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About A Week: Among The Geordies

Peter Hinchliffe tells of his stay in the land of stottie cake and pease pudding.

There's God Save The Queen, of course. That serves well enough when the Union Jack is being run up the flagpole to honour another British Olympic champion (I hope). Though regional songs can have almost as much meaning as the national anthem.

Many local folk are as proud of their Yorkshire heritage as they are of being British. And our county has the best anthem of the lot. Whenever Ilkla Moor B'aht 'At is played every Yorkshire lad and lass stands up tall and sings out loud.

Over in the East Lands they have The Lincolnshire Poacher. That sets a few hearts aglow.

Glasgow folk sing of the city they belong to.

Then there's the battle hymn of the Geordie Republic. The marching song of the black-and-white shirted Toon army who support Newcastle United. How does it go?

Aw went to Blaydon Races 'twas on the neenth o' Joon,
Eighteen hundred and sixty-two on a summer afternoon.
Aw teuk the bus frae Balmbra's an' she was heavy laden
Away we went along Collingwood Street
That's on the road to Blaydon.

Oh me lads ye shud a seen us gannin'
Passin' the folks upon the road
Just as they were stannin'
Thor wes lots o' lads and lasses there,
All wi' smilin' faces,
Gannin' alang the Scotswood Road
Te see the Blaydon Races.

A canny little song, if ever there was one. And that's a canny little republic they have up there to the north of us.

Those Geordies are as distinctive a race as the Scots, the Welsh and the Irish.

For five years I toiled in Geordieland. I drove to work and back along the famous Scotswood Road. I worked within a stone's-throw of Balmbra's, the old-time music hall.

As chief reporter of the Newcastle Evening Chronicle I talked to thousands of Geordies. But I never came close to getting a grip on that accent.

My attempts at singing Blaydon Races in the local vernacular were as troubling and unfortunate as those of an Eskimo trying to imitate the Queen.

Geordies hooted with derision when I called myself a northerner. They took delight in pointing out that Yorkshire, when compared to Northumberland, is in the Midlands.

Of course as a conscientious journalist I valiantly attempted to soak myself in the local culture. Numerous bottles of Newcastle Brown Ale were drunk in the Bacchus pub. Stottie cake and pease pudding were eaten for tea.

I learned that an outside toilet is called a netty.

I walked over the Tyne Bridge and the High Level Bridge. Drank and chatted with Mr Tyneside, Clr T Dan Smith. I was there when the North country's favourite tenor Owen Brannigan opened a new pub by singing the Geordie song after which it was named, Cushy Butterfield.

I watched football at St James's Park and met the great Jackie Milburn, one of the most celebrated players ever to wear the black-and-white of the Magpies.

All these things I did. But when I tried to join in the chorus of Blaydon Races I always made a fool of myself.

The Geordie language is the finest example of English as it used to be spoken. The Angles and the Saxons brought with them to Britain a language which was a forerunner of modern English. The Angles gave England its name Angle land.

Over the centuries the language of the Danes and the Saxons was modified almost beyond recognition by the introduction of Norman-French words.

Only in Northumbria does Anglo-Saxon survive to any great extent.

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