It’s Mint Up North: We Gotta Get Out Of This Place
The first thing she does is rush to the sea,
fully clothed she runs too fast to be caught —
wet sand flashes like lights beneath her feet.
(Don’t let the title of this post fool you. I just wanted to shoehorn The Animals into this somehow.)
It was a good summer, not like the ones we’ve had for the past couple of years, the weather was kind. Sitting out on the roof at Graingerville while the traffic on the West Road oozed past, heading down to Jesmond Dene for a barbecue, listening to the peacocks in Pets’ Corner screeching and showing off, getting on the metro and slinking off to the coast on a whim. On a whim. I could be at the coast, the proper seaside, in 20 minutes.
That’s the unique thing about Newcastle, just how easy it is to get away. That might sound like a massively back-handed compliment, but no matter how much you love a place if you can’t escape it when you want to it’s going to drive you mental. You’ll drink more, or eat too much, or spend your spare time vegging in front of the TV. If the city boundaries start to feel like the walls of a very small, windowless room then the air is going to start to feel stale.
That first summer we drove out to Bamburgh and spent the night on the beach. I don’t know if we were allowed to be there but we stayed. It’s about 50 miles north of Newcastle on a coastline that them living in the North East have been trying to keep secret. Crafty buggers. White sands and blue skies and stretches of beach with hardly anyone on them. Towards the end of the summer the room I’d be living in rent free would soon need a paying tenant. After that visit to Bamburgh, stopping off at Seahouses on the way home the next day for fish and chips, I knew I wanted to stay.
This place was just what I needed. It was easier to settle in. There was no hassle. I’d spent my final year at uni in Bristol in a haze of Jack Daniels and fluoxetine. Arriving in a northern town with almost no friends to find a welcoming group of people who have their eye on something other than pay cheques, something other than just working for the weekends was just the thing.
And then there’s the nightlife. Not the stuff of stag and hen legend but the places away from the Quayside and the Bigg Market. We headed for the pubs that had good beer, amazing music and relaxed atmospheres. The Tanners, The Telegraph, The Tyne, The Trent House… mmm, didn’t realise there was an alliterative thing going on there… sorry about that…The Cumberland, The Bridge, The Forth, The Free Trade (which has the best view of the Tyne and it’s bridges ever) and The Head of Steam. We often topped the night off at the old World Headquarters – there was nowhere quite like it. The downstairs room was papered with a massive scene of Mohammed Ali visiting South Shields and on a good night (and every night there was a good night) you could barely move. Upstairs you never left the dancefloor – the thing that made this place special was that the music was everything. Get that right and the chilled out vibe was a natural side effect. My favourite memory – dancing to Talking Heads as the room was warming up doing my best David Byrne moves to ‘Once in a Lifetime’…
That was then of course. Now? Well, I fell in love and had kids. That’s the usual pattern isn’t it? And for me, this was the right place to do that. This place, this bit of the North has everything.
So these are the places I’m most likely to go now that my time’s not quite my own and I can’t spend days & nights just going from one place to the next. One pub to the next. One shop to the next. One museum to the next…well, maybe I can still do that last one with kids in tow.
So this is a super quick whirlwind tour of the places to go when you’ve done your bit for the propagation of the human race (or you’re babysitting for some other poor sap whose life is no longer their own)…
The Laing Art Gallery and the Baltic both have interactive areas where the kids can pretty much run wild whilst still somehow absorbing the art by osmosis. The Discovery Museum which is probably due an overhaul has got the quirkiest exhibitions (the story of Newcastle is a treat), lots of sciencey contraptions that you can mess on with and a geet big boat, The Turbinia, in the main hall. The Great North Museum is another favourite of ours. It has dinosaurs and mummies. What more could you want?
The Ouseburn is really great for kids. There’s a city farm there and you can take your kids into most of the pubs, Gavin Marshall (one of the first people I met in Newcastle) has just opened a new place, Ernest. He’s shifted his focus from making beautiful glass to creating a family friendly restaurant with good food, good atmosphere and good music.
It’s independent, it’s different and it’s just round the corner from Seven Stories, although I think it’s called the ‘National Centre for the Children’s Books’ now. It’s a magical place for kids and adults. Especially if you’re interested in the process behind writing for children. Lots of the exhibitions have correspondence from editors and publishers to their authors, sketch books, works in progress and early versions of the completed art work that ends up in finished books. You could lose yourself in the place while the kids explore the exhibitions playing dress up and weaving in and out of the displays.