Typical freshers’ week scene: the JCR bar, a hundred post-pubescents desperately attempting to look cool and the same four or five questions asked again and again. After name/course/building comes the inevitable question ‘so, whereabouts are you from?’ For me, to reply to this question is to look like a wanker. If I reply ‘near Newcastle’, questions about my accent, or lack thereof, would be raised, leading me to make some excuse about being ‘educated in the south’; yet if I say ‘Northumberland’ I am met with blank stares and feel obliged to patronise them (it is England’s sixth largest county after all) with ‘almost Scotland, but not quite’. So either I look pompous or they look stupid. Maybe it would have been easier to have just picked them up on their fag-end preposition?
Hexham might be familiar to any of you studying Classics or Ancient History, as it is located just off Hadrian’s Wall. As such, much of the town’s tourism is devoted to all things Roman, including a particular local known as ‘Jefficus’ who holds talks for tourist in full Roman officer get-up. Perhaps the town’s golden era was in the early nineties when Kevin Costner’s 1991 epic Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves decided to use a local portion of the Wall in the film. Not only did it introduce Hexham to black people (Morgan Freeman played Robin’s Moorish sidekick) but it also gave weight to Tourism North East’s claim that, when travelling from Dover to Nottingham, Northumberland is worth the 300 mile detour.
It seems that no ‘Hometown’ piece would be complete without the obligatory mention of the local nightclub. Dontino’s (technically renamed ‘Studio’) is the only place to go on a Friday night, and by that I mean that there really is nowhere else. Being a classy establishment, entry is denied to those wearing tracksuit bottoms (although it is only a short walk to the new, controversial, 24-hour Tesco Extra). Yet still I have never been without a male member of my group and another member of the throng having a physical disagreement. Men from Hexham, however, are extremely chivalrous and willing to buy any girl a pizza in exchange for a mobile number.
Joking aside, Hexham, like much of the North East, is famous for its cheery locals, a trait that works as a happy counterbalance to the miserable weather. However, one can’t help to feel claustrophobic in a town so static that the imminent arrival of Waitrose was front page news for about a year, giving the local populus a break from such gems as ‘TRAMPOLINES: This Summer’s Death Trap!’ and ‘Jimmy, the Talented Tyneside Teenager’ who can hold twelve eggs in one hand. Mammia Mia sold out, two screenings a day, for twelve consecutive weeks (honestly).
Finally, as it is Election Day, I would like to mention briefly local politics and bring up a bugbear of mine. Hexhamshire is a painfully safe Tory seat and today a new Conservative candidate is running. Very few areas have the same strength of regional pride as the North East, and it is an area typically misunderstood by Westminster. Rather than fielding a local candidate, Conservative HQ has shipped in one of Cameron’s catamites: a city lawyer who has until now had no connection with the region. To believe that someone like him could represent an area with such a sense of local identity is the typical condescension of the South Eastern elite. All they needed was to choose a candidate of their political leaning, who was engaging and had spent some proper time in the area. Kevin Costner, anyone?