In this posting...
*The Admirable Lawrence


*Another Stockton Hero

*Fenwick’s Window

Now read on, Macduff...

Most thoroughbred truckshunters will know of the redoubtable Lawrence Hepple, a stalwart and regular companion of mine on The Nightshift. He it was who dreamed up, and scripted, the topics for the weekly On Your Doorstep feature. His research was meticulous, even though the poor misguided fellow rarely knew the direction our chats would go in.

It’s only fair to say, at this point, that I didn’t really know where the chats were heading to either. Lawrence and I promised you each week that he wouldn’t tell me the OYD subject until I pressed the ‘record’ button. And he didn’t. Sometimes I wished he had - a sentiment I’m sure you share. Mostly though, the cul-de-sacs and blind alleys we went up were a sheer delight, journeys of exploration that often left me gasping with amazement at Lawrence’s erudition or guffawing at my own ignorance and/or stupidity.

After recording each edition of OYD, Lawrence and I made it our business to sample the delights of the ‘greasy spoons’ (no offence meant) on ‘Motorbike Hill’. So established did this habit become that it even survived my departure from the BBC. Lawrence and I still meet up once every three weeks or so for breakfast - usually at the Job Bulman pub in Gosforth. If you’d like to join us one morning, just say so.

Two of the four pictures above were taken at our last Breakfast Summit on Tuesday; the other two were taken at AGM IX. You shouldn’t need me to differentiate them for you!

And weren’t we lucky that the Eye opened while we were there?

...will be held, with all the panoply and dignity we can muster, at the Biscuit Factory on Stoddart Street in Newcastle on Thursday 3 December at 1100. You’d better be there.

A splendid time is guaranteed for all.

For a while, BBC Radio Newcastle used to tout me as their local history guru. Seriously. I know - some guru. As I’ve said time and again, and almost since the day I started, what is truly awe-inspiring is the amount of north-east history I didn't know and which, therefore, my literate and knowledgeable listeners could impart to me. Daniel Defoe wrote Robinson Crusoe in Gateshead. The play that Abraham Lincoln was watching when he was assassinated was written by a Sunderland lad. Birds can get Newcastle Disease. That kind of thing.

Well you’ll be glad to hear that the tradition is still very much alive. Truckshunter Peter has emailed me to ask how, in my ramblings about Stockton in posting 181, I could possibly have omitted to mention the birth, on December 6 1888, of none other than Will Hay in that noble town.

Yes, that Will Hay. He of the Oh Mr Porter, bumbling headmaster-type characters in British black-and-white films of the 30s and 40s. And all this time I simply didn’t know that he was a local lad.

Well I never. Thanks Peter. Keep in touch!

This is, of course, the time of year when many, if not most, retail businesses do most of their turnover. Which is why it’s also the season for shop windows to be full of stuff we can’t afford and don’t need - stuff for us to spend spend spend our money on.

In fact, we’re so used to the cynical, money-grubbing commercialism of Christmas that Fenwick’s longstanding tradition - steadfastly upheld for many years - of spending thousands of pounds on a specially-commissioned Christmas Window on Northumberland Street seems almost unbelievable. You’d have thought it would have gone the way of real log fires and carols round the family tree years ago.

Paul and I were once allowed to pre-record an item for the Blue Bus Programme from behind Fenwick’s Christmas Window. I suppose it would be disloyal and discourteous to describe the many ‘Heath Robinson’ contraptions hidden behind the seasonal public facade - contrivances without which the donkey’s tail wouldn’t wag and the Three Wise Men would remain obstinately in the East.

That there is still a department store - and one with strong local connexions at that - which is willing to do all this every Christmas does something to repair the jaded festive spirits each year. Go and see this year’s offering. It’s as good as ever, I reckon.

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

In this posting...
*Neglected Local Hero
*John Walker
*A Serious Man
*The Great and the Good
Now, read on Macduff...

For Heaven’s sake don’t forget to move whatever mountains that may get in your way in order to attend what may very well be the AGM to end all AGMs. Leave no turn unstoned to get there. We are gunna truly rock The Biscuit Factory at 1100 on Thursday 3 December - the last day of my 61st year. So I’ll be expecting a very great deal of tea and sympathy. Or just sympathy.

Apart from that, a splendid time is guaranteed for all.

Well, almost local. A huge round of truckshunter applause, please, for Craig Beevers, who has managed to overcome the built-in disadvantages of having been born and raised in Stockton-on-Tees to become the British National Scrabble Champion. He came second last year to an upstart called David Webb but this year he trounced all-comers - including the hopeless Mr Webb - and pocketed the £1,500 prize money.

According to the report I read, he was due to fly to Malaysia (of all places) for the World Championships sometime during November. Can anyone update us on this?

I suppose I shouldn’t be so unkind about Stockton. In a way, it has a lot going for it. For a start, there's the widest High Street in England (reputedly) in the middle of which stands a sumptuous 18th-century Town Hall. Next door there's a genuine ‘shambles’. Overlooking all of this is the ‘classical’ Parish Church which Sir Christopher Wren (no less) may have had a hand in designing. Add to all this the annual Stockton Riverside Festival, which is truly astonishing, and (of course) one of the termini of the world’s oldest public railway, together with the world’s oldest ticket office.

And that's not all. We couldn't possibly list the attributes of this noble and very ancient town without a mention of John Walker, the inventor of matches (see above). The first ones went on sale in the High Street in 1827.

But Stockton can’t have it all its own way. It rushes up the league table of ‘civic foolishness’ on two counts.

Firstly, the Town Fathers decided to demolish all that was left of Stockton Castle - the ruins of which used to stand at the southern end if the High Street - to build a hotel. But the second example of public philistinism knocks the first into a cocked hat. It even appeared on That’s Life as one of the daftest things a Council ever did.

It concerns the aforementioned match-inventor, John Walker (see above - again). A few years back, the Council decided that he deserved some kind of memorial so they commissioned a sculpture; a bronze bust of the great man, mounted on a small pedestal and planted in a charming rose garden specially laid out for the purpose near the site of his workshop. Naturally, they provided the sculptor with a portrait likeness of John Walker.

The sculpture was duly unveiled amid great pomp and circumstance. Everyone agreed that the likeness to the portrait was remarkable. The long flowing hair, the full round cheeks, the beard.

It took an observant schoolboy to point out, though, that the portrait the Council had provided was of an entirely different John Walker altogether. Apparently, it was a picture of a pompous, overfed and dull member of Stockton’s Victorian Corporation and, as far as I know, it is a bust of this boring old curmudgeon which still graces the rose garden at the bottom of the High Street.

Hildie and I met up again today for another Silver Screen movie at the Tyneside Cinema. It was called A Serious Man. Go and see it.

I don’t know about you but sometimes - during those increasingly common periods when I allow my mind to drift wherever it feels it wants to go - I find myself wondering (like a good truckshunter) about the everyday minutiae of the lives of the Great and the Good. What kind of toilet paper does Robbie Williams use? Who does Sir David Attenborough’s washing-up? Does Peter Mandelson buy his own facial scrub?

So, just in case you ever wondered how the Rich and Famous conduct themselves in these circumstances, I’ve decided to let you into some of the more esoteric secrets of my own daily life. Only occasionally, though. After all, I don’t want to end up on the cover of Heat or Radio Fun.

So here goes. Your first insight into what it means to be Ian Robinson making a day-to-day decision...

Today - Monday 23 November 2009 - I decided not to buy a new iron.

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


In this blogposting...
*The Things People Say
*Things You Didn’t Know You Didn’t Know
*In Memoriam
Now, read on, Macduff...

In a recent posting I mentioned a saying my Nana used which has puzzled the whole family for decades. If, when we were kids, she thought we were being boastful or ‘showing off’, she’d say ‘You’d be a genius if you had a glass arse’. To this day, none of us has any idea where she picked up this colourful and - to some people - indelicate phrase. If you can throw some light on this mystery, please get in touch.

(Incidentally, one of the reasons this phrase stands out so much in my memory is - as well as its impenetrable lack of logic - the use of the word arse. The use of four-letter words was, and remains, utterly unknown in my family. In truth, this is the only example I can think of. I apologise if anyone is offended. Perhaps I should have added a warning preamble.)

Anyway, I’m delighted to say that quoting my Nana’s weird adages has jogged the memory of Peter, from South Shields. He’s sent me an email quoting some of the stock phrases his Mam and Nana used to say in a wide range of situations.

To someone who was taking a long time to get to the point of a story: ‘Tell us the time, not how the watch works’. Truly elegant!
To someone who was standing in the way: ‘Let the dog see the rabbit’. This one interests me because my Mam uses it too, but to mean something different like ‘let’s get organised, let’s get down to business’.
To someone who is trying to speak while they are eating: ‘Let your meat stop your mouth’. Yes, my Nana used this one too.
On getting home and opening the front door: ‘Home again, home again, jiggedy jog’. Yes, my Mam uses this one too.
About someone considered ugly: ‘A face like a Dutchman’s bum - turned inside out and well whitewashed’. I’m not entirely sure I understand that one! And apologies to Maureen's other half.
Peter’s Nana once described a woman as having ‘a face that would stop a clock’. I love that one.
An eccentric or weird person was ‘as queer as Dick’s hatband’. Both Peter and I would like to know who Dick was and what was so queer about his hatband.
My Nana used to describe an indecisive woman thus: ‘She’ll neither heck nor ree’. I wonder what language that started out out in?
She would also describe the very early hours of the morning, when many miners would trudge to work, as being ‘before the streets are aired’.
And finally, another phrase used my Peter’s Nana about anyone she considered miserable or grumpy; ‘Every time she laughs, a donkey dies’.
I love that one. Perfection.

If you have any contributions, please use the comments box or email me.

...will take place at 1100 on Thursday 3 December at the Biscuit Factory on Stoddart Street in Newcastle. A splendid time is guaranteed for all.

Charles Dickens invented the word boredom. Surprise surprise.
Water is not colourless; it really is blue.
A man called Charles Osborne had the hiccups for 69 years.
There’s a place called Why in Arizona; Maine has a Pardon; Tennessee has an Only and a Difficult; and Newfoundland has a Dildo and a Blow-Me-Down.
Panama hats are made in Ecuador.
The Canary Islands are named after dogs, not birds.
Wild animals don’t snore.
The collective noun for crows is a murder, for skylarks it’s an exaltation, and for cats it’s a clowder. Lovely.

It has been brought to my attention that I neglected to mark the passing of Vic Mizzy on 17 October. In the unlikely event that you can’t immediately call to mind who this man was...he wrote the ‘kooky’, click click theme tune to The Addams Family. If there was a tv theme tune Hall of Fame, that would be in it. Along with Emergency Ward 10, Robin Hood, Doctor Who...and your own favourites.

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In this blogposting...
*Painted Hands
*Pariah of the Week
Now, read on, Macduff...

A big thankyou to Maureen, who sent me the pictures above of ‘painted hands’. Apparently, the bloke that does them takes four hours over each one, photographs them, gives them to the world and - naturally - washes them off. Even though some of you may already have seen some of them, I make no apologies for featuring them here.

To use Maureen’s description...awesome. Specially that swan.

A friend of mine pointed me in the direction of these observations about ageing, and how we regard growing older. The author was George Carlin, a thought-provoking and very unconventional American stand-up comedian almost in the Bill Hicks mode. He died in 2008.

Do you realize that the only time in our lives when we like to get old is when we're kids?
If you're less than 10 years old, you're so excited about ageing that you think in fractions.
 "How old are you?" "I'm four and a half!" You're never thirty-six and a half. You're four and a half, going on five! That's the key.

You get into your teens, now they can't hold you back. You jump to the next number, or even a few ahead.
"How old are you?" "I'm gonna be 16!" You could be 13, but hey, you're gonna be 16!

And then the greatest day of your life . . you become 21. Even the words sound like a ceremony . . YOU BECOME 21. YESSSS!!!

But then you turn 30. Oooohh, what happened there? Makes you sound like bad milk! He TURNED; we had to throw him out. There's no fun now, you're just a sour-dumpling.

What's wrong? What's changed?
 You BECOME 21, you TURN 30, then you're PUSHING 40. Whoa! Put on the brakes, it's all slipping away. Before you know it, you REACH 50 and your dreams are gone.

But wait!!! You MAKE it to 60. You didn't think you would!

So you BECOME 21, TURN 30, PUSH 40, REACH 50 and MAKE it to 60.
You've built up so much speed that you HIT 70!

After that it's a day-by-day thing; you HIT Wednesday!

You get into your 80's and every day is a complete cycle; you HIT lunch; you TURN 4:30; you REACH bedtime. And it doesn't end there. Into the 90's, you start going backwards; "I Was JUST 92."

Then a strange thing happens. If you make it over 100, you become a little kid again. "I'm 100 and a half!"

May you all make it to a healthy 100 and a half!!

...will take place at 1100 on Thursday 3 December at the Biscuit Factory on Stoddart Street in Newcastle. As Hildie has already had the temerity to point out (in a comment to posting 178), this is the day before I make it to 61. So, if there isn’t a good turn-out, I’ll sulk - as if I was four and a half.

And NEVER forget: a splendid time is guaranteed for all.

Peter Mandelson

Forget the fairylike artiness of Keats’ Ode to Autumn - you know, ‘season of mists and mellow fruitfulness’ and so on. Mellow fruitfulness be damned. The best poetic description of this particularly vapid time of year was written by Victorian poet, author and social satirist Thomas Hood. For reasons that will become clear, it’s called...November.

No sun--no moon!
No morn--no noon!
No dawn--no dusk--no proper time of day--
No sky--no earthly view--
No distance looking blue--
No road--no street--no "t'other side the way"--
No end to any Row--
No indications where the Crescents go--
No top to any steeple--
No recognitions of familiar people--
No courtesies for showing 'em--
No knowing 'em!
No travelling at all--no locomotion--
No inkling of the way--no notion--
"No go" by land or ocean--
No mail--no post--
No news from any foreign coast--
No Park, no Ring, no afternoon gentility--
No company--no nobility--
No warmth, no cheerfulness, no healthful ease,
No comfortable feel in any member--
No shade, no shine, no butterflies, no bees,
No fruits, no flowers, no leaves, no birds--

...(still on the subject of the dreary month of November), the French, who have always been keen observers of the English, have a proverb: 'In October the Englishman shoots pheasants. In November, he shoots himself.'

Just about says it all, really.

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In this blogposting...
*Alan Turing
*rhymes without reason
*Armistice Day
Now, read on, Macduff...

Hildie recently spent a few days in Manchester and made it her business to seek out the sculpture of Alan Turing (about whom, see blogpostings passim). And, in Sackville Gardens, she found him. The proof is above, for all to see.

I’ve had an email from Matt ‘King’ Coal (yes, him again). He said he sent it because he was - frankly - bored and couldn’t think of anything else to do. How very dare he?

As a matter of fact, Matt’s email sparked an orgy of nostalgia (if that’s possible) in what’s left of my mind. He quoted a nonsense rhyme which he said he remembered from his schooldays in Sunderland.

One fine day in the middle of the night
Two dead men got up to fight.
Back to back they faced each other.
Then drew their swords and shot each other.
A deaf policeman heard the noise.
Came out and killed the two dead boys.
If you don't believe this lie it's true.
Ask the blindman - he saw it too.

I don’t remember that rhyme at all, but it brought to mind some of the many ‘counting-out’ rhymes and skipping songs from my early days in East Durham.

Inkey pinkey ponkey
Daddy bought a donkey
Donkey died, daddy cried
Inkey pinkey ponkey.

I’m sure there’s a lesson there for all of us. And how about...

There was a man, he went mad
He jumped into a paper bag
The paper bag was too narrow
He jumped into a wheelbarrow
The wheelbarrow was too nasty
He jumped into an apple pasty
The apple pasty was too sweet
He jumped into Chester-le-Street
Chester-le-Street was full of stones
He fell down and broke his bones.

It’s still a bit risky jumping into Chester-le-Street.

Trimdon troughlegs stands on a hill
Poor silly Fishburn stands stock still
Butterwick walls are like to fall
But Sedgefield is the flower of them all.

And that mention of Butterwick brought to mind yet another of my Nana’s weird sayings - she was infamous in the family for her axioms and catch-phrases, many of which made no sense at all to her enraptured grandchildren. Many of them are still impenetrably obscure; what on earth does ‘you’d be a genius if you had a glass arse!’ mean? Unfortunately, she’s not around to ask.

Anyway...another of the wry remarks she was fond of dropping into conversations was ‘going to church at Butterwick’. She used it to imply that a task was fruitless and pointless. And it wasn’t until I mentioned the phrase in the early days of Paul’s Saturday programme that I found out why. A listener called with the explanation.

There is no church at Butterwick!

Keep your votes coming in for the date of AGM X. The venue is the Biscuit Factory in Newcastle.

A splendid time is guaranteed for all.

I naturally have many memories of the Big Blue Bus programme Paul and I presented for four years - yes, it was that long - from all over the north-east. Each show seemed to develop its own ‘personality’ within moments of ten o’clock. Some of them were chaotically wayward from beginning to end; others were ‘learned’ and inspirational; some were positively educational; some were fanciful and flippant; yet others were contemplative and thought-provoking. Amongst this latter group were the programmes we broadcast on Armistice Day.

I have to be honest here. ‘Remembrance Sunday’ genuinely annoys me. The ceremony - with its accompanying two-minute silence - was originally decreed (by King George V) to be held, famously, at ‘the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month’; that is, of course, at 11 o’clock on November 11. But during the 60s, this solemn act of remembrance was moved to the nearest Sunday to November 11 because otherwise it interfered too much with business, commerce and the daily round of ordinary life.

But surely, interfering with business, commerce and the daily round of ordinary life is the whole point. Whatever else we are doing, whatever other pressures and concerns are crowding in on us, we should stop, just once a year - and just for two minutes - to remember those who died - or sustained terrible injuries - on our behalf, and to bring to mind those who are still doing so today, whether they are fighting and dying or suffering here at home.

So it’s only right that, a few years ago - and thanks to a campaign by the British Legion - the two-minute silence was restored to its proper date and time.

And it’s the Blue Bus programmes we broadcast on Armistice Day that come most vividly to mind.

The armistice hooter sounding across the decades in Swan Hunter’s shipyard and the eerie, wind-blown silence that followed before the hooter sounded again.

And, perhaps most moving of all, the Salvation Army band playing Deep Harmony as the eleventh hour approached on Bedford Street in North Shields. The shopping centre clock struck the hour and everyone - there were no exceptions - stood still. Everyone stopped. No-one moved. Many heads were bowed. There were many tears.

To me, there is very little in human experience to compare with a large crowd of people standing in total and utter silence, each one lost in thought and contemplation. It’s awesome to witness and even more awesome to be part of.

I don’t agree with those who say ‘it’s all in the past’ and we should move on. Countless lives were lost and countless hearts broken so that we can enjoy the life we have today. Two minutes out of that life - just once a year - is no sacrifice at all compared to the sacrifice they made.

I have a rendezvous with Death
At some disputed barricade,
When Spring comes back with rustling shade
And apple-blossoms fill the air—

I have a rendezvous with Death
When Spring brings back blue days and fair.
It may be he shall take my hand
And lead me into his dark land
And close my eyes and quench my breath—
It may be I shall pass him still.

I have a rendezvous with Death
On some scarred slope of battered hill,
When Spring comes round again this year
And the first meadow-flowers appear.
God knows 'twere better to be deep
Pillowed in silk and scented down
Where love throbs out in blissful sleep,
Pulse nigh to pulse, and breath to breath,
Where hushed awakenings are dear...

But I've a rendezvous with Death
At midnight in some flaming town,
When Spring trips north again this year
And I to my pledged word am true
I shall not fail that rendezvous.

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

In this posting...
*AGMs IX, X and XI
*One to ten
Now read on, Macduff...

So there we all were - seven of us. There was the sprightly Ada (who does not live in North Shields); there was Maureen, the Roker diva (unless I’ve got that wrong, too, and she doesn’t live in Roker); there was the divine Vivienne, doyen and habituee of Gibside; there was the incredible Sid, he of the caravan and the fecund allotment; there was the sultry Hildie, my hardy Silver Screen companion; there was Lawrence, who has been tuning pianos for as long as there have been pianos; and me. Quite a roll-call of the great and the good, I think you’ll agree. Except, perhaps, for me.

The venue - Old St Mary’s Church, next to The Sage in Gateshead - lived up to expectations in more ways than we imagined. It’s the town’s Heritage Centre now and, although the sensational Anthea Lang (see blogpostings, passim) wasn’t there at first, we were treated to a group of local schoolkids taking part in an extra-curricular activity: they were finding out what life was like for children their age during the Second World War.

And they certainly entered into the spirit of the occasion. Most of them were dressed in period style - all cloth caps, utility skirts, corduroy school shorts and mufflers - and they were all, without exception, rooted to the spot as they listened to the Centre’s Education Officer - a lad whose name I carelessly neglected to make a note of - tell them of the hardships and pleasures of life a mere 65 or so years ago.

He didn’t just talk, though. The kids watched a computer presentation of black-and-white photographs of Gateshead in wartime - many of them featuring kids dressed exactly like the audience who were watching.

And it didn’t even end there. He produced artifacts of the time, including one of the weirdest things I’ve ever seen; a baby’s gas mask that enabled the baby to be ‘changed’ while it was still in there! It defies description, so I’ve found a picture of one - see below. (The ‘concertina’ arrangement at the side enabled Mam (or Dad) to pump fresh, filtered air inside - every 20 seconds or so.)
For some of us, the demonstration was reminding us of just how old we were. After a dozen exclamations like ‘We had one of those!’ and ‘I can remember that!’, we decided it was time to leave the kids to their fascination and decamp to The Sage for a cup of takeaway coffee and one of Hildie’s ‘ambient’ sausage rolls.

What on earth possesses the Co-op to call what are, for all intents and purposes, perfectly normal sausage rolls ‘ambient’ is still beyond me, despite several truckshunter efforts to find out. I’ve made a note to call the Co-op and investigate.

Having said that, I think the whole world should know how partial Lawrence was to them. Yours truly only managed to get my hands on one. One. 'Nuff said.

Sid had mentioned, almost as a throwaway comment, that his wife Jean had been baptised in St Mary’s. Truly, holy ground. So we decided to call back in to find out if they could locate the relevant documentation.

And they did! The same Education Officer who had enraptured the kids earlier used the micro-fiche reader to locate the register of Jean’s birth ( - she was one of triplets, and her brothers' baptisms were recorded there, too). It was one of those family-history moments that we’ll all treasure. The registry entry was printed off so that Sid (and Jean) have a very personal and historic memento of this amazing, and very rewarding, AGM.

I think Maureen’s Shildon idea (see her comment to blogposting 176) is splendid. What a smashing way to (belatedly) celebrate my birthday! I’d love it. The Milky Bars would certainly be on me that day! And it wouldn’t be as difficult to organise as it might appear. Four people per car and the job is done.

More input, please.

In the meantime - as we have all more or less agreed - AGM X will take place at The Biscuit Factory on Stoddart Street. It’s a couple of minutes’ walk from the New Bridge Street end of Byker Bridge. The date, though, needs to be fixed. I suggest a day during wcm 30 November. Or perhaps the week after. Any comments?

A splendid time is guaranteed for all.

I have to admit that I was beginning to wonder why no-one had queried the mysterious caption at the head of the blog. But I reckoned without your investigative powers.

Yes, these are the numbers from one to ten in Basque, spoken in north-east Spain and south-west France. Basque is a member of a very small group of languages called 'isolates'. Whereas most languages are related to at least one other (as French to Spanish to Portuguese to Italian to Romanian), Basque is utterly unlike any other language on earth, as you can see.

Like so much in life, it's a complete mystery.

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