Monday, 8 September 2014

20 years out of love with Newcastle

I have based myself in Newcastle since September 1994. I was dropped off by my dad with 20 quid in cash and had to borrow money off my new housemate for a couple of weeks until my student loan came through.

I made close friends, I cried on shoulders, I got drunk so many times and post-vomiting was pushed or even rolled home along the pavement - to Ricky Road, to Brighton Grove. Indie discos, excellent gigs, ideas, politics, working out who I was, who was worth it.

When friends moved away, I adapted and joined new circles, formed new friendships, tested other ideas, other politics, and learnt new stuff. Relationships, love, longings & endings, partings, suspicion, drugs, the dole, depression and shit jobs all. Curries from the Brighton, breakfasts at the Oven Door, wood for the fire from the backlanes, home-baked bread and education from others in such peripheral shit as how to taste good wine and good coffee, how to cook, how to get arrested and how to give in. Alleycat Books, Eclectic City & Geordie Monsters.

I think I might leave the city in September 2015. 20 years and everything is filled with nostalgia, sentimental longing, ghosts and the things that used to matter. I cannot walk into a shop, buy a curry, sit in the sun with my back to a tree in the park or even meet a new interesting person without all the burdens of my past weighing me down. It is hard to be alone when you used to be with someone. It is hard to see the people you love give up, hard to see yourself believe less and less in the things you still pursue. New people are not worth what old people are worth. No one can be your substitute.

This sort of thinking is my dominant narrative. It is not the only one, but it plays so loud that it might be unbearable soon. And the last few years, I have taken my peak moments elsewhere - my struggles, breakdowns, near-misses, adrenaline and emotional bonding. Other countries, away trips, time out of time. I return to Newcastle to sleep, tidy up, pay back money and see who's about. There's never enough people about. But I'm contradictory, cos seeing people then makes me miss them more. What happened? Is my head at fault or is this how it feels for everyone who's survived 20 years in one place? I've done all these things before, and it makes it feel pointless to start them all over again. When such good things were shared, why echo them now in a monochrome grey or some sort of dry parody?

I returned to Newcastle on Thursday. A new shop was open, and I saw friends through its door making plans, sharing ideas, and active. Otherwise, this place looked grim, faces pinched and streets too wide & grey. The only geordie accents in town were those of lads asking for money or angry with their girlfriends: chinese students and out of place visitors are those who actually live in the town. Unusually, the price of my bus ticket had not gone up. At home, I found housemates and shared food, brief smiling catch-ups and a letter that triggered thoughts of elsewhere.

Friday: colleagues at work and skype calls to a loved one far overseas. Life a bit out of kilter. Saturday and I walk to Hutchinsons, still the same excellent veg shop on Stanhope street that it has always been: the woman who served me was once an 8yr old girl who held a flag in a parade I helped organise in the nineties. I should be proud to remember it. A hello to an acquaintance putting his kids in the car. A wave from my ex girlfriend's old best friend, over the road. And Jack stops me on Sidney Grove to give me not just a hug but also apples and a jar of homemade jam. It makes me feel all the lonelier, because it is only an encounter, a passing thing. These times are old. They have lost their shine and light and my fingers slip when I try to hold them.

Possibly this is just adjustment, from being away again for the summer. I attend the Star & Shadow, relate tales, explain my situation, join in and partake in the collective decision-making headfuck that I care about so much. Lingering long enough amongst these fellow-feeling companions I watch the film They Live in the evening. (Watching it again, it underlines that only violence from the streets will ever do to stand up to the enemy, but the age of the film means it lacks awareness of the complete surveillance and destabilising strategies that 21st century control wields against us. Essentially, it underlines that we are fucked and they will win.)

And tonight, tonight is Monday and I stayed on at work till a gig started. Nev Clay is a beautiful bastard who almost made me cry with his melancholic love-lost songs, about the sensitivity that the rejected and alone can feel and can communicate, with our crushes and our self-deprecating smiles. Defeated angels, blameless in the longing of failure.

Then an act that was just sublime. The venue : Newcastle Mining Institute with wood panels, bookbound old cases, marble white statues and blackwindow mosaics. There were 12 of us in the audience, including the promoter. Sat on the floor, some in seats, me standing. There were 3 people in front of us performing, 3 behind manning the bar & building. And of course, invisible in his heartheld benevolence, Ian was doing the sound. And we were together, sharing, silent, strangers, overwhelmed, over-treated, feeling unworthy and overcome but in actual fact completely worthy and completely fucking prescient and alert. We as a temporary audience deserved the show, even though it was too good for us, because we knew that and we were just doing our best at being there. I think everyone realised their privilege and cradled it to themselves.

So that's my conclusion : 20 years out of love with Newcastle, I feel I may have to leave. To pursue a living love, adventure & free spirit, I might have to call it quits this time next year. And so if this is my last year then sure as shits I'm gonna go out on a Monday night to see a show like that. And I will see that theatre production with you, and I will go out and watch the murmuration of the starlings. I will notice every busker, sit in on every free showing and volunteer my efforts at the things I care for. I'll even have a row with you if you want. Because if this is my last year in Newcastle then boy oh boy am I going to be here. Come out with me, stop sitting in your rut and engage with the gems that this little volcano of mediocrity throws out now and then.