Hello again and welcome back, this writing thing is getting a bit addictive but I know how my moods can swing and I may go off it as quickly as I re-discovered it so I am, as they say, “making hay while the sun shines”. I do hope the sun continues to shine as it has been doing for the last few days as I am back off to my beloved Broadstairs in the next couple of days. OK, I know Folk Week doesn’t start until early August but I have no objection to making an early start and I have a few things to do down there anyway. Happy days.
I cannot believe nearly a year has passed since the last Folk Week although they do say that time goes quicker as you get older and that has certainly been my experience. Let’s see now if I can advance us a day (or maybe two) closer to the present by describing the first full day of the 2022 Euromeet.
I awoke in my very comfy bed, sluiced my old bones and dressed (rather scruffily as is my way) and headed out to face the day. Sarah had organised for the day a walking trip round Tynemouth which, as the toponymy (a favourite word and subject of mine) suggests is just about where the Tyne river empties into the North Sea. It is only eight miles from the centre of Newcastle and, whilst I had been to and played gigs in places like Jarrow and North Shields (both excellent I should add) I had never been to Tynemouth so it was time to remedy that.
It was an early start but I had been fairly circumspect with my imbibing the previous evening so it was not a problem, I have started much earlier and in far worse states many, many times before. I am never late on parade! The meet was back at the nearby railway station which doubles as the Metro Station which is the equivalent of London’s Tube but so, so much better. Allow me to tell you a little about it.
The Metro is so much better than the London Tube purely by virtue of being newer although much of it is equally ancient which I know sounds odd but here is the story.
The first section of the Metro did not open until 1980 and, like the London Overground (much of which is actually underground and has subsumed the old East London Line which I remember fondly as I lived about five minutes walk from Shadwell Station once and about three minutes from Wapping a little later. Both systems have cleverly re-used old disused branch lines to re-invent a modern urban transport system for the 21st century.
The Metro rolling stock is modern and comfy enough, the stations are clean and tidy and often patrolled by the company’s own security staff (I don’t fancy their job on a Friday or Saturday night). They usually run on schedule which you can certainly not say for the Underground where I live.
The biggest problem with the London Underground system is that it still runs on an infrastructure mostly built in the reign of Queen Victoria and it is naturally falling to pieces. It was never designed to carry the modern rolling stock and numbers of passengers it does, it is basically worn out. Perhaps the Metro will end up like that in decades to come but for now it is great and it is also extensive.
You can go South through Sunderland (the next large settlement and fierce rival of Newcastle in everything, especially football (soccer)), East and North on a loop going through the wonderful seaside town of Whitley Bay which I remember from a brilliant rugby tour about 30 years ago and Northwest to the airport. There is also a spur line going through Hebburn (where I also played a gig) up to South Shields. I do like that system but back now from my musings on the relative merits of British urban transport systems to the tale.
We all met up in good time and Sarah helped us through the intricacies of the ticket machine. OK, she helped me, everyone else seemed to manage it but I cannot deal with technology. We jumped on the train and headed off for Tynemouth, not a huge journey, spent in excellent company chatting and soon we alighted at our destination.
I have to say that Tynemouth station is absolutely stunning and regular readers will know my love for all things railway. The wrought iron alone deserves to be in a Museum were it not holding up the glassed and wonderfully lighted roof of this structure. Unsurprisingly, it is a Grade Two listed building, designed by a chap called William Bell, who was chief architect for the NER (North Eastern Railway, even before it added London to it’s name to become the more recognisable LNER) and was responsible for much work in that area). Honestly, had I not left the station I would not have thought my day wasted, I’ll bet there are people who travel here just to study it. A good start.
The plan for the day was that Sarah was going to lead a walking tour round the town visiting some apparently fascinating historical sites, notably the Priory and Castle. There was no way I could manage a walking tour especially as I did not want to be holding up the others. I had told Sarah that in advance but I have to say, and I know she reads my nonsense here so I am not trying to embarrass her, but she had said right from the start something along the lines of, “don’t worry, just come, it will be great to see you, do as much as you can or as little, it will be fine and we’ll look after you”.
That was some safety blanket I can tell you as I knew they would look after me. It was so much an evocation of the VT spirit, especially their meetings which are still as brilliant as they ever were when the website was going. My friends were going to watch out for me even if I was physically almost incapable of doing so myself. It was almost like being back in the Forces again and honestly, it was a nice, warm feeling.
I bade my friends bon voyage and a good day at the station, having been given the meet time for the return journey although in truth I could have returned easily enough any time I fancied. The day was mine to explore as much of Tynemouth as I could in perhaps a half mile radius of the station. Honestly, that was about the limit of my exploitation of any given location then although it is marginally better now so I headed off in search of what looked like the centre of town.
Naturally, my default situation in situations like this is to find the nearest open pub and I did not have too far to go until I came upon The Priory, which turned out to be an excellent little pub.
I should mention at this point that I am not in the habit of taking images in Gents toilets but I could not resist this one as it was so clever because they had turned empty beer casks into urinals. I have been in many pubs and have never seen anything like it.
I had a couple of pints and had been chatting to a couple of lovely barstaff which only served to remind me of how friendly the North of England was and which I mentioned in the previous post. I was slightly envious of my friends who were tramping round all those lovely old sights / sites as walking and visiting historic buildings were two of my greatest delights before my health took such a nosedive but I wasn’t overly despondent as I was just grateful for any sort of travel, it had been a while. I was in a lovely pub with a pint in front of me, expecting to hook up with my mates later on so it could not be all bad.
It was getting to about lunchtime and, most remarkably given my lack of appetite which I won’t bore you with again, I was getting a little peckish. There was a fairly extensive menu which you can see here if you like but I knew a main meal was just a non-starter, I genuinely cannot remember the last time I ate a decent sized feed, it just doesn’t happen. On a good day I manage to snack two or three times in exceptional circumstances but that is it but there was no shortage of tasty looking options so it was time to choose.
Whilst perusing the menu I noticed two things. Firstly was the size of the portions which seem to get larger the further North you go as I shall demonstrate shortly but as an example, in the Priory they only serve one breakfast on a plate (with a veggie version as is required these days) although they do breakfast rolls, beans on toast etc. It consists of two sausage, two bacon, two hash browns, black pudding, two fried eggs, tomato, beans and a side of toast, that would feed me for a week ! If you go further North into Scotland it becomes even crazier with a standard B&B breakfast probably amounting to the recommended adult daily calorie intake for an adult.
The other thing I noticed was the prices which were so markedly cheaper than in London and this was to be a feature of my whole trip in the North. That gargantuan breakfast I just mentioned cost £7:45 and by way of contrast I offer this. I was perusing a menu in a fairly ordinary café in Broadstairs where I am currently composing this and a standard breakfast of one egg, one bacon, one sausage and one hash brown runs to £7:50 and these are figures from less than three months apart.
In yet another of my numerous and undoubtedly well-known to my loyal regular readers (thanks again folks) digressions I have a piece of travel advice here for people who may read this and who may wish to visit my country as and when travel normalises itself as far as ever it is going to after the virus. I had intended this to be primarily a travel site after the sad demise of Virtual Tourist, with probably a bit of cooking thrown in. Think Tony Bourdain without the talent! Certainly, come to London, it is one of the major cities in the world with such a wealth of history and things to do and see it is untrue. I have loved there for 34 years now and only seen a fraction of it.
Yes, the rest of the tourist trail like York, the Lake District, Edinburgh and Durham are superb, I have visited them all and love them but they are expensive, touristed and usually very crowded. My advice would be to see all of these and the other sights / sites you really want to see there and then go and see some other places. As I found out not three months ago there are so many brilliant and less-well known places where there is also a wealth of history and places you probably have never heard of, that is the joy of travelling. Honestly, do it and you won’t regret it.
I am an absolute fan of everything vaguely pescatorial or relating to seafood generally (sorry, there is no adjective online!) and I also love retro food from my childhood and early adulthood so I ordered the prawn cocktail which I thought would be a fairly good option as I really cannot m. It would be a large wine glass with a couple of chopped lettuce leaves in it, perhaps a thin wedge of two of tomato, a few prawns and hopefully a decent Marie Rose sauce. Wrong.
The image above shows what was served to me, and it was not expensive AND was what could easily have done duty as a main course. I am quite sure the appalling concept of “nouvelle cuisine”, which I detest, never made it to Tyneside, the Geordies would not have stood for it. I had a full plate of mixed leaves and yellow peppers, an unbelievable portion of prawns for a starter, served with a very decent Marie Rose and I took one look at it and wondered how I was going to finish it. Strangely enough for me, it was so tasty I downed the lot.
Yet another digression here of the culinary nature, Marie Rose sauce which I have mentioned above and is one of my favourite cold sauces. Also known as seafood sauce, and many other things including burger sauce although I have never had Marie Rose on a burger, , it is utterly delicious but what exactly is it?
In essence, it is a mixture of mayonnaise and tomatoes of one sort or another with all sorts of things thrown in for good measure. It is widely credited to Fanny Craddock, the doyenne of British TV cooks and the first but, as with so many other recipes, there are all sorts of counter-claims such as the famed British writer Constance Fry as far back as 1956. In South America it is known as salsa (sauce) golf because it was allegedly created by a diner in a golf club bored with eating his prawns with straight mayo. Who knows and, frankly, who cares? It is utterly delicious, open to a myriad interpretations and, frankly, good with just about anything savoury.
Without going into the whole thing, I like to make mine with home-made mayo, a particular Polish tomato ketchup that I have discovered in my local supermarket (sign of the times in London), a good dash of Worcestershire sauce (which must be Lea and Perrins obviously), some form of chilli as I like my food spicy.
I quite like sriracha sauce as it is easy to blend but any chilli you have is good although I to not recommend even the finest chopped fresh ones, it should be a smooth, creamy sauce. A good crack of freshly ground pepper is always good on anything and you are good to go and after that just let your mind go free. A small amount of horseradish is great, mustard (I would use perhaps a lighter one as English will overpower the sauce), just have a field day and find your best combination, there is no “proper” way, it is all good. Let’s be honest, most cooking is as long as you don’t pour custard over the roast beef!
Right, enough digression but I do like talking about cooking and I was “chowing down”, as I believe the Americans say, on my monstrous prawn cocktail and enjoying every mouthful but when I happily finished, I reckoned I should probably see a little more of Tynemouth on my first visit even though I was never going to go far.
As I had no map, no local knowledge and definitely no ability to use the mapping system on my mobile (cell) ‘phone, it was always going to be a fairly random wander which is absolutely my preferred mode of foot travel anyway. The experiences I have had getting totally lost in towns and cities on several continents and they have been some of the best moments of my trips anywhere. I really do recommend it but always with the proviso that you keep your wits about you and don’t be walking into obviously rough neighbourhoods unless you know what you are doing.
As always I was looking left, right, up and down and noticed a couple of interesting things on the way to my next “pit-stop”, the first of which you can see above. It is a simple street sign but it opens up the whole subject of toponymy generally and, in this case a hodonym i.e. street or road names. OK, I am showing off a bit and I had to look that one up but it is a subject that fascinates me.
Ask most young people in the UK what Hotspur refers to and they will probably say Tottenham Hotspur F.C., a football (soccer) club from North London but I happened to know that the word has a much longer history than that. It refers to a Northumbrian nobleman called Sir Henry Percy (20 May 1364 – 21 July 1403) who gained his nickname from the Scots who he was constantly fighting with as they attempted to move South and referred to his swiftness in attack. He was possibly born at Alnwick Castle and Alnwick is a place we shall be visiting eventually in this series if I ever get round to catching up with myself here. I don’t intend to bore you with a complete history of him here but Percy is a fascinating character and I do recommend you look him up. For example he was appointed a Knight of the Garter, which is the highest chivalric order in the UK, at the tender age of 24. He must have been some warrior.
The next thing of interest I came across was what looked like a fairly standard fish and chip shop, of which there are many in the greater Newcastle area and, in my experience of a uniformly excellent quality. My eye was drawn to a blue plaque in the window. For my non UK readers, blue plaques are put up on buildings with some historical significance, normally something along the lines of X was born here or Y lived here. This obviously was not one of the official ones because they are always affixed to external walls but I could not resist a look and what a find.
The image above tells the entire story. Jimi Hendrix, an absolute guitar hero of mine, bought fish and chips here in 1967 and went to eat them on a bench beside the sea. I can fully appreciate the experience. There is something almost magical about eating a nice bit of haddock and chips watching the waves coming in and with the whiff of ozone in your nose, it is great and an experience which I recommend to any visitor to our shores. Well, if it is good enough for Jimi, it is good enough for me.
All this discovering had obviously made me thirsty so it was with great joy that I happened upon the Head of Steam pub which is apparently part of a chain which stretches South and even as far as Wales. The pub was quirky to say the least. It is obviously fairly modern and their website shows that the group has only been going since 1995 with this particular outlet opening in 2014.
It is decked out in fairly standard modern style but the quirk I refer to is that each bench table has a very modern looking toaster on it! Look at the images. They were not museum pieces placed for interest but rather they looked brand spanking new and I have no idea what they were for. I don’t know if they serve breakfasts but are you meant to toast your bread to your own liking? Very strange.
A quick and well-kept pint of cider later I thought it was time to move. I have a reasonably good sense of direction and am generally pretty well orientated, even in a strange place, so I knew I was no more than a few hundred yards from the Metro station which would get me back within 100 yards of my hotel so my mobility was not an issue. Although any sort of distance was not going to be feasible it was so much better than just a few months before where I had struggled to make the small supermarket right across the road from my home.
Again wandering fairly aimlessly but trying to stay within kicking distance of the station (I wasn’t going to push my luck) I set off to find another place of alcoholic refreshment and did not have too far to go. The next port of call was the Cumberland Arms, a fine looking old building which was built in 1898 on the site of an older establishment dating back to 1855. Inside it has obviously been refurbished in modern times but it retains an old-fashioned feel and look, I liked it. Another well-kept and served pint with the usual cheery bit of chat and I was on a mission now.
I sallied forth yet again and I did not have to go far until I saw a sign for the CIU club (I tend to look up as that is where pub signs tend to be!) which I initially discounted. The reason for this is that CIU clubs, like Conservative clubs, Liberal clubs, and many others were strictly for members only. I can only think of one CIU club in London (in Plaistow) and if you don’t have a membership card you won’t get over the door. On my previous trip to Newcastle in October 2019, which you can read about here, I had to be signed into clubs in Hebburn and Jarrow even though I was playing in the band booked as the entertainment for the evening! Strange but true.
Anyway, I happened to be walking past the place in search of a pub when I spotted a poster in the window which, as well as espousing the virtues of the place (they were to prove to be many) it stated quite clearly “non members welcome”. I was astounded but on the principle of nothing ventured nothing gained, I decided to give it a try and what a good decision that proved to be. I always seem to land on my feet when it comes to drinking establishments.
I hobbled my way up the stairs of what I believe was the old Co-op shop and entered one of the most pleasant lounge bars I have ever been in, it was quite palatial but not flashy, just right. I approached the bar and asked the young lady serving if it was indeed correct that I could get a drink there which she confirmed to be the case. Fine, a pint of cider for me. I asked her how much it was and when she told me I was amazed. Because of the vagaries of the almost unfathomable licensing laws in the UK, registered clubs like this pay less tax on alcohol than pubs, don’t ask me why. I have already discussed in previous posts in this series about how inexpensive it was this far North but this really flabbergasted me now. I cannot now remember the exact figure but I know I would not have bought a small borrle of water for it in a London pub.
I had a quick scan round (old situational awareness training as I have spoken of before) and took in a very fine establishment which was showing sport on the very large screen TV and a back room which had not one but two full size billiards tables which both turned out to be in superb condition on a quick inspection later. This suited me down to the ground, especially since there was a decent game of football (soccer) on the TV.
I knew by the time I left that I had missed the meet to get back to Newcastle but I knew the way and had my ticket which Sarah had so helpfully assisted me in getting. I spent a wonderful time there chatting to some locals, who are unfailingly sociable in this part of the world, and some of the bar staff (there were plenty of them on duty and service was quick) and then headed back to the station where I attempted to take an image of a bird flying overhead and failed miserably, as you can see above. I really should learn photography one day.
I got back to my hotel with no drama and I knew the guys were having a meal that night but I had not signed up for it due to my complete inability to eat (I do have to report that at time of writing in July 2022 I am actually managing to eat a little bit more, it must be the sea air!).
By the time I made my room I was feeling exhausted even though I had done absolutely nothing and walked perhaps no more than a mile all day but I think the combination of lack of food and my general debility (is that a proper word?) from my various hospitalisations etc. was taking a toll so I took myself down to the hotel bar. These are not places I normally frequent but the bar in the Royal Station Hotel is very pleasant, the staff are not sniffy towards a scruff like me complete with bandana, earring, long hair and a beard that looks like a sanctuary for small rodents so I didn’t mind paying the little extra. A couple of pints and I considered again the prospect of going to meet my friends as I knew where they were dining in a private room but I decided, in an unusual fit of sense, to just head to bed which I did, looking forward to a good night’s sleep. I should have been so lucky!
I mentioned in the previous post that visitors to this otherwise excellent hotle should ask for a room on an upper floor and here is the reason why. My room (105 I believe) was directly above the function room which doubles as the disco at weekends and Newcastle is very much a party town, much beloved of hen and stag parties, and the disco went on to 0300 with the sound hammering up through the Victorian and obviously not sound-proofed floors. That was bad enough but it got even worse after the DJ shut down. There was drunken shouting clearly audible in the hotel and, as if that was not bad enough, it sounded like there was rape (literally), battle, murder, riot and civil war going on outside. I maybe got to sleep at 0500for a few hours and that was my lot.
This is a very obvious place to break and I shall do so but I would like to make a point before I sign off. People may well read this and say, “What a waste of a day” but I see it differently. Primarily, after virus house arrest and much ill health I had managed to get out of my flat again, I had spent the day in the company of many old friends that I had been unable to meet for several years and I had visited a place I had never been before (albeit in a limited way) which always gives me a thrill. I had met some lovely people which seems to be the default position in the Northeast. I would have loved to have seen the Priory and the Castle etc. but circumstances did not allow and I now have to work round these sorts of occasions, I have to tailor my travelling to suit my much limited abilities.
I’ll be honest, the next day is pretty much of nothing so I shall run it into the day after in the next post which is an absolute beauty where we all went on a coach trip round the Northumberland coast which is such a brilliant place. As always, if you want to find out what happens, stay tuned.