In this blogposting…
*1001 Buildings
*A Description of Newcastle
*BBC Newcastle
Proceed with caution…

For reasons entirely outside my control - that is to say, because I made a complete cock-up on the last blogposting - I’m having to change the date (though not the venue) of the next AGM, which will now take place at 1100 on Wednesday 23 February.

Apologies for the usual confusion.

As long as you manage to turn up at the right time and at the right place, a splendid time is guaranteed for all.

A particularly thoughtful friend bought me what amounts to my ‘dream book’ for Christmas; it’s called 1001 Buildings You Must See Before You Die. There’s quite a market in Things To Do/Places To See Before You Die books, videos and even calendars at the moment. I know that some people look down on them as being for daydreamers and armchair travellers, but I don’t see what’s wrong with daydreaming and armchair-travelling - being a keen exponent of both.

It’s the book's focus on individual buildings that I find so attractive and seductive. I’m a great enthusiast for ‘the built environment’, as you’re supposed to call it now. I believe that one of the ways mankind can reach the heights of human cultural endeavour is through the buildings he erects for himself. And this book shows that this endeavour is ancient and worldwide.

It also shows that great buildings - including many ‘you must see before you die’ - do not have to be great cathedrals, mosques, temples, palaces or even avant-garde modern office blocks. There is greatness, too, in some of the humble and almost unnoticed buildings hidden away in villages or open fields.

One of the most humbling and beautiful buildings in the north-east, for example, is Escomb Church, in County Durham. Generally unregarded by ‘the foot that passeth by’, it stands sentinel of its Anglo-Saxon origins; a big blackened barn of a church almost untouched through its 1,400 years - and therefore of immense architectural interest and value. It is arguably the oldest complete building above ground in all of England.

In its way, it is as grand and as magnificent as Durham Cathedral.

I think it might be a whacko idea, over the next few months, to make our way through my lovely new book, a few buildings at a time. I’ll include pictures - and I hope that at least some of them may whet your curiosity to investigate further. After all, the internet’s a wonderful thing!

If anyone has actually visited one or more of these buildings as we go through them, I’d love to hear from you.

We begin in Ireland about 5,200 years ago….

1 Newgrange Burial Chamber, Ireland
2 Step Pyramid of Zoser, Sakkara, Egypt
3 Great Pyramid of Khufu, Giza, Egypt
4 Ziggurat of Ur, Iraq (above)
5 Temple of Hatshepshut, Egypt
6 Temple at Luxor, Egypt
7 The Parthenon, Athens, Greece (top)
8 Treasury of Petra, Syria (above)
9 Maison Carree, Nimes, France
10 Pyramid of Cestius, Rome, Italy

So that’s Egypt 4, Ireland 1, Iraq 1, Greece 1, Syria 1, France 1, Italy 1

Another gift book I received (this time from the redoubtable Hildie) was Pies and Prejudice: In Search of the North, by broadcaster and journalist Stuart Maconie. It’s a brilliant title, isn’t it?

Stuart is a northerner-in-exile, originally from the Bury area of Lancashire, and the book is his very personal search for a true picture of what the North of England is really all about - its places, people and countryside.

Although basically light-hearted, the book has a serious point to make about how misunderstood, and even unknown, the true north really is. Although it contains some of England’s finest cities and towns, and many of its friendliest people, the North is simply not accustomed to being praised and admired by travel writers. Stuart puts this right in this thought-provoking book.

Reading it reminded me of the reactions of many of the first-time visitors I’ve invited to the north-east, and of the way we tend not to sing the praises of our regional capital nearly loudly enough.

Here is part of what Stuart has to say about Newcastle…

‘The broad, muscular Tyne runs right through the heart of Newcastle and turns a fine city into something quite breathtaking. ...In a pavement cafe overlooking the water, I could only wonder why more people don’t bang on about Newcastle. Not about its economic renaissance or its passionate football supporters or its burgeoning status as the UK’s science and technology capital but just about how bloody goodlooking it is. You get a crick in your neck from gazing up at the stunning and lofty architectural wonders. You do really feel a bit ennobled...especially by close contact with its fabulous bridges.’

It’s about time Newcastle was recognised as being in the Big League of monumental European cities.

For almost my entire career at BBC Radio Newcastle (as I will always insist on calling it) the station was plagued by a bevy of callers who complained that we consistently underplayed, and even sometimes ignored, the role of Sunderland in local affairs; that the station had, in other words, a built-in bias towards Newcastle.

I was recently given a BBC Newcastle business card. The logo for BBC local stations consists of an angular graphic made up of the names of some of the places they serve. On this official BBC Newcastle business card there’s room for Cramlington, Newcastle, South Shields, Morpeth, Durham, Whitley Bay, Berwick, Gateshead, Houghton-le-Spring and Tynemouth.

But not Sunderland. The second-largest centre of population in the region is completely ignored.

The words Be Part Of It are printed in big, bold letters on the back of the card - an invitation presumably not extended to Wearsiders.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

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