Bernard Trafford: Run is as good a reason as any to keep iconic song alive

The Blaydon Races is an iconic Geordie folk song, but has little in common with the 10K race run this week as Bernard Trafford explains

The start of the Blaydon Race, in the centre of Newcastle.

Monday evening saw us in Bigg Market witnessing the start of the Blaydon Run. It’s a 9.3K event, which I make just under six miles in old money. That’s out of our league. We reckon on a maximum of three miles as we puff around our regular routes: our circuit of the Town Moor barely tops two.

So we were there purely as spectators. I’d like to claim we were supporting a great Geordie tradition, but that’s not entirely true.

The Blaydon Run is just one of many modern 10K events around the country. But the song from which it derives its inspiration is truly a Geordie institution. “I went to Blaydon Races, ‘twas on the 9th June: 1862 on a summer’s afternoon.”

Of course, the characters in Geordie Ridley’s song weren’t running to Blaydon: they were on a bus to the races from Balmbra’s, heading along Collingwood Street, past Armstrong’s factory: just going down to the railway bridge a wheel flew off the bus, injuring several who were taken to Dr Gibbs’ surgery.

Dr Gibbs is commemorated on a blue plaque beside the Assembly Rooms. And the Toon faithful still sing the Blaydon Races at St James’s Park, so the Blaydon Run seems as good as any other way to keep the song alive as well as giving some fiercely competitive-looking amateur athletes an excuse for yet another race.

I guess we all love institutions and traditions. It is right that, since last Friday, we’ve been commemorating the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings, the largest amphibian and airborne invasion ever accomplished by humankind and the start of the historic liberation of Europe.

Simultaneously another national institution, Dame Vera Lynn, entered the Top 20 album chart at the age of 97 with her splendidly-titled “Vera Lynn: National Treasure – the ultimate collection”. Nothing over the top there, then.

Still, having kept the nation’s spirits up during the war, and had the good sense still to be around on D-Day’s 70th birthday, her inclusion in that celebration is both inevitable and welcome.

Not all institutions have to be ancient, however. Take, for example, TV’s hit series Game of Thrones: I’m told it’s now the most watched series in America. And it’s popular here. It’s set in an imaginary world rather like mediaeval Europe with added ice age, dragons, black magic and undead soldiers. Almost every episode is enlivened by a bloody murder and at least one raunchy nude scene which is not quite obscene but cheeky enough to make it a post-watershed show.

Genuinely daft but exciting escapism, it doesn’t pretend to any moral message (despite an alarming number of stiff upper lips displayed in the many battles). I’m hooked: my wife detests it.

Someone’s cashing in on the series’ status as an institution: he’s the author. George R R Martin published the first volume in 1996: he’s currently writing flat out in order to satisfy production company HBO’s filming schedule.

Now he’s auctioning roles in the stories to raise funds for two favourite charities. If you pay $20,000, you can become a character in a future book. Moreover (here’s the great bit), he guarantees you an untimely and unpleasant fictional death.

It’s an original take on charity auctions. I wonder what it would cost to become the literary lover of GoT’s beauteous Queen Daenerys, leader of an army of 8,000 eunuchs and mother of three dragons?

She’s beyond my financial reach, I fear. And, now I’ve mentioned her yet again, my wife, who’s becoming afraid that I’m obsessed with her, will send me on a run to take my mind off her.

But I won’t run all the way to Blaydon: not even with the sounds of the old song ringing in my ear will I ever manage another six-miler. Besides, I fear it may take many more miles than six to make me forget the lovely Daenerys entirely.

  • @bernardtrafford
  • Dr Bernard Trafford is Headmaster of Newcastle’s Royal Grammar School. The views here are personal.

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