Saturday, April 29, 2006

Setting Off

Another three day weekend, so Katka and I are off to the Peak District by bus and tram. Was booking two nights in a tent a bit optimistic? More when I get back.

Sunday, April 23, 2006


And now on to today. With spring finally here we took the Metro to Seaburn and then hiked six miles along the coast, through Whitburn village, and over Cleadon Hills to finish at East Boldon. We got home just in time to see West Ham knock Middlesbrough out of the FA Cup, which rounded off the day very nicely indeed!

Northumberland Gathering

Yesterday was the Northumberland Gathering, an annual festival held in the pretty market town of Morpeth, 15 miles north of Newcastle. It was much smaller than I expected - without the miles of bunting strung across the main streets you wouldn't have known there was anything happening at all until you got to Carlisle Park, where a dozen or so people re-enacted a 16th century battle and Morris dancers, Northumbrian folk singers and a Canadian rapping the Canterbury Tales performed on a raised circular platform by the playground and paddling pool.

Friday, April 21, 2006


Increasing sophistication or advancing age? Over the past few months I've started doing things that I couldn't have imagined doing just a few years ago. Pottering about in the garden, listening to Radio 4 and classical music, reading in bed at night...soon I'll be smoking a pipe and spending Saturday afternoons locked in a garden shed. One day I could even find myself agreeing with a Daily Mail editorial. Although that would tend to rule out the bit about sophistication.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Saturday Night, Sunday Morning

Back home late last night after getting free tickets to the Lonnie Liston Smith concert at the Sage. Two or three of his songs were fantastic but a lot of the stuff sounded like Bontempi by numbers - though my appreciation could have been affected by having to stand at the foot of a staircase for two hours supping overpriced Guinness out of a plastic glass. This afternoon my brother and I drove out to Chopwell Woods. We started off following a marked trail but foolishly trusted our sense of direction over the colour coded arrows and ended up taking what proved to be a meandering short cut that missed out the most interesting part of the walk.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Good Friday

It's a curious fact of modern life that when two people pass each other on any stretch of pavement in any modern city they will consciously avoid making eye contact, greeting or smiling at each other. Yet when the same two people meet on a country path on the edge of town they will go out of their way to do the opposite.

This morning I hiked 14 kilometres along the banks of the River Wear from South Hylton to Fatfield and back. It was glorious walking weather - 13 degrees, breezy, and benign white clouds across the blue sky that never once threatened rain. When I got home, I spent an hour planting flower bulbs and tidying up the garden of pop cans, sweet wrappers, torn bits of plastic packaging and one crisp new £5 note.

Thursday, April 13, 2006


A four day weekend, my first paid days off work in three months. Someone from the recruitment agency walked round the office today handing out Cadbury's Creme Eggs - a nice gesture slightly spoilt by the fact that she gave me mine in complete silence and then walked on before I had a chance to ask her any questions. Recruitment agency workers are as commonplace in Newcastle as underfed infantrymen in the North Korean army - though the soldiers are probably a little better off after tax and national insurance.

Happy Easter.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Weekend Part Two

Today's weather: strong winds, occasional hail showers, and big white clouds splodged across a pale blue sky. We worked off last night's Monopoly and red wine by walking for three hours along the coastal path from Seaburn to South Shields.

This afternoon I will be mainly sitting on my backside watching football.

Saturday, April 08, 2006


We had planned to walk the coastal path from Seaburn to South Shields this afternoon, but our plans were scuppered by grey skies, heavy rain and, finally, a half hour long snowstorm that caused a Premier League football match to be abandoned seven miles down the road. As the hailstones started belting down we put on our waterproof hiking clothes and went to Tesco instead. Spring time Saturdays in England can be so much fun!

Friday, April 07, 2006


Tonight we went to see Carmina Burana at the Theatre Royal. The only other opera I've ever seen was in Brno last Easter. Wearing cords and a short sleeved shirt, I was embarrassed to find 95% of the audience done up in dinner jackets, fur lined collars, polished black shoes and bow ties. By contrast, tonight I was surrounded by men in Adidas trainers and blue jeans, accompanied by women who looked as if they'd dressed up to go to the pub. A lone drunk off to the right with a face as red as his t-shirt and an untied football scarf hung loosely round his shoulders clapped loudly at every pause in the performance. At the end, he swayed over the edge of the balcony, whooping and whistling in between random shouts directed at the performers. Irrefutable proof that Britain is a classless society - in all senses of the word. And all the better for it.

Thursday, April 06, 2006


My current job is in a call centre, where I do undemanding, underpaid work from half nine to half five five days a week. My salary is thirty odd pence above the minimum wage; my wife, a supply teacher, earns more in two days than I do in five. Just over a generation ago, most people around here were working in the coal mining or ship building industries. Nowadays, everybody is either working in a shop or answering phones, managing people working in shops or answering phones, recruiting people to work in shops or answer phones, or educating people to work in shops or answer phones.

A strange kind of progress.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006


Tuesday evening already. I'm never sure whether I should be glad or not that the days fly by so quickly. I finally had the interview with the school in China so all I have left to plan are visas and flights. Despite the fact that I'll only be teaching kids and will be apart from Katka for a couple of months, I'm really looking forward to it.This could be the last chance I'll have to work in China, and, after ticking off Hong Kong, Beijing, Seoul, Osaka and Tokyo, I finally have a chance to see Shanghai.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Jesmond Dene

After waiting half the day for a phone call from China, I gave up and took the Metro to Jesmond Dene, easily Newcastle's most gorgeous public space. Before taking the picture, I spent a full two minutes waiting for the peacock to stop shaking its behind at me and turn around, after which Katka and I walked beside the fast moving brown waters of the Ouse to the bridge and back. In the evening we stayed at home with a half price bottle of French wine from Tesco, a pack of playing cards, and Curb Your Enthusiasm Series 4 on DVD.

Starting Over

Still waiting for the interview, which should hopefully take place sometime in the next couple of hours. And still waiting for a dry weekend, though I've stopped hoping for anything on that score. I hate being a hostage to anything on Saturday morning, especially after being stuck in an office for eight hours every weekday just waiting for the weekend to come around. As much as I try not to sit by the phone or stare out of the window, I can't keep away from either for more than a few minutes at a time. Meanwhile, the day fast forwards by...