As the legendary Liza often says, some things are just magical. Sometimes life is just magical. Apropos of this sentiment, I finally had an excuse to return to my University city Newcastle upon Tyne for the first time in 22 years. When I left, I had just got my first and my parents high tailed it up the motorway for the valedictory photographs, scooped me up and took me away from a city I had called home for three years.
There is always something terribly special about the first city where you set up home independent of one’s rellies. I’d been up and down to London like a whore’s drawers since I was 16 doing work experience at National Magazine House but Newcastle was the first city after my home town Sheffield that I literrally set up home and started to carve out an independent life for myself. It is criminal that I never went back before but life does get in the way, don’t you find? Perhaps I thought the memories were more precious than trying to go back to Titanic.
Well, long story short Keith ‘head of Henry Poole & Co ceremonial department’ Levett and I were up North for a meeting at the Bowes Museum in North Yorkshire to discuss the possibility of our curating a Poole retrospective exhibition at the Bowes. It was my idea to stay in Newcastle and walk down memory lane for a couple of days. We checked in to the Royal Station Hotel – faded, naff carpets but very lovely original chandeliers and tiled staterooms – and it immediately began to piss it down.
Apparently, the North East has been flooded for days…bad enough to consider building an ark. We were out of term time so there were no pretty students to temper the depression that has gripped the city. There is so much derelict and To Let property and all my old haunts have turned into pound shops, pawn brokers, kebab shops and Gregg’s the bakers. I was morbidly depressed for the first day and felt a complete disconnect. The townspeople who used to be so friendly couldn’t do less for you. When I went for a swim in the hotel, the receptionist said it was closed because the pool was six feet under water. ‘That’s the general idea’ says I peeved.
However, we put our glad rags on and hit Toon for a night on the tiles. We found a lovely restaurant down neat he quayside and sipped Prosecco accompanied by tempura prawns. I couldn’t have liked it more. The next day was an hour taxi cabbage to the Bowes Museum through breathtaking countryside. I will write another letter tomorrow about our experiences at the Bowes. But let’s pick up the thread on returning to Newcastle for cocktail hour. Keith was going to go home and leave me to stay another night but decided instead to stay for cocktails and avoid the commuter trains.
We stoated down Grey Street and found a cocktail bar that served palatable Prosecco. We sat outside and watched the world go by. En route we actually saw the Fat Slags tottering down the Bigg Market in matching leopardskin leggings that were so stretched that the Prospect of Whitby was all too visible. Is that rather a seedy description? You get it but apparently at least a few people take objection to the loucher side of my life. Said tittle tattlers are saying all sorts of thing behind my back about my decadent existence. Well, prurient people should block their ears and avoid anything that offends their sensibilities. Nothing more boring than – and I quote Hairspray - people who rest on moral turpentine.
Anyway, we had a couple of jars and I put Keith on the London train waving a large white mouchoir on Platform nine and three quarters. The sun was shining so I decided to sit in the al fresco bar next to Grey’s monument and watch the Olympics on the large flat screen TV erected on Grey Street to give the proles a bit of bread and circuses. It was fun but not fun enough so I headed down to the Scottswood Road pink triangle to reacquaint myself with a couple of old haunts. As it happened I found a new haunt called Easy Street.
I was minding my own business at the bar then went out for a ciggie bought at the Cheap Tab Shop in Grainger Market for old time’s sake. A very pretty brunette came up to talk to me. Her name was Vic and she was a dancer who’d just returned from a gig in Hong Kong. Turns out she was out on the razzle with her mother Lynn who had just got divorced and lived to dance her ass off in fun bars. Her son was gay, he had a gang of friends with him and Auntie Vi came too.
Long story short, we made a night of it in a karaoke bar called Bank. I didn’t favour them with my rendition of Cabaret but Vic was a bobby dazzler of a singer as was a lady who looked like Tania Turner from Footballer’s Wives who was wearing a mini skirt, fishnets and heels who rocked it out to Tina Turner’s Rolling on a River. I danced with Lynn like a gypsy on fire and before we knew it, it was 1am and I was doing the Time Warp with a gang of Geordies: my favourite tribe in England bar none.
I’ll tell you all about the rest of the trip tomorrow but suffice to say today found me in the Victorian Turkish baths I used to frequent and revisiting the Literary and Philosophical Society down near the central station where I joined 22 years ago to get away from the student library that I considered not aesthetically pleasing. I told the tale to the librarian and she said, ‘I think you’ll find we haven’t changed much’. Music to my ears.