The Saltwell Towers AGM was proof of an old and trusted adage:  that Life is full of the kind of unexpected and pleasant surprises that most of us live in the hope of.

For a start, it was my privilege to be the official AGM chauffeur, which is a first.  Exactly on time, I picked up Hildie, her sister Mary, and Brenda outside the massage parlour they have shares in and whisked them off to Saltwell Park.

(Chauffeur means ‘heater’ in French; why does it mean something so different in English?)

And there waiting for us was Neville - and who could wish for a better reception?  Especially as Neville, as keen as ever to capture the spirit of the times, was resplendent in a Union Jack top hat and red, white and blue braces.  When we asked him why he was wearing red, white and blue braces, he told us it was to keep his trousers up.

His outfit perfectly matched the sentiments of the lasses, each of whom carried a Team GB flag.  It was quite a sight and I felt kind of left out.

An Olympic torch was improvised accidentally when I went too far with a fag.

Admiring looks from fellow-customers at the café increased tenfold when Peter - yes, Peter from South Shields - arrived on his bike.  He had cycled all the way, uphill and down, in his Olympically pink cycling lycra - padded, of course, in all the right places.  Not an easy journey for a man of his age.

As it turns out, Mary is a bike fan, too, and spent quite a long time looking over Peter’s impressive equipment.

It was, of course, the beginning of the school holidays and the café was full of screaming children and teeth-grinding grandparents already wishing it was September.  But everyone fell silent - in pure awe - when we all appeared at the counter to order our lattes (or, in Peter’s case, an invigorating Lucozade).

The Olympic theme was complete when Neville improvised a baton by whittling on a length of ginkgo and we passed it one to another on the way to and from the café counter and/or toilets amongst the gaping grandmothers.

It has to be said that the high-heels Mary was wearing cramped her style a little; she has promised that, next time, it’ll be the same sensible wedges she walked the Roman Wall in for charity.

Peter won the relay - as well he might, dressed like that - but, in true truckshunter spirit, Hildie presented all of us with an Olympic ‘Wenlock’ chocolate lollipop for our efforts.  It’s always good to have something to suck on after strenuous exercise.

We all agreed that we had made a worthwhile - if slightly unusual - contribution to Britain’s Olympic aspirations.  Watching Peter wobbling away on his penny-farthing was the icing on the cake.

So - a splendid time had been guaranteed, and was had, by all.


Parts of the above description are true; others are mild exaggerations; and others are total terminological inexactitudes.  You must decide which is which.


Unusually, the next AGM’s date and venue has already been arranged.

It will take place at 1030 on Wednesday 29 August at the Tanfield Railway.  The starting time is a trifle earlier than usual to account for the train timetable but don’t worry.  Our Tanfield AGMs always last longer than normal so you can turn up whenever you like.

Would you prefer to catch the 1100 train or the 1230? 

I can hardly wait!


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

Today - July 24 - is a very special day indeed.  It is the feast day of St Christina The Astonishing.

Way back in the mists of Truckshunter Time - in the days of The Nightshift or even earlier, before Grand Tours and German Journeys and Beaujolais - someone suggested, perhaps unkindly, that St Christina The Astonishing should be my (and therefore, by default, our) patron saint.

I suspect that it was the mere laughability of her name that made whoever it was chuckle and smirk - and get in touch with me about her.

I can’t remember who made the suggestion or why, after all these years, I was suddenly reminded of it a few weeks ago.  But, having brought her back to mind, I decided to do a little amateur investigation.  After all, I decided, we can’t have just anyone as our patron saint.

And to be sure, St Christina The Astonishing is very far from being just anyone.

Far a start, she actually existed - a claim that cannot be believably made about, for example, St George.  Her life story was written down by someone who knew her.

She had the Astonishing misfortune to be born in Belgium, which - given the events which followed - could explain a lot.

She was orphaned as a child and in 1171, at the suggestive age of 21, she ‘had a fit’ and died.

But contrary to normal expectations, that is where her story began rather than ended.

During her own funeral, she somehow managed to come back to life.  Dissatisfied with this not inconsiderable achievement, she then floated up into the timbers and beams of the church roof.  The priest and mourners were understandably in a state of collective shock and agitation and begged her to come back down again.

At first, she ignored them, as you would.  Eventually however, she agreed to descend from the ceiling and did so, landing gracefully on the high altar.

She told the congregation that she’d been on a kind of sacred tour of all conceivable existences - she had been, she said, to heaven, to hell and to purgatory.  Whilst on her tour, she had met many people, both sacred and profane, but her main revelation took her audience into a new realm of holy knowledge.

Human beings, she said, stank.

She meant this literally.  Sin, she told them, gave off an unholy and mountainously offensive stink.  And, as all human beings were inherently sinful, they all smelled revolting.

Whilst the congregation were digesting this revelation, Christina walked calmly out of the church and shortly afterwards started a one-person ministry of prayer and vicarious suffering so as to redeem the sinful souls of those in purgatory who, presumably, smelled much worse than anyone else.

Indeed, to avoid the hideous stink of human sin, she took to flying high up in the air and hovering above the population, getting around by flying from treetop to treetop - which is in itself quite Astonishing, even for Belgium.

And that’s not all.

She sat in burning ovens and icy rivers and swam under mill wheels. She lived almost as a wild and bizarre animal, dressed in filthy rags and staying as far away as she could from the sinful stink of the human race.  In a way, I can see her point.

Her biographer says that the Lord provided food for her on many occasions but that it did no good.  Christina had become Astonishingly picky as to what she ate.  She described eating ordinary, human food as being like ‘swallowing the bowels of frogs’ (which French people do to this day).

Gradually the Lord became more sympathetic to Christina's dietary requirements and worked a miracle which must rank as one of the most Astonishing on record.

He gave Christina the power to breastfeed herself.  Which is nice.

Her virginal breasts also produced oil into which she dipped her bread (as most French people do to this day).  She also used it to treat her sores, although no details survive of where these sores were or why she had them in the first place.

As is the way of these things, her saintly life was not an easy one.  Perhaps understandably, she was chased around the country as a lunatic or demoniac.  Sometimes, when she’d been caught, her own family chained her up.  Astonishingly though, she always managed to escape back into the forest somehow.

When I began my research into Christina’s Astonishing story, I thought that this essay about her would be a highly-sceptical demolition of a ludicrous legend foisted on gullible Belgians (and others).

But she is no Flanders myth.  She was real and, by today’s standards, must have suffered terribly from the torment of mental illness.  What emerges is a sad catalogue of delusion, loneliness, alienation and, ultimately, insanity.  She died in 1224 at the age of 74 and even in the 12th century, opinions were divided about whether she was holy or mad or ‘possessed’.

The Roman Catholic church wisely hedged its bets by making her the patron saint of the incurably insane.  And there are, surely, much worse things to be patron saint of. 

So now, she’s been revived yet again - this time as the patron saint of the Honorary (and now Astonishing) Company of Truckshunters.

So please - raise a glass of something or other to the memory of this troubled lady.  We will be doing exactly that at this Thursday’s AGM (at 1100 in Saltwell Towers).

After all, she was absolutely right about sin; it does stink.

Let’s hope that she eventually found her paradise and sleeps, comforted and loved, in the arms of her Saviour.


Post comments on this blog or email me:  truckshunters@googlemail.com
 In the water-gardens at St Didier-sur-Chalaronne
In this blogposting...
* La vie en France

...will take place at 1100 next Thursday, 26 July, at the café in Saltwell Towers - which is, of course, in Gateshead's Saltwell Park.

In true, anti-Olympic spirit, there will be no opening ceremony.

Nevertheless, a splendid time is guaranteed for all.



Summer has come to Beaujolais again…

The landscape rises and falls, lifts and heaves and dips and folds its way to the horizon - friendly blue hills to the west, grey, forbidding and more distant peaks to the east; the almighty Alps behind which the sun rises and breaks its life onto the lazy water-meadows of the Saône.

These are the weeks of hope and growth here in Beaujolais.  The vine-growers and winemakers, whose handiwork patchworks the slopes to the west, pause and look to the sun and the dew to plump up the grapes for a good harvest after the nightmare of last winter.

And it’s a deeply and purely azure sky that looks back down on them.

There should be a special, vowel-soaked and evocative name for the intense blue of Beaujolais’ midsummer skies, dappled and ruffled - but undisturbed - by stray fluffs of cloud.

Here below, apparently empty villages are dozing and snoring in afternoon shade behind closed doors.

Farmers’ fathers are tinkering with tractors and trailers, pretending to have something to do.

Plane trees, and birches and poplars, planted by Napoleon to provide shade for marching soldiers, parade neatly and precisely along road edges, members now of the arboreal armed forces - marshalled to protect overheated citizenry.

Beige carpets of ripening wheat fill the spaces between copses of alder and laurel; between trickling streams and meandering farmtracks.   There are flat fields striped green and deep crimson by maturing salad-leaf lettuce. 

Maize and the stems of sunflowers seem to have grown a little each time you cast them a glance; it seems that, almost within minutes, the bright and businesslike yellow of their cobs and flowerheads will be the visual fanfare that announces high summer to Beaujolais.

Swallows and martins and swifts have nested in the eaves and arcades of ancient streets and happily feed their young just inches from the heads of passers-by, who stop and smile in wonder at their precocity, single-mindedness and total lack of fear. 
Louhans - where the swallows nest...

Lizards - dashing, dun-coloured darts - disappear almost before they are seen.  Cats and their owners snooze to the splash of garden cascades that are draped in water-hawthorn, mares-tails and water-hyacinth.  Butterflies - white and cream and orange and red and coat-of-many-colours - chase and dance across the garden from firethorn to rose to jasmine...

Village streets and squares - window-sills, roadsides and any available empty space - are crowded and startling with the intensity of summer colour; the villagers have turned winter inside-out with flowers.

Pensioners pant and gasp on their bikes, today’s baguettes and croissants safely bought and slung across their shoulders in backpacks or dangling dangerously from handle-bars in plastic bags.

Later, rested and revived, they will gather in countless groups on shaded patches of urban gravel to play petanque, sip coffee and drink wine, in one order or another.  The soft summer air - the breeze-borne birdsong - will somehow complement the clack of play, the groans of defeat and the laughter of victory, as it has done for generations.

Children, free now from school until September, re-acquaint themselves with discovery, growth and each other, spreading out along riverbanks and into fields and woods on their bikes and forgetting what time it is.

A solitary red Citroën - as small as a ladybird - will meander pensively between the hedgerows, woodlands, rivers and farms, making due allowance for the twisting unpredictability of Beaujolais’ lanes and byways.  Utterly alone and seemingly going nowhere.

There are days and nights of rain right now in Beaujolais and sometimes it’s heavy rain, too.  But it doesn’t seem to dampen living things; there is still shower-soaked Bastille Day dancing and singing in the streets of little towns tucked into the folds of hills and fuelled by, amongst other things, wine and beer and joie-de-vivre.

This is where the generations mix and shamelessly indulge each other with smiles and kisses. 

Otherwise, high summer in Beaujolais is as sluggish and as torpid and as sleepy as the Saône, and as overfed after winter.  The river, broad and deep and bloated - and uneasily and uncomfortably bridged - stops road-borne progress in its tracks, as only the greatest rivers do.

Spectral barges as big as towns murmur and groan as they pass under Montmerle bridge on their way home to Marseille or Antwerp - but hesitate a while to watch the Bastille Day fireworks and listen to the gasps of wonder and awe from the people crowded onto the riverbank.  As they look up, their faces are bathed in the colours of national celebration. 

Tomorrow, Beaujolais will once again watch the Saône from the west as it wafts and drifts and sparkles; and as it creeps menacingly and enticingly south towards Lyon where it dies by giving its life and vigour to the Rhône.     

The countryside will sigh and groan under the weight of sunshine and showers and of ripening vines, hazelnuts, walnuts, apples, pears and cherries - the promises it makes to us of the coming autumn.

Smug chateaux and country houses, shuttered against envious and overly-deferential outsiders, will show only a snatch of roofline or, here and there, a turret or a tower above their skirts of trees.

Keeping a respectful distance, express trains will unsettle the lower orders with a momentary hurricane of sound and vision as they pass far too quickly from Lyon to Paris and back. 

They don’t know what they’re missing.


Post comments on this blog or email me:  truckshunters@googlemail.com
In this blogposting…
* Reggie

* Robinson’s German Journey
Tread softly...

Kev sent me this story the other day.  Consider yourself warned...

'They told me the big black Labrador's name was Reggie as I looked at him lying in his pen.  The shelter was clean and the people really friendly.  I'd only been in the area for six months, but everywhere I went in this small college town, people were welcoming and open.  Everyone waved when you passed them on the street.

But something was still missing as I attempted to settle in to my new life here, and I thought a dog couldn't hurt.  It would give me someone to talk to. 

I had just seen Reggie's advertisement on the local news.  The shelter said they had received numerous calls afterwards but that the people who had come down to see him just didn't look like 'Labrador people' - whatever that meant.  They must've thought I did.

At first, I thought the shelter had misjudged me in giving me Reggie and his things, which consisted of a dog pad, a bag of toys (almost all of which were brand new tennis balls), his dishes and a sealed letter from his previous owner.

See, Reggie and I didn't really hit it off when we got home.  We struggled for two weeks, which is how long the shelter told me to give him to adjust to his new home.  Maybe it was the fact that I was trying to adjust too.  Maybe we were too much alike.

I remembered the sealed envelope which I had completely forgotten about.  'Okay, Reggie', I said out loud, 'let's see if your previous owner has any advice'.

This is what the letter said...

'To Whoever Gets My Dog
Well, I can't say that I'm happy you're reading this, a letter I told the shelter could only be opened by Reggie's new owner.  I'm not even happy writing it.  He knew something was different.

So let me tell you about my Lab in the hopes that it will help you bond with him and he with you.  First, he loves tennis balls, the more the merrier.  Sometimes I think he's part squirrel the way he hoards them.  He usually has two in his mouth and tries to get a third in there as well.  Hasn't done it yet.  Doesn't matter where you throw them, he'll bound after them, so be careful.  Don't do it by any roads.

Next, commands. Reggie knows the obvious ones - 'sit', 'stay', 'come' and 'heel'.  He knows hand signals too. He knows 'ball', 'food', 'bone' and 'treat' like nobody's business.

Feeding schedule ... twice a day, regular store-bought stuff. The shelter has the brand.

He's up on his shots - but be forewarned, Reggie hates the vet.  Good luck getting him in the car.  I don't know how he knows when it's time to go to the vet, but he does.

Finally, give him some time.  It's only been Reggie and me for his whole life.  He's gone everywhere with me, so please include him on your daily car rides if you can.  He sits well in the back seat and doesn't bark or complain.  He just loves to be around people, and me most especially.

And that's why I need to share one more bit of info with you.

His name's NOT Reggie.  He's a smart dog and will get used to it and will respond in time, of that I have no doubt.  But I just couldn't bear to give them his real name.  But if someone is reading this, well it means that his new owner should know his real name, and that is 'Tank', because, that's what I drive.

I told the shelter that they couldn't make 'Reggie' available for adoption until they received word from my company commander.  You see, my parents are gone, I have no siblings and no one I could've left Tank with.  It was my only real request of the Army upon my deployment to Iraq, that they make one phone call to the shelter, in the 'event', to tell them that Tank could be put up for adoption.  Luckily, my CO is a dog-guy too, and he knew where my platoon was headed.  He said he'd do it personally. And if you're reading this, then he made good on his word.

Tank has been my family for the last six years, almost as long as the Army has been my family.  And now I hope and pray that you make him part of your family too, and that he will adjust and come to love you the same way he loved me.

If I have to give up Tank to keep those terrible people from coming to the US, I am glad to have done so.  He is my example of service and love.  I hope I honoured him by my service to my country and comrades.

All right, that's enough.  I deploy this evening and have to drop this letter off at the shelter.  Maybe I'll peek in on him and see if he finally got that third tennis ball in his mouth.

Good luck with Tank.  Give him a good home, and give him an extra kiss goodnight, every night, from me.

Thank you,
Paul Mallory'

I folded the letter and slipped it back in the envelope. 

Sure, I had heard of Paul Mallory - everyone in town knew him, even new people like me.  Local kid, killed in Iraq a few months ago and posthumously earning the Silver Star when he gave his life to save three buddies. Flags had been at half-mast all summer.

I leaned forward in my chair and rested my elbows on my knees, staring at the dog.

'Hey, Tank', I said quietly.

The dog's head whipped up, his ears cocked and his eyes bright.

'C'mere boy'.

He was instantly on his feet, his nails clicking on the hardwood floor.  He sat in front of me, his head tilted, searching for the name he hadn't heard in months.  'Tank', I whispered.  His tail swished.

I kept whispering his name, over and over, and each time, his ears lowered, his eyes softened, and his posture relaxed as a wave of contentment just seemed to flood him.  I stroked his ears, rubbed his shoulders, buried my face into his scruff and hugged him.

'It's me now, Tank, just you and me.  Your old pal gave you to me'.  Tank reached up and licked my cheek.

'So what do you say we play some ball?'  His ears perked again.

'Yeah? Ball? You like that? Ball!' 

Tank tore from my hands and disappeared into the next room. And when he came back, he had three tennis balls in his mouth.

….will take place at 1100 on Thursday 26 July in the cafe at Saltwell Towers, in Saltwell Park (Gateshead).  The world and his wife will be there, so book your place on the chara now.

And bring a joke.



In trying to sign off this story of my German Journey with a memorable flourish (as it were), I re-read blogposting 351, which I’d written just after I got back home.

Although I’ve edited it very slightly, it remains here much as it was when I wrote it in April.  My feelings and thoughts and sentiments about my journey are now as they were then so it will serve me well as my journey’s Epilogue.

I hope I can be forgiven for virtually repeating a posting for the first time in truckshunter history!


So that’s that then.  Once again, it’s all over.

No more trundling my suitcase noisily behind me along cobbled, continental streets.  No more scanning train timetables or distant, foreign horizons.  No more wondering what the next hotel is going to be like as I gaze out of train windows at unfamiliar scenery.

For the moment at least, there are no more friendly strangers anxious to practise their English on me - and defeated because of my anxiety to flex my linguistic muscles on them

For the time being, there are no more trams, buses and metros heading for strange-sounding destinations and no more streets, avenues and boulevards named after noble statesmen from Our Great National History.

To the many people whose paths I crossed, I am now just a memory - as they are to me.

To them, I am the weird, ageing Englishman who spoke the worst conceivable German and - despite considerable effort from several quarters - never learned any Dutch at all.

To me, they are smiles and broken English learned at school and handshaking and wine-glasses; they are fingers pointing me to the metro, the right street, the train I’m trying to catch.  They are the kind laughter of natives hearing their language mangled as never before.

And, over all the infectious bustle of big cities - of the unexpected delights to be found in their exploration - lies the gentle birdsong and quiet Spring sunshine of Munster, the diamond at the heart of this journey. 


Two years ago, the depth of my feelings of ‘deflation’, anticlimax and melancholy at the end of my Grand Tour took me by surprise; so I ought to have been much better prepared this time round.

But I wasn’t.  Once again, my head teemed with memories of anticipation and excitement that kept my sleep fitful for many nights.  Which is, I suppose, exactly the way it should be.

I did make one attempt to pre-empt this strange sadness that lingers at the end of a great adventure.  I wrote myself a postcard from Hamburg.  This is what it said…

Dear Ian
OK - you’re home again and feeling sorry for yourself.  BUT just remember the cold, the wind and the SLEET in Hamburg and you’ll be fine.
Here’s to the next time

It arrived the day after i got back, amidst the cold, the wind and the sleet.  I’d brought Hamburg home with me.


The hotel I stayed at in Hamburg has fostered close links with that city's 'House of Literature' and each guest is given a rolled, beribboned parchment with a quotation written on it.  I have mine in front of me now.  This is what it says.

'Is it true that every beginning contains a little magic?

For me, the magic is in the journey and each arrival in a new place relieves me of the burden of permanence.  Here, I will not stay forever, or even for very long, and I need not pretend otherwise.  Instead I can live in the temporary and the provisional, my true home, in so many ways.  And even when the clock overtakes me - the next train, the next taxi, the next plane - I know I am travelling on to another place much like this one - a place with its own magic, its own shifts and slants of being.

Now that the clock is calling, I carry away another memory of home - the home from home....'

Here are some more quotations about travelling and travellers.  Somewhere in here are the reasons I love it so much - and why I’ll be starting to plan the next one very soon.

Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness - Mark Twain

The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page - St Augustine

There are no foreign lands. It is only the traveller who is foreign - Robert Louis Stevenson

No one realizes how beautiful it is to travel until he comes home and rests his head on his old, familiar pillow - Lin Yutang

All travel has its advantages. If the passenger visits better countries, he may learn to improve his own. And if fortune carries him to worse, he may learn to enjoy it - Samuel Johnson

For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel’s sake. The great affair is to move - Robert Louis Stevenson

One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things - Henry Miller

A traveller without observation is a bird without wings - Moorish proverb

When we get out of the glass bottle of our ego and when we escape like the squirrels in the cage of our personality and get into the forest again, we shall shiver with cold and fright. But things will happen to us so that we don’t know ourselves. Cool, unlying life will rush in - DH Lawrence

To awaken quite alone in a strange town is one of the pleasantest sensations in the world - Dame Freya Stark

Twenty years from now, you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the things you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover - Mark Twain

All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveller is unaware - Martin Buber

We live in a wonderful world that is full of beauty, charm and adventure. There is no end to the adventures we can have if only we seek them with our eyes open - Jawarhalal Nehru

Tourists don’t know where they’ve been, travellers don’t know where they’re going - Paul Theroux

To my mind, the greatest reward and luxury of travel is to be able to experience everyday things as if for the first time, to be in a position in which almost nothing is so familiar it is taken for granted - Bill Bryson

If you reject the food, ignore the customs, fear the religion and avoid the people, you might as well stay at home - James Michener

A journey is best measured in friends, rather than miles - Tim Cahill

Once you have travelled, the voyage never ends, but is played out over and over again in the quietest chambers. The mind can never break off from the journey - Pat Conroy

Like all great travellers, I have seen more than I remember, and remember more than I have seen - Disraeli

Perhaps travel cannot prevent bigotry, but by demonstrating that all peoples cry, laugh, eat, worry, and die, it can introduce the idea that if we try and understand each other, we may even become friends - Maya Angelou

Travel and change of place impart new vigour to the mind - Seneca

What you’ve done becomes the judge of what you’re going to do – especially in other people’s minds. When you’re travelling, you are what you are right there and then. People don’t have your past to hold against you. No yesterdays on the road - anon

To travel is to discover that everyone is wrong about other countries - Aldous Huxley

When you travel, remember that a foreign country is not designed to make you comfortable. It is designed to make its own people comfortable - anon

Adventure is a path. Real adventure – self-determined, self-motivated, often risky – forces you to have firsthand encounters with the world. The world the way it is, not the way you imagine it. Your body will collide with the earth and you will bear witness. In this way you will be compelled to grapple with the limitless kindness and bottomless cruelty of humankind – and perhaps realise that you yourself are capable of both. This will change you. Nothing will ever again be black-and-white - Mark Jenkins

A ship in harbour is safe, but that's not why ships were built - anon


Post comments on this blog or email me:  truckshunters@googlemail.com
In this blogposting…
* Friday the 13th
* David Nove's request

* The Cracked Pot
Forward unto the breach, dear friends…

I am deeply superstitious about superstitions but, for those of you who are constantly touching wood, crossing your fingers and avoiding ladders, here’s a Digest of the Most Appalling Bad Luck thoughtfully sent to me by Peter, who lives in South Shields.

He begins with tomorrow - Friday the thirteenth….

Apparently, the ancient Vikings believed that the number 13 was unlucky because their mythology allowed for only 12 demigods.  If a thirteenth ever arrived, he was therefore bound to be utterly and irredeemably evil, bringing not only misfortune upon his fellow-demigods but upon we unhappy humans as well.

As has been its wont, Christianity requisitioned this superstition but offered an alternative and superior explanation that added the new, Friday, element to it - that Christ was crucified on a Friday and the number of guests at the Last Supper was 13, the 13th guest being Judas, the traitor.

As for walking under a ladder….Peter says that the only explanation he can find is also a Christian concoction.  A leaning ladder forms a triangle with the wall and ground.  Triangles represent the Holy Trinity, and violating the Trinity by breaking it (that is, by walking under the ladder) would put you in league with the devil himself.  And we can’t have that.

Peter then turns his attention to cats, and in particular to black cats.

I’m fairly sure that, when I was young, it was white cats that were regarded as unlucky, but it seems that this could have been an early example of my tendency to misinterpret the world and many of the the things in it.

Peter says that, in ancient Egypt, the goddess Bast was a black cat.  Christianity, in its typically interfering and malicious way, decided that all black cats were thus demons in disguise, were bad luck (to say the least) and should be destroyed.  After all, they reasoned; if a black cat crossed your path it would create a barrier of evil and block the entrance to heaven.  Yeah right.

Unfortunately, in the grisly process of ridding the world of black cats, the kindly old ladies who often looked after them were destroyed as well - because caring for black cats made you a witch - naturally.

I’m glad I didn’t know any of this when I acquired my black cat Hodge from the tv repairman’s sister in 1976.  He so was lovely - so sleek and so sexy - that I named my microbrewery after him.  He survived into his fifteenth year, although the brewery didn’t do very well at all, for some reason.

And finally, Peter sheds some light on the old salt-spilling superstition.

Salt, he says, was for centuries an expensive commodity, used for medicinal as well as culinary purposes.  Spillage was thus to be avoided at all costs.

The idea that it is unlucky to spill it probably stems from the belief that Judas spilt salt during the Last Supper - a meal which has more to answer for than it thinks.

Throwing spilt salt over the left shoulder is, thinks Peter, linked to its medicinal use.  If you spilt some, the best thing to do with it was to throw it into the eyes of the evil spirits that brought sickness and ill-health.  And these spirits were thought to lurk behind your left shoulder, waiting for an opportunity to strike.

Peter sent me his brief digest of bad luck as a result of my comments about superstitions in blogposting 341 (February 2012) and the invitation I issued then still stands.  How many of them can you remember from former days - and which, if any, do you still uphold, perhaps despite your better judgment?

And perhaps it’s time that the gullible world of superstitions was dragged out of the Middle Ages and into the 21st century.  Do we need some new portents of bad luck more in tune with the digital age?  Never buy an iPhone on a Tuesday.  Never send a txt before breakfast.  Never agree to be Friends with anyone on Facebook if their name starts with a J (for Judas!). 

With any luck, you’ll be contacting me in any of the usual ways - fingers crossed, touch wood.


Our next AGM will take place at 1100 on Thursday 26 July at the Saltwell Towers cafe in beautiful Saltwell Park (in Gateshead).

A splendid time is guaranteed for all.


A very big Thankyou to Sid and Kev who have done some sterling research work in response to David's request for information - and to anyone else who has been beavering away on his behalf.  (To see the results of their detective work, see the Comments of the last posting.)

David has told me that he is out of the country until later this month and that he will try to send the picture in question as soon as he gets back.

In the meantime, Thanks again to Sid and Kev.


This charming little moral tale has been emailed to me by Eric and Jean.

An elderly Chinese woman had two large pots, each hung on the ends of a pole which she carried across her neck.

One of the pots had a crack in it while the other pot was perfect and always delivered a full portion of water.

At the end of the long walks from the stream to the house, the cracked pot arrived only half full.

For a full two years this went on daily, with the woman bringing home only one and a half pots of water.

Of course, the perfect pot was proud of its accomplishments.

But the poor cracked pot was ashamed of its own imperfection, and miserable because it could only do half of what it had been made to do.

After two years of what it perceived to be bitter failure, it spoke to the woman one day by the stream.
'I am ashamed of myself because this crack in my side causes water to leak out all the way back to your house.'

The old woman smiled and said 'Did you notice that there are flowers on your side of the path, but not on the other pot's side?  That's because I have always known about your flaw, so I planted flower seeds on your side of the path, and every day while we walk back, you water them.

For two years I have been able to pick these beautiful flowers to decorate the table.  If you were not just the way you are, there would not be this beauty to grace the house.'

Each of us has our own unique flaw.  But it's the cracks and flaws we all have that make our lives together so very interesting and rewarding.

You've just got to take each person for what they are and look for the good in them.

Thanks, Eric and Jean.


Post comments on this blog or email me:  truckshunters@googlemail.com
In this blogposting…
* David Nove’s request
* Le blog à Pépère
* The Difficulties of English Spelling - Solved
Curtain up!

In the last posting - number 376 - I mentioned an email I’d received from David Nove, one of whose previous incarnations was as one of BBC Radio Newcastle’s Sunday presenters.  David was looking for information about an old photograph he’d found - for more details, take a look back at the last blog.

If you look down at that blog’s Comments, you’ll see that Sid has responded to Dave’s request - and has acted on it, conducting research on Dave’s behalf.

Sid suspects that the ‘JL’ visible in Dave’s photo is John Lindsey, a company that built tugs on the Tyne at St Anthony’s - an impressive piece of detective work.

I have contacted Dave to ask if Sid’s very sensible request for the photo in question to be made available on the truckshunter blog can be met.  I really hope it can; this is a story whose ending I want to know!

If anyone else has any ideas about how we can carry it forward, or suggestions for sources of information, please get in touch in any of the usual ways.

In the meantime, thanks very, very much Sid for the work you’ve done so far.

And thanks, too, to Val for her family memories of Dave’s radio show.  I’d like to know more about that, too!  When was Dave at Radio Newcastle?  And how long for?

Watch this space - and contribute to it!


Serge’s blog goes from strength to strength; he’s now had well over 100,000 page-views, far more than this blog has had.

His latest posting features the only French joke you may ever have heard.  Which means it’s worthwhile repeating it here…

‘Un bûcheron décide de se préparer pour l’hiver et coupe du bois.
Soucieux de savoir si il en a coupé assez, il décide d’aller voir un grand chef indien. L’homme lui demande ‘Grand chef est ce que cette hiver sera rude?’
Le grand chef indien lui répond d’une voie grave ‘Oui hiver froid, très froid.’
Le bûcheron coupe et recoupe du bois et retourne voir le grand chef indien et lui repose encore une fois la même question, et il lui répond ‘Oui hiver froid, très très froid.’
Le bûcheron lui demande alors ‘Mais comment vous faites pour savoir à l’avance que l’hiver sera froid.’
Le grand chef indien lui répond ‘Quand homme blanc couper beaucoup de bois, hiver froid, très froid!’

If your French isn’t up to seeing the joke and you are staring po-faced and unamused at the screen, I have taken the liberty of translating it for you as best I can.

‘A woodcutter decides to prepare for winter by chopping some wood.
Wanting to know if he has chopped enough, he decides to visit an important Indian Chief and asks him ‘Great Indian Chief - is this winter going to be severe?’
In a solemn voice, the Indian Chief replies ‘Yes - winter cold.  Very, very cold.’
The woodcutter goes away and cuts some more wood - and then even more - then revisits the Indian Chief to ask him the same question again.
And the Indian Chief again replies ‘Yes winter cold.  Very, very cold.’
So the woodcutter asks him ‘But how do you know in advance that the winter is going to be so very cold?’
The Indian Chief replies ‘When white man chops much wood, winter is always cold - very, very cold.’

This tickled me a lot, perhaps because - after all this time - I was able to see the joke.  In French!


I got this from Kev a while ago.  I think - although I don’t know for certain - that it was originally written by Mark Twain.  Whoever dreamed it up - it’s brilliant!

It takes the form of a plan for the gradual simplification of English spelling…

For example, in Year 1 that useless letter "c" would be dropped to be replased either by "k" or "s", and likewise "x" would no longer be part of the alphabet.

The only kase in which "c" would be retained would be the "ch" formation, which will be dealt with later.

Year 2 might reform "w" spelling, so that "which" and "one" would take the same konsonant, wile Year 3 might well abolish "y" replasing it with "i" and iear 4 might fiks the "g/j" anomali wonse and for all.

Jenerally, then, the improvement would kontinue iear bai iear with iear 5 doing awai with useless double konsonants, and iears 6-12 or so modifaiing vowlz and the rimeining voist and unvoist konsonants.

Bai iear 15 or sou, it wud fainali bi posibl tu meik ius ov thi ridandant letez "c", "y" and "x" -- bai now jast a memori in the maindz ov ould doderez -- tu riplais "ch", "sh", and "th" rispektivli.

Fainali, xen, aafte sam 20 iers ov orxogrefkl riform, wi wud hev a lojikl, kohirnt speling in ius xrewawt xe Ingliy-spiking werld.

Awesome.  Thanks Kev.


Our next AGM will take place at 1100 on Thursday 26 July at the café in Saltwell Towers, which is in Gateshead’s Saltwell Park, notwithstanding tongue-twisters, tangos and planking.

Should I hire a chara?


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

In this blogposting….
* A Request from David Nove
* Marrying a Scottish Girl
* Puns for Intellectuals
* Encounters with Idiots
Proceed at your own risk….

Ex-BBC Radio Newcastle presenter David Nove has emailed with a very special - and very specialised - request.

‘My wife has come across a photo in a collection of family stuff taken on 6 April 1905.  Because of its age some details are not clear.

The photo shows 23 men in work clothes some of them with sledge hammers.  In addition there's a man standing to the right of them in a homburg; he is wearing a suit with what looks like a tail coat.

A ship is visible in the background and there are some tracks which look like those for cranes to use.

Some writing is distinct.  The photo was taken in Walker.  The ship is the
S S Canute and the word ‘breakers’ appears.  There is another inscription that says ‘employees of J L’ with the rest unreadable.

The reason for this interest is that my wife recognises her Grandad in the picture.

I was wondering if you might know of the existence of a breakers' yard in Walker at that time and if so what was the name of the company.  Do you think it might possible to get hold of a list of employees?

Any help you can give would be much appreciated.’

I know we once interviewed the author of a book about the Walker shipyards, and others, on the Blue Bus programme but I can’t remember his name.

Can anyone help?

If you have any suggestions, or can point us in the right direction, please get in touch.

And - to be a little more mischievous - what memories have you of David Nove’s programmes on BBC Radio Newcastle?


Next, a couple of internet gems sent to me by Eric and Jean.

Three friends married women from different parts of the world....

The first man married a Greek girl.  He told her that it was her job to do the dishes and house cleaning.  It took a couple of days, but on the third day he came home to see a clean house and all the dishes washed and put away.

The second man married a Thai girl.  He gave his wife orders that she was to do all the cleaning, the dishes and the cooking.  On the first day he didn't see any results but the next day he saw it was better.  By the third day he saw his house was clean, the dishes were done, and there was a huge dinner on the table.

The third man married a girl from Scotland.  He ordered her to keep the house cleaned, dishes washed, lawn mown, laundry washed, and hot meals on the table for every meal.

On the first day he didn't see anything, and on the second day he didn't see anything either.  But by the third day, some of the swelling had gone down, he could see a little out of his left eye and his arm was healed enough for him to be able to fix himself a sandwich and load the dishwasher.

He still has some difficulty when he urinates


King Ozymandias of Assyria was running low on cash after years of war with the Hittites. His last great possession was the Star of the Euphrates, the most valuable diamond in the ancient world.

Desperate, he went to Croesus, the pawnbroker, to ask for a loan.

Croesus said ‘I'll give you 100,000 dinars for it.’

‘But I paid a million dinars for it!’ the King protested.  ‘Don't you know who I am? I am the king!’

To which Croesus replied ‘When you wish to pawn a Star, makes no difference who you are.’


Evidence has been found that William Tell and his family were avid bowlers. Unfortunately, all the Swiss League records were destroyed in a fire so we'll never know for whom the Tells bowled.


A man rushed into a busy doctor's surgery and shouted ‘Doctor! I think I'm shrinking!’

The doctor calmly responded ‘Now, settle down. You'll just have to be a little patient.’


An Indian chief was feeling very sick, so he summoned the medicine man. After a brief examination, the medicine man took out a long, thin strip of elk rawhide and gave it to the chief, telling him to bite off, chew and swallow one inch of the leather every day.

After a month, the medicine man returned to see how the chief was feeling. The chief
shrugged and said ‘The thong is ended, but the malady lingers on.’


A famous Viking explorer returned home from a voyage and found his name missing from the town register. His wife insisted on complaining to the local civic official, who apologized profusely saying ‘I must have taken Leif off my census.'


There were three Indian squaws. One slept on a deer skin, one slept on an elk skin, and the third slept on a hippopotamus skin. All three became pregnant.

The first two each had a baby boy. The one who slept on the hippopotamus skin had twin boys. This just goes to prove that the squaw of the hippopotamus is equal to the sons of the squaws of the other two hides.


A sceptical anthropologist was cataloguing South American folk remedies with the assistance of a tribal elder who indicated that the leaves of a particular fern were a sure cure for constipation. When the anthropologist expressed his doubts, the elder looked him in the eye and said ‘Let me tell you - with fronds like these, you don't need enemas.’


And finally, just so that we can all feel smug and clever, here is a list of purportedly genuine….

‘My daughter and I went to the McDonald's take-away window and I gave the girl a £5 note. Our total was £4.20, so I also handed her a twenty-pence piece.

She said 'You gave me too much money.'

I said, 'Yes, I know, but this way you can just give me £1 back.'

She sighed and went to get the manager who asked me to repeat my request.  I did so, and he handed me back the 20p, saying 'We're sorry but we can't do that kind of thing.'

The girl then proceeded to give me back 80p in change.

Do not confuse the girls at McDonald's.

We had to have the garage door repaired. The repairman told us that one of our problems was that we did not have a 'large' enough motor on the opener.

I thought for a minute, and said that we had the largest one his company made at that time - 1/2 horsepower.

He shook his head and said 'You need a 1/4 horsepower.'

I responded that 1/2 was larger than 1/4 and he said, 'NOOO, it's not. Four is larger than two.'

We haven't used his company since then.

I live in a semi-rural area. We recently had a new neighbour call the Highways Department to request the removal of the ‘DEER CROSSING’ sign on our road. The reason?  'Too many deer are being hit by cars out here! I don't think this is a good place for them to be crossing anymore.' 

My daughter went to a local KFC and ordered a Mexican taco. She asked the person behind the counter for ‘minimum lettuce.’

He said he was sorry, but they only had iceberg lettuce.

I was at the airport, checking in at the gate when an airport employee asked, 'Has anyone put anything in your baggage without your knowledge?'

To which I replied, 'If it was without my knowledge, how would I know?'

He smiled knowingly and nodded, 'That's why we ask.'

The red stop light on the corner buzzes when it's safe to cross the street.

I was crossing with an intellectually challenged colleague of mine. She asked if I knew what the buzzer was for. I explained that it tells blind people when the light is red.

Appalled, she responded 'What on earth are blind people doing driving?!'

When my husband and I arrived at our local dealer to pick up our car, we were told the keys had been locked in it.

We went to the service department and found a mechanic working feverishly to unlock the driver’s side door. As I watched from the passenger side, I instinctively tried the door handle and discovered that it was unlocked.

‘Hey' I announced to the mechanic, 'It's open!'

His reply? 'I know. I already did that side.'


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


It’s easy to be cynical about England; it’s a national characteristic often misunderstood - or not understood at all - by citizens of other countries. 

Here’s an example of how easy it is…

My flight home from Amsterdam had been trouble-free.  The tram to the station, the train to the airport, the flight to Newcastle - it had all gone as smoothly as I could have wished.  And then came the final, agonising, last leg of my German Journey that would bring me back home to my front door.

The metro from Newcastle airport was ‘subject to delays due to signal failure’.  I had to wait over half an hour.

On board, people talked VERY LOUDLY into their mobile homes as if nobody else was there.

The up escalator at Central Station wasn’t working and I couldn’t find the lift.  In my state of melancholia and grumpiness, only mechanical elevation will do - but I had to lug my suitcase (which seemed to weigh as much as a medium-sized bungalow) up an endless flight of stairs.

Buses from Central Station to my home run every 6 or 7 minutes.  I waited for 25.

I was back in England.

All that waiting around at the airport and at the station also brought home to me how susceptible the English are to adopt fashion trends wholesale - irrespective of the aesthetic merits of either themselves or the trends in question.

With younger men, it’s those inexplicably fashionable, very long, pointed shoes which curl up at the end and make them look like unemployed clowns.  If the men in question are also wearing those grotesque trousers that are tight around the calves but have crotches to the knee and expose their underwear (and even, on occasion, their arse-tops), the illusion is complete.

On really thin men, the effect of this legwear is truly terrifying.  This is the land where young men compete to look as repulsive as possible. 

With young women, it’s unimaginably worse. 

Pre-pubescent schoolgirls, labouring under mountains of carefully tousled hair, faces caked with lard and wearing shorts so short that they are virtually naked to their ill-concealed genitalia, may be a salacious gift to paedophiles but to everyone else, the overall effect is nightmarish.  Especially as they all do it, without considering that they may be shaped like an upturned aubergine, have legs like telegraph poles or tank traps, and have orange skin.

None of the ‘fashions’ I’ve mentioned seems to have caught on in Europe.  I saw no jeans worn around the arse, no pointed brogues, and no semi-naked young harpies looking utterly miserable.

What they seem to do in Europe - or at least in the places I had visited - was to take a style and adapt it to suit themselves.  Here, there’s a mass compulsion to make ourselves adapt uniformly to the style.

I was back in scruffy, ill-considered, un-stylish England.  I was a grumpy, curmudgeonly old so-and-so watching - and deeply resenting - young people who looked awful enjoying themselves.

I was back in England.

And that’s how easy it is to be cynical.

Fortunately - after a good night’s sleep - it’s just as easy to ‘count your lucky stars’ about this eccentric country.

We haven’t had a revolution since 1649.

We haven’t been invaded - let alone conquered - since 1066.

Our mountains are not too high nor our rivers too long or wide. 

Our summers are not too hot nor our winters too cold.

We get exactly the amount of rain we need to make England extraordinarily green and lush and beautiful.

Inexplicably to many foreigners, our policeman often patrol singly - and without firearms of any kind.  They’re approachable, patient and smile a lot - uniquely, in my experience.

We laugh at ourselves easily and comfortably - as I just did earlier.  We know how not to take ourselves too seriously, we are deeply aware of our imperfections and do not see the need to mask them.

I’m surprised to find myself writing that, for a little country that has given the world so much, we are modest and not smug, diffident and not boastful, self-deprecating and not self-important.

None of this hymn of patriotic praise is critical of, or belittles, the people, history and culture of any other country.  I can't fault the welcome, the warmth or the hospitality I've found all over Europe.

It's just that....well, in my deflated state of mind, it occurred to me that England is wholeheartedly bizarre.  And all the better for it.


And that’s how to make regret and relief cancel each other out.


Unpacking my suitcase at the end of a journey like this is as troublesome as packing it before I go.  It’s like a tagareen shop in there - or, as my Nana used to say, it's like the inside of a dirty parrot’s cage. 

Unwashed clothes compete with maps, books, leaflets, camera, laptop, chargers, old train tickets, bus passes, notebooks, pens, paracetamol, unposted postcards, pebbles, what-nots, souvenirs, gifts, toothbrush, razors, uneaten apple turnovers (‘for the journey’), passport, Marks and Spencers Harvard All Over Body Splash, packet sugar, timetables - and all of them damp and stained by ice tea that has leaked out of the bottle I bought four days ago and forgot I had.

It takes several depressing hours to put everything back where it belongs around the place - and to find new places for new things; to download all the photographs and sort them; to tell everyone - even those who didn’t know I’d been away - that I was home safe and sound.

As soon as my suitcase was empty, its contents slotted back into place and the washing machine crunched and splashed and whirred, I made a cup of coffee, stroked both of the cats (again and again) and retrieved my notebook.  I wanted to start planning my travelogue - what to say and how to say it.

Dismay set in at once.  Some of the things I'd scribbled 'on the hoof' were either indecipherable or impenetrably mysterious, or both.

What, I thought, does 3.25 as Mcbr mean?  Or imp:  don’t forget willow?  Or St M shop splend?  Or man in slips popp?  Or Note!!! Sky!?  What did I mean by Berlin - brown?  Or barns after brick?

I closed my notebook, walked over to the window and looked out into the garden.

Robinson’s German Journey - the new, blockbusting best-seller - would have to wait.

While I’d been away, Spring had arrived…


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