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Proud to be a Geordie

12 months ago

Seven months ago on what was an uncharacteristically sunny evening in Geordie land, I walked along the bank of the River Tyne.

I started off under the metro bridge, which my Dad had told me my Great Grandad had once helped to build.

Then the high level bridge that I always remember was opened by Queen Victoria in 1849 – although as a kid I most fondly knew it from the “everything’s a pound” scene in Purely Belter.

Past the Swing Bridge next, which to this day, I still haven’t actually seen ‘swing’. But did you know that in 1924, the Bridge ‘swang’ 6,000 times in one year? Bet you didn’t know that!

Onto the Tyne bridge, which again my Dad used to tell me about the pub directly below the bridge which he said was the driest pub in the world. I don’t know how true that is but from the age of four that one always gripped me.

It is a walk that never gets old.

Now you have probably come here to read something about football. Sadly this isn’t quite it, but wait don’t worry, it isn’t a piece about bloody politics so don’t click away just yet. It is true though that the aforementioned football and politics haven’t made home the greatest place to be at times recently.

I moved to Asia six months ago, and keeping up with the comments on The Mag, football, politics and social media, I have found that all too often we are reminiscing greater days, or thinking back to a time when we didn’t feel like we were getting screwed over by someone somewhere. The point being that the rhetoric around football, and life in general from the media, is not one that beams ever glamorous rays of sunshine on what is for me, the greatest place in the world.

When good things do happen in the region, it is said that we are punching above our weight. In a lot of instances, leaving the region itself is said to be some sign of success. This is something I don’t really buy, or to put it more bluntly, it’s total bulls..t.

This is a region founded on innovation and world-renowned engineering, filled with a history that would rival anywhere in the world. We love our people, our sport and our culture. Of course the go to names are that this is a place that gave us Ant and Dec, Mr Bean, Tim Healy, Jimmy Nail, Sting and Alan Shearer. But, the point is that these people didn’t ‘make it’ in spite of being from Newcastle, they made it because they are from Newcastle.

I don’t like the suggestion that people in the region have to break down extra barriers to get somewhere… perhaps some will argue it’s true but it’s a way to constantly put ourselves down.

Travelling around the world and meeting so many people from a range of different places and cultures – there is one thing about us Geordies that stands out for me. We are all very proud of where we come from. Newcastle and the North East in general is a friendly place, where compassion and good humour are valued over individual status or cash.

People joke about Geordies like we are barbarians who are just emerging into the rest of the world. A common one was to slate our music with the cliched Sting, “let’s get ready to rumble”, or someone shouting the “fog on the Tyne” lyrics to you for no apparent reason. Yet there is more to us than meets the eye to those from outside, with today’s Sam Fender, Frankie & The Heartstrings and Gem Archer all hailing from the region.

So yes, we are very much living in the present and the region remains a place that is growing with the times so don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. You can still get your prawn sandwiches and your flat white. The region may be a very different one to 20 or 30 years ago, there are no coalmines, the shipyards no longer feed thousands and Newcastle will never be near the top of the league but you only need to take a walk along the quayside, a gander through Alnwick gardens, or a stroll down Durham’s cobbled hills, to know that the north east isn’t the vast wasteland that people like to make out.

It is something that most people in the ex-pat community in Asia don’t really understand, nor during my time in London could they really comprehend why we love our region so much.

Busker’s song ‘Coming Home Newcastle’ features the classic line of “Some people think we’re bowdy, and we’re hard to understand, and they say it’s just self-pity, And we’re not so very tough.” To this day, I still don’t really know what bowdy means but the suggestion that we have had it rough I don’t think applies anymore. However, from Whitby, to Durham, to Newcastle, to Bamburgh, it really is the greatest place on earth.

I went to school and university in Durham. To some a middle class white town, but to those who really know it, a place packed with diversity of people from all nationalities, age and class. A place where you can be served by a local in a bar, get on the bus next to a Chinese student, chat with a Kurdish taxi driver and at the end of the day, its pot luck as to whether they support Newcastle or Sunderland.

A few accusations (likely motivated by Brexit) get thrown at the region in terms of its diversity but the region is as much a vibrant melting pot that is open to others as much as anywhere else in this country. Of course, there is a thriving Chinese community in Chinatown and our Jewish population in Gateshead is well documented. However, the north east has been a hub for migration for over 100 years.

The Scottish and Irish arrived in the thousands in the early part of the 20th century, and at a similar time, there was a growing Yemeni population in South Shields that I would encourage all people to go away and have a read about. In recent years, a whole host of different communities, languages and cultures have been accepted into the region, and Newcastle’s pride parade festival is one of the biggest in the UK.

Naturally, there is a small minority of narrow minded people, but that is the case everywhere in the world (especially out here in Asia!) but I like to think that us Geordies judge people based on certain values, such as honesty, hard work and respect – irrespective of where you come from, what your name is and which god you pray too.

The point being that in the north east, there is an inherent pride and sense of community. A sense that we are all on the same side and we’ve got each other’s backs. It is a part of the culture that I haven’t seen or felt elsewhere. I call it ‘bending over backwards for people’ – and you’ll see it everywhere. Ask someone for directions and they won’t just tell you, they’ll walk halfway down the street and point you in the right direction, or dare to open your mouth with an alien accent and be in conversation with a friendly soul in no time. Even outside of the region, meet someone else from the region at the other side of the world and they will respond accordingly.

I now live in a country where my bus and train to work is filled with silence. I stand at the same stop at the same time every morning, next to the same people, but we don’t make eye contact and god forbid I would actually hello. Contrast to the regular trip once a week metro journey I used to take from Newcastle to Sunderland not so long ago, where every ride would result in a friendly conversation, a passing remark or simply a smile from an old lady carrying her Greggs carrier bag. I long to hear an old frail ‘Hellaw hinny’.

So yes, not a football post, but let’s be honest…the football is sh..e for all of us (except Darlo!).

Even with that, I tell you what, I think I speak for every other Geordie when I say, I am the luckiest person in the world to be born there.

You can follow the author on Twitter @JonathanComyn


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