Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Fluffy balls of polystyrene

I'm in Newcastle and it’s f****ng freezing! The streets are covered in thick ice and recently it started hailing little soft balls which could easily have been those polystyrene things you shove inside bean bags.

My train journey up lasted two hours longer than it should have done. We charged through the home counties, where the fields were merely dusted with a pleasing sprinkle of icing sugar, but as soon we'd got into the North Midlands all hell started to break loose. Yorkshire was a mess. The train station in York itself was under feet of snow and it was falling from the sky like fluffy yoghurt pots. As we got further north, the snow was so thick I started to wonder if anything could ever shift it.

All the way up, the train driver had to keep testing his breaks, which meant people were careering up and down the carriages with their little-something-extras from the buffet car.

I arrived in Newcastle and immediately had to film a piece for Look North, which I found myself presenting. My first encounter with the Metro was not under the best of circumstances. Unfortunately, I was asked to interview some of the passengers, which is my absolute idea of hell. People seem to find it very difficult to believe that I'm shy, but I find the experience of entering someone’s private "public" space cripplingly embarrassing. Everyone was freezing cold and apart from a group of extremely cheerful young ladies, nobody wanted to talk. The camera came out and I could feel the hostility coming towards me in waves. It wasn’t at all what I was expecting in Newcastle, but I had to keep telling myself that if I’d tried to pull the same stunt on the tube in London, someone would have throttled me before I’d got a decent interview. I’m told on a pleasant day, the Metro is a very chatty kind of place - as are, apparently, the Geordies. I just wanted the earth to swallow me up!

We walked back to my Travelodge through the gloriously icy darkened streets. I slid down one hill like someone on skis, and know it won’t be long before I fall flat on my arse, probably very publically, more than likely on film!

Life in Newcastle staggers on, however. They’re certainly more resilient up here. People drive much more carefully than they do in London and there seem to be fewer accidents on the streets. Quite a number of trains into the main station had been cancelled, and some of the bars within had closed early. There were very few people on the streets, but all the shops and cafes I passed were business as usual.

I've now returned to the hotel and shall spend the evening in my room, which is actually bordering on being slightly cold, but it’s so much warmer than I’ve been for the past 10 hours that life feels good.

December 1st 1660, and Pepys woke up to discover his maid, Jane had put some of his belongings in the wrong place. In a passage that demonstrates one of the more unpleasant aspects of his character Pepys writes; “I took a broom and basted her till she cried extremely, which made me vexed, but before I went out I left her appeased.” No doubt by giving her one of your special little kisses, eh Samuel?

There followed a day of drinking, gossiping, drinking, eating venison pasties and then more drinking; “after a pint of wine I went home, my brains somewhat troubled with so much wine, and after a letter or two by the post I went to bed.”

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