Europe
4:46 pm
Wed December 18, 2013

Once-Great English Port Hopes Wind Power Will Mean A Better Future

Originally published on Thu December 19, 2013 1:32 pm

Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

And I'm Audie Cornish.

This week we're dipping our toes into the waters around the British Isles. We're exploring a few of the places behind the names listed in what's known as the Shipping Forecast. It's basically a report of sea and weather conditions around the isles, broadcast several times a day on BBC Radio.

BLOCK: As NPR's Philip Reeves told us on Monday, the forecast is a cultural institution in Britain. Yesterday, Philip ventured out on the water to one of the 31 areas that feature in the Shipping Forecast: the island of Lundy off the southwestern coast of England. Well, today, he heads in the opposite direction to Tyne on the northeastern coast.

PHILIP REEVES, BYLINE: Captain Mike Nicholson has spent most of his life at sea. He knows all about the mood swings of the waters around here.

CAPTAIN MIKE NICHOLSON: You get a very short sharp sea, which comes up quick and it goes away quickly. So you just have to be careful when it does come up that, you know, it can be quite vicious.

REEVES: Nicholson is harbor master of the Port of Tyne. We're out on a cutter, picking up one of the port's pilots who's just helped guide a ship from harbor on the river Tyne behind us to begin its journey out into the North Sea. Ships from all over the world come and go, says Nicholson.

NICHOLSON: We have coal that comes from Russia and Brazil and some from the States, as well. We have a very big market in some of the key niche areas. Or like, we have a car factory nearby. We are about the fifth biggest car port in Europe, and those car transporters go all the way from Tokyo to Singapore, to China and to Taiwan.

REEVES: The Tyne has a medium-sized port these days. It used to be a world-famous maritime hub, based around the ancient city of Newcastle, a short way up river. Huge qualities of coal from the mines of Northern England once sailed out from here to fuel imperial Britain. Some of the world's biggest ships were built on the river, from World War II battleships to the legendary transatlantic liner, the Mauritania.

Undercut by foreign rivals, the shipyards were almost all closed in the last century. The coal mines suffered the same fate. Yet Nicholson says the Tyne is holding its own just fine.

NICHOLSON: The Tyne is still, you know, the big river, the main event. It's the cultural center of this whole region and very much, you know, punches above its weight in terms of the identity within the U.K.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Back to seven, occasional drizzle, moderate or good. Tyne, Dogger, west or southwest, five or six, fair, good...

REEVES: To addicts of Britain's Shipping Forecast like me, Tyne is one of the celebrity names on the list of sea areas. Every Brit has heard of it. Everyone knows the place is different from anywhere else in the U.K. and home to one of the kingdom's more exotic peoples: Geordies.

PAUL WOODS: What is a Geordie and who are we? Just friendly, affable, hardworking people who manage to survive everything that gets thrown at them. Very tough but, at the same time, soft-centered, and also they know how to enjoy themselves.

REEVES: Journalist Paul Woods says people often quibble over the exact definition of a Geordie or where the name came from. Some think the only true Geordies are from Newcastle and nowhere else. No one disputes though that Geordies are idiosyncratic to the amusement of other Brits including comedian Michael McIntyre.

(LAUGHTER)

MICHAEL MCINTYRE: So, I met a Geordie quite recently. It was just me and him in a room. He said to me: Are yous looking at us?

(LAUGHTER)

MCINTYRE: How many mistakes can you make in one sentence?

(LAUGHTER)

REEVES: You see, Geordies use words you don't hear elsewhere, words with ancient Scandinavian or Anglo-Saxon roots that have somehow survived on the banks of the Tyne.

Woods, again.

WOODS: Our house, our worhouse(ph) is our house in Danish.

REEVES: You say worhouse?

WOODS: Yeah, worhouse. Gang yem which is another Scandinavian word for going home. I am ganging yem.

REEVES: You see, I wouldn't have a clue what you meant if you said that to me.

WOODS: Yeah, it's going home.

REEVES: And someone said the word netty to me.

WOODS: Netty, yeah. That's an outdoor toilet.

MCINTYRE: A true Geordie says the letter A and the letter E in exactly the same way. A is ear and E is ear.

(LAUGHTER)

JANIS BLOWER: In winter, it can be spectacularly wild, especially where the sea hits the piers and you can see the waves coming over the lighthouses.

REEVES: Local historian and columnist Janis Blower is a Geordie from South Shields. That's a town on the Tyne's southern shores, where the river meets the sea. Her home overlooks the ocean. Blower remembers when shipbuilding was booming.

BLOWER: We had half a dozen shipyards which were building and repairing ships, and had been doing so since the early part of the eighteenth century. And we also had this tradition of men going to sea in the merchant navy. So you lived, ate and breathed ships.

REEVES: Blower says the shipyards knitted communities together and spawned a tradition of trade unionism and left-wing politics. The coal mines played a similar role. She says her community is still adjusting to the collapse of those industries.

BLOWER: We're still getting used to trying to find out who we are. When we had all the heavy industry, we knew who we were. We mined coal, we built ships, we were engineers. We had that very, very strong identity. Now I think we're not quite sure who we are, still. We're still remaking ourselves.

REEVES: Yet, says Blower, the Tyne still matters enormously to people.

BLOWER: Oh, I think the river is incredibly evocative for Geordies, yes. I mean it has been the subject of songs and poems going back centuries, and they're still being written about it. I mean Sting has just brought out this new album, where he has written all about the shipyards on the Tyne, because he grew up in the shadow of Swann Hunter Shipyard at Wall's End.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE LAST SHIP")

STING: (Singing) May the angels protect me if all should fail and the last ship sails. Oh, the roar of the chains and...

REEVES: Stephen Anderson is the first in his family for generations not to work in the shipyards.

STEPHEN ANDERSON: Me great-great grandfather was in the shipyards, me grandfather was in the shipyards, and so was me dad. I'm definitely proud of being a Geordie. I love it.

REEVES: Anderson has a job with the municipal authorities. Government jobs, service industries, and call centers, have filled some of the vacuum left by the loss of heavy industry. Anderson worries, though, about the lack of meaningful opportunities for young people.

ANDERSON: Well, the shipyards amassed immense, immense apprenticeships for young lads to carry a trade on to the future. That just doesn't exist any more.

REEVES: Back out on the water, the port of Tyne's harbor master, Captain Mike Nicholson, seems more interested in the future than the past. He has his eye on a neighboring shipping area, Dogger Bank. There are plans for a massive wind farm in its waters.

NICHOLSON: There's a big area about the size of Scotland in the North Sea, where it's possible to build these wind farms and it's a windy area. So that's in the early stages of being planned. And when that's up and running, it will be the biggest wind generation area in the world.

REEVES: Nicholson hopes this'll bring more business to his port and some fair winds to the Tyne.

NICHOLSON: All trade is good trade for a port. It doesn't matter if its import or export. So long as ships are coming in and out, that's the main thing - that's our lifeblood.

REEVES: Philip Reeves, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.