Saturday, November 15, 2008

What I did on my holidays, Summer ’08

If I don’t get round to this soon, it will be ’09 so no time like the present. I was a bit later in getting across to the UK this year, on account of having to go up to Saitama to support our son competing in the All-Japan Inter-High Track & Field Championships. He ended up taking 6th place in the discus throw and 4th in the javelin, which for him was a little disappointing as he is used to winning things at the regional level. As his parents we were very proud that he had made the best eight, it is easy to forget that he is still only sixteen. Since the summer he has won in a national event, the All-Japan Youth tournament in which he took gold in both discus and javelin, setting a new tournament record in the latter event, and also (on a different occasion) finally exceeding 50 metres in the discus throw. We are full of hope that he will continue onward and upward next season.

When I finally got to Newcastle Airport it was a cool evening, but the next day it began to rain which set the pattern for the next three weeks. Rain, rain rain. There were a few sunny intervals, but there was not a single day without some precipitation. As a result, I spent a lot of time indoors and did not get out and about as much as I normally do. My sister had decided to remodel their kitchen and dining room by removing the partition wall and installing an RSJ to bear the weight of the upper floor, to leave themselves with a kitchen/diner. As a result I spent a large part of the first week performing the services of a builder’s labourer, removing breeze blocks and sundry rubble and generally doing muscle work.

As this work involved disablement of the cooking facilities, I ate my meals with my parents, while my sister and her husband ate out a lot. One morning we had a brunch barbecue but the rain intervened, which gave the opportunity of an ‘Only in Britain’ kind of picture.

The work progressed up to the point where everything was safe but incomplete and then it was a change of venue, down to my old school where my sister’s theatre group were rehearsing for a musical. Time was running short so I volunteered my services as a carpenter, helping to build the set for the show which was called ‘A Slice of Saturday Night’ and takes place in a night club.

I did manage to get to St James’ park on two occasions, the first of these was for an ‘Open Day’ when I also bought two tickets for the first home match of the season. The second was the match itself which was against Bolton Wanderers. I and most of the crowd were in good voice at first, full of expectancy as the team had performed well against Manchester United at Old Trafford on the previous Sunday, coming away with a creditable 1-1 draw. However, Bolton had not read the script and put in a gritty spoiling performance to blunt Newcastle’s cutting edge. The Toon were struggling and the away supporters were beginning to out-shout us. When we conceded a penalty with 25 minutes left on the clock things looked grim indeed. The indomitable Irishman Shay Given was having none of it though. He somehow saved the spot-kick with his legs and we breathed again. This galvanised the crowd and the whole stadium was rocking when Michael Owen scored the winning goal on 71 minutes to send us home happy. Four points from two games is a good start. Things have not continued in that happy vein though, and the club are currently up for sale, with a temporary manager (Joe Kinnear) in charge, sitting in the relegation zone. Today’s home game against Wigan Athletic is a real six-pointer, as they are known.

In the final week, the weather gave the impression that it was going to improve and I gratefully accepted the offer to borrow a motorcycle from a good friend of mine intending to use it to travel south to Newcastle-Under-Lyme for the first part of an annual reunion with four old friends from UCW Aberystwyth. The machine is a Suzuki Bandit, customised in ‘Streetfighter’ fashion with an air/oil cooled 1200 cc engine. A very handsome piece of kit indeed.

When I set off, the sun was shining and all was well. I had downloaded a route from the AA which avoided motorways which seemed like a good idea at the time. This led me through the Yorkshire towns of Harrogate and Halifax and the traffic was horrendous. Large-scale roadworks had put a lot of diversions in place and my AA route gradually became worthless. Eventually I headed up over Saddleworth Moor (of Moors Murders notoriety) in thick fog and light drizzle. Life was becoming quite unpleasant, but I pressed on and came down into Oldham where I was able to find a filling station and refuel. I had noticed that filling stations are now much thinner on the ground than they used to be and the Suzuki was running on reserve. Dusk was falling as I headed into the labyrinth that is Tameside and it was here that I totally lost the plot, eventually giving up and seeking help at Hyde police station. Here I was put right by a charming young WPC and was able to resume my journey via a short high speed blast down the M65. It had stopped drizzling by now and I was feeling somewhat happier, though I was seriously behind schedule. I had not seen a public telephone all day, they seem to have become an extinct species due to the rise of the mobile, and I knew my friends would be getting concerned. Then I was informed that the road to Leek was closed and all traffic had to use the Buxton road. As the road wound higher and higher, it soon transpired that this was the infamous Cat & Fiddle pass and I had to negotiate it in thick fog and drizzle. Great, just what the doctor ordered. Thank all that is wonderful for the man who invented the cat’s eye...
I finally arrived at my friend’s house at 22.40, about nine hours after setting out. A hot shower and a few stiff drinks later, I was feeling somewhat better.

We continued our journey to Aberystwyth by car the next day, the motorcycle’s charm had worn a bit thin by then. It was locked up in my friend’s garage and left there. My friends got a lot of mileage out of my odyssey, it will be a long time before I hear the last of it.

On the return journey I used the M6 motorway to Tebay and then across the magnificent expanse of Bowes Moor and so on to Durham via Barnard Castle and Staindrop. A lovely ride. What a contrast... Lessons learned so are rarely forgotten.

On my final day, I visited the local flea-market, known as the ‘Casbah’ and in the evening went to see ‘A Slice of Saturday Night’. This was the final night and was a good show, a kind of Cockney version of ‘Grease’ mixed with ‘American Graffiti’, which did not pull any punches. Afterwards, there was the usual after-show party which meant I did not get to bed on time and rising early for the flight back was a real struggle.

PS Newcastle Utd 2 – 2 Wigan Athletic Hmmm...