Shy bairns get nowt!

Last year I was in a meeting with the other Metro Mayors, discussing how we influence central government.  “Shy bairns get nowt,” was my advice.  To a Zoom screen of blank faces.  A pithy phrase loses its pith when you have to explain it. 

A friend told me that they’d been to this excellent restaurant in Wall, near Hexham.  They pronounced it “Huh-gem”. Erm…Hjem, maybe?

If I said “Ahm gan hyem” how many people, apart from Geordies, would understand me?  Hjem, hyem – one word’s Danish and one’s Geordie, but they both mean the same thing – home.  And home is not just a word or a place, it’s a powerful emotion.  Ask Lindisfarne. 

Is cultural identity the reason Scotland and Wales have significant control over their own affairs, yet the English regions have so little?  English regions don’t share the same sense of identity with each other as different parts of Scotland do.  Scotland was an independent nation until the Act of Union in 1707. 

You have to go back a long way to find the independent Kingdom of Northumbria.  Or even Deira or Bernicia.  That history is not taught in schools.  Maybe I should commission a director to film an army of proud Geordies, faces painted black and white, all defiantly mooning a southern army who are shooting volleys of arrows at us?  The Scottish Independence movement certainly got a boost from Braveheart.  Ironic, since Mel Gibson is Australian-American. 

Welsh First Minister, Mark Drakeford said this week that Labour should prioritise local identities in its approach rather than pursuing a “pan-British sense of Labour”.  Welsh Labour had “maybe noticed a bit earlier than some other places the strengthening and importance of identity in people’s sense of political affiliation.”

Labour needs, he said, “a manifesto that speaks to the bread-and-butter stuff that people see in their everyday lives.”  Spot on.  I’ve been saying that in every interview and article on the subject since we emerged from lockdown.  Wherever you are in Britain, or the world, we’re all united by wanting the security of a home and a decent income. 

Devolution is about shaping our future.  Our heavy industry powered the industrial revolution.  North East livelihoods depended on what we took out of the ground, and what we fashioned it into.  Now we rely on what comes out of our minds, not our mines. We’re becoming a leading research centre, digital hub and pioneer in green technology. 

There’s the feeling, too, that people are friendlier in the North.  My niece, from Oxfordshire, was visiting our region checking out universities.  Slightly lost, she was taken aback when ‘some old guy’ in the street (she’s a teenager, so anyone over 35 has one foot in the grave…) asked her, “you alreet, pet?”  She was astounded that someone in the street would volunteer help. Mind you, this isn’t universal. A colleague at work, who is disabled, has been on the receiving end of some ugly abuse, and feels that Northerners are ‘more forthcoming’ rather than more friendly.  That’s not something to be proud of. 

We should be proud of our region, and our sense of place. We live in an area with an amazing array of towns, cities and landscapes.  From urban estates, to the rural fastnesses of Northumberland, to the wild and beautiful coastline.

And pride, as in house proud, impels us to make our homeland better.  What sort of a region do we want to leave for our kids, for those coming after us?

We do want to be known as ‘friendly Geordies’. So let’s be friendly. We should ask people who are lost whether they’re okay, and not leave them wandering about.  We should chat to strangers on buses and on the Metro. (Ever tried doing that on the Tube? I wouldn’t advise it). We should help people who look like they need it.  Lord knows, there are enough poor souls around at the moment who could do with a helping hand.

We want people to enjoy being in our region, and to be both welcoming and welcomed. We want everyone who’s born here, who lives here, or who just visits, to think of the North East as hyem.

*Originally printed in the Journal and Evening Chronicle 20 June 22