View from my parents’ house this morning
Bollinger and I are back down south after a week at Peacock Towers. Boll slept and sat regally all the way down on the train and was complimented on her impeccable behaviour.
My favourite Christmas present was a herd of Bolivian goats from my parents.
A friend of mine recently visited Bolivia and said the locals all looked like ‘Les Dawson in a bonnet’. So I’m hoping my goats will give them some useful fashion tips.
Hello. I’m back in Hertford. Here’s a photo I took last week on the coast when I was at Mum and Dad’s. It was 22° C.
I’m heading northwards for a few days. Back on 31st.
I’m rather partial to the Futureheads cover of Kate Bush’s Hounds of Love, which appears on the splendid new Festival CD. And it’s encouraging to hear yet another band singing in an obvious Geordie accent (well…Sunderland in this case, but near enough). The Newcastle accent seems spectacularly popular nowadays. I wonder how long it’ll be before bands actually start imitating Geordie instead of putting on execrable American accents. Although I’m from Newcastle, I’ve always spoken RP English. But I can do pretty good Geordie. And I still use short A’s, pronouncing ‘grass’ as in ‘ass’. Occasionally, I lapse into a long A, but very rarely, and it always gives me a terrible shock when I do.
It’s good to see so many bands coming out of Newcastle. The excellent Maximo Park, who actually sing in geordie accents, have a single out this week and an album due in May. And several members of the boyband V are from Newcastle too.
Although I’ve lived down south for half of my life, I’m originally from Newcastle. I go back as often as possible. And I get quite cross when people stereotype England’s fifth largest city and think it’s a small town full of people like Gazza. Here’s my personal guide to Newcastle and the surrounding area. It may surprise you. There’s everything here from art and architecture to celebrity trivia. Click on pix for larger versions.
A photo of Newcastle’s Grey Street. Listeners to BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme recently voted it the finest street in the UK. It was Gladstone’s favourite. Pevsner described it as “one of the best in England.” And Betjeman considered it “the most imposing facade in Western Europe…as for the curve of Grey Street, I shall never forget seeing it to perfection, traffic-less on a misty Sunday morning. Not even Regent Street can compare with that descending subtle curve”.
In the Guardian/Observer 2004 Travel Poll, readers voted Newcastle the best city destination in England.
Conde Nast Traveller declared Newcastle the “best city to live in” in England. “With its vibrant nightlife, cool bars and world-class restaurants – Newcastle is a boomtown. The city is brimming with confidence. And with its spectacular bridges, edgy galleries and packed streets, it has every reason to be.”
Influential American company Weissman Travel placed Newcastle among the top ten party cities in the world.
Newcastle nightclub Shindig was voted the UK’s best underground club by the influential dance magazine Muzik.
In a GMTV poll of British accents, viewers decided Geordie was England’s sexiest.
Durham Cathedral, 15 minutes away, was voted Britain’s favourite building by Radio 4 listeners. Bill Bryson called it the “best cathedral on planet earth”.
Alnwick, 25 minutes away, has one of the world’s finest castles. It was used as Hogwarts in the Harry Potter films. And Country Life magazine declared Alnwick the best place to live in the UK.
Newcastle is responsible for many world firsts. Here are some things which Newcastle had before anyone else…
First Railway Bridge 1727
First Steam Railway 1825
First Dog Show 1859 (silly but true)
First Electric Lighting 1879
First Lightbulb Factory 1881
First Turbine Engine 1884
First Sound Amplifier 1903
First Windcsreen Wiper 1911
and, most important of all…
First Flavoured Potato Crisps c 1900
Some famous Geordies, from Newcastle and nearby.
The Venerable Bede – England’s first historian. (I used to think he was called “The Vulnerable Bede” when I was a child).
Henry Percy, aka Harry Hotspur, who inspired the Shakespeare character. (I’m apparently related to the Percy family but I’m not sure how).
George Washington, the first president of the USA, was from a local family who lived for generations in Wessyngton village.
Capability Brown – England’s greatest landscape gardener.
Elizabeth Montagu, founder of the Bluestocking movement, had a house in Newcastle and was visited there by Joshua Reynolds and Samuel Johnson. (She owned Red Cow Farm in Westerhope where I was born).
Earl Charles Grey, Prime Minister – responsible for Earl Grey Tea.
Stan Laurel of Laurel and Hardy.
The Russian writer Yevgeny Zamyatin – author of the seminal dystopian novel ‘We’.
Wittgenstein the philosopher.
Cardinal Basil Hume – Archbishop.
Tony Blair (Durham School)
George Alagiah, Will Carling, Hunter Davies, Jonathon Edwards, Harold Evans, Nasser Hussein, Mo Mowlam, Jeremy Vine, Minette Walters (Durham Uni)
Football legends Jackie Milburn, Bobby Charlton, Bobby Robson, Paul ‘Gazza’ Gascoigne and Alan Shearer.
Runners Brendan Foster and Steve Cram.
Actors Kevin Whatley, Imogen Stubbs, Robson Green, Charlie Hunnam and Rowan Atkinson.
Pop legends Sting and Pet Shop Boy Neil Tennant.
Broadcasters Brian Redhead and Kate Adie.
Cult stand-up comedian Ross Noble.
TV presenters Donna Air and Ant and Dec.
Marcus Bentley – the narrator on Big Brother.
Professor David Bellamy (Londoner but lives and lectures in Durham).
Broadcaster and academic Bea Campbell.
Jonny Wilkinson – rugby star (not strictly a Geordie, but he plays for Newcastle and lives in Ponteland).
England’s third oldest university Durham (see photo) is just south of Newcastle. It’s a collegiate university like Oxford and Cambridge. Durham’s oldest college is known as “Castle”. This is because it is in fact…a real castle. Undergraduates dine in the great hall which dates from 1284. Durham always comes high up in the annual Sunday Times Universities list, but the Education Guardian recently described it as an “elitist institution” thanks to its high public school intake. Durham’s Kings College was actually in Newcastle and became Newcastle University.
Northumbria was the greatest centre of learning in the UK for centuries. In the seventh century, The Venerable Bede, born in the Newcastle area, ran a famous monastery on the Tyne and wrote Britain’s first ever history book: ‘The Ecclesiastical History of the English People’.
Newcastle’s Literary and Philosophical Society was founded in 1792 and it’s still going. Over the centuries, the Lit and Phil has hosted some very odd lectures. In 1821, members viewed an Egyptian mummy. And in 1897, Swan presented a talk on electric light and astounded his audience of 700 by switching on a lightbulb for the first time ever in the UK.
Newcastle’s Northumbria University recently came second in the Sunday Times Best New University list.
A photo I took of Baltic and the Millennium Bridge. Baltic is one of the largest and most respected modern art spaces in Europe. It has an acclaimed penthouse restaurant with one of the finest views in the UK.
More arty facts…
The cult 80s TV programme The Tube was broadcast every Friday from Newcastle. Presented by Jools Holland, Paula Yates and Muriel Gray, it featured live performances from U2, The Smiths, REM and many others, plus an exclusive interview with Miles Davis and The Jam’s last appearance.
Antony Gormley’s controversial sculture Angel of the North, with a wingspan longer than a Boeing jet, is just south of Newcastle.