Tour tales: Newcastle (Week 3)

JON CARDINELLI reflects on a city of surprises, a rock ’n roll loosie, and the Geordies’ answer to Victor Matfield.

‘Welcome to the frindly nort!’ the Geordie cabbie cheered as we hurtled down the freeway towards the Gatehead Stadium for the Springboks’ first training session of the week. The next sentence, and the next, went completely over my head.

‘Howay, man! You in toon for Scotland and the Springboks?! Geet walla crowd on Saturday! ’ I nodded and hoped it was a fitting response.

Newcastle has exceeded my expectations. Admittedly, they weren’t particularly high after a bleak week in Birmingham.

It’s not that Birmingham was terrible. It was so-so. Somewhere between ‘meh’ and average. Inevitably, a couple of us have started to use ‘Brum’ as an adjective.

‘How’s your steak?’

‘OK, I suppose. Nothing special. Pretty Brum, actually.’

There’s been nothing Brum about Newcastle, though. The ancient architecture in and around the city centre is fascinating. A 15-minute walk down to the quayside takes you back to the future.

The Gateshead Millennium Bridge looms like a giant boomerang. Further down the river, on the face of the Tyne Bridge, a massive World Cup logo is lit up in green, white and blue.

The Boks’ spell in Newcastle coincided with Freshers’ Week at the local university. This added to the festival atmosphere in town these past few days.

I met a couple of colleagues for what was supposed to be a quiet beer on Wednesday night. We stumbled upon an underground tavern and proceeded to settle in at one of the beer-stained benches.

By 10pm, the cellar was heaving with lager-soaked students. They climbed up onto the benches and began to stomp in time to the music. We looked on like the tourists we were, charmed by what appeared to be a local tradition.

One group of lads weren’t having it, though, and shouted across the room for us to follow suit. Resistance was futile. A minute later, we were climbing onto our own bench and adding our voices to the clamour.

We subsequently found a bar that wouldn’t be out of place in Observatory in Cape Town or Melville in Johannesburg. Perched at the edge of the bar was a life-size statue of a Golden Retriever with a pheasant in its triumphant jaws. The establishment’s name? Filthy’s.

A man with a guitar stood on the makeshift stage. He was tall, unkempt and a dead ringer for Victor Matfield. What set this bloke and the Bok legend apart, however, was the fact that he had calf muscles.

Geordie Matfield was partial to Oasis covers. He played ‘Wonderwall’ twice, much to the delight of the predominantly northern audience.

One of my colleagues wasn’t happy to roll with it. Craig Ray grumbled and pleaded for some Radiohead. I took this request to Geordie Matfield, just as he was finishing a particularly haunting rendition of ‘Champagne Supernova’. He turned me down with a grunt that seemed to indicate I was wasting his time.

On Thursday, a media gathering at Scotland’s base in Jesmond took an interesting musical turn. Josh Strauss, the South African-born Scotland flanker, thought he was done with his media duties for the day until one hack called him back and asked a non-rugby question.

Strauss has dabbled in punk and heavy metal since his formative years in South Africa. The journo wanted to know if the bearded loose forward was still at it. Strauss confirmed that he was.

‘Which bands influenced you? ZZ Top?’ joked one Scottish reporter.

Strauss revealed that he was still playing bass guitar, as well as several other instruments.

‘I like to try my hand at everything, although I’m a jack of all trades and master of none,’ he said with a laugh.

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