Truckshunter Leroy - he of the ‘dudes and dudettes’ - recently emailed me this picture. He says it’s his alter ego, which is almost certainly just as well. I didn’t ask his permission to publish it here because - assuming he’s in his right mind - he would have refused. Now we all know what we’re up against.

As proof that any vestige of authority and leadership I may once have possessed in this large and diverse family has long since gone to meet its maker, I present Exhibit B. They look as if butter wouldn’t melt in their collective mouth, don’t they? Don’t be fooled; these are the ringleaders of the Palace Revolution who arranged tomorrow’s AGM at Saltwell Towers, thus wisely dispensing with my negligible organisational skills at one fell swoop.

Be there or be square. A splendid time is guaranteed for all.

I met up with Hildie on Monday for our fortnightly expedition to the Tyneside Cinema’s ‘Silver Screen’ showing; this week it was Creation - all about the lead-up to the publication of Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species. It’s a good film - warmly recommended.

I discovered quite quickly, though, that Hildie had a hidden agenda. As a result of my frenzied declamations (in blogposting 168) about the lack of a memorial to Alan Turing and his disgraceful non-appearance on any of our commemorative stamps, she decided to do some investigating. And would you believe it? There is a memorial to him - it’s in Sackville Park in Manchester - and he has featured on a stamp (during millennium year).

Exhibits C and D are therefore salient reminders to me to check my facts thoroughly before climbing up onto my high horse and giving the world the benefit of my opinion - specially if Hildie’s in earshot.

...welcome to the family, Val. How about sending us a picture?

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


In this posting...
*Alan Turing
*the Birthday Clock
*the Bard of Avon
Now read on, Macduff...

Eagle-eared truckshunters may have noticed the public apology made earlier this month by Gordon Brown to a man called Alan Turing - a man whose story teaches us salutary lessons about our collective attitude to minorities of all kinds and whose name is shamefully little-known in modern Britain, for all sorts of unsavoury reasons.

Under different circumstances, Alan Turing would have been hailed as a hero in his own time, let alone ours. His name would (quite rightly) be as well-known as his contemporaries John Logie Baird, Alexander Fleming, Barnes Wallis. After all, his achievements equalled and - depending on your cultural and scientific viewpoint - exceeded theirs.

If for nothing else, he ought to be on a national roll of honour, and included in any list of England’s greatest sons, for the work he did during World War II, when he worked at the Government Code and Cypher School at Bletchley. There, he devised a number of techniques for breaking German ciphers, including the ‘bombe’, an electromechanical machine that could find settings for the Germans’ infamous ‘Enigma’ machine. It is no exaggeration to suggest that he’s one of the handful of men who made a seriously gigantic contribution to the Allied victory; he’s up there with Churchill and Montgomery.

So why doesn’t his name spring to everyone’s mind at the mere mention of the Second World War? And why Gordon Brown’s apology?

Alan Turing was gay. There really is no other reason for not only the lack of public appreciation of his achievements but also for the virtually complete absence of any acknowledgement that he even existed at all.

He was prosecuted for his sexuality in 1952, when being gay was regarded at the very least as being an illness, at worst a mortal sin. (There are, of course, plenty of people who still regard it in exactly the same way now.) As punishment, he was offered either imprisonment or ‘chemical castration’ - the systematic injection of female hormones. He accepted the latter but its barbarity and its catastrophic mental and physical effects led him to commit suicide in 1954. He injected an apple with cyanide and took a bite out of it.

In 2002, Alan Turing was ranked twenty-first on the BBC’s nationwide poll of the 100 Greatest Britons. Earlier (in 1999) Time Magazine named him as one of the 100 Most Important People of the 20th Century for his role in the creation of the modern computer. Their citation stated: '...everyone who taps at a keyboard, opening a spreadsheet or a word-processing program, is working on an incarnation of a Turing machine.'

This blog - and all the digital paraphernalia that surrounds it - would not have been possible without him. The Apple computer logo I’m looking at right now as I type (an apple with a bite taken out of it) is said to be a reference to him. And yet, and yet...

There are no statues or sculptures dedicated to his memory; he features on no stamps; his name doesn’t leap out of the pages of our history books. Perhaps Gordon Brown’s belated apology might change all that. In the meantime, in your charity spare a thought for one of the most modestly brilliant men England has ever produced - dying alone in torment and misery because he was gay.

For Heaven’s sake don’t forget that the next AGM will be held on Wednesday 30 September at 1100 at the cafe in Saltwell Towers - in Gateshead’s Saltwell Park. A splendid time is guaranteed for all.

Truckshunter Dave Shannon has emailed me a link to a ‘Birthday Clock’. All you have to do is tell it your birthdate and it comes up with all sorts of fascinating things about you that you didn’t know you didn’t know. F’rinstance I am 729 months old; or 3,174 weeks or 22,212 days or 533,104 hours or 31,986,248 minutes or 1,919,174,938 seconds. My lucky day is Thursday, my lucky number is 3 and my birth tree is the hornbeam. (Since when have people had birth trees?)

There’s more. Amongst the hits of 1948 were Buttons and Bows, sung by Dinah Shore, Nature Boy (Nat King Cole) and Twelfth Street Rag (Pee Wee Hunt). In the European zodiac I’m a Sagittarius, to the Chinese I’m a rat and to Native American Indians, I’m an owl.

Finally - and I find this very difficult to believe - the candles on my next birthday cake will generate enough heat to boil almost 7 fluid ounces of water.

Er....thanks Dave.

As I’ve rather tediously said many times before...I don’t get the Shakespeare thing. I know how uncultured and heretical that makes me sound but I’m past caring, to be honest. At my age I’m prepared to throw caution to the wind and let it all hang out shamelessly - and metaphorically.

And I don’t dismiss The Bard Of Avon lightly, either. O my word no. One of my 60/60 projects this year was to acquire - and watch - the BBC Television Shakespeare on dvd. All 37 of the plays were produced and broadcast about 30 or so years ago and when I saw the collection going cheap online, I ordered it.

I decided I would watch the plays in alphabetical order. For what it’s worth, here’s my opinion of the plays I’ve seen so far...

All’s Well That Ends Well: unalloyed drivel
Antony and Cleopatra: unmitigated relentless turgid claptrap
As You Like It: you must be joking
The Comedy of Errors: calling this a comedy is the biggest error of all
Coriolanus: the last four letters say it all.

The next play in the sequence is Cymbeline. I’m told that even benighted organ-playing intellectual Shakespeare-worshippers don’t like it - or even understand it, for that matter. So you can imagine how much I’m looking forward to watching it.

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


In this posting...
*Lit and Phil
*T Dan Smith
*Clean Rivers
Read on, Macduff...

Anyone even remotely familiar with the way I tend to organise things that need organising will already have expressed astonishment - many times - that I’ve managed to reach 60 without disorganising myself out of existence. Although I always arrived at the Big Blue Bus in time for the programme to go out, it was a close-run thing far more often than I care to admit. On one unforgettable occasion, I mistook the A19 for the A189 and contrived to get to Shiremoor with 29 seconds to spare before going live. Producer Jamie Wilkinson was the unfortunate victim that day. Amazingly, we are still on speaking terms. I think.

My planning skills came to the fore once again at AGM VI, as you may have read already in comments posted afterwards on this blog. It simply never occurred to me that telling everyone to meet up at Tynemouth Station Market wasn’t enough. After all, the site is a large one and, at that time of day, is busy with dozens of stalls and hundreds of visitors. What could possibly go wrong? Er...

To add spice to the mix, the Metro wasn’t running properly that morning AND I got caught up in road closures and diversions in Newcastle. I was almost half an hour late. By the time I arrived, truckshunter Vivienne had arrived, surveyed the scene and gone. Hildie was on the brink of giving up, too, when she saw me urgently looking out over the crowds from the overbridge. Ada, too, was on her last scour looking for familiar faces. So all was not quite lost, even though it got pretty close.

Ironically, AGM VI turned out to be one of the best so far. We were only, I think, on our second coffee when the redoubtable J Arthur Smallpiece - aka Gerry Fenwick - turned up with his partner Hillary (probably misspelled here) and his dog Molly. (You can read about Molly's heart-stopping adventures on the Metro in the comments to blog 165.)

And whirlwind appearances didn’t end there. As you can see from the picture above, no less an august personage than Alfie Joey arrived - more by our luck than his judgement, I should say. (Any blogsters who don’t know who Alfie Joey is should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves.)

So from the jaws of Robinsonian ineptitude was snatched one of the most rewarding AGMs we’ve ever had. We were there for over three hours! My thanks to everyone who took the trouble to go all the way to Tynemouth, specially on a day when transport could have been a lot easier than it actually was. A particularly big hug to Vivienne who, had I organised things a little better, would not have made the journey in vain.

A final apology to Ada. I gave her a lift home after the AGM and will never, ever forget the look on her face as she climbed into my car. Usually, when people ask you to forgive the mess inside their car, they don’t usually mean it to quite the same extent that I do. My car is a kind of mobile cesspit and I’m fairly sure that poor Ada would have preferred, on reflection, to crawl home on her hands and knees through the sewers than to undergo the ordeal of spending almost ten whole minutes amongst the discarded sandwich wrappers, crumbs, dust, carrier bags, empty pop bottles, ash and half-eaten snacks from 2003 that largely occupy the space normally called the ‘back seat’. Ada may never be the same again.

Thanks to the deliberations of the Birkheads Ad Hoc Committee, the next AGM will take place next Wednesday 30 September. We’re all going to be mustered at the cafe in Saltwell Towers, which sits grandly on the eastern side of Saltwell Park in Gateshead, at 1100. A splendid time is guaranteed for all.

If you think you may have transport problems, please say so in a comment to this blog. We truckshunters are a resourceful bunch and I’m sure we can help out somehow.

As if to show how resourceful we actually are, Sid has sent me this picture from the Third Annual Lancashire Gravy-Wrestling Championships that I mentioned in blog 166. I definitely think we should organise a chara for next year!

Thanks Sid.

The Guardian has a daily column called In Praise Of... which highlights a person, event or institution which the paper regards as needing public approbation. This is today’s (Friday 25 September).
"From this foul drain," Alexis de Tocqueville wrote of Manchester, "the greatest stream of human industry flows to fertilise the whole world." Even as it littered the north with slums and satanic mills, the industrial revolution fostered an appetite for ideas which found expression in literary and philosophical societies, where the discussions inevitably mixed beauty and truth with the latest technological wheezes for turning muck into brass.
Manchester, Leicester and even tiny Whitby all had societies that survive in some form, but it is Newcastle's Lit & Phil that retains the most visible presence, thanks to a 150,000-volume library which is housed in a splendid building on the course of Hadrian's wall. Although a private member's club, it is a very public institution, and one that becomes even more open today, with the conversion of the Georgian lecture rooms – in which Joseph Swan demonstrated his electric light bulbs in 1880 – into a new exhibition space which will link local history to wider themes.
The first offering is a reappraisal of Newcastle's 1960s power broker, T Dan Smith, who transformed the city's landscape and ended up being jailed for fraud. That might raise a few eyebrows, but then so too, no doubt, did the Lit & Phil's decision to admit women as early as 1804. The membership roll meanders from George Stephenson of the Rocket to Pet Shop Boy Neil Tennant, via the tea-sipping premier Earl Grey. A society founded on faith in progress has never stopped evolving with the times.

I've thought for some time that we don't sing the Lit and Phil's praises half enough. If you've never been, take a look some time.

I intend to make it my business to go and see the T Dan Smith exhibition. To me, he’ll always be a rogue, a philistine and a crook who not only wantonly deprived us of large swathes of Newcastle’s historic - and monumentally beautiful - city centre but also replaced it with a desert of truly awful buildings and roads which continue to blight the city and will probably do so forever. I wonder if the Lit and Phil exhibition rehabilitates him. Even slightly.

Over recent days, reference has been made in the media to England’s comparatively dirty rivers. BBC News said that of the five cleanest rivers, four were in Northumberland. It did not, however, identify them.

Thanks once again to Kev’s persistent research, I can reveal that they are the River Till and the Barrow, Ridlees and Linhops Burns.

Thanks Kev.

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


In this posting...
*the Ultimate Answer to the One Big Question
*Anne Jones
Read on...

I hope you’re ready for this. I hope you’ve fortified your physical and mental wherewithal (what an awesome word: wherewithal) in order to cope with the truly startling revelation that’s coming you way hereinunder. (Wow: hereinunder.) If you haven’t, or if you wish to augment your mental underpinning even more, please do so now.

Do whatever you think is necessary to enable you to sustain what is bound to be something of a shock to the system. Because I am about to undermine a belief - nay, an article of faith - adhered to by many millions of people all over the world; a veritable fulcrum around which countless numbers have constructed whole philosophies.

What I am about to reveal to you will, at the very least, make your jaw drop and your eyes open wide in amazement and wonder. At most, it will change your outlook on the world - and everything that’s in it - for ever and irrevocably. It’s quite possible that nothing - absolutely nothing - will ever be quite the same again. That’s how earth-shattering this revelation is going to be.

Which is why I said, up there at the top, that I hoped you were ready for it.

(If, incidentally, you’re not ready for it, stop reading this blogposting now. I’m serious. If anything below applies to you:
- you’re of a nervous disposition;
- you’re in any way unstable, unpredictable or socially volatile;
- you habitually take mind-enhancing drugs like paracetamol or ibuprofen;
- you live in Sunderland;
- you watch Strictly Come Dancing...
then skip the revelation and go straight on down to Anne Jones (as it were)).

So here we go then. Ready? Sure? OK - on your own head be it. Don’t say you weren’t warned.

I can now reveal - for the first time and exclusively on this truckshunting blog, that Douglas Adams (and therefore, by default, Stephen Fry) was wrong. The Answer to the Question of Life, the Universe and Everything is not forty-two.

Yes, I know. In its own way, this information is startling enough to make you want to go to bed whatever time of day it is. But there’s more.

Not only am I able to reveal the error of the ways of Messrs Adams and Fry. Presenting you with purely negative news is, after all, so...negative. So (and this is the real story) I am also in the epoch-making position of being able to reveal to you what the Answer to the Question of Life, the Universe and Everything actually is.

No, it’s not forty-two.

It’s forty-five.

Like all mind-boggling revelations, this one will have struck you immediately as accurate, pertinent and life-affirming. Suddenly, all has been revealed, has it not? I, for one, always felt a little uneasy at the thought that forty-two was being promulgated as the Ultimate Answer. It just didn’t seem right to me. Forty-two? Surely not. It just didn’t conform to my life-experience or to my sense of a puzzle satisfyingly and conclusively answered. Especially as Life, the Universe and Everything is the greatest puzzle conceivable in the Mind of Man.

Forty-five, though, is a different kettle of fish altogether. Just think about it. Forty-five. Doesn’t it have the ring of incontrovertible and unarguable truth about it? Forty-five.

However, in the unlikely event that you’re not convinced of the wholesome truth of the matter, I offer above The Magic Square of 45, devised - with almost mystical and guruesque brilliance - by truckshunter Kev. Put aside any sudoku tendencies you might be air to and study The Magic Square of 45. Look at it. Ponder it. Configure it in your mind. Whatever you contrive to refute the theory, the Answer remains the same.


In an email to me, redoubtable truckshunter Alison Best mentioned her sister Anne, the World Speed-Reading Champion, who ‘may be in the news this week with the new Dan Brown book. She has been invited down to London by Border Books to attempt a new record reading the Lost Symbol....’

And guess what? ‘She did it! She read the book in 41 minutes and has massively beaten her own world record. I am so proud of her!’ And so say all of us, Alison. Well done, Anne.

Yes, I know I haven’t yet given my usual report of AGM VI at Tynemouth Station Market, but I will. I promise. In the meantime, however, I’m delighted to say that arrangements for the next one have been taken out of my hands completely, thanks to the Birkheads Ad Hoc Committee. It will take place next Wednesday 30 September at 1100 in the cafe at Saltwell Towers, which is in Saltwell Park, Gateshead. A splendid time is guaranteed for all...

News of an event which you may have missed. This from The Guardian’s ‘Northerner’ email: ‘My pick of the Bank Holiday events is the Third Annual Lancashire Gravy Wrestling Championships at the Rose and Bowl pub in Stacksteads, Rossendale.’

Gravy wrestling. Yummy. I urge everyone to find out when the Fourth Championships are next year. I think we should go, don’t you?

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


The number of open-air summer festivals in Britain seems to have mushroomed over the last ten years or so and, never one to be caught out even remotely behind the times, I attended my first festival in 2007. It’s called Latitude and takes place in a kind of country park near the captivating Suffolk town of Southwold (to which, if you’ve never been, you should make it your business to go). You may have heard me go on and on and on and on about Latitude that year on the Big Blue Bus.

In fact, I enjoyed it so much that I went again last year - and it was even better. It’s not just the music, either. There’s poetry, drama, comedy; even BBC Radio 4 (no less) has a marquee there. Well, I say ‘marquee’; portable broom-cupboard, more like. But hey, they try.

However...no sooner was I smugly regarding myself as up-to-date with the summer festival scene than I was abruptly told that Latitude was way too middle class and ‘comfortable’. Too many people arriving in 4x4s with kids - or rather ‘children’ - called Jocasta and Monty. Too many bearded, cardy-wearing Guardian-reading social workers in once-a-year ponchos. Who, I ask you, would want to be identified with that particular stereotype?

So this year, I adjusted my aim a little. Broadened my festival scope. Extended my horizons...and all that rubbish.

I’d heard how good the Green Man Festival was - and my goodness it was. People arrived in
slightly cheaper 4x4s with children - yes, still ‘children’ - called Cerise and Lexi and the number of Guardian-readers - including your blogger - remained obstinately high. Everything else was different, though. Fewer festival-goers and few, if any, big name bands.

The atmosphere was wonderful, though (not that it hadn’t been just as wonderful at Latitude) and the setting was breathtaking. The Festival takes place in a heavily wooded, steep-sided bend of the River Usk in south-east Wales, not far from Crickhowell and Abergavenny. It’s truly sumptuous and the main stage is set in a natural amphitheatre so everyone can sit comfortably on the grassy banks and get a good view of the bands.

You can get an idea of it in the crowd photo above. In fact, if you look carefully...see the house? Focus on the right-hand edge of it. Slightly below it and a little to the right you will see a very large summer hat. Under it is my friend Sue. So now you know.

Food provision was jaw-droppingly cosmopolitan; Chinese, Japanese, Indonesian, American, Italian, Spanish - even Welsh. So perhaps it’s just as well that the dreaded toilets (toilets are always ‘dreaded’ at festivals like this) were, in fact, spotless and pristine. And queue-free (which is also just as well).

Of course, attending a festival like this one is all about the music (though there was other stuff, too). Some of the bands I saw - and which I strongly recommend you keep an ear open for - included...Gang Gang Dance, Broken Records, Wave Machine, Beth Jeans Houghton (who is truly special AND a local lass), Sibrydion, Grizzly Bear, Vetiver (old favourites of mine), Camera Obscura, She Keeps Bees and The Leisure Society.

Specially The Leisure Society. I’d already caught them at The Cluny in Newcastle and was already a big fan. Listen to Save It For Someone Who Cares or Last Of The Melting Snow and you’ll see why.

It was a great weekend. Good weather (unusual for this damp and cloudy part of Wales), lovely scenery, good company, great music - much of it new to me, which is never a bad thing.

In fact, on the strength of the fun I had there, I decided to take the plunge before it’s too late. I’ve put my name down for The Big One. Next year’s Glastonbury Festival! It really is one of those things you should try to do before you die, isn’t it?

* 30% of all the Benedictine drunk in Britain is drunk in Burnley;
* The hour between 1900 and 2000 on June 24 is thought to be the ‘loveliest hour in the English Year’;
* truckshunter Alison Best’s sister Anne is the World Speed-Reading Champion;
* the BBC Gardener of the Year lives near Lanchester; he’s called Bob Tridgett
(those last two courtesy of an email I’ve received from Alison Best herself).

I’m surprised to be telling you that I’m not a big fan of Lee Hall. I know he’s a local lad but that just makes it worse. I thought his depiction of pit-village life in Billy Elliot was a travesty - not just inaccurate but patronising, too. I’m sorry, but that’s just the way I saw it at the time, and still see it.

Pitmen Painters, though, is an entirely different kettle of fish. I saw it during a recent visit to London and found it inspiring. He seems to capture the spirit, aspirations and outlook of the Ashington miners of the time perfectly. It is by turns funny, sad, moving, uplifting, liberating, desperate.

It’s coming to Newcastle’s Theatre Royal soon. Go and see it. I am.

(And if you're not sure who the Pitmen Painters actually were, visit the Northumberland Museum at Woodhorn.)

...but not today...
*news of AGM VI at Tynemouth;
*heartfelt requests about how Facebook actually works;
*debunking Shakespeare;
*stories told in six words;
*Alan Turing

*October 1 is World Vegetarian Day
*I’m looking for dates/venues for AGM VII - a splendid time is guaranteed for all.

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


I’m sorry I haven’t posted anything on the blog this month so far. As you know, I’ve had various domestic distractions which have kept me busy elsewhere. BUT I’ve missed you all very much and have been checking the Comments box regularly.

Which reminds me....

To all those people who’ve emailed asking if AGM VI actually took place last Sunday at Tynemouth, the answer is a resounding YES, as Vivienne discovered to her cost and much too late! Under normal circumstances, the AGM is just one of the the things I would have harangued and hectored you about over the last few days. (Isn’t hector a lovely word? It sounds like what it means.)

Here are some of the other topics you haven’t heard me wax lyrical about recently....

Strange by name, strange by nature. Leroy has emailed me to tell me a bit about himself. Turns out he used to be a ‘Blast Furnace Shunting Loco Driver for Consett Iron Company so I am a real ex Truck Shunter.’ Genuine shunters of real-life trucks occupy a very special place in our hierarchy and our hearts; naturally. So Leroy is already up there with Neville (as it were).

Leroy also tells me that he and I have spoken during my radio days. He says (and I quote) ‘I told you the story of being attacked by a Bengal Tiger on the Isle of Wight...’

Er...Bengal Tiger? Isle of Wight? Er....

Welcome to the warm, enfolding arms of the Sacred and Noble Brotherhood of Truckshunters, Leroy.

Yes, I went and it was AWESOME. I just haven’t had the time to tell you all about it yet or to post the pictures I took...

One of the items on my Project 60/60 list was to read more ‘classic’ novels. My friend Mark gave me this one to read. It’s awful.

On the basis of reading Macbeth and The Winter’s Tale at school, I’m a shocking Shakespeare cynic. So (in reparation) another 60/60 item was to read/watch every Shakespeare play; yes, all 37 of them. Impetus and motivation was added to this item when I noticed the Complete BBC Television Shakespeare DVDs for sale cheap on Amazon. So I bought them and have started to watch them, in alphabetical order. That means I started with All's Well That Ends Well; if only.

I had intended to give you the benefit of my thoughts on each of the plays as I waded through them. For now, though, suffice to say that I reckon I was right. Up to now, most of them have been turgid, unintelligible rubbish. Antony and Cleopatra is in a league of its own, though. It's truly execrable. It’s much, much worse than any other cultural or artistic creation ever dreamed up by anyone anywhere. I’m not joking. Anyone who tells you they think it’s really rather good ought to be arrested, drugged and sent to a special place of recovery built of peat turf on St Kilda.

The amazing Maureen has sent me yet another list of ‘viral lies’ - internet lists of bogus explanations for words and phrases. When I get the time, I’ll share with you the ludicrous reasons it gives for ‘raining cats and dogs’, ‘chewing the fat’ and many others.

She also sent me the pictures of the lovely Dutch town you see above.

Thanks Maureen.

Kev has sent me an intriguing puzzle. See what you can make of it.

What do the following words have in common? banana, dresser, grammar, potato, revive, uneven, assess.

He also informs me that Morrison's are now selling peches plat! The power of truckshunters!!!

There’s loads more I had lined up to hector (!) you with but it’s going to have to wait a couple of days. In the meantime, please keep in touch by commenting on the blog or by emailing me (see below).

I’m also looking for venue suggestions for AGM VII.

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