You Can Always Go Home

Fifty-two years ago my parents brought my brother and I to Canada and it has been my home ever since. Having only been back to Tyneside (Newcastle, Newbiggin, Ashington area) twice in the last fifty years, I should hardly think of it as "home" of any sort. Yet everything here feels familiar, understandable, close.

The people -- except for the young toughs recognizable by their shaven heads, football jerseys and loud manner -- are friendly and warm. Staff at the hotel's reception desk have been unfailingly helpful, providing an extension cord for me in ten minutes, sending a repair person to fix a phone within five. The old woman who served me breakfast in a local restaurant was so kind, in a way you just don't find in Toronto (or New York I suspect). When I told her I couldn't eat bread (Celiac's Disease) she offered me extra egg and a double order of bacon at no extra charge. (The food itself was horrid in the way only an English breakfast can be . . . three fried eggs and a mound of bacon all floating on a soup of tinned tomatoes and canned beans.) Even young women smile at you on the street in greeting.

Although there are two universities in Newcastle -- Northumbria and Newcastle -- this still seems a working class city. Older men are in large measure squat, heavy set and gruff looking. It's not hard to imagine them as the decendants of coal miners, labourers and farmers. Young people here don't dress with the same elan as their counterparts in Paris or Toronto. Frankly, there is something cheap about their appearance. Too tarty. Too haphazard.

Today many young men and woman are dressed in Newcastle United gear . . . football jerseys, and track suits and t-shirts bearing the name Northern Rock -- the local bank and sponsor of the "Toon" as the team is called -- under Newcastle United logos. (By the way there is a branch of the Newcastle United fan club in New York called Toon Army NYC.) Then again it is match day . . . and that is where I am heading now as soon as I pick up a doppio espresso at the local Starbucks. Yes, there are a couple in Newcastle.

Google in Athens

Friday, October 27, 2006 at 12:00 AM