Northumberland Tour 2007
Maybe hotel owners should come and stay in their own establishments, then they’d see, well in this case, hear just how annoying it is to have drunk people bellowing outside your door at 3 am. The lack of soundproofing – which I blame on the hotel not installing good doors – coupled with the stifling heat and a late night due to writing this made for about 3 hours sleep last night. I am dosed with coffee right now, even if I feel tired, the sudden need for a pee will keep me up.
I look forward to hotel breakfasts, they’re the highlight of my stay, but this morning we entered what felt like a canteen breakfast buffet. Silver bowls full of bacon and trays full of greasy eggs, this was not listed in my South beach diet book as a phase one, two or three type breakfast. Still one of the ladies clearing up asked me if I wanted anything. “Yes” I said, “A million pounds, a woman, and the meaning of life”. I got worried when I saw her thinking that the second option might be something she could help me with.
A couple at our table, Sylvia and her husband – I used song titles to try to remember their names, but can’t remember what his song was – started to chat with us, mind you that was after I’d said goodbye to them, only to find them return a minute later with toast. As we started to chat, the husband corrected his wife on a point of fact. I’ve just read a book that says not to do that so I told him and he said “well I am right”, I said “it doesn’t matter, she’ll get you back later”, her eyes glinted at me. She was beautiful and he, I felt for the guy, was gonna be dead meat, maybe not straight away, but public humiliation carries with it a severe sentence. Take my advice, no matter how right you are, pointing out your partner is wrong in front of others, isn’t worth the price you’ll pay later. As we all climbed the stairs together and found our parting moment Sylvia told me her name and I sang a line from an Elvis song called Sylvia to her. Even William, that’s his name! – “William, William It Was Really Nothing” ( The Smiths), although Larry says it’s Peter – was impressed by my Elvis impression, I was going to start gyrating my hips and doing a few more lines but Larry gave me a “for fuck’s sake Simon I want to get out of here” look, so I didn’t.
The water hadn’t run the other morning so Larry haggled the cost of the hotel down as we left, and I chatted to Jenny the receptionist who’s studying to be a magician. I told her we were doing a travel diary and Larry later said I was the worst self promotional person he’d ever met – didn’t he mean best? – Anyway I tell people about my website so they can stay in touch, I don’t know why but I don’t like the feeling that someone can never find me if they want to. As we prepared to set off Jenny came out for a fag-break and shouted “nice web site”. Do you reckon she’ll check to see if I mention her in this? As we drove off I pulled a funny face and she laughed, I learned that from my father who was a magician – well a conjuror really -. If he pulls a face at you you you’re likely to have to laugh. There’s something nice about making someone laugh. My kids have tried for years resisting laughing if I pull faces at them. One day they’ll be able to and I’ll feel a bit sad.
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Northumberland has been an important part of Britain for thousands of years. Partly this is due to it being one of the main thoroughfares for invading armies, either from Scotland or Scandinavia . It’s also significant to the United States because Dixon , who was responsible with Mason for the “Mason Dixon Line” came from around Northumberland. Also Mark Knopfler and Sting were brought up around here. But the Northumberland that I have come to see is the old dark one. Larry, my co-traveller is a medieval literature scholar – calls himself a Medievalist, and I thought I was pretentious! – and has come here to visit some significant sites. So I thought that it would be interesting to look at this world too.
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This area of Britain is soaked in blood. This was – well Hadrian’s Wall was – the furthest frontier for the Romans and the wall started here. For centuries the Romans inhabited Britain but one day they left. The native Britons soon came under attack from the Northern Picts and Irish “Scots”, so they invited the Angles from Europe to help, who did so, but then they too turned on the Britons. Much of the history of those times was recorded by a monk known as the Venerable Bede, although a lot of his work was centred around the creation of an English Church . Our first port of call was Jarrow (from the Anglo-Saxon word Gyrwe which means “Place of the marsh dweller”). Jarrow, nowadays is still famous for a march that took place from here to London – But it was also famous for being where Bede was based. After the Romans had gone the British and Irish Christians developed their organisation around rural monasteries whereas the Romans were organised around cities, this eventually led to a differing between the two groups. And this separation caused many problems in years to come. Centuries later the Vikings invaded, destroyed the monasteries and pushed their inhabitants inland. Sorry this isn’t meant to be a history lesson, I just want to get over the significance of this area. Even during these periods, there were many battles between rival factions, this land as I said is soaked in blood. But today it is just soaked, it has rained and rained and made the world dark green.
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After visiting Bede’s monastery we made our way to visit my friend George. I had lost his number somewhere between changing phones so I had to take a risk and pop in on him unannounced. The house seemed different when I knocked on the door, a figure of a woman came to the door, but it didn’t open. She faded off into the darkness. I waited. I went through a script in my mind for this mysterious woman, how I was looking for George, “he used to live here”. Maybe she was a junkie or mentally ill and had sunk back in to a chair somewhere. Should I ring the bell again? I thought it rude to do so I waited. When her ghostly figure returned behind the glass and opened the door I realised it was George’s daughter. I have always thought she was beautiful and still do. She laughed, probably thinking, “Oh God, it’s Simon he’s such a flirt” I have to admit I tried not to disappoint her… poor woman! She phoned George who was parking up outside.
I’ve mentioned George on my last day of the UK Tour diary, we have a special connection, can’t explain it really, but he often comes in to my mind as an inspiration of kindness and thoughtfulness. I used to be a bit scared of his wife, but now I look in to her beautiful eyes and enjoy her tellings off. I asked her if she fancied visiting my place in Eastbourne without George and got a little laughing slap. George’s youngest son has just made George a grandfather, his other son, Gregory, I’ve known him since he was a baby is now a teacher. George would carry him for miles.
We spoke at the table about friendship and George looked at me and said “I consider you a true friend” and I am. I would not judge him, I trust him, I would do almost anything for him. – As long as it didn’t involve any financial loss or physical effort -. I say the same thing to my kids, so he’s honoured. George fed us and then we made our way up the castled coast line to Seahouses.