Looking East

These are the best days of Summer; long and warm with all the promise of holidays, clusters of people, families staying late on the beach.
I love a beach in all weathers. Ever wary of the sea I’m an inveterate beach-comber cluttering house, car, pockets with odd bits of smooth stone and boody – sea-washed pottery and glass. That’s one way to experience lots of wind and rain as well as cold, hard, bright days.
However my best treasure came from the sea at the slow end of a hot afternoon. I remember it well even though more than 50 years ago. The family, school teachers and their bairns had been on the beach all day; I recall feeling slightly burnt and salty but clean, with that warmth you get when you’ve dried yourself off from the sea.
Leaving everyone else to pick up all our gear I’d wandered back to the sea and then I saw it, a green flash of light about 50 yards out, heading steadily in, towards me. When it came nearer, clothes and all I just plodged back in, then deeper, wanting to protect it, determined to claim it for myself.
I have it here now, it’s an old green glass fishing float, crudely plugged, marked with a letter ‘M’.
It isn’t actually worth anything at all. You see loads of replicas amongst lots of other tourist tat, even the old ones found in junk shops sell for a couple of pounds. However it is beautiful, dark green with impurities that catch the light and I have treasured it all these years, wondering where it really came from and trying to persuade generations of children that it’s some sort of crystal ball.
I suppose that it bobbed up from an old wreck or long-discarded nets no further than Newbiggin bay, but it certainly fed my childhood imagination, and remains part of my fascination with what lies over that easterly horizon and the idea of a North Sea community.
I’m no sailor so the great travel book that I just know is inside me will be about my long journey around the shores of the North Sea.’ North Sea Littoral’ will take in the part of England I’ve already done – Spurn Head and that ship burial at Sutton Hoo, then to the huge beaches of Belgium and before Denmark the shifting sands of Holland and Germany.
That’s something for the future, perhaps.
However I was thinking about Germany last week, enjoying the celebrations of their ‘golden generation’ winning the World Cup, thankfully, without the aid of penalties.
Long ago, with the North Sea still frozen into a receding Ice Age our ancestors could walk there; some of them probably came from what is now Schleswig- Holstein the northernmost of the 16 regions of Germany. Further research will have to wait for my travel book but I’m interested in the parallels between their region and us.
Northerly, bordering on the North Sea and another country, similarly sized population; Kiel their major city is comparable to Newcastle with shipbuilding and naval traditions. However, they are prosperous even by German standards while we are poor by English – and their region, playing its part in federal Germany has its own Parliament and Government.
There are those who will doubt the role of politics in developing an effective economy but I would argue that without one elected, accountable body with real power to invest, to tax (or not), to plan and to focus its efforts on our region alone we are not going to get where we all want to be. We are not going to do as well as our neighbours, 400 miles across the North Sea, closer than places in England.
A few days ago a friend and colleague was telling me of his journey from redundancy when the coal mine closed to successful small business via university and reflecting that he had met more clever people ‘doon the pit’ than in the halls of academe. The tragedy for all of us is that 30 years on many of those talented North East people have never made it out of unemployment.
We spoke with some business people about how important it is to ‘enable’ the good ideas emanating both from world class research and communities. Of how enterprise culture should start early, provide real practical help to fledgling companies with finance, tax breaks and wise advice readily available now and in the long term. The vital necessity of calculated risk- taking to create jobs and opportunities. Regional focus and regional solutions.
I thought of the German football team and a set of attitudes around team work, efficiency, consensus and long term planning which have ensured that wonderful talents have been nurtured rather than squandered.
I spent 11 years working at all levels in London and have enjoyed no more than a few hours in the company of friends from northern Germany. Nevertheless, if we really had a crystal ball I wonder if it would advise us to look south or east if we are to build our region anew ?