Before I left the BBC in January I was bombarded with advice and warnings about retirement; and I have to admit that most of the ‘wise words’ I was offered have come at least partially true. Incredible though it may sound, you really do feel a little guilty at first; as if you really ought to be getting up and going off to work as usual in order to justify your existence. You feel that you don’t deserve all these haphazard days of doing nothing in particular. Not that there have been many of them, mind you.

It’s been a whole week since I posted a blog here and, to be truly honest, I don’t know where the time has gone. I’ve done a lot of reading - I finally finished Tess of the D’Urbervilles and am now nearing the end of The Cat Nappers, my first foray into the world of Jeeves and Wooster. The book was not just recommended to me by a truckshunter; it was actually sent to me - and by Inga, all the way from Arkansas. She obviously decided that the idea of an Englishman calling himself educated when he hasn’t read any P G Wodehouse is patently absurd and, having thoroughly enjoyed The Cat Nappers, I tend to agree with her. There is humour here that ranges from the gently sardonic to the utterly inane, with all stops between.

Warmly recommended. And thanks for sending it to me, Inga.

Another book that was given to me on the basis that no-one who describes themselves as ‘literate’ can do so unless they’ve read it several times is In Cold Blood, by Truman Capote. And that’s next on the list. Wish me luck.

Great, noble and deep thoughts seem to occur to me more and more often on my Saturday morning visits to Newcastle City Centre. In fact, sitting on the steps of Grey’s Monument and waiting for great, noble and deep thoughts to infuse my mind from nowhere has become an essential and enjoyable ritual for me.

Last Saturday, as I sat munching my luxurious and completely unearned avocado and herb sandwich (yummy) and gazing absent-mindedly down Grey Street (as you do), I couldn’t help noticing, for instance, how many of the folk milling all around me were tourists. Maps and cameras were everywhere, foreign languages - mostly unidentifiable - filled the air and a good time was had by all.

For Tyneside in general, and Newcastle in particular, to have transformed its image from that of a worked-out northern industrial wasteland to one of the finest Georgian cities in Britain - as well as a lively and dramatic regional metropolis - is an utterly amazing achievement. For the likes of Durham City or Lindisfarne to be heaving with visitors is only to be expected; but to see so many admiring the architecture, atmosphere and people of Newcastle and the rest of Tyneside is a real eye-opener. I still believe that we do not brag about our towns and cities nearly enough.

Having said that, I found myself watching the arrival of the DFDS Seaways shuttle bus at Newcastle Central Station the other day. As the passengers disembarked, they were greeted by two bus company employees, both of whom were smoking and both of whom spoke only English - just about. Visitor questions put to them in broken, stumbling English were answered LOUDLY. After all, if you SHOUT, people will understand what you’re saying. I felt so sorry for the city’s seaborne visitors. We still have a lot to learn, don’t we?

But I digress. Back at Grey’s Monument on Saturday morning, I also noticed how lovely a lot of the women and girls looked. It was a very warm day and - just as you’d expect - the weather had prompted a great many of them to abandon cagoules and cardigans in favour of off-the -shoulder blouses and skirts that were so short that binoculars were required; well, almost. Anyway, it was all very pleasing to the eye, as the first bare flesh of a sunny Spring always is, I suppose.

You may be wondering why a man of my proclivities is passing comment on things such as this. To the which my reply is simply that I know a good-looking lass when I see one. And I saw plenty on Saturday. I suppose it does behove me, for purposes of balance, to comment on the lads I saw, too.

Oh dear.

It seems always to have been true that the summer clothes women have worn through the ages have always been designed to flatter them, by the standards of the time. Sometimes, this has also been true of men. There have been periods when men’s clothing and fashions have been designed to compliment and emphasise their shape and their features. As far as I’m concerned, however, this has not applied for well over a decade. Lads and younger men have given in to a ‘look’ that incorporates the infamous modern ‘dropped crotch’ - jeans slung so low that there ought to be Questions in the House about how on earth they manage to stay up.

This, accompanied by the stick-thin physique now required by the dictates of street fashion and the curious (and profoundly ugly) forehead swept hairstyles currently in vogue make young men look like lavatory brushes. You can imagine how depressing it was for a man of my inclinations to be thinking thoughts like these as I sat on the Monument steps on Saturday.

It took the live performance of a Peruvian pan-pipe band called Apu on the dais behind me to cheer me up!

Thanks to Margaret for sending me the pictures of Ulm - see postings, passim. The spire is the tallest Gothic steeple in Europe. Margaret has promised to submit a full report of her visit to this stately German city when she gets back.

... a letter to the editor of The Guardian the other day. It was from Fr Alec Mitchell in Manchester...
‘Both John Simpson and Joanna Lumley would surely make very good MPs. The former, in the course of duty, went late by night in a very grave burka whereas the latter lent weight, nay bite, to the cause of every brave Gurkha’

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