Academic journal article Capital & Class

Loft Living-Bombay Calling: Culture, Work and Everyday Life on Post-Industrial Tyneside; a Joint Polemic

Academic journal article Capital & Class

Loft Living-Bombay Calling: Culture, Work and Everyday Life on Post-Industrial Tyneside; a Joint Polemic

Article excerpt

The Observer of 7 December 2003 carried two stories that had resonance for Tynesiders. One--illustrated with a photo of three attractive but, for nightlife Newcastle, surprisingly fully-dressed young women, with only decolletage on show--asserted that Newcastle's loft-dwellers, residents of a place transformed from coal city to cultural capital, lived in the new cool capital, a boom city with a glittering night-life and affordable luxury living.

The other described how UK-based global capital, in its continuing search for maximum possible exploitation of the workforce, was exporting call centre jobs to the massive reserve army of graduate English-speaking labour in India, with consequent returns to its profits. I don't know if the Three Graces of the first article's photograph were call centre agents but, on postindustrial Tyneside, there is a pretty good chance that they were. Party on, girls--but it may be the last-chance saloon. Bombay is calling.

There is just so much to rant about here.

Contemporary Newcastle as a 'City of Culture'?--not really, I would say. Sure, we have some new cultural provision notably the Baltic, which was essentially a product of Gateshead's desire to do something with a well-liked industrial landmark, and that borough's long-term, old-fashioned, social-democratic commitment to art for the people. Alongside that--and even behind it, in the case of the Baltic, and ruining the impact of that building against the definition of the Tyne gorge--we have exceptionally banal, property speculators' over-priced flats for people with perhaps more expectations than sense. Never forget that the Newcastle-Gateshead City of Culture bid was fronted by Sir Ian Wrigglesworth--an SDP turncoatturned-property magnate. The bid got kicked into touch exactly because the judging panel saw just how over the top it had gone in kowtowing to property money, and ignoring the people. However, this is not a city that is producing culture, if that word means something that relates the experience of life to the production of artistic representation both 'popular' and 'high'. Rather, it is a 'fantasy city' a useful expression of the American urban commentator Hannigan's for describing the urban core as a corporate-dominated, bland consumption experience (Hannigan, 1999).

There was a time not so long ago when Tyneside was a place with a culture-producing culture--the city of Sex, Brown Ale and Rhythm and Blues--the title of Pearson's lovely book about the 'the world that made the Animals' (Pearson, 1999). A culture-producing industrial city full of life, character, and music made by local bands who could rehearse in wrestling halls alongside drunken mad poets, able to relate people's own experiences to the global music of resistance and just plain hell-raising. The Animals lead singer, Eric Burdon, is still keeping it up. At his last gig on Tyneside, he looked like a middle-aged betting-shop manager, sang like a boozy angel and called George Bush worse than muck-that's the way to do it, bonny lad.

What do we have, really? A city of booze and boozers: not the old, industrial boozers--a term covering both the people and the pubs--but new, spangly, bland drinking dens, which serve much the same purpose as the beer halls of black Johannesburg under apartheid. Or, as the great nineteenth-century Tyneside songwriter and performer Joe Wilson recognised in his later life, as the gin palaces of mid-Victorian industrial Tyneside--places to keep the proles happy and disorganised whilst capital and capitalists make hay, rooking the workers both at work and at play. I truly hate working-men's clubs, but this kind of thing makes me think that they have a point. And alongside this, young people with aspirations to quayside lofts (don't mention global warming, by the way, and the River Tyne seeping into the living room in twenty years' time); aspirations based on insecure jobs in a deferential and disorganised--'dis-', not 'un-' organised, because this is an active process-workforce. …

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