouble in Paradise' may be set in Tenerife but the majority of characters are Geordies and I just hope that I've managed to get across the humour and the warmth of the North East of England into those characters, because that's what I really want to do.  I want to create fantastic Northern characters, and I've got the best research in the world all around me now.

Yep.  There's so much more to us than Newcastle United and Cheryl Cole.  We have culture; we have amazing scenery and beautiful places to visit.  We have stunning coastlines (although North Tyneside council should be hauled over the coals for letting Whitley Bay go so far downhill) and as many upmarket hotels and restaurants as any other part of the country.  We don't all live on fish and chips and takeaways.  Although, you haven't lived until you've had a hot pork sandwich with pease pudding, believe me!

So, if you're ever up this neck of the woods take a look around and see what the North East really has to offer.  Ignore 'Geordie Shore' and see the real North East because, I guarantee, you won't be disappointed.

If you'd like to read about my Geordie characters in my new book 'Too Much Trouble in Paradise' it's available to buy from Amazon now!

And you can read a sample chapter from the book HERE.

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