Taxi-drivers in the North East

They’re great. I’ve managed to knacker my arm with all the unpacking (that parcel tape is too tough), but have also decided to lord it a bit while I settle into my new adoptive town (where, bizarrely, in B&Q, I worked out that I was standing on what had been my great-great-great-grandfather’s land).

Taxi-drivers offer you a better insight than most into places. They generally start out with me on Devon (‘That must be a nice place’) only to join in when I say I prefer Darlington. (People who are born in Darlington never call it ‘Darlo’; people born outside Darlington, even if they have moved into the town, do.) My favourite taxi-driver line so far was a snippet of life history, and it went like this: ‘I have four sisters ten years older than me, and they’ve all got Geordie accents. I hate it. (Big pause, even by Pinter’s standard’s.) I wanted a Geordie accent, but my parents moved to Darlington.’

Darlington is as far south as you can go without being from Yorkshire. For that reason it has just a little of the Yorkshire market town about it, which I like, but a distinctively Durham voice. Another thing I like about Darlington is that it has no university, which means it jad none of the airs and graces which most other places of comparable size possess. It is what it is.

Most remarkably (although apparently there are a couple of others) it still has a Binns – now should I put an apostrophe in there? Was the founder Mr. Binn or Mr. Binns? As a child, all the buses in Sunderland had ‘Shop at Binns’ painted onto their exterior, so that any senseless child like me would assume that the shop had the power of a bus company. Possibly the most successful advertising trick I’ve ever seen. Binns has long gone from Sunderland, where it was the place to shop (you could walk under the main shopping street, Fawcett Street, from one department to another). But whenever you asked anyone about the war, they always recalled the worst raid on Sundrland as ‘the night Binns was bombed’. The one in Darlington, like any other, is part of the ubiquitous House of Frazer, but – so I was told today – there is an architectural ban on putting up a sign other than Binns. Quite right too.

About that apostrophe. The answer is No.

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