A New Year

Well, the tree is outside the kitchen door waiting to go to the tip, the decorations are back in their box to go back to Grandma’s tomorrow (anything we don’t have room for goes into the shed there) and it’s finally stopped raining – although sleet and snow are forecast for the weekend.

 

And since I haven’t written anything for 25 days, here’s the rundown of the O’Neill’s Christmas and New Year.

 

Our tree was small but perfectly formed – and now that it’s gone Kevin can see all the television screen again.  We didn’t put up any decorations, but we brought out the Christmas candles and put them on the windowsill where passers by could see them.  And only remembered to light them twice.  Our cards – more than I had expected – were stuck into a card holder from the pop up Christmas shop near Michael’s shop on the back of the living room door.  The slots in the card holder weren’t really big enough so all the cards stuck out at precarious angles.  But hey, Christmas isn’t about looking perfect, is it?

 

My birthday was less busy than usual, a little shopping in the morning but we already had everything except the sprouts for Christmas Day.  We went out for dinner to our favourite Italian, where the entire restaurant sang Happy Birthday to me, and then walked home, chilly but not damp, to a cognac before bed.

 

Christmas Day dawned mild and dry and was a quietly successful day with no dramas and a chat with all the family via Skype.  It was the first time in 37 years that Grandma (sans Grandad, who died more than ten years ago) had been to our house for Christmas lunch.  We regaled her with Bucks Fizz (of which she had two glasses ), prawn cocktail (she has fond memories), a Tesco chicken crown, ready stuffed and cooked from frozen (she doesn’t like turkey), finishing with Christmas pudding and brandy sauce.  It was the easiest Christmas lunch I’ve ever done (thanks, Tesco) and the driest.  I had a sherry while cooking, and we each had one glass of wine with lunch, since we still had to take Grandma home.  This we did, in time to watch the Queen’s speech with coffee and mince pies (the only thing I made from scratch), leaving at 3.30 so Grandma could have a quiet snooze in her chair until her next lot of visitors.  We went home, finished off the wine, and had cheese and pate for supper.  A most enjoyable day.

 

On Boxing Day it was back to normal as Michael had to go to work.  Kevin was off for the week between Christmas and New Year but Michael was working.  I even had a dental appointment!  On New Year’s Eve, after Michael got home from work, we walked into Gateshead for dinner, had a couple of drinks at the Gloucester on the way home, and left Michael to enjoy himself while we went home to bed.  But Gateshead was quiet, and even Michael was home before midnight.  We saw the fireworks up the hill from our bedroom window!

 

We did a day trip to Carlisle by train (and came half way home by bus due to a landslide), saw the new Star Wars picture at Vue in Gateshead, and now everyone is back at work with a vengeance.  Michael has got a pay rise now he is permanent with Greggs, had lots of positive feedback and will not countenance the idea of returning to Perth.  So we’ve bought a flat two minutes from his shop and will rent it out for a year, then upgrade the kitchen and bathroom and he can move in.  What we do after that will depend on Grandma, Glynis (who arrives at the end of January), various taxation departments, weather, and South Shields Marine College.  We are expecting visits from friends in Australia this year, and making a trip ourselves back to Perth in August.  And, as is always the case for the O’Neills, who knows where we’ll be in a year’s time.  I’d say watch this space, but only if I exercise more self-discipline.  I have started writing a book though, and if you’re interested, let me know.  It’s aimed at young teenagers, so if you’re old and grey you might not want to know!

 

 

In the deep midwinter

Yesterday I had an experience I don’t want to repeat in a hurry.  We’ve had snow a few times since coming to live in England, but nothing like yesterday’s adventure.  We will have to start calling Morrisons the snow shop, as once again we went into the store with no precipitation at all, only to leave some fifteen minutes later with a storm of sleet blowing us to the car.  We headed for home, a journey usually taking about half an hour through the Tyne Tunnel.  We chose that route because the GPS was threatening a twenty minute delay in the city – and we’d already seen the bank up of cars when driving to the coast.  We’d barely left Morrisons when the sleet became snow.  It will never lie, we said, there’s been too much rain and the ground is damp.  But by the time we got to the toll gates it was already starting to lie on the verges and by the time we were half way home we were looking at a very wintry landscape.  And it went downhill from there.  We thought we’d go to Tesco on the way home to organise Kevin’s glasses.  Tesco is normally a five minute drive from home.  An hour later, shaking in our boots from the drive down the hill from Deckham, we pulled gingerly into Cemetery Road, and parked in front of the house.  Driving down Wordsworth Street and back up the lane was a bridge too far, we felt.  And certainly, when we got in and looked out through the kitchen window, all we saw was a white landscape.  It hasn’t thawed yet, though we had some rain last night.  But it was 0 degrees when we drove Michael into work this morning, and hasn’t risen above 4.5 all day.  The snow still sits on roofs and cars, the cemetery – where we went to pick holly this afternoon – is white and icy patches await the unwary.

Christmas cards

Yesterday we got our first Christmas card of 2015.  And yesterday I posted cards to friends and family in Australia.  But I fear this may be the last year.  The cards cost, perhaps, 10 to 25p each to buy but £1.30 to send.  Well, you might say, buy more expensive cards to make it worthwhile.  Which is one argument.  Send e-cards is another.  But some of our friends are older than us by, in at least one case, twenty years, and still haven’t mastered the internet.  And the corollary to that argument is that one day they will die and the problem will be solved.  But we won’t wish them away in a hurry.

 

Presents are another matter.  I went mad this year and bought things for everyone – and pricing one parcel presented me with the prospect of paying £50 to post a parcel worth, at the very most, £20.  So that one really isn’t going to happen.  The presents have been taken out and will be posted to the recipients as birthday presents instead – they are children with a large extended family so they won’t miss our little contribution at Christmastime.

 

For those of you who have been enjoying your Advent Calendar, while a Victorian Christmas looks very pretty, especially with the magnificently decorated tree (I change mine twice a day), and today the lovely stained glass windows, I fear the reality, as noted by Charles Dickens, was very different.  Now is a good time to re-read A Christmas Carol and reflect on the many things that have improved over the years.  Though death and taxes will always be with us.

It’s beginning to feel

A lot like winter.  Yes, I know Christmas is on the horizon, but before we get to that we’ve had Halloween (we gave away half a dozen mini lollipops), Guy Fawkes night (a huge fire at the bottom of the street where we met some new friends), and Remembrance Sunday.  Of course the shops started putting up their decorations even before Halloween (you’d think they’d realise the sense of concentrating all their marketing on one thing at a time) and this Thursday the lights go on in Newcastle (being switched on by a local celebrity we’ve never heard of).  Fenwick’s window (a longstanding Newcastle tradition) has been unveiled and this year has a traditional theme (apparently the aliens from a few years ago were not popular).  It is typical of the British – or perhaps only the English – that when we went to have a look on Saturday, there was an orderly queue, and no six deep crowd in front of the windows.  We just walked up and were able to view most of the windows without a problem.  It was a very mild day – hardly even needed a coat – but that has all changed.  Winter has been late arriving but today is raining, and eight degrees.  There’s a possibility of snow in the Wirral on Saturday, and certainly frost here on Saturday night and snow over all high ground in Scotland.

 

Michael has been on day shift this week, which means he goes out in daylight (Kevin, who goes out earlier, is not quite going out in the dark).  But it is dark by the time he gets home (4 pm), and positively black when Kevin gets home at 5.45.  I am sitting up here in the spare room at 2.30 pm and the light is on, otherwise I wouldn’t be able to see the keyboard.  But as Michael’s boss happily reminded him, the days start getting longer again in a month!

 

Michael’s new shop is supposed to open in ten days’ time.  From the outside it looks as though it’s nowhere near, but the training is starting next week.  They all have new uniform (laid out on the spare bed), so we’ll go in on the first day and take some photos.  From being in a tiny shop with no seating they are going into a two storey edifice with tables and chairs, table service – and VAT on everything you eat sitting down.  The tax system here is very odd.

 

We don’t have a Christmas tree yet, and don’t have room for a real one like we had in Crawley, but we might start earlier this year than we did last year – we waited for Glynis to finish at school last year, and then promptly flew out to Morocco!  This year we have nothing to wait for and we aren’t going anywhere, so we might as well be festive for three weeks instead of two.  We’ll have Grandma on Christmas Day, and that is Michael’s only day off (apart from the normal rostered ones) but Kevin has the week off between Christmas and New Year, so apart from visiting the sales, and having some yummy food, it will be a quiet Christmas, quite different from the last couple!

 

Watch this space – Kevin’s going to find me some photos to put in the next one!

What makes you happy? A philosophical discussion

If you could see – or, rather, not see – the view from the spare room today, you’d know why Lindisfarne’s most famous song is “Fog on the Tyne”.  And on this grey, cold, autumn day when I might quite reasonably be wishing I was somewhere warm and sunny, I found myself thinking, “I love living here”.  And I was reminded of being asked by our doctor, when I was being miserable about being dumped by some boyfriend or other, how my sense of gratification was.  When Peter explained that your level of depression could be assessed by how capable you were of being pleased by something, I realised that only that morning I had remarked on what a beautiful day it was.  So while I was miserable, I wasn’t depressed.  I am neither miserable, nor depressed, at the moment.  There are lots of things that would make me want to run down the street cheering, but most of those do involve sunny days and blue skies.  But the things that make us happy can’t always be quantified.  I tried to think of where and when in my life I had been most happy, and decided that the first few months of married life, in a cold semi in West Monkseaton, with no shower and no double glazing, were almost amazingly wonderful.  I think that is why I love Newcastle.  Its mean streets, covered in litter on Saturday mornings, its tarty looking girls and old men who smell, its smokers, its drinkers, its friendly folk, welcoming pubs and its passionate football fans, make this one of the most real places I’ve ever lived, and I’ve lived in a few.

Sometimes I feel rootless.  I was born in the county of Lancashire, but that is now Merseyside.  Grew up in Cumberland, which is now Cumbria.  I’ve lived in three Australian states – single and married – an island in the Central Pacific, Burma, Singapore and now I’m back where I began the first year of what’s been a thirty seven year partnership.  I’m a global citizen, a woman of the world (literally), and my trip advisor map shows a much travelled individual.  I can live anywhere, but I’m happiest when those I love are happy.

Should we try to go back, to relive the happiest times?  Can we recreate the places, the events, the situations?  No, of course we can’t.  We can never go back.  It’s why we’re told to make the best of things.  Not a particularly helpful thing to say to someone who can’t see a way out of the woods.  And if you can’t see your way out of the woods, it’s no good trying to find the beauty in a tree.

Sure, things could be better.  I’d like to have someone to go window shopping with (men just can’t enter into that feeling).  I’d like to think one day I will lost my fear of big roundabouts.  I’d like a holiday somewhere warm.  I’d like to get up in the morning and put on something other than track pants and slippers.  But I’m quite happy with the uncertainty of the future.  The three of us have always lived on the edge of uncertainty.  To the Chinese, living in interesting times is a curse.  To the O’Neills it’s an exciting challenge.  Can I live here for another couple of years and still be happy?  Who knows.  But I’m working on it.  I’ve got my Mensa membership, there’s a community theatre nearby, and my menfolk are both happily employed.  Next year we have visits from friends to look forward to, and a brief trip home to sort out the finances.  And then, if I were really motivated I could always write a book…

Beamish and other exciting places

http://www.beamish.org.uk

Beamish is a unique experience – not just a museum, not even a museum within a house (like the one in Bath – a whole piece of living history spread over several acres.  A small town, a mining village, a manor house and a farm are connected by road, bus and tram, all original buildings, dismantled in their original places and rebuilt at Beamish.  We’ve been twice, and because the tickets allow as many visits as you like after you’ve paid for the first visit, and it’s only twenty minutes away, we’ll go a lot more. We were fortunate in that we had sunny days, though it wasn’t warm.  But I’m looking forward to going back at Christmas, even though I’ll need my heavy boots and thermal underwear, as the countryside changes with the seasons, and different activities are on which are also dependent on the time of year.

Yesterday Michael made the most of his day off by spending probably nearly a week’s pay on a first class train trip to Edinburgh and Carlisle.  He made much of his “free” lunch and glass of wine in the empty first class carriage, but also enjoyed Carlisle castle, and the serendipitous discovery of Radio Carlisle.

Today is the last day of Kevin’s first week at work.  He actually started last week, but that was more about induction and paperwork than actual work.  He still hasn’t done any actual teaching, but he has been sitting in on lectures, and been told which subjects he’ll be teaching.  So far he has enjoyed meeting other mariners and chatting about the old days, but of course he’s also discovered that South Tyneside College doesn’t run as efficiently as Australian FPSO Management.  I think he itches to be at the helm of the College and bringing it up to speed!

If anyone is still reading this blog, I do apologise for not writing more often, but this is because I’ve been unable to get into it on my big computer and I hate typing on the laptop.  But I’ll try to be a bit more proactive from now on.

K

Misty Monday

As I write, Kevin is having a coffee in the Costa at South Shields Marine School, waiting to be interviewed for a position as lecturer.  We’ve kept it quiet, because most people are expecting us to return in February.  After not getting the job at the Nautical Institute, we’d decided there was nothing here to keep us, and we thought that even if Michael didn’t want to leave (he seems to be enjoying working for Greggs, though has failed dismally at the attempt to make sandwiches at the rate of one a minute), Glynis wants to come back and live here for a bit longer, and could keep him company.  But purely by chance (having never received any response from electronic applications), Kevin sent an unsolicited application to the College, was invited along for a chat, and has his formal interview today.  So watch this space.

We have not had much of a summer, and now autumn is racing in.  We had a lovely day in Saltburn a week ago, but it’s been cloudy, cool and damp ever since.  Saltburn by the Sea is an hour away south, and has a cliff railway, like the one at Hastings we visited whilst living down south.  We arrived quite early in the morning, found an almost empty carpark, and strolled along the pier (quite a swell, and some heavy surf), looked in the sweet shop at the rock and liquorice, chatted with the lifesavers (the surf was closed – not because of the waves but due to “pollution”.  We couldn’t find out what kind of pollution, and didn’t see anything floating.  We took our trip in the funicular up to the top of the cliff, and the town centre.  We followed a fire engine to a house on fire – well, probably the chip pan caught fire, there was just a bit of smoke which the fireman were dispersing with a big fan – and then walked back down the hill to look for the miniature railway.  Saltburn has everything!  We walked up one side of the inlet, crossed the bridge, and had a look at the trains, which weren’t running yet.  Rounding the end of the inlet we were surprised to see a recovery vehicle trying to lift a car which was half in the water.  According to the policeman in charge of the operation, someone leaving the festival the night before had got locked in, and tried to get out by following the edge of the inlet, only to run out of road.  We watched and waited, until with a roar of applause from the interested observers, the car was finally lifted up and put onto the back of the truck.  We then went back to the car park, which was now chokka, and left to find lunch.  We decided to drive up the coast, looking for a seaside pub, to no avail.  Eventually we were just about to forget about it and go home, when we chanced upon The Dun Cow, twenty minutes from home, fantastic carvery lunch, and the friendliest staff I’ve ever met.  What a lovely day!

The Discovery Museum

IMG_1817

The last time I saw the Turbinia, once the fastest vessel at sea, it was being housed in its old site, a ramshackle building seemingly miles from anywhere.  I don’t think it was accessible by public transport in those days.  Now it is in a beautifully restored building just around the corner from St James Park, together with some of the most memorable exhibits I have seen in a museum.  The website, https://discoverymuseum.org.uk, describes exactly what you will see, but doesn’t prepare you for the effect the exhibits have on you.  The Newcastle Story starts with the Roman invasion of Britain and ends today.  The ancient history, which we have been exploring ever since we arrived in England, is interesting, of course.  But it is the more recent history, the history that is part of our lives, that is most fascinating.  While I didn’t grow up on Tyneside, much of the history of the post-war years in Newcastle reflects my own experiences until we left for Australia in 1958.  Then, of course, I came back here in 1978 and lived on Tyneside for almost a year, and after that we came back to visit every couple of years.  So all the post-war history of Tyneside is, in part, my history, too.  Photos, books, costumes, interviews with people, all touched a chord.  I think we spent the better part of an hour in that gallery alone, and we intend going back as soon as possible to watch the films, which we didn’t see.  Michael covered the whole museum in a short time and then sat around silently studying his phone and making us feel guilty about the time we were taking.  The other gallery that fascinated us was the history of ship building on the Tyne, sadly almost finished, and then there was the Life of the Soldier,  and the gallery devoted to people who had moved to the area from other countries and other parts of Britain.  In fact, if our feet hadn’t been so tired, and our tummies empty, we might have stayed even longer, even in the face of Michael’s disapproval.  So when he’s at work on Thursday, we’re going back to do it all again, and more.  We might even eat there this time, instead of the delightful Greek place we found in the Bigg Market.  A Greek place run by a man from Melbourne.

Who buried the baby?

Yesterday was fine and sunny and expected to reach the magnificent heights of 20 degrees.  It may have reached 20 degrees, but the breeze was very cool and although we went out in our shorts, we never took our fleeces off.

After our trip to Housesteads and Chesters, were were keen to see the restored Roman fort of Arbeia at South Shields, that we hadn’t even known existed.  Perhaps because it is run by South Shields council, and is free, they don’t feel a need to advertise.  But it was really much better than Chesters.  When we arrived we could tell there weren’t many visitors because we were able to park right outside in the street (and it wasn’t pay and display, either).  The rebuilt gatehouse is very fine, and imposing from the road. But I like the bones best.  While it is possible to circumvent the official entry I had read that there was a museum, which was in the modern building containing the shop and help desk.  Directly in front of us, at the entrance to the one room museum, lies a skeleton, under a sheet of glass, just as it would have been found.  The ribs lay scattered around the breastbone, no longer connected by muscles and ligaments, the tarsals and carpals also abandoned in the dust.  There were glass cases holding various items unearthed during the excavation of the fort, and details about funerary rites.  And a departure from anything else we’ve seen, the skulls of two murdered men, and the tiny bones of a baby found buried under the walls of the barracks.  The information next to this exhibit suggests that perhaps the burial was due to some sort of funeral tradition.  As an inveterate reader of murder mysteries, I am of the opinion that this was a baby no one knew of, buried to hide its existence.

Arbeia has been excavated to show the rows of granaries, the baths and the barracks.  But two other buildings have been reconstructed as they would have been.  The barracks building holds bedrooms for thirty soldiers (and very cramped they must have been).   Each has a small hearth, but it must have been difficult to choose whether to be warm or breathe, given that there are no chimneys for the hearths.  Behind the barracks building is the commandant’s quarters.  Spacious, decorated and furnished as it would have been (sparsely), the most obvious conclusion one comes to is that privacy was never going to be expected.  Or perhaps that should be respected.  The house was used as offices, accommodation, and what with constant visitors, slaves, and hangers on, it must have been very crowded – and probably noisy.

We headed back to Gateshead with a new understanding of life in a Roman fort, for the soldiers (not allowed to marry), the horses (no stables) and the commandant (the aforementioned lack of privacy).  And we now know that the Emperor Severus visited in AD208-10.  He died in York in AD211.  I don’t remember seeing a memorial to him there.

On the way home we stopped in at Westoe Village, and had a drink for old times’ sake at the Westoe pub, where Kevin and I used to meet for lunch some thirty seven years ago when he was at College.  And it’s hardly changed.  Apart from selling cider that tastes like Ribena.  Michael assures me it was very popular at York Races.  Probably because it doesn’t taste like alcohol.

So now I must find out about the buried baby – or invent the answer for myself.