The teesside region of the North-East of England is one of those areas earmarked for regeneration over the next few years. This sort of information wouldn’t have meant much to me before I relocated to the pair of fetid rat testicles that straddle either side of the Tees, otherwise known as Middlesbrough and Stockton.
There is an impressive piece of architecture near Middlesbrough station which curves with the road, reminiscent of regent street approaching piccadilly circus. For some reason this particular part of the town stuck in my mind the first time I visited – possibly a subconscious effort to blot out the rest of the frighteningly stark images which would soon be the backdrop for my new home.
To drive through Teesside at night you could be forgiven for thinking you’re in a science fiction setting. In places, the horizon is just metal and flames. Pipes, girders, beams, smokestacks, railings, rungs all glistening in yellow illumination and flames, begging the question: What is it all in aid of? What on God’s green earth are they making?
It’s not spaceships.
Teesside is a dying place. The exact details I don’t have, but a lot of the original industries are not thriving like they once did and nothing new has taken their place. Vacant lots occupied by rubble, discarded softdrink cans and the hardiest of weeds are liberally strewn all over the region.
Workshops and empty premeses pervade every street. Ugly 60s and 70s rectangular concrete architecture is rife. Chunks of the residential areas are a grid of non-descript lego-block “street houses”, where the front door is seperated from the street by three feet of pavement. Many of these have “We will not be moved” placards in the front windows, resisting the plans for regeneration. It’s not uncommon to find an abandoned pram complete with sprogg outside these homes.
All the towns have them, but the one that sticks in my mind the best is the Billingham Town Centre. As you approach it, you’d think it was just another squallid block of council housing, but closer inspection reveals a faded ‘Town Centre’ board bolted to a concrete wall, and the tell-tale colour of shop front signs, usually for a baker, chippy or betting shop. The Town Centres are generally a rectangular array of these shops facing inward onto an ugly concrete forecourt where Chavs are snogging or eating chips.
Teesside’s one contribution to society in the 21st century is the Parmo: A heart-attack inducing bed of fried chicken fillets, smothered in cheese and kebab-shop sauces usually accompanied by chips and ‘salad’. Most high streets have a few pizza or kebab shops where these can be purchased any night of the week by the zit-faced locals in Nickelson shirts.
Like every other seaside town in England, Redcar (yes, that’s exactly what I thought the first time I heard there was a place called that) residents claim they have the best Fish & Chips in the country. Insert a pregnant pause of bemusement while deciding how to respond to the fact that they’re boasting about the quality of their chip and batter deep-frying technique.
It comes as no surprise to learn that the main occupation of the residents seems to be unemployment and drugtaking. The average mouth of a Teessider appears to have been the subject of a science experiment with random blackened pegs of varying lengths spaced sporadically in their gums. The boast is that Chavs originated in the region, but apparently even that questionable accolade belongs elsewhere. Nonetheless, they are as much a part of the region as McDonalds is of the local diet. The guys have shaved back and sides with a tuft on top, and the girls crudely stepped hair dyed in black and white highlights. The remainder of the population is overweight, leather-skinned and dressed in tracksuits.
I haven’t said anything about Hartlepool yet. I’ll just leave you with this titbit: I had never been punched in the face by a girl before visiting this charming town.
Forget regeneration, having now lived here for six months, in my humble opinion, the best thing that could happen to teesside is a swiftly moving incurable plague followed by a 9.0 Richter scale earthquake.