Back to my roots: Why I love the North East!
Half-term road trip.
Like many others, I returned to my roots at half-term, taking our girls up to the North East of England to visit my mum and dad, aka Grandma Spikes and Grandad Ukulele, (formerly known as Grandad Bikes, Grandad Trikes and Grandad Campervan).
I love Nottingham, but I have to say that although I’ve lived here for more than 25 years, I still love going home to the North East and the town where I was born, Stockton-on-Tees.
Returning to my hometown is a journey I have made for many years and so much has changed since I was first dropped off at Nottingham University by my parents. In those days I used to go back home on a National Express coach, which seemed to take forever as it wound its way through Chesterfield, Sheffield, Doncaster and a number of other stops along the way. Nowadays, it’s a car journey up the A1 (which is much more reliable than the roadwork strewn M1 at the moment).
I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels a familiar bloom in the chest as soon as they near the place of their birth and all the childhood memories come flooding back. I have such fond memories of growing up on a housing estate in Hartburn, Stockton-on-Tees, full of families with kids of a similar age. When the weather was fine, we would play outside with our friends until the light faded. We played hide and seek and made rose ‘perfume’ by pulling the petals off mum’s rose bushes and mashing them in water, we played tennis on the road and had water fights after begging our respective mums for empty washing-up liquid bottles.
For me, there is so much to love about the North East and the surrounding countryside and I always feel aggrieved when the region only seems to be in the national news these days as the ‘go to’ location when job loss or recession are highlighted. It’s true, the area has been hit hard by the recession and the winding up of a lot of heavy industry and ship building over the years, but that certainly doesn’t define it.
Why I love the North East
I am sure those of you who have moved away from your home towns can think of a list of things that you love about them. I’m no different, and despite having lived in Nottingham for more years than I lived in Stockton, there are so many reasons why the North East remains close to my heart. Here are just a few of them:
1. The accent.
I love hearing the North East accent, especially when I am far from home. I vividly remember calling the Tax Office in Newcastle-upon-Tyne when I was away at university and feeling such a pang of homesickness when I heard the familiar tones of a gentle Geordie accent. Maybe its just me, but I think North Eastern accents (Teesside, Tyneside, Wearside) have such a warmth and friendliness about them and its refreshing to hear a Teesside accent on television now that Steph McGovern, who grew up in Middlesbrough, is the main business presenter for BBC Breakfast. My own accent has mellowed over the years, but our girls find it hilarious when I slip back into it when I chat to mum and dad on the phone, or spend the weekend in Stockton.
2. The people.
I love the banter, warmth and good humour of Teessiders, (and Northerners in general). I miss someone calling me ‘Pet’ and it being a sincere and friendly term. I love being in an environment where chatting to strangers on a bus, in a queue, or offering a friendly ‘Morning’ when passing someone on the street is common place. I took it for granted until I spent a year living near London in the 1990’s: I soon realised that chatting to strangers on public transport wasn’t the ‘done thing’.
3. Saying ‘Mam’ not ‘Mum’ and other North Eastern slang and terms.
In the North East, Mother’s Day is for ‘Mams.’ Me and my sister tended to say ‘Mum’ when we were growing up, but we definitely defaulted to ‘Mam’ when we wanted something or were moaning about something!
There are so many slang words used in the North East that I still surprise my husband every now and again with another one! I loved looking through the Dictionary of Middlesborough and Teesside Accent Dialect and Slang (link) (affectionately called the ‘Smogtionary’!) on the Visit Middlesborough website when I was researching this post. It’s full of so many great words that have slipped out of my every day vocabulary since moving to Nottingham. In fact, I might reintroduce some. I think I’ll avoid ‘Tranny’, though, as I suspect the good folk of Nottingham won’t realise I’m talking about the iconic Teesside landmark, The Transporter Bridge!
4. The Food.
a) Fish’n’chips. Although Nottingham has it’s fair share of great fish’n’chip shops (which I have sampled widely as part of my scientific research), I miss my Friday night cinema outings with my best friend Marcus and getting a bag of chips and ‘scraps’ from Ritano’s chip shop on the way home. Sadly, Ritano’s has long since gone and my lovely friend is no longer with us but my husband will attest to the fact that Barnacles Fish and Chip Restaurant in Stockton-on-Tees takes some beating. I recommend the ‘Barnacles Shopper’s Special’: Cod and chips served with a proper pot of tea, mushy peas and a couple of slices of buttered white bread. Delicious!
b) Stottie bread/Stotty cake. There’s nothing quite like the lovely dense, heavy, doughy texture of Stottie bread, which originated from North East England. This flat, round bread is about 30 cm in diameter and about 4cm deep, with an indent in the middle. It’s a standard item at many bakeries in the North East and the one sold in Greggs branches in Teesside is delicious. Although you can get Stottie bread in other regions of the UK, the texture of these Stotties isn’t necessarily the same, being less dense and more crumbly than the North East Stottie. Stotties are usually split, buttered and filled with sandwich fillings.
c) Parmesan/Parmo. Or as my husband from Derbyshire affectionately calls this Teesside delicacy, ‘a heart attack on a plate’. In fact, despite Parmesans being a ‘guilty pleasure’ of his, he once remarked that he could ‘feel his life force ebbing away’ as he ate one, (there’s a reason why they don’t print the calorific content on the side of the takeaway box)! For the uninitiated, a Parmo (or Parmesan) is Teesside’s signature dish: a slab of pork or chicken that has been hammered flat, rolled in breadcrumbs, deep fried, topped with béchamel sauce and then covered in half a block of grated cheese. It is usually served with chips, creamed cabbage and a token bit of salad.
The Parmo is said to have been created in a Middlesbrough restaurant by an ex-American army chef called Nicos Harris in 1958. In 2007, North Yorkshire Trading Standards conducted a survey of 25 fast food dishes and reported that a large parmo with chips and salad contained about 2600 calories and 150 grammes of fat. Supermarkets in Teesside have been selling Parmos since 2009 and the local Parmo restaurants offer variations such as the Meat Feast Parmo and Parmo Kiev.
5. Favourite childhood places.
a) Preston Park Hall and Museum. We never tired of visiting Preston Park Museum when I was a kid. We always had a great time, whether we were scurrying around the Victorian Street that had been recreated there or whether we were trecking through the woods and along the river in our wellies. In those days, there were no houses on the other side of the river Tees, only cows, (I’m reading this back and I sound like I’m about a hundred! Boots Protect and Perfect isn’t that good).
b) Norton. My mum still lives in this picturesque village, which boasts a duck pond, lovely independent shops, great cafes and restaurants and cobbled side streets, (and a Greggs selling proper Stottie bread).
c) Yarm Another historic market town along the River Tees, with cosy pubs, cobbled streets and one of my favourite childhood stores, Strickland & Holt’s: This wonderful old store has been trading since 1854. It’s bursting with room upon room of gifts, toys, crafts and more. I spent so much pocket money there over the years.d) Sedgefield Racecourse Car Boot Sale. You can take the girl out of the North but you can’t take the North out of the girl…and you certainly can’t beat a ‘proper’ car boot sale. I used to love our family trips to Sedgefield car boot sale. You really could find anything and everything there….Plus about 15 copies of Jaws, the novel.
e) Whitby. This timeless fishing village is one of my favourite seaside destinations, with its cliff-top abbey, beautiful harbour, famous Magpie Cafe (although I confess we preferred to avoid the queues and go to another popular chip shop, Hadleys Fish Restaurant), and literary link to Bram Stoker’s Dracula. We visited Whitby many, many times during my childhood and it has never lost any of its charm over the years. I spent a lot of my pocket money in the Joke shop on the abbey-side of the harbour, or ploughed my coppers into the Penny Fountain machines on the other side!
So, in conclusion, do I love the North East?