My first impressions of the Geordies. Written, mostly on board a cramped Boeing 757 fron Edinburgh to Newark.
Let me state that I am still getting to know the Geordies. I've hung out with them for 10 years, and I have only just seen their city of Newcastle-Upon-Tyne (on a dismal, cold day with intermittent sleet and snow showers). And I'm not some Yank who wants to portray the Geordies as natives who need to be studies or rescued. Pft. But I just want to share my thoughts. So with apologies to my Newcastle friends who might be offended, here goes.
Newcastle is a magnificent iron gray city on an iron gray sea. It's small, about the size of Worcester, Massachusetts. maybe a little smaller than than Providence, Rhode Island. English people compare it to Pittsburgh, which is also fair. It's reasonable to think that if you lived there all your life, you'd eventually know people who collectively know all the local people you don't know. One or two degrees of separation. And therefore, it is correctly called a Town. "The Toon."
Did I mention iron gray? It's amazing. Taking the train from Edinburgh to Newcastle, that's the color of the North Sea. Then you enter Newcastle, and it is gray as well. There's Georgian, Edwardian, and French architecture, and it's almost all light gray. The streets as well as the giant headstones in St. Andrew's churchyard, are the iron gray color of the North Sea, as is the Tyne Bridge.
Where's the color? Colors come out at night in the nightclubs and bright cocktails the lassies drink. They are in the "student clubs" (which strikes me as an odd name for bars with female dancers, either barely clothed or topless). There are warm colors in the old pubs like The Beehive, The Old George, and The Black Boy. There are brighter reds, blues, and yellows in the lights and drinks (many of them frozen) in places like Sinners (a "trebels bar" with poles and dancers), "Student Bars," (which are similar from what I've seen), and the popular chain restaurant, Revolution. I had dinner at Revolution, before I left the Toon, which occupies the lobby of what was once a hotel or bank.
The Geordies seem to be, at least to me, the descendants of the people the Romans left behind in 410. It might have been that the Romans, who remembered sunny Italy, could never fully adapt to their northwestern frontier. But the people born there? They adapted. And they stand their ground. That's a big takeaway I have from there.
The last 600 years, in particular, explains their story. The world's first coal trade originated in Newcastle in the 16th century. Newcastle was selling coal long before it's full potential was realized in the industrial revolution. The 17th century featured nearly 40 years of war, both internal (the English Civil War) and external (invastions, both acutal and threatened, from Scotland).
But by 1715, Newcastle had come of age. The town had played a key role in quelling the jacobite rebellions and was the only northern town to pledge its support to the new English king, George I (hence, the nickname, Geordies). Byt the Victorian era, the city was a powerhouse of the Industrial Revolution, leading europe in mining, engineering, railroad engineering, industralized glassmaking, and shipbuilding. Newcastle's character as a working class town continues to this day despite a sharp postwar decline in industry.
Then Newcastle rode a great wave, from one of the centers of the Industrial Revolution, to a post industrial, post manufacturing city, anchoring English culture in the nation's north.
Geordies remind me of Brooklyners. They are both tough and friendly. They have strong accents. And they can be your friend quickly if they see something they like in you. If you're a good listener and have a drink with them, then you're off to a fine start.
And can they drink. The vodka and beer flows like a river every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday night.
Newcastle lost a lot in the last 50 years. But it has kept one thing - football. It has had a united, profressional football team since 1892. A legendary and great team. One of the six largest in the nation, in terms of finances, fan base, and home ground size. A private sports franchise does not take the place of an industry that employs thousands. And I cannot say that football is all Newcastle has, because that is not true. But I did sense that the football club is a major compoenent of the glue that holds this town together and keeps its morale high. This town really does rise and fall with the club, emotionally. That's evident. And it's something I want to take in more next time I visit in February or March 2014, and hopefully annualy going forward.
The riverfront has been revitalized, and I hope development continues. I hope Newcastle booms again, somehow. But most residents would agree the city looks a lot better than it did 20 years ago (see the 1988 film, Stormy Monday, back when Newcastle was synonymous with urban corruption).
More observations next year. But Newcastle has left a strong impression on me after just a few hours there.