Newcastle is a delightful riparian gem of reassuring Georgian architecture sloping down towards the Tyne River in the northeast of England. Grey Street, in particular, is a dream of form that curves its dusty classical features rather better, even, than a famous London promenade.
John Betjeman said “Not even Regent Street, even old Regent Street, can compare with that descending subtle curve.” And I’m inclined to agree. The lines are softer, the area quieter and the colour richer. A lot of the city feels like this; a calmer, friendlier London. It is a city that doesn’t ask too much, a place to tarry and enjoy yourself. It even has a clean and spacious underground that doesn’t insist on you sampling the unique flavours of fat commuters BO.
The grandeur of the architecture is the residue left from the rich days of industry and business. In the middle of the nineteenth century it was the engine of the industrial revolution and powered the largest empire the world has ever seen. But competition came, wars came and Margaret Thatcher came to leave the city a dark, depressed place covered with the sooty dirt of lost purpose. Newcastle however, would not be kept down and when I was a student there it was bright and vibrant with the infectious bonhomie of its irrepressible population. The modern Newcastle is like a beautiful old coin that has just been polished by an eager child. A handsome place, shinning with youthful energy.
On a brisk Saturday morning some friends and I boarded the improbably fast train at Kings Cross and made our way up to the city we knew so well. Before I had even finished my ‘grab bag’ of salt and vinegar crisps we were passing the Angel of the North. The Angel always reminds me of Rio’s Christ Redeemer – except with all the majesty and vertiginous drama taken out. As if it has undergone a sort of no nonsense northern make-over (Anthony Gormerly is from Yorkshire, after all).
As you approach Newcastle by train you cross over the Tyne on a spectacular bridge which gives an brilliant view downstream. Seven different bridges haphazardly criss-cross the vista and it looks almost like a set of gargantuan hurdles spanning a silvery race track, waiting perhaps for a gigantic Jess Ennis – a real northern Angel.
As I emerged from the station, blinking in the crisp sunlight, a deluge of déjà vu drowned the senses. There is obviously something decidedly bittersweet about returning to a familiar place after years away. Nostalgia and sentiment jostle for position in your emotive mind as rosy memories twinkle and shimmer before you. A fondness for days misspent and a sadness because they are never to return. It is difficult not to get snared by these emotions because round every corner lurk the ghosts of your life, tantalising in their proximity but always unreachable, like chasing a rainbow.
I swatted away these troubling thoughts and found that it was high time for a stottie stack. Now let me explain. A stottie stack is a full English breakfast in a bap. And I’m not talking about the anaemic all day breakfast sandwiches you get in Prêt or Boots. A stack comes with full helpings of bacon, egg, sausage, mushrooms, beans and black pudding. A megalith of fried flesh oozing with artery clogging deliciousness, to be consumed at your pleasure and your peril. With shortened breath and arteries glistening me and my friends checked into our hostel, deposited our belongings and went out to explore the epicurean delights of the nocturnal Newcastle.
Now, an unwarranted amount of vitriol has been spoken about the girls from Newcastle. Myriad dispersions on their conduct and character have been flung by the bitter and the boorish. What was it that Martin Luther King said? “One day my pets will not be judged by the colour of their fake tans but by the content of their character.” Something like that. All I can say is that their generosity of spirit is only matched by the generosity of their décolletage, and who could complain about that?
They are gathering rose buds and discarding cherries while they may. The only real problem is the climate. If it were five degrees hotter then not even one bushy eyebrow would be raised against the plummeting cloth. In fact the girls should be applauded for their Edwardian determination to defy the elements. If you listen very carefully on a Saturday night you can hear the city echo with the chorus of “I’m just going outside, like, and may be some time.” It makes you proud to be British.
And so after two nights of Geordanian hospitality it was time to once again absent ourselves from the enticing clutches of the city. It was Noel Coward (and some bloke from Stratford) who wrote that “parting is such sweet sorrow” and do you know the old duffer had a point.