Tuesday, March 30, 2004

The sun came up, the trees began to sing and light shone in on everything. I love you.

I've just returned from a quick trip into town.

Some days Newcastle is just beautiful.

On these days the Tyne actually looks blue and even manages to sparkle. It's a fantastic spring day. There's still that nip in the air, but its just enough to make it feel fresh.

That air here is unique. It's the first thing that hits me when I return home by air or rail. It's strikes you straight away. There's rain in Manchester air, there's all sorts of crap in London air but Newcastle air should be bottled and sold.

Of course, if you arrive back in the region by car then the you know you're home when you see the Angel of the North with it's open arms welcoming you back. I love that big lump of metal.

My friend, who now lives back in the North West, has a daughter who was born here. Every time I visit I make sure she knows that she's a Geordie and that makes her very special. She pronounces it "Judy" and she has a real affinity with the Angel of the North. Her dad told her that it watches over all the Judies when they are asleep. When we took her to see it, her little legs sprinted the last 50 yards and she hugged the Angel around it's ankles. For Christmas last year I wrote her a special Christmas poem which her dad read to her on Christmas Eve (see below)

Today, the Sage Music Centre is glistening in the sunlight and the Millennium Bridge to the Baltic look as amazing as ever.

Newcastle upon Tyne is the love of my life. It's a fantastic place with amazing people and a football club rich in tradition and style. Even its lack of silverware somehow makes the club's struggles seem all the more heroic. A lifetime of winning nowt and all 52,000 seats are sold week in and out. That's loyalty for you and its a reflection of not only the pride in the club, but also the pride in being a Geordie and the city in general.

I know it's not just me being overly proud of my own city. Ask anyone who have ever visited the place, Newcastle is very special.

I've always loved it. Even when it was in a Thatcher-inspired slump. The Angel, Baltic and Sage make it even more special but the fact is that the city was always loved by everyone. I believe this shows that it's the very fabric of the place and the people themselves that make it what it is.

We missed out on the Capital of Culture bid for 2008. The Scousers took that one. However, before the worthies handed it over to Liverpool the BBC ran their own vote. Newcastle won. We are the "People's Capital of Culture".

My only concern is that we are now on the radar of big business. The little friendly restaurants are slowly dwindling and are being replace by chains. There is a Starbucks on every corner and house prices are rocketing to an extent that the a £30,000 starter home I bought a dozen years ago are now going for £120,000. That's for a two-bedroom flat in an area that is solid but far from rich. Now how can any young person afford that?

As much as I want the world to know and love my city there is a part of me that wants to hide it. With places like Beamish open air museum Geordies are becoming like Native Americans - acting out the rituals of their forefathers for tourists. Come, the good people of the world, come see Geordies, with miners lamps, get dirty in pits for your amusement.

Tourism will bring in much needed revenue. But, with the leisure sector growing daily, are jobs waiting on tables equal to the manufacturing tradition of the past? Maybe I am being over nostalgic though. I wouldn't want a child of mine to face the hardship and dangers of a shipyard or coalmine, but is flipping burgers in McDonalds a decent alternative?

That's not to say there are not innovators and entrepreneurs out there who are providing real, well-paid jobs with good conditions.

Then again, maybe my complaint is a microcosm of what is facing the UK as a whole, and indeed the western world. Manufacturing is gone. There are countries, for right or wrong, who can do it so much cheaper. That leaves us with the so-called knowledge-driven, research and development work. Then there is the leisure and service sector.

A friend once explained that there is a problem with what comes next. The western world has been through their industrial revolution, built up its manufacturing sector, and then slowly switched over to a service-based economy. But what's the next move? We are already seeing call centres following manufacturing to less developed countries.

if services go, then will our future be simply in leisure? Mr Starbucks and Ronald McDonald can count their millions while the rest of us wait on tables - with our hours kept just low enough so we don't get the benefits of full time employment.

But, I digress. Today I'm not going to worry about it. It's too nice a day. Today is a day that I could believe that Newcastle United will win the UEFA Cup and get a Champions League slot.

When I'm next off on my travels I will carry on telling everyone I meet what a great a place Newcastle is. When recently friends went travelling for the best part of the year I burnt them a mix CD. Right at the end I put "Coming Home Newcastle". It's a song that warms the heart of any Geordie. Apparently they listened to it first on a beach in Mexico and both were moved to tears.

Although I was born about 25 miles away from the City, Newcastle has always been my spiritual home. It's easy to label someone who has never left their own region as lacking imagination or ambition. I don't care, think what you like while you're commuting every morning and evening for two hours on a filthy tube train, to and from your exorbitantly-priced bedsit.

In the meantime I'll enjoy fresh air, views over the river and a life.

There is a North/South divide and it needs to be addressed. But, if ironing out the differences means the possibility of changing Newcastle for the worse then we need to be very careful.

For the record, opening a Selfridges, Harvey Nicholls or Yo Sushi is not progress.

Millie and the Angel

'Twas the night before Christmas,
When in all the North East,
The people were partying - enjoying a feast.

But at the top,
Of a huge great hill,
The Angel of the Judies was standing there still

While the children were nestled,
All snug in their homes,
The Angel of the North,
Was cold and alone.

But far away in Manchester,
Millie couldn't sleep,
She was worried for the Angel,
And she started to weep.

"Christmas should be a happy time,"
She had said to her Dad,
"I'm expecting some presents,…
"Cos I haven't been bad."

"But what about the angel,
"On top of the hill
"Who'll make his Christmas?
"I know," she said. "I will!"

So up she got, as quick as she could,
To Cheer up the Angel,
With turkey,
And pud.

She ran down to the kitchen,
While mummy was in bed,
While thoughts of the Angel,
Still rushing through her head.

She said "This cooking,…
"Really shouldn't be too tough,
"I shall feed the Angel,
"Till he's had enough."

So straight away she looked,
For all the best nosh,
And she even remembered,
Her little hands to wash.

She chucked in an orange,
Then an apple and a pear,
And slice of bacon,
And gave it a stir.

Then in her haste,
She dropped eggs on the floor,
And even Dad's booze,
She started to pour.

She said "This will surely,
"Make that Angel smile,
"This will be the best Christmas,
"He's had in a while."

"And though mum might not,
"Be happy with the mess,
"As long as the Angel is smiling,
"I couldn't care less."

So, deciding to add,
Just that little bit more,
She threw in sardines,
And the eggs from the floor.

Then all at once,
There came a loud crash,
And down from the chimney,
Came Santa in a flash.

The huge great man,
All dressed in red,
Said to Millie:
"Shouldn't you be in bed?"

"If you're making a mess,
"And you are awake,
"I can't bring you the gifts,
"The elves help me make."

Suddenly Millie was sad,
And she started to cry,
"I'm just helping the Angel,
"Someone had to try."

But then the kindly old man,
Understanding straight away,
Said: "Really? Dear Millie,"
"I believe what you say."

"For the poor old Angel,
"Is an old friend of mine,
"And together we'll make sure,
"He has a good time."

With a twitch of his nose,
The kitchen was clear,
And Santa, stood by the window,
Said Millie: "Come here."

He pointed to his sleigh,
Standing out in the snow,
And said dearest Millie:
"It's time for us to go."

And with Rudolph leading,
A pack of reindeers,
They departed Manchester,
In a rush of good cheer.

In no time at all,
They were in the North East,
And dishing out to the Angel,
A gargantuan feast.

Santa looked up at the angel
And said: "I've been silly,
"I would have forgot you,
"If it hadn't been for Millie."

"It was lucky for all,
"That Millie was good,
"And we remembered to nip up here,
"As fast as we could."

Well the angel said nothing,
But moving its jaw,
It made the biggest Christmas grin,
The pair ever saw.

Soon it was time,
To say their goodbyes,
Mille had the largest hug ever,
And tears in her eyes.

The Angel lifted her,
Onto the sleigh,
And waved his big arms,
As she went on her way.

And before she even knew it,
She was back in her house,
Curled up in her bed,
As quiet as a mouse.

The next day she was woken,
By Florence at her side,
And for a couple of minutes,
She forgot her Christmas ride.

But when Mummy was up,
She put her hear round the door,
And said: "Dearest Millie,
"You'll never guess what I saw."

"I cannot be sure,
"What has made it so,
"But the biggest ever footprints,
"Have appeared in the snow."

"And by the fireplace,
"There's a special letter,
"From a great big friend,
"Who you made feel much better."

Millie knew the Ange,l
Had popped by,
That the great big Judy,
Had flown through the sky.

And picking up the note,
She read it to all,
"Thank you dearest Millie,
"For making your call."

"I hope you and your family,
"Will have the best ever day,
"And to you little Millie,
"I just wanted to say..".

"You are my friend,
"And a bringer of cheer,
"So have the best ever Christmas,

Love, light and peace,


I saw two shooting stars last night I wished on them but they were only satellites. It's wrong to wish on space hardware. I wish, I wish, I wish you'd care.