I think I can quite comfortably say that ten of my happiest years have been the ones I’ve just spent living in Newcastle. I first came here to do a support slot for local comedy stalwart and star Mr Gav Webster. I was very new and he’d kindly given me a go so I could see what it was like gigging further away from home. As it turned out I didn’t do very well as my material was too parochial. But it was a great lesson.
But something happened that night that really stuck with me. During the interval a Geordie man came up to me and said, “Here pal that was great. I didn’t realise someone else was coming on I thought you were the main turn.”
Now, obviously none of what he was saying was true. But he had gone out of his way to be kind and cheer me up. He had to make a side step from his journey to the loo to do that. He went literally went out of his way. Trust me in 15 years in comedy you don’t find that everywhere.
Canny is a word often used in the Geordie dialect, “he’s a canny lad.” The more common definition of the word means shrewd, but in the old Scots/Northern English definition of the word it means steady, restrained, gentle. It’s a perfect term for describing the Geordies. Geordies have an ingrained stoicism. This may make them sound a bit cold. They’re not. It’s actually a very endearing quality. It comes from them being able to endure hardship and pain without showing feelings or complaining. It’s among the most noble of qualities and I find Geordies (and much of the north east other peoples) to be among the most egalitarian and noble this country has to offer.
By pure coincidence I ended up in a relationship with a North East Lass just a year later. Coincidence because we met in Scotland not Newcastle. She’s now my wife Lesley. One pivotal night I was lying on the couch and I remarked on impulse, “Pet, I think I could quite happily pursue my comedy career in Newcastle. You travel with your job. Could you maybe inquire if you could work there?”
Next day Lesley came back from work and told me, “Yes I can get a job in Newcastle. But we have to move in the next two weeks.” So move we did.
Newcastle like Scotland has a reputation for the hard man. In the 10 years I’ve been here I’ve never seen violence. I’ve hardly seen a raised voice in anger. It’s a city I feel safe walking across at night. I did have one moment on a sunny day when dressed in Jesus sandals, linen trousers and flowery shirt a young Geordie drove past, lent out his car window and shouted, “How Ye! Fuck off.” He was laughing heartily as he did this and rather than be insulted I laughed along with him. To be fair in the Geordie Catwalk of fashion trends I did look like a ponce.
One of the main things as a Scot I share with the Geordies is there is a dark edge to our humour. it comes from hardship, factory work and precarious living standards. On the very first week I moved here I had a gig at a well known local folk pub called the Cumberland Arms. I was trying to find the place and had arrived at the edge of a thicket of trees. Looking confused a young Charva happened by and saw me lost. (And I use that word in it’s Geordie Romany definition meaning child. It’s horrendous how it’s been misappropriated)I told him where I was looking for. He said, “Aye Bonny Lad it’s right through them trees there.” I looked at him with a bit of worried uncertainty in my eyes. He spotted this and added, “Aye mind bonny lad, ye want tae gan through them trees there. Because if you go up that road over there….you’ll get murdered.” And that was me set off by Geordie humour and laughing like a drain again. And thankfully…I didn’t get murdered.