October '65

Duration: 4:29 minutes
Accession No: TWCMS : 2009.504
This story has been viewed 5989 times

Christopher tells us about moving to Newcastle and learning a new language.

By Christopher Wardale

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Video transcript

It is late September 1965. I had packed my bags to leave home in Saltburn by the Sea in North Yorkshire to come to Newcastle to start a course at the then only University in the city. It was only 60 miles away but it was further than I had ever travelled before, except for holidays. I had to cross three major rivers, the Tees, the Wear and the Tyne to get to Newcastle. It was only 60 miles but it was like a foreign land. They did things differently here.

They certainly spoke differently. From my native Yorkshire accent I found myself in the midst of people who I thought were speaking Norwegian - it sounded that foreign. It was only by listening to the cleaners in the Fine Art Department where I was studying that I began to realise that it wasn't Norwegian after all but English, but not as I knew it. They spoke much faster, they went up at the end of sentences, they called you Love and Pet and Hinny, and we didn't do that in Yorkshire. They talked to each other, they talked to anyone, and we didn't do that in North Yorkshire either. It was the same in the pubs - in 30 seconds someone next to you at the bar was telling you his life story - and was expecting to hear yours as well. This was a revelation. At home even getting a hello out of someone was like dragging blood out of a stone.

The cleaning ladies in the department made coffee for the students, no machines in those days, and it was real coffee, which seemed very exotic. They talked to us, they laughed with us and from them I learned a foreign language. Annie told me about life in Byker where they were building the revolutionary Byker Wall. Ivy told me about Wallsend and her husband who kept pigeons and grew leeks. From them a picture of a place and how they lived in it began to emerge.

The city centre was still filled with traffic. Northumberland Street was still the Great North Road and filled with lorries and traffic travelling north and south. There seemed to be a constant traffic jam.  I stood outside what is now Marks and Spencer's to catch the No. 1 bus. On the other side of Northumberland Street Caller's Christmas windows were a marvel.

There were three particular smells which perfumed the city. It depended in which way the wind was blowing. If it was blowing from the west it was the Brewery - home of the legendary Brown ale. A bottle of that cost 2/6d (12.5p) which was a big investment, a pint of Exhibition was only 1/9d (nearly 9p) but Brown packed a mighty punch. If the wind was from the East you got the smell of Will's Tobacco factory on the Coast Road. The Coast Road was then a building site as they were building the dual carriage way eastwards from Heaton Road. Everywhere smelt of tobacco smoke, the shops, the houses the pubs, the clubs, the cinemas. Everyone seemed to smoke, even me. If the wind was from the south, though this happened very rarely, then you got the smell of the abattoir in Gateshead. It was a smell that clung to you, to your hair, your clothes, everything.

At our introduction to university life the Vice Chancellor gave us two warnings. Under no circumstances, he said, were we to go down by the Quayside after dark. The Quayside was still a working port and down there some of them really did speak Norwegian. Of course we all went exploring and discovered some of the best pubs. Trying to roll up Dean Street after a night out in the Crown Posada was a skill you had learn very quickly.

The other warning was that we must never, EVER, cross the Tyne Bridge and go to Gateshead. Someone asked - why?, There was a pause and the Vice Chancellor replied - why would anyone want to? I fear in those days we took his advice and Gateshead remained a mystical and magic kingdom across the river that remained unexplored until I returned to Newcastle to live in retirement in 2006.

By the end of my first term at university I had become bi-lingual. At home I still spoke with my native North Yorkshire accent, but all I had to do was cross three rivers and I was speaking Geordie. Even so there still sometimes when sitting on the bus and two people are chatting behind me that I can still think they are talking a foreign language.   

Doris tells us about her ups and downs after discovering she had cancer. Posted on 10/09/2010 at 10:36:51

How well the speaker draws us in to the sensations of his youth - a world away and all brought to life and neatly encapsulated in a few minutes. And what a voice - I could listen to it for hours.Posted on 14/04/2011 at 15:59:41

I loved this account of an Ailian from the far distant sand flats of Saltburn. How well I remember the smells, some of which were mingled with the wonderful and slightly exotic aroma of Saveloy dips instead of kebabs or real honest fish and chips. I often remember keeping 3d back for a bag of chips or getting on the Green bus back to Shields (That's North Shields) , any ware on the south of the Tyne was some how out of reach they were almost Mackams which is possibly the reason for the for the vice chancellors warning remember this was before the Sage or the Gateshead gallery.Posted on 15/04/2013 at 15:18:33

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