Thursday, 3 February 2011

A vegetarian pub

Last night we visited the Cumberland Arms in Byker, which was an extraordinary experience. It’s a magical old pub, surrounded by post-industrial scrub-land, situated on a hillside overlooking the Tyne. There are open fires in both of its tiny, cluttered rooms and it’s filled to the rafters with young folk musicians; harpists, fiddlers, banjo players, Northumbrian pipers, jamming and sharing music. Upstairs, the Newcastle Kingsmen, those virtuoso sword dancers, were practising their terrifying routines. It’s a thriving scene and it inspired me very deeply. It is so heartening to know that folk music and folk culture is thriving in this city; safe in the hands of a vibrant, young generation.

I wish I could say the same for our country. I watched the news this morning and was astonished to see that scores of Citizens Advice Bureaus are closing down, because the funding isn’t there to keep them going. This makes me furious. It seems like an almost entirely transparent attempt to keep the less fortunate where the Tories obviously think they belong; unrepresented and unable to stand up for their rights. I wonder what’s coming next? Perhaps the fat-faced, pompous little turd will decide that parents have to start paying to send their kids to secondary schools. How about we bring in measures to restrict the travel of anyone with an IQ lower than 90?

I am so tired. It was beautiful and sunny when I woke up this morning but by 4pm there was a proper gale blowing, and now it’s raining buckets. My mood has been altering accordingly! The low point of today was undoubtedly standing in the freezing cold at Tyne Dock station waiting for a broken Metro train to limp its way along the track to South Shields. The highlight was sitting in a pub I’ve recently discovered which is just around the corner from my Travelodge. It sells nothing but vegetarian food. Not only is it in a lovely location, nestling in the foothills of two enormous Newcastle bridges, but it’s in a really quirky medieval building, which is like something straight from Pepysian London. I have no idea how an entirely vegetarian pub manages to exist in Newcastle, but I’m not complaining. I could have had a nut roast, or a veggie lasagne, or cauliflower cheese, or a ploughmans but I opted for bangers and mash in a big old Yorkshire pudding, and they were delicious! And all for under a fiver! Why on earth did no one tell me about this place?!

The rest of the day was spent looking at our locations and planning potential shots. We’ve been all over the place; walking on beaches at Whitley Bay and South Shields and planning Latin dance numbers at Wallsend. Sometimes I have to pinch myself to believe I’m actually doing work!

The longer I spend up here, the more I fall in love with the people. There’s an astonishing openness and honesty which pours out of almost everyone I've met. The Geordies seem to have a wonderful ability not to take life too seriously. Humour works almost like a currency up here. If you’re not up for a bit of banter, you’re considered very odd indeed. I really like it, but it took me a while to get used to. I’ve obviously spent way too long in London, where, probably just to keep sane, everyone surrounds themselves with a sort of barrier, which says, “don’t approach me... don’t talk to me... I am closing myself off from the world as an act of self-preservation.” The good folk of Northamptonshire where I grew up could be a fairly closed bunch as well. Outsiders were regarded with great suspicion and I wouldn’t say they were exactly renowned for their sense of humour! Could it really be that the further you away from London you travel, the more welcoming people become?

February 3rd 1660 was the date Pepys “first begun to go forth in [his] coat and sword, as the manner now among gentlemen is.” He went to Whitehall and stayed to hear the “trumpets and kettle-drums, and then the other drums, which are much cried up, though I think it dull, vulgar musique.” Later in the day, he took himself off to see Sir Stephen Fox, a politician. Pepys enjoyed listening to high class gossip and scandal. He spent the evening with Lady Sandwich, gossiping even more.

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