The redoubtable Neville Whaler (above) - one of whose guises is the scurrilous ne’er-do-well who wrote many of the Tipsy Duchess’s most appalling double-entendres - has emailed me with more news of the Tanfield Railway, an institution which has benefited from truckshunter generosity in the past and deserves to again.

So read and inwardly digest the following....

‘The Tanfield Steam Railway is running steam-hauled passenger trains on Wednesdays and Thursdays during the school holidays; also Sunday and Bank Holiday Monday 30 and 31 August 2009. The Railway is holding a Steam Gala with visiting engines, on Saturday and Sunday, 12 and 13 September with an intensive timetable. Enjoy a steam train ride, see the historic Causey Arch, view the locomotive shed and working engines. Refreshments are available on the site at Andrews House Station.’

So now you know and have no excuse not to spread the good word.

In a comment I made on blogposting 162 I revealed how my confused teenage sexuality began to sort itself out (as it were) when I realised how much I fancied the two hunks who took the leads in the tv cowboy series Laramie in, I think, the early 60s. I found myself making the same revelation during a recent conversation with an old friend of mine. This in turn led into a kind of ‘game of dare’ in which every gay man is ‘allowed’ to find two - and only two - women attractive. Every straight man is, in turn, allowed to find two men attractive. The rules can, of course, be altered for women.

My nominations, for what they are worth, were Fiona Bruce (whom I have had the extraordinary good fortune to meet) and Nicole Kidman. My (female) friend’s nominations were Susan Sarandon and Kate Winslet. I’m not sure what that says about either of us but it was fun finding out.

Go on - have a go. Nobody will ever know.

Just a reminder that the next AGM will take place next Sunday, 6 September at Tynemouth Station Market at about 1100. Bring a friend. A splendid time is guaranteed for all.

Post comments on this blog or email me: truckshunters@googlemail.com

My friend Jean-Francois died of an AIDS-related illness in Paris on Thursday 20 August. He was 44.

I’m sorry to have to tell you that Hildie’s brother Robert died yesterday (Monday) morning. Please spare a thought for her and her family over the next few days.

"Love knows not its own depth until the hour of separation...."

"Grief is the last gift we give to the dead; it is proof to them and to us of how much we loved them."

Elsewhere on the ‘Cabinet of Curiosities’ that is this truckshunting blog, I have mentioned that the only good reason to go anywhere near Bishop Auckland is the existence of the village of Escomb, which lies a couple of miles upstream of that truly benighted hellhole. And that was because of its small, barn-like, coal-blackened church. Despite its unprepossessing appearance and its irredeemably squalid surroundings (well done, once again, Durham County Council), Escomb Church is almost certainly the oldest complete building above ground in England.

Like so many of the architectural gems of my native county, it has to be actively sought out and loved almost despite itself, like the follies at Hardwick Hall, the beforested ruins of Langley Hall, the Elizabethan perfection of Horden Hall (practically invisible from the nearby main road) or the captivating little churches at Old Seaham and Dalton-le-Dale, all of which require some considerable effort to find.

Well, Escomb has reared its surprisingly bonny head yet again. This time, it’s because the village and its environs are one of the best sites in the north of England to see bats. Or so I am reliably informed.

Naturally, I’m very well aware that the human species - more especially the Western European version of it - seems to have a genetic, or even pathological, fear and hatred of certain other creatures with which it shares the world. Spiders, snakes, rats, beetles and house-mice spring to mind.

I have to admit that all of these have, at one time or another, given me the Ian Robinson version of the vapours. But each of these morbid fears has been more or less overcome, usually quite fortuitously.

My life at the BBC sometimes played a part in this. When you’ve held a tarantula spider in your hand, as I did once for the Blue Bus programme, then the average English house or garden spider tends to lose its fearsome qualities. And my quaking fear of snakes had to be abandoned when I handled a couple of them at the Wildlife Sanctuary at Ulgham and found them strangely calming and restful!

And who, I ask you, could be quite as afeared of rats after Lawrence Hepple allowed The Nightshift to adopt Grosvenor as its mascot?

As for mice...We once saw a little mouse run across the floor of the dining room of my house in Sheffield. My then-partner at once declared it an ‘infestation’ but agreed that any trap we set should be of the humane variety. The cheeky little so-and-so couldn’t resist a small piece of my home-made Victoria sponge cake (although, now I come to think of it, not a single human being was so easily seduced). We drove ten miles up onto the Derbyshire bilberry fields to release it, which made me actively jealous.

I still have problems, though, with beetles and some other ‘creepy-crawlies’. As far as I know, my frigidity in their presence dates from a truly unforgettable occasion when I slept overnight in the downstairs lounge of a distant relative who owned an adjoining fish and chip shop in Stockton. When I switched on the light during the night, the entire floor was - literally - crawling with cockroaches. Hundreds of them. And all falling over each other to get into the shadows.

I was 12 and had never, ever knowingly seen a cockroach in my life, let alone a whole floor full of them. That hideous sight burned itself in to my brain forever. For weeks I had a recurring nightmare that my best friend at school (Geoffrey Oliver, from Waterhouses) lay dying at the bottom of a cliff with cockroaches crawling out of every orifice. I’m shivering as I type.

But bats....well, I’ve always loved bats. I’ve honestly never understood the human dislike of them. To me, they are proof positive that ugliness and beauty are in the eye of the beholder and are also only skin deep. Their snub-nosed, ‘pugnacious’ faces are full of character and their physiology is a wonder of adaptation and evolution, from the oversized, radar-sensitive ears to the delicate membranes of their wings.

Many years ago I was on a canal holiday in Staffordshire and, on the first night, we moored up beneath some trees by a lovely old canal bridge ‘in the middle of nowhere’. As the light faded, the bats came out to play. We watched for over half an hour as they swooped and fluttered their bat-ballet in the gathering twilight. I’ve never forgotten it.

Anyway...the moral of all this is - and I never thought I would be saying this - go to Bishop Auckland. Well, go to Escomb nearby. And, if you’re very lucky, these charming creatures will give you a graceful and ageless twilight show.

I don’t often see my ex-colleagues from BBC Radio Newcastle so I am delighted to say that two of them made very pleasurable re-appearances last week.

Natasha had, for a while, been one of the producers on the Big Blue Bus programme. Many of our brightest moments were down to her and I missed her very much when she moved on to ‘pastures new’. (Where does that phrase originate?) She lives in Bristol now but was visiting Newcastle for a couple of days. We had several immensely enjoyable cups of coffee on Monday evening, during which, true to form, Natasha came up with a typically clear plan of exactly what I should be doing with my time. Just like the old days. I loved every minute of it.

She reads this blog, too. So - hello, Natasha. And put the kettle on.

On Tuesday, I met up with Paul Wappat. Normally, I take a tablet before I do this but I didn’t need to on this occasion because Julia Hankin was there, too.

Yes - Julia Hankin. It was on Julia’s afternoon show that my voice was first heard on radio. So she has a very great deal to answer for. I’m gratified to be able to report that the nightmares have now passed and Julia’s as happily unfazeable as ever. And even better: remember that kinda cheeky ‘twinkle’ in her voice? It’s still there!

She’s the Marketing Manager for the Centre for Life in Newcastle now and is loving it. But I still miss her on the radio. Don’t you?

Just a reminder that the next AGM will take place on Sunday 6 September at Tynemouth Station Market at about 1100. A splendid time is guaranteed for all. Specially jim.little, our new ‘follower’!

Post comments on this blog or email me: truckshunters@googlemail.com


For some reason, blogposting 159 has unleashed a veritable torrent - a deluge - of trivia, some of which is included here. Now read on...

Lawrence Hepple, of piano-tuning, rats and speedway fame (what a combination!), txted me at just after 12.30 on Friday afternoon. He told me that, in a couple of minutes, something would happen that wouldn’t happen again for a thousand years.

And he was right.

It happened at very nearly twenty-five to one; at 12:34:56, to be precise, on 07/08/09.

Got it yet? 12:34:56 07/08/09.


Awesome. Fretting about war, pestilence and hunger is one thing but being taken aback by information like that is quite another and easily worthy of this blog. Thanks, Lawrence.

Another email, this time from Dave Shannon, points out not one but - count them - two further items of worthwhile trivia, namely...
...only one book has been distributed in greater numbers than the Bible; the Ikea catalogue! And...
... it is illegal to purchase or consume Jack Daniels whisky in the town in which it is produced!

Thanks, Dave

Two other truckshunters, who shall remain nameless for reasons which will become obvious, have also emailed lists of trivia to me in the last couple of days. But they are trivia with a difference. Most of them aren’t true.

The best-known example is that a duck’s quack doesn’t echo and that nobody knows why. In fact, of course, it’s breathtakingly easy to prove that a duck’s quack does echo in just the way you would expect. After all, why wouldn’t it?

Factoids like these are known as viral lies. The phenomenon started at, I think, Berkeley University in California in the early 90s. The idea was to put a preposterous, but faintly believable, fact onto the internet to find out how quickly it became accepted as truth.

Amongst the first examples was the explanation given for (excuse the language) ‘cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey ’. The viral lie is that the balls in question were cannonballs and that the ‘monkey’ was a kind of triangular framework on which they were piled up to form a pyramid on the gun deck of a sailing ship. When it was really cold, the cannonballs expanded and toppled each other off the ‘monkey’.

None of that is true.

Another, equally famous, viral lie is that the Great Wall of China is the only manmade object visible from space. It isn’t. Nothing manmade can be seen from space. And that includes the Pyramids of Gizeh as well.

Honeymoon is not derived from the custom of newlyweds eating honey on their first night together. There never was such a custom.

Sleep tight is not derived from the way ropes were tightened to hold mediaeval feather mattresses on beds. They weren’t.

And a duck’s quack definitely does echo in the normal way.

A good source of viral lie debunking is Stephen Fry’s QI programme on tv. Warmly recommended.

I’ve also heard this week from Lorraine in Kuala Lumpur. She used to regale us regularly on The Nighshift with news of her life in that exotic-sounding city (pictured above). Hers were amongst the many ‘international’ emails I missed most when the programme was finally axed.

All these emails to truckshunters@googlemail.com have set me thinking. Why don’t the emailers ‘come out of the closet’ and leave a comment on the blog itself? So, just in case you are on of the many people who appear, or pretend, not to know how to do this (including Paul Wappat)....

Each blogposting has a number. This one is 160, as you can see above.

Scroll down to the bottom of the blogposting (not to the bottom of the whole page).

Click on the word ‘Comments’.

A window will appear as if by digital magic. It will show you what everyone else has been saying and there’ll be an empty box at the bottom for you to add your comments in.

When you’re done, click ‘Publish Comment’ and Bob’s Yer Uncle, Fanny’s Yer Aunt.

...Gilly in Meadowfield?
...Tony in Fenham?
...Chris and Jojo in New Zealand?
...Inga in Arkansas?
If you do, and you don’t want the information to be public, use the email address.

Just a reminder that the next AGM will take place on Sunday 6 September at Tynemouth Station Market at about 1100. A splendid time is guaranteed for all.

Post comments on this blog or email me: truckshunters@googlemail.com
The Smallest Museum in Britain


* Scientists in Norfolk need more volunteers to test whether eating chocolate can help women with diabetes;
* An earthquake has moved New Zealand a foot closer to Australia;
* Birds in towns get up later than birds in the countryside;
* Every week, 52 pubs close in Britain;
* The verb ‘go’ has no past tense of its own - it has to borrow the past tense of ‘wend’;
* In a recent pile-up involving 259 vehicles near Hanover in Germany, no-one was killed.

...has finally achieved national recognition. It’s the Ferryman’s Hut Museum in Alnmouth, Northumberland. Unaware of its significance, I co-presented the Blue Bus programme from there in 2005 (on the anniversary of the Great Alnmouth Inundation). I stood outside it and mithered on about the Great Storm which changed the map of the town in 1805 - and didn’t mention the hut I was sitting outside even once.

Up to the 1960s it was used by the ferryman who would conduct people back and forth across the Aln’s mouth. It now contains framed photographs of its own history, as well as trinkets and memorabilia of the town.

If you’re in Alnmouth - and there aren’t many nicer places to spend some time - you’ll know the Ferryman’s Hut Museum is open because its curator will be sitting on a deckchair outside.

Sounds like a good place for an AGM.

Those are the words of renowned cookery writer Elizabeth David. She was talking about a concoction called Italian Salad. Here is the recipe, should you wish to chance your arm - or your tastebuds/stomach. Or not, as the case may be.

Please note that I do not accept responsibility for any consequences - gastric, marital or otherwise.

1 pint of cold cooked macaroni
0.5 pint of cooked or tinned pears
0.5 pint of grated raw carrot
French dressing to moisten
2 heaped tablespoons of minced onion
0.5 pint of cooked or minced string beans

Mix the chopped macaroni and vegetables. Moisten with French dressing, flavouring with garlic, if liked. Serve on a dish lined with lettuce leaves. Decorate with mayonnaise and minced pimento or chives.

Just a reminder that the next AGM will take place on Sunday 6 September at Tynemouth Station Market at about 1100. A splendid time is guaranteed for all.

Post comments on this blog or email me: truckshunters@googlemail.com

Just a reminder that the next AGM will take place on Sunday 6 September at Tynemouth Station Market at about 1100. A splendid time is guaranteed for all.

Something I consider to be quite remarkable happened today and, as usual, there’s a back story. So snuggle up...

For some time now - well, about 40 years, to be more exact - my mother has been complaining that I have been using one of the bedrooms in her house as a rubbish dump. This is, of course, a travesty of the truth. The bedroom in question is rather a repository of all those bits and bobs that anyone who’s had an even remotely interesting and varied life has gathered along the way.

Mam has, though, made it increasingly obvious recently that she regards this contention as merely a load of dingo’s kidneys - though she hasn’t used those actual words. The words she has used are much, much worse.

She has issued an ultimatum. If I don’t get up there and start sorting things out, she’ll do absolutely nothing at all. That’s about the sum of Mam’s ultimatums (ultimata?). After all, I got my hoarding instincts from her. This is the woman, mind you, who keeps her old vacuum cleaners, photograph frames that came to bits years ago (kept because your 'Uncle Joe made them between shifts'), the quilt from the bed I slept in when I was 10 (it was second-hand even then), a decrepit kitchen chair whose provenance is completely unknown, left-over rolls of wallpaper ‘just in case’ - and the kitchen sink.

Anyway, I acceded to her strongly-voiced request and ventured into the Aladdin’s cesspit this morning. It was a genuine revelation. It turns out that she was right. It’s full to the riggings (as my Nana used to say) of what she uncharitably calls ‘junk’ - my junk.

Naturally, I remonstrated as fervidly as possible that the boxes, tea chests, carrier bags and old suitcases up there did not contain ‘junk’ at all; instead, I insisted, they were artefacts of a bygone age. Mine.

Consider...a handful of sheep’s wool wrenched from a barbed wire fence at The Meeting of the Waters near Greta Bridge when I was 11; the only thing I ever made in woodwork class at school - an ashtray - a wooden ashtray; the map of an imaginary town called Winton drawn by my friend Keith and me on the back of remnant ends of wallpaper when I was 14; my school reports (‘Stuart’s mental arithmetic skills are a little below average; sometimes his methods are a complete mystery to me’). And one or two other things besides.

Including my book of Other Men’s Flowers.

When I was about 22 or so, I started to collect in a book some of the quotes that I found funny, profound, disturbing, pithy or just generally wise. The craze didn’t last long - none of my crazes ever does - and by the time I was 23 or so, my book of ‘other men’s flowers’ was forgotten.

Until this morning.

I found it, yellowed and crumbling, under People of Other Lands, a book I won for coming top of the class at Geography and which would now be considered - quite rightly - as patronising and racist. Hell, there’s even a drawing of Little Black Sambo types on the front dancing round a cauldron that could easily contain the earthly remains of a boiled missionary.

Anyway...here are some of the quotes I collected all those years ago. If only I’d listened!

Dance like no one is watching. Sing like no one is listening. Love like you've never been hurt and live like it's heaven on Earth.
— Mark Twain

Don't cry because it's over, smile because it happened.
— Dr Seuss

Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I'm not sure about the universe.
— Albert Einstein

Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away.
— Maya Angelou

Don't walk behind me; I may not lead. Don't walk in front of me; I may not follow. Just walk beside me and be my friend.
— Albert Camus

It is better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to open one's mouth and remove all doubt.
— Abraham Lincoln

You only live once, but if you do it right, once is enough
— Mae West

Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbour. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.
— Mark Twain

Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans.
— John Lennon

All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.
— J R R Tolkien

A friend is someone who knows all about you and still loves you.
— Elbert Hubbard

Anyone who thinks sitting in church can make you a Christian must also think that sitting in a garage can make you a car.
— Garrison Keillor

All you need is love. But a little chocolate now and then doesn't hurt.
— Charles Schulz

My friend Jean-Francois - who has been HIV positive for many years now - is very poorly in the intensive care unit of a Parisian hospital. In your charity, please spare a thought for all those people who are gravely ill right now - and for all the people who care for them and are worrying about them.


Post comments on this blog or email me: truckshunters@googlemail.com