As I write, it’s a late mid-August Sunday afternoon in Newcastle.  It’s pouring with rain, though the weather is not cold.  Instead, what breeze there is is cloyingly warm and humid, all of which conspires to make the day even more drably uncomfortable than just rain on its own does.

Serge, on the other hand, has just landed in Paris.  He has texted me to say that the temperature there, under a cloudless blue sky, is over 40 Celsius.  He has taken the sunny warmth we had here yesterday back home with him.

He was in Newcastle for a week, and each of those seven days seemed curiously warm and welcoming to me….

He arrived late last Sunday afternoon and bravely (not to say defiantly) proclaimed his Olympic loyalties by wearing a specially-purchased blue gilet with FRANCE written very whitely on the front of it.

We’d both been riveted by the Olympic Games, and decided to enter into the spirit of the final day by watching the closing ceremony together.  I suppose we thought it would be as eccentrically British as the opener had been, but it wasn’t.  Instead, we were confronted by a mostly dreary and seemingly endless confection of mediocrity and derivative predictability.

For me, the high point was Eric Idle’s rendition of Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life, complete with high-kicking Roman soldiers and nuns on roller-skates.  This was more than offset, though, by the barrel-scraping inclusion of Russell Brand.

After what seemed like three months, we decided to call it a day.


On Monday…we went for a wander around the Town, partly so that Serge could re-acquaint himself with real-life British eccentricity ‘on the ground’.  Streetwise geniality, people wearing silly hats, repulsively fat lasses wearing tiny shorts, lads looking effete and forlorn, monumental metropolitan architecture…

There were peeks inside some of the Town’s most characterful pubs, the Castle, the long descent of Dog Leap Stairs - and the Quayside.

Here, Serge met up again with the wonderful Mike and Pauline at their Little Yellow Coffee Van - he hadn’t seen them for over two years - and with their son Jamie, who, at the tender age of 19, has decided that extreme sports of one kind or another are the best that life has to offer and pursues them with foolish vigour.  He will soon be off to Canada to go hang-skiing over the edges of cliffs, or something along those lines.

For his part, Serge couldn’t resist the allure of the open-air public gym which some health-conscious freak has had installed on the pavement nearby.  I stayed well clear.

In the evening, I though I’d try to disabuse Serge of his affectionate opinions about English culture by taking him to the Folk Club at The Bridge pub, near the Castle.  Amazingly, he loved it and so did I.  We both ended up singing along to almost every song we heard - and kept on singing them all week long.

A big Thankyou to truckshunter Dave Minikin for making us so welcome.  Anyone fancy going along there sometime?


On Tuesday, we went to Tynemouth.  We go there every time Serge visits the north-east and that’s because, for a man who loves the sea so much, Serge lives about as far from it as it’s possible to get and still be in France.

We both love watching the river and the sea from Spanish Battery or clambering about on the rocks on Black Middens beach.

We stopped at Roy’s Bakery so Serge could eat his first-ever sausage roll - and even met some friendly Tynemouth traffic wardens.

It was lovely.


Wednesday was a stay-at-home day, except for a flying visit I made to Waitrose - we had to eat, after all.

Picking my way carefully through the minefield of bread varieties they thoughtfully provide there, I discovered a ‘gold medal’ made of shortcake and sugar-icing.  I thought this would compensate Serge for France’s comparatively flaccid performance at the Olympics and I was right - it did.

As you can see.
Usain Bolt 2

Serge with Barry and Jean; Serge is the one with his eyes closed

On Thursday we visited my brother and his wife in Sunderland.  They always make Serge welcome there and he, in turn, appreciates the fact that they take their French seriously enough to know the words for mistle-thrush, sparrowhawk, silver birch and damsel-fly - which is quite something.
Serge and monbrieta; Serge is the one with his eyes closed

I thought that the day’s crowning glory was a gift of uprooted monbrieta, which Serge has never noticed growing in French gardens, but I was wrong.  The pinnacle was reached when a couple of holly-blue butterflies appeared.  These splendid little creatures are very rare in the north-east and the more welcome for it.

On Friday we went on a jaunt into the wild open countryside - well, as far as Birkheads Nursery, anyway.

We had a lovely time, just as you’d expect.  For the first time in ages, I wandered around the Secret Gardens and was seriously gobsmacked at how lovely they are.  If you’re stuck for somewhere gorgeous to go to between now and the end of September - or even if you’re not - get over to see Christine at Birkheads.  I’m thinking of buying a season ticket.
Don't ask...
You can follow Christine's blog about Birkheads at
 Serge is on that big screen - somewhere...

Last days together are always a bit melancholy, to say the least.  To try and offset this effect, we decided to go back into the Town so that a Frenchman could watch the English world go by one last time.

It didn’t really work, though.

Which means that, right now, I’m feeling rather sorry for myself.  I’ve realised, with some force, that, when two people part like Serge and I did earlier today, it’s always worse for the one who’s left behind.  And usually, that’s Serge, waving me away on my train north from Macon TGV station.  This time, though, it was me waving him Goodbye at the security gate and returning home to the ‘empty-chair’ syndrome - a feeling I’m not enjoying in the slightest.

I don’t envy him my departures….


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Bentonbag said...

Well done for resisting the heading "Frog on the Tyne".
It is to my eternal shame that I couldn't :]

Seriously though I do understand what you mean about being the one left behind. The leaver has the adventure of a journey and the relief of a homecoming. The left has to go back to a house that is too quiet and somehow suddenly too big.

Ian Robinson said...

That's exactly right, Brenda. And it's awful.
But not as awful as Frog on the Tyne!

Serge said...

merci pour ce blog fort sympathique Ian.
Jaime beaucoup