Festival Insider - Gavin Webster
This article is from 2009.
Here we are from the Toon to Auld Reekie, 100 miles up the ‘road’ (I use the term road loosely, it being almost farm track between the Geordie metropolis and the Scottish capital, yet Portsmouth and Southampton have a three-lane motorway separating them, but enough of my provincial politics) and some of the differences are stark.
First of all there are statues everywhere, statues to Greek gods, to kings, to queens, even to dogs. Back home you see statues to blokes who owned brickworks or gadgies who perfected ways of loading ships quicker. Can’t decide which one’s the best but I have a West Highland terrier called Bobby myself so Edinburgh edges it.
The people are different, too. Usually in Newcastle, posh Jesmond folk will mix readily with hard-nosed west enders in the shopping arcades, the pubs and the quayside; it’s all very much ‘wors’ (ours) and we will all share in it regardless of background. Up here it seems that a Morningsider wouldn’t be seen dead next to a Niddrie person and vice versa. Mind you, quite what a Niddrie person would get out of attending the bridge club, the sewing bee or the military tattoo is another matter.
Two football teams, I’m jealous of that, definitely. Both are the proper size as well with great respective histories, atmospheric grounds, iconic kit colours and, in the case of Hearts, the best club song/football chant ever (‘Hearts, Hearts glorious Hearts’ – sorry Hibs fans). Back on Tyneside it’s one club – admittedly a huge club but probably too huge, so much so it has always been warred over and one set of Geordies doesn’t trust another. North Tynesiders, South Tynesiders, Gateshead, Newcastle, South Northumbrians, North Northumbrians, even Scottish borderer Magpies – we’re like ancient highland clans, never agreeing on who has the right to the black and white crown and the autonomy that goes with it. No, you’re much better off with the two clubs and their collective traditions.
Best of all though, Newcastle doesn’t boast an arts fringe festival that gives comedians especially the time of their life in August. Yes, your bin men don’t cope so well with the extra rubbish that could cover an area the size of Leith; yes, the traffic wardens sit like vultures licking their lips when someone lies in and doesn’t feed their meter the next morning; and yes, it’s difficult to keep your patience when yet another risible stage troupe doing the kung fu version of Macbeth or Taggart the Musical hand you a shiny flyer with the dates, the times and the two for one offers on it.
But never knock the Fringe; I would die for a tenth of this in Newcastle.
Gavin Webster’s Falderal is at Stand Two, 558 7272, until 30 Aug (not 17), 10.20pm, £8 (£7).