I’m seriously beginning to wonder if truckshunters have a direct line to John Ketley, Ian McGaskill, Paul Mooney and all those other gods and goddesses who hold our weather in their purview (wow - purview!). So far, each of our daytime AGMs has been blessed with astonishingly good weather. As I’m agnostic meteorologically as in all other connexions, I can only ascribe this phenomenon to their influence. Add Trai Anfield and/or Wincey Willis to this heady mix and anything’s possible. (Whatever happened to Wincey Willis?)

It was a lovely, warm morning up at the Tanfield Railway and I’m absolutely delighted to say that, along with hardcore regulars Vivienne and Hildie, we were able to welcome newcomer Margaret from Consett. The four of us took a ride on the railway (of course) and great fun was had by all. I seem to have spent the whole time laughing, which is never a bad thing.

Our biggest-ever vote of truckshunter thanks - a round of applause loud enough to echo down the decades to our children’s children - must go to Neville Whaler, a working railwayman and Tanfield volunteer, whose friendly face appears above. We’ve been friends ever since he wrote the Tipsy Duchess’ most appalling lines almost ten years ago (see blogpostings, passim) and, at the AGM, he provided train tickets and tea all round. He has since also sent me the picnic-table group photo. A real gent if ever there was one, gov.

Thanks Nev.

Thanks also to Vivienne, who wasted no time in sending me her pictures of the AGM.

And thanks to the red kite that appeared over the train on the last leg of its journey. I’d almost forgotten what stunningly beautiful creatures they are. Seeing him/her was the best icing that the AGM cake could possibly have had.

Finally, there was some discussion - as there always is - about the next AGM. So... how about meeting again at Tynemouth (for the station market, the castle, the priory, the Spanish Battery and all the other lovely things that the town has to offer) on the weekend of June 20/21. Your reactions, please.

Following my thoughts about the death of South Shields-born poet James Kirkup the other day, I read that in Who’s Who he gave his recreation as ‘standing in shafts of sunlight’. In old age, he changed this to ‘standing in shafts of moonlight’. How elegant and touching is that?

Veteran comic Barry Cryer says his two favourite Bob Monkhouse jokes are....
When it’s my time to go, I want to die like my father - peacefully in his sleep. Not screaming and shouting, like his passengers.
They laughed when I said I wanted to be a comedian. Well, they’re not laughing now.

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Regular truckshunters (or, for that matter, irregular ones) will be well aware by now that the next AGM will be held this upcoming Sunday 24 May, starting at around 1030-ish - in time for the first scheduled train at 1100. Anyone with a modicum of good taste and common sense would look forward to it as impatiently as I have done over the past few weeks; what is it about steam trains?

What will make the event scarily more wonderful will be the presence of Neville Whaler. Not only is Neville a real-life, railway-working ‘truckshunter’; his enthusiasm is such that he’s also a volunteer on the Tanfield Railway. He’s emailed me to say that he will be working in the signal box on Sunday and that the day promises to be a busy one on the Railway, it being a Bank Holiday weekend. His email included the picture above of the Duchess of Hamilton who, I imagine, must be sitting in the car.

On the down side, Neville was almost solely responsible for the more lurid and obscene double-entendres of the Tipsy Duchess (of profane memory) when that hideous caricature of femininity used to keep the quiz scores on Paul’s Saturday show in days of yore. Please don’t hold that shameful fact against him when you meet him on Sunday morning.

Incidentally, please don’t ever feel bad about not being able to attend an AGM. Contrary to custom and usage, our AGMs happen a lot more often than once a year so there’ll be another one along soon and, in any case, the venues are carefully chosen so that, even if nobody at all turns up, yours truly will enjoy the surroundings and be quite content just reading the paper!

Having said that... be there if you can. You know I love to see you.

On a similar subject... I had a real canny breakfast the other morning with Lawrence, our official Keeper of the Rats. If getting up early is your thing (which wouldn’t surprise me as you’re a truckshunter) then why not join us one morning?

I was sad to read of the death of James Kirkup the other day. He was born in South Shields 91 years ago, the only son of a carpenter. This is part of what The Guardian said about him.

‘Educated at South Shields high school, he later took a degree in modern languages at Durham University. During the second world war, he was a conscientious objector and worked as an agricultural labourer. Openly homosexual and sometimes deliberately provocative in his behaviour, he found social encounters difficult. He described himself as having an "inborn sense of deep solitude and apartness"....

After the war he worked - unsuccessfully - as a schoolteacher. His poetry was published from the early 1940s onwards, many of these early poems being overwritten and given to opulent language. He was Gregory fellow in poetry at Leeds University from 1950 to 1952 and his first substantial collection, The Submerged Village and Other Poems, was published by Oxford University Press in 1951. At a time when OUP was one of the most prestigious publishers of contemporary poetry in the English-speaking world, five further volumes by Kirkup appeared from the press in 1952, 1954, 1957, 1959 and 1963....
In June 1976, Gay News published his poem The Love that Dares to Speak Its Name, in which a Roman centurion expresses the sexual fantasies the body of Christ provokes in him and imagines a history of Christ's homosexual encounters. Mary Whitehouse sued the newspaper for blasphemous libel. Gay News was defended by John Mortimer and both Bernard Levin and Margaret Drabble gave evidence on its behalf, but the jury decided in favour of Whitehouse. The newspaper and its editor, Denis Lemon (of whom Kirkup was later to write an obituary), were fined, and Lemon was given a nine-month suspended sentence....

It is unfortunate that this episode has acquired such a prominent place in the public perception of Kirkup, distracting attention from his considerable achievements as a writer. He was well described by Stevie Smith as "a poet in the English tradition, original without being freakish, contemporary without being fraudulent". The critic Philip Hobsbaum called him "one of the genuine masters of verse in the middle to later 20th century". ‘

Perhaps another forgotten north-east hero? I wonder if any of his local relatives are still around.

I just can’t get out of the Nightshift Newsreel habit...
- Amidst all the unbelievably mephitic sewage we’ve had to wade though recently about the brass-necked expenses claims of our utterly venal and worthless MPs, I thought you might like to know that those same selfish hypocritical and totally shameless bits of garbage have just increased the National Minimum Wage by 7p an hour - to £5.80;
- the UK’s nightingale and woodpecker populations have halved in the last 13 years;
- the original WI calendar girls have made a 2010 anniversary edition;
- a private school closes every week.

I may have mentioned this before but... why is there currently an advert on tv for ‘pear cider’? We’ve already got a perfectly good word for ‘pear cider’: perry. So why not use it?

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Bothenhampton Church
The Cerne Abbas Giant
Sherborne Abbey
Milton Abbas
Bere Regis Church
Lyme Regis: The Cobb


Holidays aren't really complete until you get back and bore everyone to tears with your 'snaps'. Here are six of mine...

Bothenhampton Church is near Bridport. I went to see it because it was designed by one of my favourite architects - E S Prior, who, a few years later, designed St Andrew's Church at Roker. Known as 'The Cathedral of the Arts and Crafts Movement', St Andrew Roker is one of the most important 20th-century buildings in England. If you haven't seen it, you're missing a treat.

Until last week I hadn't seen the Cerne Abbas Giant. As I was taking this picture a family of four parked up to take a look - man, woman and two lads of about 6 and 8 years old. I was very impressed indeed with the matter-of-fact but very loving way Mam and Dad answered the inevitable questions about the Giant's 'features'.

Sherborne is a lovely little town in north Dorset and its Abbey is truly stunning. People come from all over the world to see the fan vaulting in this picture but I had another reason to visit it; in the 1920s the eastern end of the Abbey was remodelled and rebuilt by yet another of my favourite architects - W D Caroe - and a great job he made of it, too.

Milton Abbas is one of those rare villages that was moved lock, stock and barrel because it interfered with the view from a landowner's stately home. The Duke of Devonshire moved Edensor out of the way at Chatsworth in Derbyshire and Lord Dorchester did it here. This is his 'new', 18th century Milton Abbas.

Amongst enthusiastic church-bashers like me, Bere Regis church is best-known for its amazing roof, installed in the 14th century. Seeing is believing; it's jaw-dropping but you do tend to get a stiff neck looking up at it. Dropped jaw and stiff neck - an unhappy combination.

The same church is a magnet for Thomas Hardy fans for an entirely different reason; it's the burial place of the Turberville family, the inspiration for Hardy's Tess of the D'Urbervilles. As it happens, my friend Mark gave me that very book a few weeks ago and I took it with me to Dorset. Reading a book in the area in which the book is set is an interesting experience; I half-expected Tess herself to tap me on the shoulder in Bere Regis churchyard.

I've searched the internet for a copyright-free picture of Meryl Streep standing mournfully and wind-blown at the end of The Cobb at Lyme Regis but I can't seem to find one. So this one of mine will have to do. It's an evocative, exciting and strangely beautiful place.

For more about my week down south see blog 143.

...takes place this upcoming Sunday 24 May at the Tanfield Railway. I'll be there from about 1030-ish and will be catching the 1100 train to East Tanfield even if I have to travel alone!

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At Okeford Fitzpaine


When I left the BBC in January, the very last thing I would have expected to be saying in May is how much I needed some time away. You could, with ample justification, aver (lovely word, aver) that I’ve had an inordinately large amount of ‘time away’ already this year. However, if blogposting 142 shows anything at all, it’s how very much I needed some gentle R&R last week.

I’m not quite sure why this should be so. Back in January I honestly imagined my immediate future to consist of isolated islands of activity in great doldrum seas of silent, desperate boredom. I’m relieved to say that it hasn’t turned out like that at all. Manchester, Chesterfield, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Amsterdam, Hereford and London (several times) have all had the doubtful pleasure of my company lately - and that’s not to mention Dorset, where - as the more astute bloggers have already noted - I spent a glorious few days last week.

And yes I did see some truly spectacular wisteria. Wisteria shares with aspidistra the unenviable reputation of being steeped in the musty odours of Victorian England, along with heavy draped chenille curtains, stuffed animals in belljars, oversized mahogany furniture, draughts, bustles, antimacassars and darkly embossed wallpaper. Being a chap born hopelessly out of time, I have no truck with these ill-thought-out ideas. And those are not merely empty words; at the last count, there were seven - yes seven - aspidistras gracing the few spare spaces in my small flat; and there’s a (non-climbing, standard) wisteria coming into bloom in our garden.

As you can see from the photograph above, Mother Nature takes her course much earlier in the year down south. I reckon they’re about three weeks ahead of us here in the north-east; that Dorset wisteria is just about over its best so I’m glad I caught it.

Okeford Fitzpaine is an almost stiflingly pretty village of the sort that Dorset seems to specialise in. Carefully placed and beautifully thatched houses, village greens manicured to within an inch of their lives, churches far too big for their congregations and no public transport at all. I spent virtually the whole week driving through lush Thomas Hardy countryside and chocolate-box village thatchery. It was all very, very beautiful - but also slightly unsettling. After a while you fully expect the citizenry to suddenly appear in smocks and farm clogs, talking in their best Archers accents about milking, tups, wethers, maypoles and last night’s cheese-skittles match at The Bull. The entire county seems to be stuck at about 1870.

I know perfectly well that I’m being grossly and unforgivably unfair. Dorset really is a startlingly pretty county and Lyme Regis - our base there - is exquisite. The town is quaint and cuddly without being twee, like a south of England version of Whitby only smaller. Narrow, twisted streets, pastel-coloured houses and a long and windy prom to walk along to The Cobb.

The Cobb is Lyme’s best-known feature. It’s a kind of artificial harbour built behind a long, curving sea-wall. If you saw The French Lieutenant’s Woman, you will remember the heartbreaking scene in which Meryl Streep (whom God preserve) waits at the end of the breakwater for sight of her lover’s ship. The wind is blowing hard, the sea is high and her long black cloak is billowing in the tempest (so to speak). Well, that’s The Cobb at Lyme Regis.

Isn’t it strange how many Regises there are down south? Lyme Regis, Bere Regis (which I also visited), Bognor Regis... I think we should petition the Queen to have a few added up here. How noble Bamburgh Regis sounds! Staindrop Regis, Seaham Regis, Glororum Regis... Awesome.

Mind you, you have to get used to rather grand - and sometimes faintly ludicrous - place-names in Dorset. Cerne Abbas, Winterbourne Tomson, Burton Bradstock - all of them could have been Hollywood leading men of the 40s, playing opposite Bette Davis, Lilian Gish or Tallulah Bankhead.

...one of the highlights of my week in Lyme Regis occurred (not surprisingly) in the pub across the street. Drinking alongside us was a fellow holiday-maker from the small town of March in Cambridgeshire. He told us that, every March, there’s a parade round the town: the March March March. True.

...is at 1030 or thereabouts on Sunday 24 May at the Tanfield Railway near Beamish. It’s worth noting that, in a recent survey, the Tanfield Railway Picnic Area was voted one of the ten best picnic areas in Britain. True.

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After having such an enjoyable night with my ex-colleagues last Friday night, I woke up on Saturday morning full of the joys of Spring. It was a lovely sunny morning; the kind of welcoming morning that somehow could only occur in early May. Not exactly summer-warm yet, but by no means cold; the kind of day that beckons you outside and happening at the time of year when that’s exactly what you should be doing. So I did.

In fact, I did what I often do on Saturday mornings; I jumped on a bus to the Town determined to enjoy once again my cheese-and-onion pasty on the steps of Grey’s Monument (as you do). But, yours truly being the way he is, I was wrongfooted a little.

I had forgotten that it was a Bank Holiday weekend. More particularly, I had forgotten what the Bank Holiday was intended to honour: May Day. Only the British, with the typical tangled logic which seems to be endemic in those whom we choose to govern us, would celebrate the First of May on the Fourth of May. Surely (I put it to you, members of the jury) the whole point of celebrating May Day is to do it on May Day itself and NOT on the first Monday afterwards, as we do here. It’s one of those holidays which is day-specific, like Christmas Day. There’d be absolutely no magic at all in opening your presents on the first Monday after December 25, would there?

Some people find the way we choose the dates of our Bank Holidays - and indeed the occasions we choose to mark as holidays at all - as ‘rather quaint’ and terribly English. Well I don’t. I think it’s clumsy, inconsistent and disrespectful (remember how, until recently, Remembrance Day, which should be marked on November 11, was moved to the nearest Sunday so as not to disrupt our daily lives of getting and spending).

I was reminded of all this shenanigans as I stood at the foot of Grey’s Monument with my victuals in my hand listening to a brass band. It was there as part of what used to be a regular event nationwide on May Day; a march by unions, student groups, protest organisations and other left-wing groups whose day this traditionally is.

Or rather whose day this traditionally was. Let me explain.

The sound that a slow-playing brass band makes has the proven ability to by-pass the head and go direct to the heart. I don’t know what the hymn was but it wasn’t long before I was a trembling nostalgic wreck, my face wet with tears, my pasty utterly soaked.

How do brass bands do that? I stopped going to the Miners’ Festival Service in Durham Cathedral on Big Meeting Day precisely because I invariably lost control of my tear ducts as the bands accompanied the banners as they made their graceful and stately way up the nave; the moment when the miner, coal-blackened and dressed in miners’ togs, reached the crossing and was greeted by the Bishop was even worse. My unseemly sobbing embarrassed me and everyone I was with.

Thus were my thoughts directed to the Durham Big Meeting. The oldest regular political meeting and demonstration on Earth, and for decades the best attended. It survives now by the skin of its teeth. That spirit of egalitarian community care - the only good by-product of a grotesquely dangerous and pernicious industry - seems to have died out completely.

Last Saturday, it was only when the band struck up a marching tune and began to march away from the Monument that I realised that this had, in fact, been Newcastle’s official May Day celebration. There were about 4 or 5 banners, of which only one, I think, was ‘official’. The others were placards. I guess the total number of people on the march was less than 100.

Where did it all go wrong? It’s my fault. Me and people like me. People of my generation, give or take a few years either side. Didn’t we think we could do it, eh? We were going to make the world a fairer, nicer, more peaceful, more secure place to live. We were going to make love not war. We were going to make sure everyone was OK.

So where did it all go wrong? Why is Durham Big Meeting only able to survive by turning itself into a tourist attraction? Why do so very, very few people care enough about injustice, inequality and poverty to join a May Day march?

As the assembled scribble of people moved away from the Monument and the policemen allowed the buses through again so we could all carry on as usual, I was left feeling drained and warsh (as my Nana would say). This had been a pathetic excuse for a May Day celebration. The old values of worker assertiveness, respect for labour, promotion of the values of co-operation, fairness and justice went almost completely unrepresented, as they do on a day-to-day basis.

The folk who did bother to turn up made the best of a bad job. But I guess you could say that, by doing so, they were being as old-fashioned as I am being now. We haven’t been able to stop the onslaught of greed, selfishness, avarice and thoughtlessness that are now public policy and private priority. This has become the age of The Big I Am; this is the age when people shamelessly Put Number One First.

The downfall of traditional left-field gatherings like the Big Meeting and last Saturday’s almost trivial May Day march in Newcastle is, to me at least, powerfully ironic. Because the need for them is much, much greater now than it was then. Close to home, our liberties and rights have never been at higher risk of erosion or even abolition. Too many people’s lives are broken by injustice, poverty, prejudice, disease and loneliness - and are then left unattended. And in the wider world...

In the wider world...Where do you start? So many of the world’s poorest countries are smothered even more by debts laid on them by the rich. There are too many people who have no clean water to drink. There are far too many people who have no roof over their heads tonight. There are far too many children who have no school to go to.

And much, much worse than all of these... Close to home and in the wider world, and to the eternal shame of us all, there are far too many people who do not have enough to eat.

Maybe this year I will go back to the Durham Big Meeting again. Even actions like that speak louder than words, after all.

...will take place from 1030 onwards on Sunday 24 May at the Tanfield Railway. The train leaves at 1100. Be there or be square.

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There are several things in my life which, with the benefit of hindsight or even with just a smidgin of common sense, I would have to admit to mishandling really, really badly.

For example, I ran away from home when I was 5. We had just moved to Peterlee so who would blame me for trying to escape my doom by trying to get as far away from that benighted town as possible ('benighted', you notice, even then)? I just didn’t do it right, though. I clambered onto my trike and cycled like a toddler possessed towards the only other human settlement of which I had any knowledge: Easington Colliery. I know, I know - ‘frying pan’ and ‘fire’ spring unavoidably to mind.

As a matter of fact, I made it to Seaside Lane right near the pit gates before a lady in a wraparound pinny and headsquare asked me if I wasn’t ‘that Millie Robinson’s lad’. I can see her towering over me as I type. The childlike tears are welling up in me now just as they did then. Aaahhhh.

The escapade has stayed in my memory all these years for, I think, two main reasons. Firstly, a nice policeman came to pick me up - trike and all - and take me home; my first potent contact with fit guys in uniform. By the time I had grown up enough to have found a way of showing them my gratitude, it was far too late.

Secondly - and this is a real puzzler - the trike had no seat. Go figure.

The more I think about these events, the more I redden. The on-air spoonerisms; my first (and hopelessly ill-fated) sexual fumblings with that lass from Blyth, who probably still has not recovered - I caressed, kissed and groped her as if I had died three years previously after a life of total celibacy; and then there’s my departure from the BBC.

Until very recently, I used to think that, as long as I live, I won’t be able to explain why I mishandled it so well. Or...er...handled it so badly. My last 30-minute broadcast was on the morning of Wednesday 28 January. A few of my colleagues made a special effort to join me and the other regular early-risers for a presentation at 0630. And then I was gone.

I’m not really sure what I expected to happen in the ensuing days. I hadn’t planned or organised anything. I didn’t arrange a booze-up or a meal out for all my lovely colleagues. I just left. I find it incredible to report that I haven’t set foot inside the Pink Palace from that day to this. Actually, that’s not just incredible; it’s shameful. And, I thought, utterly inexplicable. Some of the people I met at BBC Radio Newcastle were amongst the most colourful, literate, articulate, innovative, funny, clever and friendly people that I’ve encountered in all my sixty years.

I’ve thought long and hard about why I stayed away after I left. Sometimes I’ve got to thinking it’s because of the sense of inadequacy I often felt there. To some of you, that may sound faintly ludicrous; my on-air ‘persona’ - the way I portrayed myself - was anything but inadequate. On the other hand, there will be a goodly number of broadcasters who will readily agree that any inferiority complex I had as a radio presenter was well-placed; as Churchill said of Attlee: ‘He has an inferiority complex - and has much to be inferior about’.

There’s no two ways about it. I have mismanaged the last few months to such an extent that I redden to what roots I have left and can only (and weakly) apologise to my erstwhile colleagues for not having the maturity or even the gall to pick up the phone or send an email.

When I decided to attend Mike Parr’s leaving do at The Cluny last Friday, it therefore felt as if I had a Rubicon to cross. How would they react when they saw me? Would I be cold-shouldered? Interrogated? Criticised? Alfie Joey arrived at the venue at the same time as I did so I used him - shamelessly - as a ‘shield’.

But I needn’t have worried. I did get a couple of withering looks - but only from the two people I had most loathed while I worked at the BBC. In fact, come to think of it, they were the only two people I ever actively disliked there.

But how very, very good it was to see everyone else. The wide smiles and warm hugs, kisses and handshakes. There was Sarah, my first boss; Gilly Hope and her mesmerisingly goodlooking husband; Gerry Jackson, now on local tv but, in my early days, the presenter of the Breakfast Programme on BBC Radio Newcastle when I was doing Traffic and Travel all those years ago ( - he was also the voice of Ronald Wetleg on Paul’s Saturday show); Steve Drayton, a man with too many talents - many of which I had exploited during my time at the BBC; Misha (Mike’s producer); David and Andrew, two members of the early-rising breakfast team; the awesome Simon Hoban and the redoubtable Jamie Wilkinson; and Paul, my former oppo and mentor, who is now enjoying a telephone number salary elsewhere. My sincere apologies to anyone I haven’t mentioned who knows perfectly well that, if my memory were better, they would have gotten a credit.

As I tried to make time to talk to each of them - and others - I finally realised why I hadn’t been in touch since I left. I missed them all. I’m just a hopeless case. I missed the banter, the urgency, the sense of a good job being done well on a shoestring, the tireless ingenuity, the jaw-dropping early morning humour, the obscenity, the frustration, the professionalism, the corners being cut, the laughter, the family feeling of all being in it together, the endless irrepressible creativity and innovation, the audacity and the sheer effusive comedy of the job and of the people doing it.

I had, I suppose, been in classic ‘denial’ for weeks. I had shut out my ex-colleagues because to remember them would have opened the floodgates and forced me to realise exactly how much of a huge, gaping hole their absence has left in my life. I miss them very much indeed and - looking back over the last few months - I’ve had real problems finding something - anything - to fill the gap they’ve left. I still haven’t; and I suspect I never will.

Then there’s Mike Parr, whose departure has precipitated this tirade of self-regard.

Mike Parr. What a presenter! People more experienced and better-qualified than I have sung his praises for years. As I shared his working hours, I have often stood in awe of his interviewing skills; the way he can keep to the point or stray delightfully away from it at will. Mike can turn radio corners that no-one else even knows are there. He can manipulate, extract and distil like the Inquisition; he can conduct and lead a studio panel discussion like an orchestra - and on any subject you care to name, such is his depth of knowledge and awareness; and he can raise guffaws throughout the studio and amongst his listeners of Fawlty Towers proportions.

He was always very supportive to me. He seemed to understand exactly the odd position I was in; an ageing bit of local rough trade dragged in - willingly - off the streets and expected to perform to BBC standards. I almost certainly didn’t succeed in quite the way that he and others expected or wished.

But Mike certainly did succeed. In my book, he has won every radio award going - and then some.

Thanks for everything Mike. Not just from me but also from truckshunters everywhere. For proof, see the comments on blogposting 140!

And the very, very best of luck in whatever you decide to do and wherever you decide to do it.


And now for something completely different...the photo at the top of this posting...

You could be forgiven for thinking that the Law of Averages (if such a thing exists) would dictate that the Devon seaside town of Westward Ho! was the only place on Earth whose name incorporated an exclamation mark.

Westward Ho!

You would have to be forgiven for thinking that because you would be wrong.

It has been brought to my attention that there is a town in Quebec which is (unbelievably) called - wait for it - Saint-Louis-du-Ha!-Ha! Shall we have that again?


1,471 people live there and none of them has the faintest idea how the place-name is derived, although there are some pretty colourful suggestions, as you can imagine.

Would I lie to you? If you don’t believe me (and I wouldn’t blame you for a moment), wiki it.

And finally...has anyone been to Westward Ho!? Or, come to think of it, Mondeville or Buddenstedt (see picture)?

And finally finally...Mondeville gave the Norman French family name Mundeville, one of whom came over with William the Conqueror and settled at Coatham Mundeville, near Darlington. Small world, innit?

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