These steep hills are part of me
Where I learned to ride a bike
And gazed over the industrial haze
And ice-dammed the steep melting streets
So the toy boat couldn’t
Drift out of control downslope.
Now, like snow in June -
Uninvited, unwelcome, unmanageable,
Smothering crocuses and new flowers of spring -
A cold draught from
A half-opened door into this cosy room,
They burst like unwelcome guests
Into my dreams
Into my life of wine and cheese
And curtly demand fish and chips.
My inner party abruptly
Gate-crashed by Gateshead, my
Interrupted by raucous Geordie noise
From familial, understood, known,
Predictable, and long-forgotten
Relatives who turn up of a sudden
At a wedding and old fights reawaken;
Familiar like a cousin
Not always pleasant and warmed.
Steep hills and sudden
Gouged by ice, and water-formed -
This is no civilized landscape gentle
With demesne and orchard
And sun-kissed downland mantle;
It is the terrain of warfare,
Of Northumbrian tearing at Scot
Of Hadrian walling off the terrifying Pict,
Where the sea is held by Marsden’s cliffed form
And Cullercoats huddles in fear of a storm where
All my hull of well-rounded vowels comes adrift gaping,
And the keel of my flat northern burr is exposed;
And the long years of barnacle scraping
Have left only a superficial gloss of paint there.
The steep hills of Tyneside,
Green but not the hills of home :
Uninvited they come, like guests gate-crashing,
Spoiling the illusion of civilization
Overpainted onto a canvas
Woven in Gateshead from the strings
Of Hood Haggie’s ropeworks.
Recently I have noticed that distant memories of childhood tend to return inexplicably, and unwanted. I hated that dismal town, yet I have long realized that the gloss of education and travel of a lifetime does little to disturb my established character, largely formed from that town’s environment.
Gateshead = large dismal industrial town in the Tyneside region of northern England.
'Geordie' = anyone/anything from Tyneside.
Northumbria = an ancient kingdom in that region, frequently at war with Scotland.
Roman emperor Hadrian built a wall across England to keep out the Picts, 117 AD.
Marsden = a seacoast district near Gateshead with 200 foot cliffs.
Cullercoats = fishing village on the coast near Marsden.
Hood Haggie’s = a one-time very important rope industry in Gateshead