- 2020-06-06 00:07:18+02:00
1981 I went up to Newcastle, driving a battered Ford Transit van through the heaviest snow in decades, the heater inoperable, busting to piss every fifty miles, because of the amount of coffee consumed in the effort to stay warm and awake. Steve at the wheel, Gareth, a Geordie Tabla player tapping out intricate mixed metre rhythms on the dashboard next to me. The journey took twelve hours instead of the more normal five. The next day I walked the snow-crusted streets for the first time. I stood out on the bridge approach staring down at the rooftops and quay side market, the faded but elegant old-town spread underneath. Looking behind, the cathedral spires and shopping centres of Newcastle beckoned; pie shops caressing the air with steam. Ahead was Gateshead, brooding in dowdy satellite oblivion, cars streaming towards the motorway, the moors, the South. The Tyne was green and muddy, no boat stirred her to life save a solitary Navy schooner at berth on the South side. I photographed silent and surreptitious. The swing bridge island midstream was kissed with snow. The cottages on the South side glowed pink and soft in the Northern sunlight. Light careened and skidded around the snow covered rooftops and hillside, scrambled down to the lower banks and reentered Newcastle proper via the lower bridges that gaze at the Goliath towers of the higher crossway. Riots have come and gone in the rest of the country, but in Newcastle I’m told, with a smile, ‘no nothing happened here mate, just the usual Saturday night’. Newcastle still acts out the raids of a thousand years ago every weekend. In the small hours I tumble down the stairwell of the metro station into a crazy and comedic scene of fighting and verbal sparring. Boys on the down escalator call to the girls on the up: ‘show us yer tits!’. The girls reply ‘show us yer pricks,’ and this being Newcastle the boys oblige, laying their flaccid members out on the rubber bannister. Down on the platforms a cheerfully violent brawl breaks out, and spills onto the railway tracks, bodies running this way and that in a chaotic melee. Sunday morning I take the metro out to the coast, where waves pound the orange sand at Tynemouth Priory, and imagine the prows of long-ships breaking the head waters at the river mouth. I look across to the other bank, towards the mining communities of Durham, and the root of my paternal Grandparents’ emigration. They had ‘walked out,’ as ‘dating’ was called in the vernacular of the region, since the age of twelve. After marriage they traveled south to renew a lease on life that had ran out in the North during the depression of the ‘twenties. On the metro, traveling back into the centre of the town a sullen skinhead sits and cleans his boots with an old rag, which he then discards on the floor. At this point my mind first opens to the possibility of leaving England. This survey of the long road from the North down which my grandparents came has opened in me a remorseless desire, an onus even, to continue on, to search out further possibilities.