Great Exhibition of the North

I returned to my home city this last weekend, Newcastle upon Tyne, for the Great Exhibition of the North. It was strange being a visitor in a place I used to know so well. We stayed near the Quayside which has been transformed over the last fifty years. Buses took us to the museums we visited, the Great North Museum (previously known as The Hancock) and the Discovery Museum. They were both offering special displays featuring people and artefacts of the North. We saw Helen Sharman’s space suit, Damian Hirst’s shark (“Heaven”), Jessica Ennis-Hill’s running shoes, John Lennon’s piano, and Stephenson’s Rocket! 

We also enjoyed another day of folk music at the Sage, Gateshead. We heard the ‘Cream Tees’ a group of young musicians from Teesside and watched a group of clog dancers. We also shared in a session ‘Sing with the Wilsons’, when we heard a wonderful variety of folk songs including a sea shanty, a rant, songs of the clearings in Scotland, of coal miners, and the lark that sang melodious! We had booked for the evening concert featuring the Wilsons, The Young’Uns and The Unthanks. It was a feast of folk, celebrating the thirtieth anniversary of the founding of Folk Works in the Northeast . 

Creativity and the pursuit of justice and equality were themes that were woven throughout the exhibits and the music, which links nicely to the arrival of the riders for “Equality and the Common Good” here in Leighton Buzzard on their way to Downing Street to deliver a petition. They have taken inspiration for their ride from Margaret Fell who rode on horseback from Swarthmore Hall, near Ulverstone in the Lake District to present a promise of Quaker non-violence to King Charles II, after the Restoration. They are calling at Friends Meeting Houses en route for hospitality and to give publicity to their cause. 

Creativity and justice are for everyone,  not just the wealthy few. The Common Good implies that all should have the basic necessities but also be able to share in the variety of ways we have of expressing our hopes and fears, the different forms of celebrations and consolations. The North is too often assumed to be a dark and dismal place, when in fact it is a rich source of song, strength and solidarity. I am glad to claim my origins in the North, it has given so much to me. 

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