Inside Old St Mary's, Gateshead

In this blogposting...
*Miss Simonova’s sand-painting
*Peter (again)
*Birthday Blog

NOT in this blogposting...

*that bird in South Shields
*the River Wear Treasure

Anthea Lang, Gateshead’s local history supremo, had the great misfortune to bump into us all while we were disturbing the peace of Saltwell Towers during AGM VIII. She then proceeded to compound her bad luck by inviting us to join her for our next AGM. The consensus amongst truckshunters (a contradiction in terms if ever there was one) is that we should gratefully accept her foolish invitation.

Which is why AGM IX will take place at 1100 on Wednesday 4 November at St Mary’s Information Centre in Gateshead.

Amongst Gateshead Council’s many inspiring ideas of recent years - the Angel, the Sage, BALTIC, the Millennium Bridge - one of the brightest was to take over Old St Mary’s Church and convert it into a Heritage Centre. I’ve been several times and can confirm that it’s an awesome venue. The conversion from church to exhibition and meeting areas is both sensitive and startlingly successful, and the exhibitions staged there are fascinating to both local history enthusiasts and newcomers alike.

Although there is no cafe there, Anthea has said that she will lay on a cuppa for us. And even if she can’t (or has wisely changed her mind) we can pop next door to the Sage to slake our collective thirst.

Old St Mary’s is the church that stands proudly looking down at the Tyne Bridge, and between it and the Sage. There isn’t much parking nearby. Take a Quaylink bus from Newcastle city centre instead.

A splendid time is guaranteed for all.

Blog 175 featured an email I’d received from Maureen. She’d sent me a link to YouTube which showed a Ukrainian lass on their version of the unfortunate British tv show. Her breathtaking talent is ‘sand-painting’; using nothing more than grains of sand to draw constantly changing pictures on a flat, underlit, board. It genuinely stops you in your tracks.

Maureen has since sent me a copy of the narrative that accompany’s Miss Simonova’s performance. So do what I’ve just done: watch the clip again with a copy of the ‘storyline’ - see below - in front of you. It’ll move you even more, I promise.

‘Ukraine lost about a quarter of its population during the Second World War - about 20% of total fatalities. With the help of sand, Miss Simonova’s pictures show the Ukrainian loss of life during the German invasion in 1941.

The opening scene shows a couple sitting on a bench beneath a sky full of stars. Suddenly warplanes appear and the happy scene is replaced by sad faces. Then comes a baby, so the woman smiles again. But the bane of the war turns her into a widow. Finally, the sand picture takes the form of the Unknown Soldier of Ukraine.’

Thanks Maureen. And give Christine our love.

PETER (continued)
Peter, who also featured in posting 175, has given me permission to reproduce the contents of his email in full. So here are two colourful little snippets of Peter’s family history. Do you have any stories like this that you wouldn't sharing?

In an early posting, I mentioned St Rita. Peter says...
‘ brother-in-law’s mother was called Margaret Rita but (and there’s always a ‘but’) she was supposed to be christened Marguerita. However, they couldn’t spell it in the registry office so she was called Margaret Rita instead!...
At her funeral service, when they close the curtain in the crematorium and play some music (like ‘Angels’ by Robbie Williams or ‘You Raise Me Up’ or ‘Angel’ by Sarah Maclachlan) she had ‘Just Wanna Dance The Night Away’ by The Mavericks blasting out!'

How’s that for style!

Thanks to Hildie for pointing out that the very first truckshunter blogposting appeared almost two years ago to the day - on October 31, 2007. As I sit typing here at home, those days seem like a world away and aeons ago. They do things very differently there now.

My aim from the beginning was to produce a posting about 5 times a week - a target which has, of course, changed since The Nightshift went off-air. Because I enjoyed doing it, and because listener reaction seemed to be so positive, I persisted with the blog until ‘official’ reaction at the BBC turned from total indifference to opposition. Last October, I was instructed not to mention the blog on-air as it ‘was not an official BBC blog’.

I was heartbroken and it seemed to me at the time that, if I was not allowed to ‘promote’ the blog during my programme, there was little point in continuing to write it at all. You, however, proved me wrong. The blog still has a gratifyingly large and diverse group of enthusiasts, many of whom leave no mark except perhaps an occasional comment or email.

Even more remarkable is the blog’s extension from the purely digital world into the real world of get-togethers, cups of tea and coffee, cakes, laughter and all the other stuff that happens when such an idiosyncratic group of people meet up.

I’ll never get tired of saying what an amazing community The Nightshift’s listeners turned out to be, whether or not they are able to turn up at an AGM. What has happened is probably - in its own small way - unique in broadcasting history. The credit for that belongs entirely to you: an immensely supportive collection of affectionate, innovative and charismatic listeners who simply refused to let The Nightshift die.


Post comments on this blog or email me:
Sweetie Poo at work


In this blogposting...
*Ig Nobel Awards
*Ukraine’s Got Talent
*Six-Word Stories
*Nice Words
*Pariah of the Week

Now, read on, Macduff...

IG NOBEL AWARDS (continued)
You can get background information about the Ig Nobel Awards, citations for the Awards made for Veterinary Medicine, Peace, Public Health, Medicine and Chemistry AND a lot of illuminating - and very funny - additional information in blogposting 174 and the comments attached to it.

In fairness to the other honoured recipients, though, I think it’s only fair that their contributions to research that ‘makes you laugh first and think second’ should be covered, too. Let’s start with the...

Fumiaki Taguchi, Song Guofu and Zhang Guanglei of Kitasato University Graduate School of Medical Sciences in Japan share the prize for demonstrating that kitchen waste can be reduced by more than 90% by using bacteria extracted from giant panda excrement. Taguchi suspected panda faeces must contain bacteria capable of breaking down even the hardiest of foods because of the bear's vast consumption of bamboo.

Awarded to the entire police force of Ireland for issuing more than 50 penalties to a man they supposed to be the most persistent driving offender in the country: a Mr Prawo Jazdy, whose name in Polish means "driving licence". An investigation held earlier this year revealed that officers had mistakenly taken down the wrong details from motorists' documents.

Awarded to the directors, executives and auditors of four Icelandic banks: Kaupthing Bank, Landsbanki, Glitnir Bank and Central Bank of Iceland, "for demonstrating that tiny banks can be rapidly transformed into huge banks, and vice versa – and for demonstrating that similar things can be done to an entire national economy".

Incidentally, the picture above - emailed to me by Sid - is of the 8-year old girl who made sure the acceptance speeches didn’t last longer than the regulation 60 seconds. Her name is Sweetie Poo.

The format of the regrettable British tv show has now reached Ukraine and Maureen has sent me this link to one of its truly breathtaking contestants.,1,ukraines-got-talent.html
If it doesn’t work by a simple click, cut and paste it into your search bar (at the top of your browser window). Believe me, it’s worth it.

Natasha - ex-producer of the Big Blue Bus programme - has sent me more information about how Six-Word Stories may have originated. Apparently, in the 1920s Ernest Hemingway bet ten dollars that he could write a complete story in just six words. He wrote...

For Sale: baby shoes, never worn.

He won the bet.

Here are some more, sent to a now defunct BBC web page.

Trust me, I did my best.
Three sons, eleven cats, and Yvonne.
Pass the bottle before clarity returns
Some no-balls but several boundaries
Unfortunately I didn't buy the t-shirt.
Knight on white charger never showed.
Any chance I could start again?
Lived, loved, laughed liberally and left.
Found it, Lost it, Found it.
Ditched the map, found better route.
Blankets, books, bottles, books, blankets.
If only I had turned left
Age crept up and mugged me
Laughed out loud, cried in silence.

Aren’t they awesome?

We truckshunters seem to have a weakness for nice-sounding words - irrespective of what they actually mean. Matt King Coal (yes, him again) has emailed me with drench, supercilious, cacophony, nerd and cornucopia...and Natasha likes flummox, flabbergasted, chump, chipper, shenanigans, pernicious, blather and pedantic. I wonder if she's trying to tell me something.

Yes, I’ve been there again. Thanks for all the messages I’ve received expressing hopes that I enjoyed it. I did. Immensely.

But you needn’t worry; I’m not going to go on and on and on and on and on and on and on about what a wonderful place it is. Instead, I’ve set myself yet another impossible dream. Namely, that at some time in the future we might somehow contrive to hold an AGM there. A splendid time is guaranteed for all.

As a matter of fact, I had a couple of hazily-recalled but nevertheless interesting conversations there with a lady called Juul (‘Yule’) which I’ll bore you with next time.

Peter Mandelson.

...please welcome to the truckshunter fold an emailer called Peter, who (bless him) has just discovered this blog and is working his way through all the postings. Wish him well.

Actually, he’s not altogether a complete stranger. You may remember me ranting and raving on The Nightshift about the ludicrous names parents see fit to bestow on their unfortunate offspring these days. Rollo, Denby, Sigourney, Devastra... To back me up, Peter once sent me the Sunderland Echo’s ‘Bonny Baby’ picture spread - not for the pictures but for the names. And there amongst them, as he reminds me in his email, was Pollyanna Pebbles Begg-Trotter. Poor kid.

Incidentally, one of his favourite ‘nice words’ is ragamuffin.

The date and time have been set - Wednesday 4 November at 1100. But where????

Post comments on this blog or email me:

In this posting...
*Ig Nobel Awards
*Nice words
*The Scottish Play
*The 'Farewell' Symphony
*Ogre of the Week
Now read on, Macduff...

We truckshunters are nothing if not bang up-to-date with all the latest scientific discoveries and research. We bated our breath with amazement when all those new species were discovered in the volcano-thingy somewhere in the Far East. We’re continually thunderstruck by the advances in sophistication of all that interweb gubbins. We don’t just do stuff; we e-do it. We are epoch-making epeople. Efolk emailing through the ether.

And that’s why, as October comes round once again, we always keep one eye open for news of the Ig Nobel Awards. Keeping both eyes open would be a waste of an eye.

In case you’re not up to speed yet, the Annual Ig Nobel Awards (or Igs) is the second most important event on the scientific calendar. Each autumn, genuine scientific luminaries, including real Nobel Prize winners, gather at Harvard University to celebrate research which - in their own words - ‘cannot, or should not, be repeated’. The Awards, which are hosted by the Annals of Improbable Research, are given to scientists whose results make people laugh first and think second.

Each recipient is allowed only 60 seconds to make their acceptance speech; the time limit is enforced by an 8-year old girl.

What an awesome occasion. If anyone knows how I can wangle an invite (as it were), get in touch. In the meantime, all we can do is fall back and gape in sheer jaw-dropping astonishment at this year’s winners, reserving our warmest and loudest round of applause for the winners of the...

A big victory for north-east England, this - amidst a wealth of worldwide competition. The Award for Veterinary Medicine was shared by Catherine Douglas and Peter Rowlinson at Newcastle University’s School of Agriculture (of which I had previously been unaware) for their groundbreaking discovery that giving cows names like Daisy and Buttercup increases their milk yield.

"It's the highlight of my career," said Douglas. "The work amused the public, but it addressed a serious issue about the welfare of animals and points to an easy way to improve yields by reducing stress in cattle."

I sincerely hope that this couple’s achievement was accorded a long and detailed report and interview on local BBC radio and tv stations. ‘Nuff said.

Awarded for research on whether it is better to be smashed over the head with a full beer bottle or an empty one, this year’s Ig Nobel Peace Prize went to Stephan Bolliger and colleagues at the University of Bern in Switzerland. "Empty beer bottles are sturdier than full ones," the researchers reported. "However, both full and empty bottles are theoretically capable of fracturing the human neurocranium."

A worthy winner, as I’m sure you agree.

Awarded to Elena Bodnar of Hinsdale, Illinois, for patenting a bra which, in an emergency, can be converted into a pair of gas masks - one for the owner and one for a needy bystander. "It was inspired by the Chernobyl nuclear accident," said Bodnar, who is originally from Ukraine. "This way, the mask is always readily available."

Just about says it all, really.

To Donald Unger, a doctor in Thousand Oaks, California, who cracked the knuckles of his left hand, but never those on his right, every day for 60 years to investigate whether it caused arthritis. In his acceptance speech, Donald said "After 60 years, I looked at my knuckles and there's not the slightest sign of arthritis. I looked up to the heavens and said: 'Mother, you were wrong, you were wrong, you were wrong.'

So we can all crack our knuckles with impunity, knowing that, once in a while, your mother doesn’t know best.

Javier Morales shares the award with two colleagues at the National University of Mexico for turning the national drink, tequila, into diamonds. Thin films of diamond were produced by heating 80%-proof tequila blanco in a pressure vessel.

I don’t know about you but being bombarded by all this mind-mangling news has me just about bushed into a simmering cauldron of psychological dingos’ kidneys. Enough is enough. You’ll have to wait until the next blogposting for news of the Physics, Biology, Mathematics, Literature and Economics Prizes.

Take a shufty at blogposting 173 for a bit of background on this.

Big thanks to Hildie for her ‘nice word’ suggestions: indubitably, nuance, hyperbole, lollop, hemidemisemiquaver and juvenescent. What a collection.

Also to Peter in South Shields - good to hear from him after all this time - for nominating mendacious, gauche, tangy, fulminate and fluke (amongst others).

More, please, of your favourite words; not because of what they mean but just because of the form, shape or sound of the words themselves. Like untoward, diaphanous, lassitude and ravel - all from the original website list.

By virtue of the authority vested in me by the now thankfully defunct Easington District Council (‘magic on the pitch’) I hereby declare that AGM IX will take place at 1100 on Wednesday 4 November, although where is a horse of a different colour. Any further suggestions should be made via the comments column or to the truckshunters email.

Wherever we end up, though, a splendid time is guaranteed for all.

THE PICTURE ABOVE of the Official Truckshunter Ginkgo in Saltwell Park, Gateshead. It was taken by Vivienne at AGM VIII (nee VII). Thanks, Vivienne.

In effete theatrical circles, merely saying ‘Macbeth’ out loud is thought to bring untold curses and misfortune, a fact memorably exploited in one of my favourite episodes of Blackadder The Third. However, evidence may at last have emerged that Shakespeare is having the last laugh.

Please spare a thought for members of a Cardiff theatre group who have endured two black eyes, a broken toe, a knee operation, nine cast changes and a 12-month delay during their preparations to present Macbeth - ooops, sorry - ‘the Scottish play’. The presentation’s Director is called Simon Riorda and, although he only has a small part (as it were), he managed to get himself kicked in the eye during a rehearsal.

The play is running at the Chapter Arts Centre in Cardiff this very week. Any news?

Peter Mandelson.

...I was at The Sage Gateshead again last night (Thursday) to watch our beloved Northern Sinfonia perform one of the quirkiest compositions in the classical repertoire; Haydn’s Symphony No 45, nicknamed the ‘Farewell’ symphony. Haydn wrote it at the request of the members of the orchestra, who were employed, like Haydn himself, by Prince Esterhazy. He had kept them at his summer palace far longer than they were expecting and they wanted to go home to their wives in Eisenstadt.

The sledgehammer hint that Haydn wrote into the final movement of the symphony is a piece of genuine musical humour - rare in classical music. One at a time, each member of the orchestra stops playing, gets up and walks off the stage. As the symphony ends, only two players are left on stage - both of them violinists playing quieter and quieter and - eventually - fading away.

I’d never seen it performed before and it’s seriously discumknockerating to watch the players leaving the stage while their colleagues are still playing. The audience at The Sage - many of whom may not have been expecting the ‘choreography’ - were in stitches. And so was I.

Post comments on this blog or email me:

In this blogposting...
*Nice words
*In Memoriam
Now read on, Macduff...

I love the wayward unpredictability of the internet. Once you start surfing, you never know what you’re going to find. I’m not ashamed to say that I’ve wasted whole months on some highly esoteric voyages of internet discovery which have led me up some weird and wonderful garden paths. As evidence, I offer the following extract from a list of what some anonymous blogger considers to be the ‘nicest’ words in the English language. Note that ‘niceness’ here is not a measure of what the words actually mean (like mother or love) but of the words themselves, pure and simple.

Chatoyant - like a cat's eye
Plethora - a large quantity
Susurrous - whispering, hissing
Halcyon - happy, sunny, carefree
Desuetude - disuse
Inglenook - a cosy nook by the hearth
Lithe - slender and flexible
Mellifluous - sweet sounding
Mondegreen - a slip of the ear.
Offing - the sea between the horizon and the offshore
Evanescent - vanishing quickly, lasting a very short time
Desultory - slow, sluggish
Woebegone - sorrowful, downcast
Comely - attractive
Panoply - a complete set.
Erstwhile - at one time, for a time.
...and lots more.

You may not agree with all of them, but what a smashing list, taken together! Stephen Fry’s favourite words are said to be moist and twinkly, to which I would add ubiquitous, kumquat, twerp and catastrophe.

Feel free to add your own words to the list.

Nominations are still welcome for dates and venues for AGM IX. My own suggestion is that it should take place wcm November 2. But on which day? And where? The Biscuit Factory in Shieldfield seems to be the hot favourite at the minute, though I’m not too sure how accessible it is by public transport. So put your head above the parapet and air your views. A splendid time is guaranteed for all.

We truckshunters make it our business to mark the passing of people whose names, though once perhaps familiar to us in years gone by, have fallen into desuetude (see above) as time has passed. Like f'rinstance...

..who died a few days ago, aged 72. She was the Mary of Peter, Paul and Mary - part of the folk-revival of the 60s and, perhaps predictably, a very big influence on my teenage musical tastes. While my two brothers were quietly going berserk listening to Deep Crimson (or whatever), I was lost in the admittedly bowdlerised soul-searching of Don’t Think Twice It’s All Right, Leavin’ On A Jet Plane, Blowin’ In The Wind and Puff The Magic Dragon (no comments, please).

I still have all their albums and listen to them regularly, invariably saying quietly to myself that ‘they don’t write them like that anymore’, as you do. Tracks like The House Song, Old Coat and Hymn still blow me away.

Who? I hear you ask. In response to your not unreasonable query, I can do no better than quote from her obituary in The Guardian.

‘In 18 years of professional wrestling throughout the US, Gladys "Killem" Gillem, who has died aged 89, was never allowed to beat Mildred Burke. She later claimed one small victory when, aged 85, she disclosed in a film that she had slept with Burke's husband, the promoter Billy Wolfe, to get a pay rise.

Always something of a tomboy, Gillem was expelled from her Catholic school for putting minnows in the holy water. After seeing Mildred Burke wrestle, she asked if she could join her. She was trained by another of Wolfe's stable, Wilma "Babe" Gordon and then for nearly 20 years became one of Burke's principal opponents.

Unfortunately she never learned to fall properly and the back of her head was said to be as soft as a cauliflower. Her bouts with Burke were often ferocious and on one occasion, wrestling for the world title, she bit deep into Burke's thigh, refusing to let go until Burke broke her nose. Although women could earn up to $100 a night wrestling, Wolfe kept most of it, deducting not only 50% but also expenses and overheads so that Gillem and the other girls often ended up with just $3 a night.

After nearly 20 years in the ring she decided to become a lion tamer – "I pity the lions," said Burke – working with Captain Ernest Enger's act, which she eventually took over. She also tried to become an equestrienne, but at 5ft 2in she had difficulty in leaping on the horses and so took up the trapeze. Her career as a lion tamer ended in central America when the promoter absconded with the takings.

She and her husband John Aloysius Wall opened a tourist attraction in Florida where she wrestled alligators. The secret, she said, was to tickle their stomachs, something alligators apparently love. After Wall was killed in a Broadway theatre accident, she once again took to the road with her alligators. She finally retired after injuring her back in Calgary.

Always a good cook, she then bought a run-down motel in Pensacola, Florida, naming it the Birmingham Motel, which she advertised as "welcoming lovers". A room cost $10 for two hours and on one occasion she chased down the street after a customer who had made off with the sheets.

She is survived by her three children and a number of grandchildren, one of whom, Shawn McCoy, named his rock band Killem Gillem in her honour.’

So now you know.

And finally...
...who played Fred Quilley the jockey in Hi De Hi, has died aged 87.

Post comments on this blog or email me:
The Scene of the Crime


In this blogposting...
*Thomas Zehetmair
*Another Kev joke
*Six-word stories
Now read on, Macduff...

I went to the first of this season’s orchestral concerts at The Sage on Friday night, and very good it was, too. It included Haydn’s Symphony No 101 ‘The Clock’ ( - Haydn wrote 104 symphonies so is, perhaps understandably, known as ‘The Father of the Symphony’; contrary to the usual way of these things, no-one seems to know who the mother was - ) and Brahms’ Symphony No 3.

Unfortunately, it also included some stultifyingly turgid ‘lieder’ (songs) written by Mahler, which had me looking despairingly at my watch after about 30 seconds.

The whole concert, though, was magnificently performed by our very own Northern Sinfonia - for whom three hearty cheers - under their Musical Director, Thomas Zehetmair, who can brandish a baton as well as anyone.

Watching him at work reminded me of what may arguably be regarded - by me personally, at least - as one of my most embarrassing moments on the Big Blue Bus. Much worse than calling Anthea Lang (local history supremo at Gateshead Council) by at least four different names in the course of a single interview - Angela, Alison, Annette, Adrienne - or being literally struck dumb at the beginning of an interview with Lucinda Lambton (one of my all-time heroes) or the time when I subjected the phrase ‘flat-twinning’ to a particularly unfortunate spoonerism.

No doubt you can think of others.

Where was I? Ah, yes...

The Bus was on one of its periodic ‘summer holiday’ weeks; we were broadcasting from Low Newton-by-the-Sea (which God preserve) and I’d been told that Herr Zehetmair lived in the vicinity. The Sage was about a year old at the time so naturally, I invited Herr Zehetmair to come to the Bus for an interview.

Thomas Zehetmair is Austrian. He was born and raised in Salzburg, also the city of Mozart. Indeed, his parents both taught at the city’s music school, known as the Mozarteum. Thomas himself is recognised as one of the world’s greatest exponents of the works of Mozart. The depth of his knowledge and skill in performance of the works of Mozart is legendary worldwide.

Of course, I had briefed myself very badly indeed and knew none of this. All I knew was that I am not a big fan of Mozart. Just the opposite, in fact.

None of which excuses the fact that I found myself asking him Why so much Mozart, then? After all, once you’ve heard one bit of Mozart, you’ve heard them all.

This wasn’t brass-necked chutzpah. It wasn’t provocative cheekiness. It was breathtaking, know-it-all smugness of the worst possible kind. Like asking David Attenborough why all the wildlife films? or denying climate change and global warming on the basis that sunnier summers would be good for business in Low Newton-by-the-Sea.

I am blushing very deeply as I type. So much so that I’d better change the subject...

I was about to tout for dates and venues for AGM VIII when Hildie emailed me with some vital information. We’ve already had eight AGMs! Namely:
I The Keelman, Newburn.
II Tyneside Coffee Rooms.
III Sunderland Winter Gardens.
IV Birkheads.
V Tanfield Railway
VI Quayside/ Sage.
VII Tynemouth Station.
VIII Saltwell Park
Naturally, she’s right. So the next AGM will, in fact, be the ninth. Doesn’t time fly when you’re enjoying yourself?

In the meantime, your suggestions for dates/venues for AGM IX - including, of course, The Biscuit Factory - gratefully received. A splendid time is guaranteed for all.

(I feel constrained to point out at this juncture that one of our most loyal and faithful truckshunters - artist Alison Best - has had her work refused by The Biscuit Factory. So I will only agree to go there if we all agree to make a nuisance of ourselves lobbying for her work to be displayed.)

Kev also sent me a satirical joke which, though possibly a little non-PC, nevertheless has some valid points to make. Neither of us accepts any responsibility for any offence caused.

Last month a world-wide survey was conducted by the UN. The only question asked was:

"Would you please give your honest opinion about solutions to the food shortage in the rest of the world?"

The survey was a failure because of the following:

* In Eastern Europe they didn't know what "honest" meant.
* In Western Europe they didn't know what "shortage" meant.
* In Africa they didn't know what "food" meant.
* In China they didn't know what "opinion" meant.
* In the Middle East they didn't know what "solution" meant.
* In South America they didn't know what "please" meant.
* In the US they didn't know what "the rest of the world" meant.
* In Australia, they hung up, because they couldn't understand the Indian accent.

Someone - and for the very life of me, I can’t remember who - has drawn my attention to a charming internet craze; stories told in only six words, no more and no less. So far, I’ve come across these...

Creaking branches… Flat tires… It lunges!
Shadows lengthen. Sun sets. Broken promise.
Their eyes met. She knew. Goodbye.
The baby’s blood type? Human, mostly.
She smiled. His wallet was empty.
Won’t open… raining. Solar-powered umbrella.
Married for money, divorced for love.

I’ve tried very hard indeed to dream up a few of my own but it’s not as easy as you might think. Try it.

Post comments on this blog or email me:

In this posting...
*Frank Thomas Dodds
Now read on, Macduff...

Right now I have a particularly virulent cold. You know the sort of thing - a nose that seems to be running with the unstoppable and inexplicable volume of High Force, sinuses so blocked that a sink-plunger wouldn’t make the slightest impression on them, a throat so sore you could strike matches in it and a head like Craghead (as my Nana used to say).

It’s at times like this that I’m prone to pathetic and unwholesome feelings of self-pity. Well, to be brutally honest, I’m prone to self-pity at other times, too. Generally, all I have to do is consider the more monstrous and preposterous aspects of existence - why is Jim Davidson permitted to exist? why didn’t I move to somehwere warmer 20 years ago? why are airports (and the people who work in them) so loathsome? why don’t the people of Middlesbrough rise up in rebellion, demolish the place and start all over again? - and I’m plunged into a wallowing morass of barely excusable grumpiness.

And that was exactly my frame of mind when I woke up yesterday morning. I felt drunk. And if you really want to know how that feels, ask a glass of water.

Luckily, I have developed a workable solution to these situations. I have a kind of safety valve. I tell myself that, if life seems to have hit rock bottom for some reason, all I need to do is consider the alternative. So yesterday morning I did what I’ve done several times before - I went out, bought my paper and an apple yum-yum and went to Newcastle Crematorium.

It’s lovely there. The flower-beds are beautifully planted and maintained, the buildings have a solid, peaceful air of eternity about them, the birds are singing - and you’re surrounded by uncountable numbers of departed souls who, given a choice, would much rather be quietly devouring an apple yum-yum than doing whatever it is they are, or are not, doing.

As the minutes passed I found myself watching - at a discreet distance - the preparations for a funeral. A small crowd of people - say, about 40 or so - slowly gathered at the crematorium gates to await the arrival of the hearse and, as I watched, I became increasingly fascinated by them.

Funerals being what they are, you expect the mourners mostly to comprise of older people. Indeed, a ceremony had just finished and, as those who had come to say their goodbyes walked back to their cars, the sea of grey hair and the forest of walking sticks seemed entirely appropriate to the occasion.

But the group gathering by the gate for the next funeral was not like that at all. The age mix was astonishing. There were a few older people but the vast majority of mourners were well under 30. And much of their attire defied funeral tradition, too. One young lad was dressed in white, there were a few jeans and leather jackets. And one man in particular wore an eye-catching and very handsome fedora.

I found myself wondering whose funeral this could be. And the Service Order told me.

Frank Thomas Dodds.

The cortege arrived, Frank’s coffin was duly borne into the chapel and the crocodile of mourners followed it inside. By this time, I was so curious about the man whose funeral could attract such a wildly disparate group of people that I almost followed them inside to find out more about him by listening to the orations.

And now, a day later, I wish I had. Frank Thomas Dodds, whoever he may have been, whatever he may have done and however he may have died, proved to me once again - just as I was in danger of disappearing up my own self-pity - that everyone has a story to tell and that no story is more or less important or interesting than any other.

During his lifetime, Frank was obviously held in high esteem by an amazingly varied and perhaps unexpectedly diverse group of people, many of whom turned out to mourn his death. I hope, in their loss, that those closest to him were able to take comfort from the numbers - and the youth - of those who attended his funeral with them.

Goodbye, Frank Thomas Dodds. Whoever you were.

As I turned away from the chapel, I was reminded of one of the saddest days in my career on the Big Blue Bus.

My first job at BBC Radio Newcastle was to join Paul for the last hour of the Saturday programme he used to do. The theme of the hour was local history and one of our regular, though infrequent, callers was Vivian in Rothbury. Whenever we heard his voice, we smiled at each other and knew we were in for a treat.

He told us early on that he was a retired serviceman, although he didn’t need to. He spoke with that deliciously deep and resonant voice which seems to be reserved for retired Army colonels who are utterly convinced that they know what they’re talking about and that their opinions and views have been gained from years of adventure and active service and ought therefore to be listened to.

In his own case, he was perfectly correct. Our on-air chats with him were invariably informative, saucy and laced with the spice of past glories fondly remembered and humorously recalled.

Time passed. I left Paul’s Saturday show to plough my own furrow as the traffic and travel presenter and then to host my own Roots programme for a while. And then came the Big Blue Bus.

Eventually - after a couple of years - we arranged to broadcast a programme from Rothbury. As soon as the bus was parked up on the green, I made it my business to enquire after the wonderful Vivian. Did anyone know him? Where did he live?

Oh yes, they knew him. A well-loved and well-respected member of the Rothbury community. A real old-fashioned eccentric; a character regarded with affection by everyone in the town.

Vivian - who had died three weeks before I was able to meet him.

Journalists and presenters have an unduly harsh reputation for being too dispassionate and uncaring about their jobs and the people they come into contact with; their audience. But believe me, I was broken-hearted that morning in Rothbury. Vivian had been amongst the first few listeners I had spoken to in my fledgling career at the BBC and his audio presence had commanded my respect and affection in equal measure. I had always wanted to meet him. Knowing that I would never have that opportunity - and that his death had been so mercilessly recent - felt like a familiar light being extinguished before I could enjoy its warmth and brilliance at first hand.

Post comments on this blog or email me:
In this posting...
*Pet Hate of the Day
Now read on, Macduff...

It looks as if the Birkheads Ad Hoc Committee made exactly the right decision about AGM VII. Saltwell Park certainly deserves its recent accolade as England’s Best Park and the magnificently restored Saltwell Towers was an augustly appropriate setting for a meeting with the obvious cultural import of a Truckshunters AGM - all brushed slate floors and cappuccinos.

I was going to express my disappointment at the truckshunters whose company was once again missed by all and sundry except that that wouldn’t do nearly enough justice to those who did take the trouble to attend; namely Vivienne, Maureen, Hildie, Sid, the sunshine and yours truly. Truckshunter AGMs are rapidly getting the reputation for being the most fun you can have with your clothes on, even though - as Vivienne calculated unnervingly quickly - the collective age of those round the table was 356. Yes, I know.

The photograph above (why does Hildie always close her eyes at the wrong moment?) was taken by a splendid lady in a foxy purple outfit. Another few minutes and I would have converted her to the Cause. Oh, well.

My thanks once again to everyone who attended; especially for accompanying me to pay homage to our Community Tree - the ginkgo which Gateshead Council has thoughtfully planted next to the maze.

From now on, I think it would be rather jolly to play a couple of rounds of charades, word-for-word, Four Lane Ends or perhaps one of Hildie’s conversational party games. That way, we would cause even more havoc amongst the lunching classes than we do already.

Of the 708,711 live births in England and Wales in 2008, no fewer than 8,007 of the boys were called Jack and 5,317 of the girls were called Olivia, making them the most popular names for babies last year.

The fastest-rising names in popularity were - for boys - Riley, Theo and Blake and - for girls - Lexi, Ava, Isla and Esme.

The top ten pet names are Charlie, Poppy, Molly, Alfie, Max, Jack, Daisy, Ruby, Oscar and Rosie.

Any comment from me about any of this would be in bad taste, gratuitously offensive and - as it happens - unnecessary.

Peter Mandelson.

Post comments on this blog or email me:

...I’ve got loads more to say but I have a stinking cold, it’s after midnight and I’m going to bed. Goodnight.