Serge is in England at the moment.  Here he is yesterday, posing artfully 
at the monumental sculpture on the C2C cycleway just outside Consett

You’re going to find this almost impossible to believe but I’ve never quite seen the point of housework.  I fully support Quentin Crisp’s view that, if you don’t dust for three years, the dust doesn’t get any worse.

Sometimes, though, my curiosity gets the better of me.  I’ll be making the bed, say, or perhaps clearing up some cat vomit when I’ll notice a dust-laden cardboard box whose existence I had probably wished away many years ago.

And it was in one such box that I found yet another wodge of unanswered and - as far as I know - even unread emails from Blue Bus listeners.

The email sitting on top of the pile was from Trevor, about whom I know nothing at all - which is a shame, because its one of the most interesting emails I’ve ever ignored.

This is what it says…

Ian...I cam across this story in a book about alien abduction and supernatural sightings that I was about to throw away.

'On 3 September 1976 in the mining town of Fencehouses, County Durham, two women came upon a strange object set on a mound of earth that was in a building site.

The women were a 63-year old grandmother and her granddaughter, aged 18.  They were subsequently so shocked by the experience that they shunned all attempts to be interviewed in detail.

The object resembled a small, glass dome on ski runners.  Its surface was semi-transparent and smoky.  Beside it were two tiny entities looking like dolls.  They were human, with long white hair, plastic or pale faces and staring eyes.

The two women felt drawn towards them and the object, and entered a ‘cocoon’ of energy that caused the air to tingle.  Inside this, all ambient sound disappeared and time lost all meaning.

The women recalled walking away from the site with the object gone - but a watch worn by  one of them was now inexplicably ten minutes slow….'

Is it possible that some of your many listeners in Fencehouses can throw some light on this eerie encounter?

I can’t imagine why this sensational story was overlooked on the Blue Bus programme.  After all, 1976 isn’t that long ago.  It’s not inconceivable that someone in Fencehouses knows who these women were; by now, the daughter will be in her 50s.

If you can throw the light of fairy-dust on this story, for heaven’s sake - get in touch…

* * *
Thanks for the advice and comments you’ve sent about my upcoming Great Adventure.  Please send more, more, more - specially about the next port-of-call on my itinerary…

After Hong Kong, Singapore, Perth, Sydney and New Zealand, I’ll be flying across the Pacific to Vancouver and Vancouver Island.

So if there’s anything you think I should know - get in touch.  Please!

* * *
...yesterday was Linda's birthday.

So, from all of us ( - even though I'm a bit late, as usual - )...

Happy Birthday, Linda!

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

For reasons best known to her good self, Hildie has asked me to post this photograph on the blog.  It was taken by a professional photographer in Gosforth who eventually gave up trying to make us look earnest and meaningful and decided to take snaps of us ‘the way we were’.

Looking at it now, after all these years and so much water under so many bridges, I realise how extraordinarily lucky I was (to say the very least) to be given the chance to work at BBC Radio Newcastle, which at the time was chockablock with creativity, imagination and compassion.

I also realise how lucky I was to work with Paul so often and for so long - and how fortunate I am that he is still one of my best friends.

I’m sure he still doesn’t know how much I learned from him and how much confidence he gave me at a time when my life needed it most.  Whatever else he has done since those days - or will do in the future - Paul Wappat is now, and will always be, a quick-witted, imaginative, compassionate, loyal and trusted mate.

As it happens, I’ve recently re-discovered a PhotoCD given to me by an erstwhile listener called Steve Ellwood, whose name I remember from way, way back in the days of my first sessions with Paul on his chaotic but hugely popular and enjoyable Saturday morning programme.

So, like the last one - and courtesy of Steve Ellwood - this posting is an orgy of pictures…

 Most of the pictures were taken at outside broadcasts from the 
Gateshead Flower Show in 2000 and from Blyth Market in, I think, 2001.
The one above shows Paul with Steve Drayton...

 Every time I see Gerry Jackson on Look North, I am reminded of the wonderful Ronald Wetleg

Times have changed, haven't they?

 The only picture that shows my lovely dog Taxi at the BBC
 Jon Harle, whom God preserve
Mike Parr tries to melt into the background
* * *
My Grand Adventure is getting closer.

Hong Kong, Singapore, Perth, Sydney, New Zealand’s South Island… Thanks for your advice and recommendations so far.

Now it’s time to put finger to keyboard about my next port-of-call - New Zealand’s North Island.  I’ll be driving through it in my trusty campervan all the way from Wellington, past Lake Taupo and the volcanic magic of Rotorua, to Auckland - whose name is, of course, linked directly to our own beloved Bishop Auckland.  I’m genuinely hoping that the name is all the two places have in common, though.

If there’s any information you’d like to impart - get cracking!

And Thankyou.

* * *
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Well, from South America, as a matter of fact.

You may be wondering who the picture is of.  It’s Carmelo Flores, a citizen of Bolivia.  And he is no ordinary man.  He is arguably the oldest person who has ever lived.

His baptism certificate lists his birth date as 16 July 1890.  So, at 123 years old, nobody in the entire history of humanity has ever lived longer than Mr Flores.

Apart from saying - tritely - what an awe-inspiring fact that is, I don’t think any further comment is necessary or even appropriate.

* *
Only 23 days to go - and counting - to the start of my Grandest Tour Ever.

So far, you know that I’ll be visiting Hong Kong, Singapore, Perth and Sydney….

So where next?

New Zealand - that’s where.

After a few days in Sydney I’ll be flying to Queenstown, at the southern end of South Island.  (If you’ve been watching Top of the Lake on tv - it was filmed thereabouts.)

At Queenstown, I’ll be picking up a campervan and, over the next six days, will be making my own way through South Island to its northern tip at Picton.

So - as with all my destinations - if you have any suggestions or advice about South Island, please get in touch.

You’re really, really jealous, aren’t you?

* *
...leave me completely unmoved.

But - just for the sheer hell and exuberance of it, here are some pictures of my favourite things.  I feel great just looking at them...
 The city of Amsterdam
 Ingrid Bergman
 Ginkgo trees
 Wells Cathedral
 The city of Lyon
 Tapioca pudding
Lithops - 'living stones'
Olivia de Havilland

* * *
In my last posting, I sent effusive good wishes for a long and happy retirement to Keith Grierson.  Which must have puzzled and amused Keith Johnson, for whom they were intended.

Apologies, Keith.  Forgive my lapse of concentration - an event which happens increasingly often these days.

The wishes for a happy retirement remain the same!

* *
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Our forty-second AGM - our Totally Extraordinary Great Summer Fun Extravaganza - took place, as planned, last Thursday at its traditional August venue:  the wonderful Tanfield Railway.

As well as being blessed with the location of our AGM, we were also quite naturally favoured with good weather to enjoy it in.  All it needed to be a runaway success was good company in high spirits, and it got that, too.

Brenda was there.  And Linda and Keith Grierson.  And Hildie.  And me.  And the unstoppable Nev who - true to his usual generous self - arranged for us all to have a free ride on the railway ( - although unfortunately, the last part of the line, between Causey Arch and East Tanfield has been temporarily closed).

We all had a seriously good time.  The chat never stopped, the mutual catching-up and exchange of information was ceaseless, loads of photos were taken and laughs had.

And, to put icing on the Tanfield cake (as it were), we all retired to Birkheads Nursery nearby for more conversation and an iced finger (as Nev would say).
I have to say...it really was one of the most enjoyable AGMs ever.  And after all this time.

After a champion AGM like this one, I can’t help but think about who we are and how we got here.  A disparate group of people with a silly club name who meet whenever they can - and all because of a daft night-time radio programme.
Thanks to everyone who managed to get there and make it such  a lovely occasion - and specially to Nev for taking such pains to make sure we were all happy.

A splendid time - already guaranteed - was had by all.
* * *
Only 26 days to go - and counting…

As you’ll know if you’ve been paying attention, my Great Adventure begins next month with my flight to Hong Kong.  From there, I’ll be going to Singapore and - as I described in the last posting - on to Perth, where I’ll be staying with my cousin and her family.

So where next?  Well, it’s a case of ‘Brace Yourself, Sydney’.  Yes, I’ll be flying right across Australia to spend a few days in its biggest and most cosmopolitan city.  (I wanted to go by train from Perth to Sydney but it takes days and is prohibitively expensive.)

So - if you’ve been to Sydney, or if you’ve ever wanted to go, get in touch with any advice or information you have about what to see, what to do, where to go.

I’d really appreciate it!

* *
Best wishes and good thoughts to two truckshunters who were at Tanfield.

Firstly, to Hildie, who has been having a rough time lately, and without whom our Honourable Company would simply not exist.

And secondly, to Keith Grierson, who retires in the next few days.  We all wish him a long and awe-inspiringly enjoyable retirement!!!

* *
Post comments on this blog or email me:  truckshunters@googlemail.com
See The Bellringer of Notre Dame, below.
Don't blame me!

This upcoming Thursday is the big day:  our Great Summer Extravaganza at the Tanfield Railway.

I’ll be there at 1030 sharp and - even if I’m completely on my own (and, let’s face it, one day that’s surely going to happen) - I’m still going to relish my traditional truckshunter ride on the 1100 departure from Andrews House to East Tanfield.  And back.

A splendid time is guaranteed - for me, at least!

* * *
Have you tried Serge’s Great Beard Quiz yet?  It’s on his latest blogposting - number 233.  You can see it if you click on his image on this page and follow the link to his blog.

It’s a cracking quiz!  I think I know four of them - perhaps five, at a pinch.

It’s had an unsettling side-effect, though.  It’s made me long for the days when men were proud to wear full facial hair - before they became emasculated and effete.

Er - perhaps that was a bit harsh but I’m sure you know what I mean….

Anyway - have a go.  I reckon that, if you can get 8 out of 10 you rank as a champion pogonophile and will deserve some sort of award.

* * *
In the last posting, I revealed my ill-hidden plans to travel round the world this autumn - and how I’d like you not to be backward in coming forward with your help and advice about the places I’ll be calling at, and leaving a trail of destruction and confusion in, as I make my way across the globe.

Thanks for the tips you’ve emailed me so far - keep them coming.

So far, I’ve asked about my first two ports of call - Hong Kong and Singapore.  So now I’m adding my third - Perth.

This will be a very special destination for me.  My cousin Jan and her family - husband Brian, daughter Kate and son Jon - emigrated to Perth some years ago and I’ve only seen them a couple of times since then.

For decades, we were all part of a close-knit ‘extended family’ - Jan is my Mam’s niece ( - her brother’s daughter).  All of us - Mam included - were delighted that Jan and her family settled down so well over there and have made a wonderful new life for themselves.  But we missed them terribly, nevertheless.

So my journey to Perth will have very special meaning for me.  My entire trip has only been made possible by the legacy left to me by Mam - who was very close to Jan and her family.  So, in a very real way, she will be travelling with me to Perth…

Even though Jan has planned a very busy schedule for me while I’m there, though, I’d still like to hear from you - specially if you’ve been there or have always wanted to go.

So please get in touch…

* * *
This is a tasteless load of nonsense sent to me recently by the redoubtable Brenda.  I’m laughing as I type...

After Quasimodo's death, the bishop of the Cathedral of Notre Dame sent word through the streets of Paris that a new bellringer was needed.

The bishop decided that he would conduct the interviews personally and went up into the belfry to begin the screening process.

After observing several applicants demonstrate their skills, he had decided to call it a day.

Just then, an armless man approached him and announced that he was there to apply for the bellringer's job. The bishop was naturally incredulous.

‘You have no arms!'

'No matter,' said the man. 'Observe!'

And he began striking the bells with his face, producing a beautiful melody on the carillon.

The bishop listened in astonishment, convinced he had finally found a replacement for Quasimodo.

But suddenly, as the armless man rushed forward to strike one of the bells, he tripped and plunged headlong out of the belfry window to his death on the street below.

The stunned bishop rushed down the two hundred and ninety five belfry steps.  When he reached the street, a crowd had gathered around the fallen figure, drawn by the beautiful music they had heard only moments before.

As they silently parted to let the bishop through, one of them asked 'Bishop, who was this man?'

'I don't know his name,' the bishop replied sadly, ‘but his face rings a bell….’
(Keep going…)

The following day, despite the sadness that weighed heavily on his heart, the bishop continued his interviews for a new bellringer for Notre Dame.

The first man to approach him said, 'Your Excellency, I am the brother of the poor armless wretch that fell to his death from this very belfry yesterday.  I pray that you honour his life by allowing me to replace him in this duty.'

The bishop agreed to give the man an audition, but, as the armless man's brother stooped to pick up a mallet to strike the first bell, he groaned, clutched at his chest, twirled around, and dropped dead on the spot.

Two monks, hearing the bishop's cries of grief at this second tragedy, rushed up the stairs to his side.

'What has happened? Who is this man?' the first monk asked breathlessly.

'I don't know his name,' sighed the distraught bishop, ‘but he’s a dead ringer for his brother…’

Thanks, Brenda.  You’re a star!

* * *
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I can’t hold it in any longer.  I’m beside myself.  I just have to let it out.

Yes, the time has come for me to reveal what is probably the worst-kept secret in the entire history of truckshunterdom.  (Good grief.  Truckshunterdom.  I love it.)

In exactly 33 days’ time, I’ll be embarking on my third Grand Tour.

Loyal and enthusiastic followers of this blog - and, let’s face it, who isn’t? - will remember my excitement before, during and after my first Grand Tour, which I unimaginatively called 'GT1' and which took me by train through Belgium, Germany, Austria, Italy, Switzerland and France.  I visited so many places that had been on my ‘shopping list‘ for decades, saw so many wonderful places and things, and met so many amazing people.

That first Grand Tour probably changed for ever my attitudes, outlook and opinions about the world and what it was possible for me to do in it - which is what Tours as Grand as that are supposed to do.  And it began what has turned out to be a lasting love affair with France, its language and its people.

Last year, GT2 took me to my beloved Amsterdam and on through northern Germany to Berlin, Munster and Hamburg - again, a journey of self-discovery which this time took me deep into my family’s past.

A few months ago, I decided that my two Grand Tours had been so uplifting - so liberating - that I wanted to undertake a third.  I toyed with the idea of continuing the trail I’d blazed to the east; to begin in Berlin, where I’d left off (as it were) and take trains onward to Prague, Vienna, Budapest, Belgrade and Zagreb.

Or perhaps (I thought) I could spend a couple of weeks exploring France by train.  After all, even though I visit France a lot, I only ever go to one destination - so perhaps it was time to knock on the doors of Reims, Bordeaux, Toulouse, Marseille, Lille…

But then - and this always happens when I start daydreaming about Grand Tours - other possibilities made their presence felt.

Scandinavia - from Belgium through Holland to Germany and Denmark, then across the sea bridge to Sweden and Norway; to the Arctic Circle by train!

And, in the other direction, beautiful and (for me) largely unexplored Spain and Portugal.  I spent hours researching train times from Paris through Lyon and Perpignan to Barcelona, Valencia, Madrid and Lisbon.

This part of my posting is peppered with pictures of some of these places.

(Incidentally - 10 out of 10 if you can identify the cities in the photos.)

But - as inviting as they look and undoubtedly are - I’ll not be visiting any of them.  Not one.  Prague and Vienna and Oslo and Madrid will all have to wait.

Because I’ve decided to extend my horizons for my next Grand Tour.

GT3 will take me all round the world.  It will be the biggest Grand Tour of them all.

I’ll be away for almost 7 weeks.  I’ll be visiting six countries and 10 great cities, only one of which I’ve visited before.  I’ll be immersed in cultures and customs unfamiliar to me.  I’ll see oceans and mountains and deserts.  I’ll encounter wildlife I’ve only seen on film or in photographs - or read about in books.

I’m going to travel around the world - by aeroplane, ship and train (with the odd tram thrown in for good measure).  The flights are booked, the hotel reservations are made.

All I have to do now is pack my suitcase and go

Which is where you come in.

I would be seriously honoured - as well as very grateful - if you could perform the same service for GT3 as you did for GTs 1 and 2.  Namely, proffer advice, recommendations, and warnings based on your own experiences or research or other knowledge of each destination.

Have you visited them yourself?  If you have, what are your best and worst memories? Where would you recommend that I visit?  Is there somewhere you’d like me to visit while I’m there?  Are there sites to avoid?  Do you know of any hidden gems?

As always, I’d be grateful for any contributions you’d like to make.

I leave on September 13 and my first stopover is Hong Kong.  I'll be there for 2 days - and then I fly to Singapore...

Get to it!

And Thanks, in advance.

* * *
Our Annual Summer Festival of Truckshuntery at the Tanfield Railway will take place this upcoming Thursday 15 August.  It’ll start at 1030.

Bring your camera - I’ve ordered unbroken sunshine and a gentle breeze.  So a splendid time is guaranteed for all.

* * *
Here are the answers to Ross’s quiz in posting 477.

01 Pearl
02 The Times
03 Francois Hollande
04 Gustav Holst
05 1930s
06 Julian, Dick, Anne, Georgina (George), Timmy
07 Terry Deary
08 The Lone Ranger
09 Warner Bros
10 Mein Kampf
11 Ice Hockey Goal
12 Zorro
13 Green
14 Tybalt
15 Alpha Papa
16 Hamnet
17 St Peter
18 Soft Cell
19 Spiceworld
20 Margaret Thatcher


I got nine this time.  How about you?

* *
Post comments on this blog or email me:  truckshunters@googlemail.com
The map above tells you just about all you need to know about Britain’s glorious imperial history.  It shows - in pink - all the countries Britain has invaded...

* * *
A luxury beauty spa in New York (where else?) has started offering traditional Japanese facial treatments.  They’re not cheap, either.  Each session costs $180 and about 100 people a month - women and men - pay up.

The main ingredients of the potion that’s clagged liberally over one’s visage are rice bran and imported Asian nightingale shit.


* * *
Our Magnificent Summer Outing To The Tanfield Railway takes place at 1030 (note the special time) on Thursday 15 August.

Miss it at your peril.

A splendid time is guaranteed for all…

* * *
Thanks again to Ross for sending me yesterday’s Royal Oak quiz, which he sets himself, clever lad.

Here we go…

01 Traditionally, what gift should you be given on your 30th Wedding Anniversary?
02 Which newspaper was formally called The Daily Universal Register?
03 Who is President of France?
04 Which composer wrote The Planets?
05 In which decade was the board game Monopoly created?
06 Name any three of the Famous Five.
07 Who wrote the Horrible Histories books?
08 TV Star Clayton Moore is the only person to have his character name listed on his Hollywood Walk of Fame star.  Which famous character did he play?
09 Which brothers in the film industry were ‘Jack, Sam, Harry and Albert’?
10 Which famous book title is translated into English as My Struggle?
11 In sport, what piece of equipment stands 4 feet high and 6 feet wide?
12 Which fictional character rode a horse called Phantom?
13 What colour is ‘meridian’ a shade of?
14 What was the name of Juliet's cousin killed by Benvolio in Rome and Juliet?
15 What is the name of the new Alan Partridge movie, released this week?
16 What was the name of William Shakespeare’s only son?
17 In the Bible, Jesus walked on water.  Which other biblical character did this?
18 Which 80s band had a smash hit with Tainted Love?
19 What was the Spice Girls movie called?
20 Sir Bernard Ingham was Press Secretary to which Prime Minister?

Excluding children’s books, how many Discworld novels has Terry Pratchett written?
How many goals were scored in the last FA Cup competition from Round 1 onwards?

Good luck.  Answers next time…

* *
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