… in which an intrepid Geordie penetrates the iron defences surrounding Sunderland and presents a brave account of life behind enemy lines. And he manages it all without seeing more than the Bridges centre, a pub and a bit of the museum …
Although he supports Newcastle United, Dave Eadevic may well be a decent lad, hard-working, loyal, good company over a pint, bright even. But he also fancies himself as a writer and I am not, if truth be told, looking forward to his first book.
If you are going to compose an epic article with the title Fear and Loathing in Sunderland, and make it stretch over two parts, you really do need to have something to say, even if the forum is no more than a Toon blog, Tyne Talk.
It was not, in itself, a bad idea. Imagine our own Pete Sixsmith suggesting something similar and writing about a visit to Newcastle upon Tyne. I would expect an account rich in humour, history and insight as well as a smattering of prejudice.
Dave does not, or did not on this occasion, rise to such levels of wit or wisdom, though his command of cliched prejudice is beyond reproach.
His self-imposed mission was to discover the town (“I will not call it a city” was meant as an insult; he probably does not know the thought is shared by many Sunderland supporters of a certain vintage who regard it still as part of County Durham).
And it could have been an amusing, even illuminating posting, as is clear from Dave’s own description of its origins:
It started like so many of these things, at the time of night where beer turns into whiskey and everything suddenly seems a great idea. I was busy explaining to a Sunderland fan everything that was wrong with his side, his city and if I remember correctly his life. When he supplied the comment of, “I bet you have never even been to Sunderland?”
“Of course I have, several times.”
“Not including Roker Park or the stadium of light? I mean Sunderland itself?” I allowed that he may have a point. I had never been to Sunderland.
Dave realised that he had passed 40 without having worked in Sunderland, gone to the place except for derby games or known anyone there. No one had ever said to him: “You know you should go to Sunderland.”
After a routine jibe about heading towards “the great unwashed masses” – odd how this kind of thing works both ways – he decides on the spot that Sunderland has suffered more than most from “whatever collective madness gripped architects in the sixties and seventies”.
There is mention of an ugly block of flats. But this is a sighting he makes before leaving the car park and could also have been made in almost any town or city I can think of. He appears to have done little more after that than wander around the Bridges centre, dislike the pint he was served while avoiding conversation in a pub and pass a bearded man wearing a Sunderland top and carrying a “Christ is the answer” sign.
But there was just enough time to visit the museum. Dave hints at his cultured outlook by saying this “wasn’t bad”. We do not actually learn why he thought so, beyond it having a raised walkway where he could “stroll among the tree tops and see the tops of people’s heads”.
Whatever else the museum had that impressed him, Dave is not letting on. Neither is he offering a single word to justify the title of his partwork. Or are we now in for Part Three, so far unannounced, where all – fear, loathing and a glimpse of Dave’s well-concealed powers of description – will be revealed? Nick Hornby had better watch out.