Letter of the week
Published 26 May 2003
Just as Julia Darling's article praising Newcastle (The Back Half, 19 May) was going to press, another suicide fell from the Tyne Bridge. Quite a regular occurrence these days, but hushed up by the city fathers behind the European Capital of Culture bid. Darling is one of the cluster of arts professionals, in and out of the council's and the arts board's cat flaps, who have thrown in their lot with the quango executives and cultural businessmen behind the bid. Like Darling, many of them have acquired Tyneside roots because they have none of their own to speak of.
I remember Gary Chaplin, of the renowned north-east family that spawned the novelist Sid Chaplin, telling me that he felt like a cultural leper at arts meetings because he was invariably the only indigenous representative in attendance, drowned out by "third way", middle-class voices getting excited about Newcastle's "great creative potential".
In the 18th century, Newcastle was a significant provincial publishing centre, with republicans such as the wood engraver Thomas Bewick and the political dissident Thomas Spence plying their wares around its nooks and crannies. Darling is obviously largely unaware of the dissident socialist republican Geordie tradition, which would not touch the media hype surrounding the "Newcastle/Gateshead - buzzin'" campaign with a stotty cake.
If she were sincere in her desire to liberate the Geordies from the grime of the past, she might move over and let a real indigenous writer speak in your columns. That might convince the judges that the Capital of Culture bid was indeed rooted in the community - and not just an artificial construct imposed from on high by people who prostrate themselves at the feet of capital in their yearning for a new Hilton on the banks of the Tyne and for more call-centres, as our once-proud manufacturing base continues to be shat upon.
On Tyneside, we are submerged in a tide of "culture" at the moment, backed by totally uncritical local media that worship the arse off Antony Gormley but haven't a clue what is good, bad or just plain indifferent any more. The sooner we face reality, the better. Newcastle is not Barcelona - it is beautiful, shitty little Newcastle.
Whitley Bay, Tyne and Wear