I only have to mention the word Amsterdam and I can almost hear you groaning with incipient boredom at the thought of me once again singing its praises to the skies. The relaxed atmosphere, the architecture, the culture, the people, the food, the history. And I’m honest enough to admit that you do have a point. In my radio days it really was difficult to the point of impossibility to shut me up when I was waxing lyrical about Amsterdam’s many attractions.
My motives, though, were common enough. As far as I’m concerned, it’s all part of the human condition. If I’m passionately enthusiastic about something - if I discover something that gives me huge amounts of pleasure - I want to shout about it from the rooftops (or on 95.4FM). That’s not just because I want everyone to know how happy I am about my discovery; it’s also because I want everyone else to sample it too; I want everyone to share my passion, enthusiasm and happiness.
Sooner or later, of course, some people actually give in. Last week, Paul finally agreed to accompany me to Amsterdam, as you can see from the photo above (he’s sitting outside De Pieper, a ‘brown cafe’ on Prinsengracht). For two nights, we had a splendid flat in an area known as The Seven Bridges; for those who know the city, it’s near Rembrandtplein.
In such a short time it’s truly impossible to get anything more than a flavour of the city but I did my best to introduce Paul to its delights. And, as you can imagine, we had a great time. I don’t think Paul was quite prepared for exactly how unique Amsterdam is but I thoroughly enjoyed watching his jaw drop again and again as we turned a corner and another splendid canalscape hove into view or we came across another of my favourite ‘brown cafes’.
I missed out on my usual regular visit to Amsterdam last year and it was awesome to be back amongst its friendly streets and alleyways and its equally friendly and unassuming people. And of course I was thrilled to smithereens that my old oppo had finally joined me there and seemed to like it almost as much as me.
I know what you’re thinking, though. What did a dyed-in-the-wool straight bloke make of Amsterdam’s famous - if not notorious - gay scene? What did a married man approaching middle age (sorry, Paul) make of the red light district?
That’s another story altogether...
I overheard a conversation close to my heart while I was travelling home on the bus the other day. The two women in front of me were talking about the street-name Barrack Road - which is where the bus happened to be at the time. Truckshunters will know, of course, that Barrack Road is part of BBC Radio Newcastle’s postal address; as such, I - and every other presenter - have read it out on-air countless times over the years.
And that’s why I was fascinated by my eavesdropped conversation. One of the women was querying ‘Barrack’. Surely, she said, it ought to be ‘Barracks’. Barracks Road. There was, she said, no such thing as a ‘barrack’ in the same way that there’s no such thing as a ‘trouser’ or a ‘scissor’. All of these words, she contended, only existed as plurals. Barracks. Trousers. Scissors.
And she was absolutely right. What amazed me was that, in over ten years of phone-in broadcasting, no-one had ever raised this interesting - though admittedly trivial - question.
I was distressed to hear of the death of Joan Turner last week. I found it even more distressing to discover how many people had never heard of her. Even people of a certain age, who ought to have known better.
Joan Turner was a staple ingredient of my teenage years listening to the Light Programme and watching my Nana’s flickering black-and-white tv. Her classically trained operatic voice was astonishing; her rendition of Puccini’s One Fine Day, from Madama Butterfly, could move you to tears and did.
To me , though, she came into her own when, quite suddenly and in the middle of her performance, she turned to comedy. She poked the cruellest fun I have ever heard at the elitist exclusivity of the world of opera; arias became ludicrous patter-songs and elevated language of the opera lyricist was changed to lewd double-entendre - to devastating effect.
Even better were her impressions of the divas of her day. She had the tearful and emotionally strained wailings of an older Judy Garland off to a T. And I will truly never, ever forget her version of Shirley Bassey’s What Now My Love? which she sang in its original French, Piaf-style, as Et maintenant? (‘And now?’) To find out how she made it funny, you’ll have to find a copy of it for yourself.
ST CUTHBERT’S DAY AND THE DAY AFTER
Please don’t forget St Cuthbert’s Day on Friday 20 March - the last day of Winter. Spare our local national saint a few moments of your time.
I can tell from your comments to the last blog that you haven’t forgotten the next AGM. I have taken on board your views about the venue. As you know, I chose Sunderland to spread the venues round a bit. For that reason alone, I’m disinclined to change it at this stage. I’m sorry if I’ve disappointed anyone but...it’s far too long since I was in Sunderland and I love the Winter Gardens and Mowbray Park very much. So although the next AGM will be back on Tyneside somewhere, I intend to be in the Winter Gardens cafe at 1400 on Saturday as planned.
But please don’t worry that no-one may turn up. I don’t mind at all. I’ll have my paper and a book to read. And, once in a while, I’ll be able to look up and glance over at that beautiful, big walrus. And then I’ll smile a very big smile.
He’s a truly lovely walrus.
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