Waiting for Independence Day.

St James’ Park. I have been aware of it since childhood.

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Driving past it on the bus on the way to school. Waving it goodbye from a taxi as I left home for the station on my way to university. And later, when I returned, walking past it almost daily on my way to work.

It got bigger and shinier in that time. Gone was the assembly of crumbling terraces and tin sheds where my father and brothers stood in all weathers.

In its place rose a giant modern cathedral, visible for miles around. Sitting on its hill. Dominating its city in a way few other stadiums in the world do. Physically and emotionally at the very heart of the community. Its hearth. Its heartbeat. Its place of worship.

It drew the eye and the soul towards it, sucking me, sucking us all into its streaming, steaming multitude of the under-dressed and over-excited.

The whiff of hotdog and onion, the warm breath from the brewery, drawing Tyneside’s dreamers from beneath the shipyard crane, from the shops and factories, and from the Blue Star above the alehouse door. Running for home, Newcastle style.

And oh, the NOISE!

It’s all gone now. That stuff. Tales to be told by old men and sentimentalists. Having had a harsher lesson in life’s cold realities than most communities, we are told we are the ones who are failing to face them.  St James’ Park is not a place for dreaming now.

Now it sits there, like a monstrous spaceship from an end of the world movie. Alien, inscrutable, threatening.  Filled with creatures who do not feel what we feel, think as we think, or want what we want. We are an invaded people, living in its shadow. Waiting for our Independence Day.

When I pass there now, I turn my head away.

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