Monday, May 29, 2006

Bank Holiday Monday

With the longest day just three weeks off, the dog days of summer arrived this weekend as temperatures sneaked into double figures. I went to a free festival on Newcastle Quayside in the afternoon and then on to a back yard barbecue in Sunderland where a load of shivering Frenchies attached themselves to the radiator and wore coats in front of the fire.
Not many weekends left now before the World Cup takes over. The streets are already full of family saloon cars with 50p England flags fluttering from the windows. Shame it all looks less like a declaration of support for 'our boys' than a banana republic's Liberation Day celebrations.

Sunday, May 28, 2006


Today's weather was almost balmy by North East standards. After a morning spent digging borders in the garden like a coolie, I watched my sister's boyfriend squeeze tomato ketchup all over his gravy less Sunday dinner of roast potatoes, carrots, green beans, chicken, stuffing and yorkshire puddings like it was a plate of fish fingers and chips. I always wondered why he didn't speak much.
We drove up the coastal road to Amble in the afternoon, then walked along the river to Warkworth Castle. I hadn't been there since I was a kid, when we used to stay in a rusty caravan in a farmer's field nearby, but it was sort of how I remembered it - the castle on a hill at the top of the high street; grey stone houses; rowing boats on the river and the old hermitage right at the end of a shaded path.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

High Force

Bank Holiday Saturday, and with that ludicrous sense of optimism peculiar to freckle skinned Englishmen, we planned a walk in the country followed by an evening barbecue. The weather was actually reasonably good either side of an hour long downpour that unfortunately occured right at the half way point of the walk. Luckily we had already seen High Force - one of England's highest waterfalls - and there was a pub on hand with brass fittings and cask ales. Back home, it's about time to oil the George Formby and unscrew the wine bottle caps (we're too cheap for corks, even plastic ones).

Thursday, May 25, 2006


You have to laugh.

As befitting a candidate for the BNP - main policy: ridding Britain of foreign criminals, foreign benefit cheats, foreigners fleeing persecution, foreigners working legally, foreigners working illegally, and just foreigners in general - salt of the earth youngster Daniel Thorlby is an intelligent, hardworking and eminently upstanding member of the local community. The lank haired jobless layabout spends a whopping £25 of his dole money a week on cigarettes, though this at least reduces the amount of time he spends spouting racist crap. Yesterday he was fined £50 for refusing to pay a fixed penalty notice issued when he was caught throwing his still-lit cigarette into the grass rather than putting it in one of the many nearby bins in a Newcastle park. And who'll pick up the tab for the court case that resulted from the BNP bigot refusing to recognise the rule of law? The tax payer, of course. Keep on keeping Britain great, Daniel.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006


On Wednesday evenings I peg leg it straight from work up Westgate Hill to the Newcastle ESOL service, where I help / get in the way of students doing two hour long open learning classes. This seemingly altruistic gesture is of course a cynical ploy to grab paid teaching work. Much as I enjoy being on my feet and interacting with people rather than having their voices piped into my ear at six second intervals, Wednesdays now feel like a sleep, work, work, sleep quick step between Tuesday and Thursday. Which is probably why I feel like it's 6pm when my watch tells me it's after ten.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Here Comes The Rain

While the rest of the country was blanketed by 24 hours of torrential rain, the good old north east held out until a few minutes shy of three o'clock. Up at half past six, I spent the morning gardening under a bright blue sky. After lunch, Katka, Andrew, Denis the Lithuanian and I walked along Marsden Bay as the clouds began to stretch and the colour drained from the heavens. The sun is due back sometime in June.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Bede's World

The start of this year's Jarrow Festival was clearly uncannily timed to coincide with the first glorious days of summer. Luckily the rain had turned into the kind of fine drizzle that clings to you like a stinging nettle but never seems to get you wet by the time we set off for the medieval market at Bede's World. Unluckily, this meant we had to drive around for ten minutes looking for a parking space. We stayed for about half an hour, wandering around the museum and Anglo-Saxon farm before heading over to the stalls. There wasn't too much to see - a one-legged wrestling competition for kids, an archery display and a square of canvas tents knocking out framed photos, jewellery and Northumbrian farm produce. That was all I could see anyway.


Oh, for England in the spring! A battleship grey sky and bone piercing winds that arrow rain unremittingly into the gap between collar and hood. People scurrying head down between home and the shops, home and the pub, along dark, puddle specked pavements. And what do we get out of it? A fall back conversation topic, green grass and the sniffles.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Michael Owen

Is Michael Owen the English Marcelino? It was bad enough seeing the faker sprinting around the pitch for England against Argentina in the middle of being injured for Newcastle. Now, just a couple of weeks after pulling out of a game against Chelsea because he didn't feel right, he tells the papers that he's "fresh and raring to go" for the World Cup. Why doesn't he just retire from club football and get the FA to pay him year round? It's no wonder Liverpool fans were happy to see the bloke leave: he's been earning £120,000 a week since August, has played only 11 games, and yet expects the people who've been paying his wages to be chuffed because he's had a nice rest! Of course, if he bangs in 30 goals next season I'll be fickle enough to forget I ever doubted his character, but I wouldn't be surprised if he picked up a mystery injury just after his summer jaunt comes to an end.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Champions League

Unlucky Arsenal. Despite myself I ended up almost wanting them to win. I missed the sending off because I volunteer Wednesday nights at an ESOL centre but it was clear from what I did see that the ref was completely out of his depth, while Barca's superstars looked more like spoilt brats until Larsson and tiredness turned the game. The irony is that Barcelona's side is no more Catalan than Arsenal's is English. If they really think of themselves as the national team of Catalonia then how come half their players were wrapped in Brazilian flags when they collected the trophy?

Monday, May 15, 2006

Migration Watch

Sir Andrew Green - the Reverend Ian Paisley of the immigration debate - is at it again in today's newspapers, claiming that up to 300,000 Bulgarian and Romanian workers will head to the UK in two years' time unless the government closes the labour market. Casting aside my doubts that 1% of the total population of the two countries would emigrate en mass to Britain, the truth is that workers from the new EU states, far from being a burden on the country, perform essential services and fill jobs which British people are either unwilling or unqualified to do: cleaning our public spaces, teaching our children, treating our sick, caring for our elderly relatives and building our homes among a multitude of other socially and economically vital tasks. In addition, the tax and NI contributions these new workers pay maintain our public services, state pensions and benefits. Money that most of them will never be in a position to claim for themselves.
This the real issue: if we do not want immigration in this country then we will eventually have to cut public spending, raise the retirement age and force people to save for their own pensions. The only way to avoid this, short of an immediate and sustained raise in birth rates, is to increase taxation and force people off benefits and in to low paid menial work. Deliberately or not, Migration Watch encourges people to believe they can have it both ways. They cannot.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Sunday, Sunday

The rain's been pelting down for hours now. Luckily I got up early enough this morning to make the most of what little sunshine we've had this weekend. After a couple of hours in the garden, a Lithuanian friend of Katka's arrived for his Sunday dinner, lured by strange tales of gravy and savoury puddings. Who knows, maybe one day rhubarb crumble and custard will be a hit on the Baltic dining scene. After lunch we went to The Robin Hood, home of the Jarrow Brewery, which was full of men in cheap suits and large groups of people playing card bingo while waiting for the quiz to start. That's the high life for you.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Camping Barn

Nothing much happening today. Got up, went to work, came home, did some gardening, flopped down in front of the computer. We did manage to book a camping barn at Kildale in the North Yorkshire Moors National Park for Katka's birthday party next month. It sleeps 18 people at a fiver a head, and so far we have 13 definites and several maybes for a weekend of walking, drunken tomfoolery and late night moaning about the lack of central heating from cheapskates with £3.99 sleeping bags.

Monday, May 08, 2006

World Cup Squad

That's it, then: England will be lucky to make it past the quarter finals. Only a fool would expect Owen and Rooney to play a major part in the tournament; only a hopeless optimist would expect Walcott to reprise Owen '98 or Rooney '04. Too many midfielders - what was the point in including a half fit Jenas? Or the point of Owen Hargreaves full stop? - and not enough forwards. The same old excuses will be trotted out of course - unlucky with injuries, if only we'd had a fully fit squad - but the truth is that this is a massive opportunity missed. I hope I'm wrong.

Sunday, May 07, 2006


The definition of an uneventful weekend: up at 6am Saturday morning for eight hours of work; answer approximately 130 calls while the sun shines outside. Then spend an hour or two in the garden before the heavens open while you're watching Doctor Who. Go to bed early because you're knackered but get woken up by your wife getting out of bed to puke up red wine, so remain knackered for your only day off, when the ground is too wet to do anything outside anyway. Watch TV, walk around shops without buying anything, suddenly realise it's evening and you have to work again tomorrow.

Start looking forward to next day off.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Peak District

In the end everything was very nearly perfect...the buses on time, the weather - except for an overnight downpour and a couple of light showers - cool but bright and sunny, and the scenery stark, brooding and beautiful.