Columnist Harry Pearson reflects on a feeling that may sit uncomfortably with many in the Tees region…
What a time it’s been for our region. As if the freeport announcement wasn’t enough, we also had the news that GE Renewable Energy is building a £142m plant to make wind turbine blades and that Darlington had beaten Newcastle, Bradford and Leeds to be named as site of the new Treasury North.
All of this caused in me a strange and unrecognisable emotion which, having looked it up on the internet, I can now confirm is something called “optimism”.
It’s fair to say that optimism is not Teesside’s default setting. Teessiders tend to err not so much on the side of caution as of doom.
Back in the last century when I had a proper job down in London, one of my colleagues came from Stockton. His name was Neil and he was such a pessimist he made Eeyore seem like Little Orphan Annie.
At meetings he would come up with a worst-case scenario for every occasion. Eventually, one morning after Neil had injected more than his usual darkness into proceedings, one of the Londoners at the table hissed: “Jeez, who’s your dad? The Grim Reaper?”
Until that moment I hadn’t really noticed Neil’s tendency to find the dark lining in every silver cloud. To me it just seemed normal. Wrestling disaster from the jaws of hope was what we did. As my Uncle Tommy from Grangetown once observed after some minor financial disaster: “If I’d have invented water, I’d have lost money on it.”
Intellectuals agree that the greatest pessimist in human history was Alfred Schopenhauer, a German philosopher who famously said: “Life is a meaningless episode interrupting nothingness.”
But intellectuals agree on this only because they never met my grandad. He grew up in Essex Street at a time when Middlesbrough was so fearsome and fiery that descriptions of it make Dante’s depiction of Hell read like a holiday brochure. Faced with news of disaster, Grandad would curl a lip and say: “Aye, as one door closes, another one slams in your face.” If life handed Grandad lemonade, he made lemons.
Grandad took me to watch Middlesbrough FC for the first time when I was seven. Asked why, he replied: “A trouble shared is a trouble halved.”
He’d started watching Boro play at Ayresome Park in 1912. Over the years, disappointment had curdled into a bleakness so Arctic that his seat in the Bob End was frozen by half-time. Whenever the opposition got the ball deep in their own half, my grandad would growl: “I don’t like the look of this.” When they crossed the halfway line, he’d snarl: “This is dangerous.” Then, as they advanced towards our penalty area, he’d snap: “Here’s a goal.”
He’d carry on like this for the whole game. When the opposition finally scored in the 89th minute, he’d dig me with his elbow and say: “What did I tell you? I could see that coming a mile off.”
Once, when I complained to my dad about this carry on, he replied: “You have to remember, not everyone in life has had your grandad’s disadvantages.”
Later, I’d come to understand what Grandad was up to. He wasn’t actually a pessimist. He was a happy man. But when you grow up in a rough, tough place, sometimes it’s best to fear the worst. That way anything positive that turns up feels like a massive bonus.
We need to celebrate good news when it comes, though. So, if you hear any weird noises over the next few weeks, don’t worry – it’ll just be me and my family practicing how to whoop with joy.
Harry Pearson’s latest book The Farther Corner – A Sentimental Return to North-East Football is out now.