United Kingdom
Holy Jesus Hospital

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    • Day 19

      The Steep End

      September 14, 2022 in England ⋅ ⛅ 14 °C

      I woke up hungry to walk up and down Newcastle's slalom alleys and lanes, so we walked across the High Level Bridge and back across the Tyne Bridge. We were hoping for some hipster coffee but didn't succeed today. So we went for the other extreme: some really British coffee from Queen's Cafe just across the road from our flat. I heard a Geordie businessman in a great business suit order a bacon roll with brown sauce, and once I had googled brown sauce, I took a creepshot of him because he looked so good.

      After paying off some sleep debt later that morning, we went to Newcastle Castle via Dog Leap Steps (a dead seagull in a plastic bag on the top step, and a homeless person sleeping just next to the castle) and decided to do the full experience from the Castle Garth and Keep to the Tower with its narrow winding stairs, hidden rooms, and giddy heights. This was inspiring and very engaging, although I did feel fear at a few points - especially when walking past an oubliette called "The Heron Pit" and when visiting a tiny cell through a narrow hall where prisoners were kept until the assizes. Chilling.

      We went for a beer at Ask Italian and met a cute gay waiter who we learned was not a Geordie (from Newcastle) but a Mackem (from Seaham). And after that I went for a haircut and beard trim at The Hoi Polloi where my barber Jack Porter gave me a classy trim while being charming with a thick Geordie Accent. Mint!

      Dinner was Italian by the Quayside at Sambuca, and a walk along the banks of the Tyne looking at the reflection of the Tyne Bridge and Sage Gateshead.

      A sweet day.
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    • Day 21


      September 16, 2022 in England ⋅ ⛅ 8 °C

      It's our last morning in Newcastle-Upon-Tyne as I type this from our posh renovated flat in Akenside House. This place was built as offices over a century ago with a granite lower storey (now Akenside Traders Tavern) and three floors of sandstone. Our flat at the top has sandstone lions standing aflank the windows. The view looks down on Akenside Square, the Tyne Bridge, the Tyne River, and over a clutter of Victorian rooftops. For all my love of hotels and the way they keep throwing clean towels at you, it's hard not to appreciate that no hotel would ever have given us this location at this price.

      Yesterday was a slower day, and I needed a slower day. In fact I still need more slow days so I can work. I tried to do an illustration yesterday and couldn't get anywhere in the 1 hour I had. It's all starting to feel like life back home: persistently out of this weird mystical tripartite substance I call TimeFocusEnergy.

      Stuart was feeling brave and volunteered to get our Sherman Tank out of its tiny mousehole carpark and drive us to Hadrian's Wall. This was easier driving than York or Harrogate: it takes a second to get outside the city limits of Newcastle, and once you're out, things are wide and fine. We plugged "Hadrian's Wall" into Google Maps on my phone and just let the algorithm decide where we should go. After all, Hadrian's Wall slices Great Britain left to right, and people walk the whole length. Theoretically we could visit the wall at many points.

      Google decided we should go to Birdoswald, a very intact garrison with a cafe, toilets, informative posters, and yes, a souvenir shop. Google knows us so well. This was a great choice.

      The very first thing the attendant Maura did was to try and sell us an $80 ticket to all the English Heritage sites - just to save us money, you understand - and preceded to ask us how long we were staying and where were we going? Who the hell did Maura think she was? Google?

      My face morphed into some menacing artifact while Maura plied her sales techniques on us. Stuart stayed blithe and informed her that our next stops would be Edinburgh, Glasgow, and Inverness. Maura recoiled at the mention of those places and ceased all sales efforts. Those are in Scotland, and this heritage is English heritage only. Maura was herself Scottish, by the way. She claimed she only wanted to save us money because she was a Scot haha, which is a joke that would've landed if I hadn't been so unimpressed with supersizing, bundling, upgrades, and add-ons. But anyway, when we invoked those Scottish places on the Southern side of the wall, we were given tickets and sent away, encouraged to enjoy the archaeological site.

      I enjoyed the morning well enough. The exhibition itself had some anti-colonial and anti-racist flavours in it that I especially appreciated. There was a cartoon of an Indigenous person flinching underneath Roman speers saying to the viewer "How would you like it if your home was invaded?" This was the same sentiment I saw curated as part of the Jorvik Viking Museum: this honesty about colonialism.

      And it also underscored something about the English that I've never really appreciated before: the English believe that invasion and colonisation is an inevitable part of reality because they've been invaded and colonised multiple times. Little wonder that they should feel justified in colonising more of the world than anyone else: they believe it's either settle or be settled.

      We had cold bright weather standing there at the very limits of the Roman Empire. I was really haunted by the spectre of what happened in the 5th century with the Romans leaving. I don't understand why Empires withdraw and relinquish, but I need to understand it. Because my history education has this massive gap between the Julio-Claudians and Martin Luther (which is partly my fault, since studying history in my time was like taking an empty tray to a a cafeteria and filling it with only the morsels that look most appetising), I had always just assumed that the Romans basically... I don't know... assimilated.

      I was partly right. When the garrison at Banna (Birdoswald) was decommissioned, many of the people who lived there stayed there, and kept working there. And I'm sure they were governed - as Bob Dylan says, "You're gonna have to serve somebody" - but I don't know who by.

      Hadrian's Wall was a pleasure. There weren't many other tourists, and not much other traffic. The gift shop was anticlimactic, which is just bizarre to me because I arrived here with plenty of tourist dollars and a lifetime of dreaming. But a 60 pound jumper with a bland screen print of Hadrian's face on it? No. A cheap Chinese notebook with a wrapping paper pattern of no clear meaning on the front for 10 pounds? No. A 30 pound tee shirt that will fade within 5 washes? No. And as to the ten pieces of meretricious jewellery that one could find at a Boots Pharmacy? No, no, no. I bought a plastic cylinder of freckles (called "Jazzies" here in Cumbria) and left happily.

      That afternoon we walked down to Quayside for a beer (for him) and coffee (for me) and found a ridiculously pretty Art Nouveau building called "Baltic Chambers" across the river from the famous Baltic Flour Mill. The centre part had been turned into a cafe called "CatPawCino" and the corner had been turned into a "funky wee bar" called "The Hooch," which we entered. Stuart ordered a pint of Estrella (which the waitress mispronounced, making us adore her), and I had a Fentiman's Testosterone-Busting Rose Lemonade.

      But after that, I had reached my limit of TimeFocusEnergy. We went home and relaxed for the rest of the night, eating a Waitrose Quiche, listening to jazz, and doodling. This morning we move on to Edinburgh! But it's impossible that we should have better accommodation than this. Newcastle has been very kind to us; it is in fact a very kind place - cultured and honest too.

      I will come back here.
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    • Day 18

      Driving to Newcastle via Harrogate

      September 13, 2022 in England ⋅ ⛅ 14 °C

      We had every intention of going to Durham, honestly. I had heard that Durham Cathedral was incomparable, and that other people had laid down happy memories there. I was going off scant mythologies and second-hand memories in this part of the world.

      But by the time we had packed up the car and executed the diamond-heist-difficulty check out procedure (which involved a complicated and precise series of key turns, fob swipes, code types, and corridor walks), I was ready for a coffee before we had even left York.

      I saw the name Harrogate and on pure instinct asked if we could go there. And on pure instinct, Stuart said yes, never mind the fact that English people drive dangerously and were nearly causing a collision every minute. It's not good enough, Britain, to tailgate, change lanes without leaving a crash avoidance space, speed into oncoming traffic, enter intersections without checking them... I can say with the pompous certitude of a learner driver that English drivers do not drive to an Australian motoring standard.

      Driving into Harrogate was unexpectedly congested. We soon found out why: the place is amazing, and perfect for tourism. It felt like a different kind of tourism to Nottingham's Robin Hoodery or York's Renaissance Fun-fayre. This was more like the Blue Mountains back home: a traditional spa resort with maximalist luxury architecture, still luring in a certain older and parochial traveller looking for a nice and pretty place that sells expensive things. To call it picturesque is an understatement: its neat beauty and extravagant proportions were everything.

      My foot was bung so I was limping around a bit, but I couldn't stop. There was just too much to see: around every corner, more cobblestones, more columns, more fancy windows, more hanging flower baskets. We took our time walking around, photographing Dahlias, buildings, and ourselves.

      The drive into Newcastle was unexpected. Everything was so agrarian until it wasn't. Newcastle-Upon-Tyne doesn't sprawl the way Newcastle-Ever-Mine does. And once we had passed the city threshold, suddenly all the buildings were crammed into a tight perimeter, reaching up high. The buildings are all large, but they are squished together on steep ravines. In fact, this is the most vertical city I've ever seen. (I haven't been to Santiago or Hong Kong, but I've been to Dunedin and San Francisco). It's practically Gotham City with its art deco, its caricatured proportions, its achingly nostalgic vistas.

      And with that architectural verticality, that other kind of verticality: massive class differences between the rich and poor. There are beggars here smoking underneath castle archways, and people in Prada suits walking past them with Waitrose bags full of organic provender. It makes the place hard to read. I am so excited I can't even deal with it - I want to walk everywhere around here, as long as my foot will let me.

      I saw an albatross, an eagle, a grey squirrel, and a cranky dachshund today. The dachshund was barking at a busker performing Asturias in Harrogate. I wasn't sure if they were a double act, you know, good cop/bad cop that sort of thing. I thought about it as I walked out of Waitrose with my bag of organic provender.
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    • Day 19

      Newcastle upon Tyne

      September 14, 2022 in England ⋅ ⛅ 13 °C

      Chris and I were not ready to take in the sheer grandness of Newcastle. This city is not like ours in Australia. It is a full on, wall to wall demonstration of Victoriana. But I'll get to that.

      The drive up was uneventful. We passed the Angel of the North statue but in a goodly amount of traffic and so did not stop. We can say, we've seen it.

      Once safely ensconced in our top floor apartment overlooking the Tyne Bridge and the High Level Bridge, we headed out for a walk. Our amazement at the buildings in this city just grew by the moment. There was little use in putting your camera away, as every angle, every vista brought something new and incredible.

      From Grey Street that culminates in a 'Nelson's Column-like pedestal with Earl Grey atop it, to every side street, all the buildings are ornate, tall, highly decorated Victorian grandees. Newcastle Australia might have one or two, but nothing like this.

      St Nicholas' Cathedral has THE most amazing tower I have ever seen on a cathedral. It is like somehting out of Tolkien, and it did used to burn beacons in times past.

      Newcastle Castle, from which the fair city gets its name, is intact and in good repair. We had a wonderful couple of hours walking around its labyrinthine structures, up so many flights of spiral staircases, its keep has a grand hall, an entrance hall, a chapel, royal rooms, and military placements.

      After our castle morning, we decided we would walk across High Level Bridge one way and back over the river on the Tyne Bridge. For some reason now, I tend to get mild vertigo at heights, and once again, I found my legs feeling a bit weak crossing the first bridge and just wanting to get to the other side. I have learned from experience - don't stop, keep going. I managed a few pics from High Level Bridge but none on the Tyne Bridge, the little cousin of the Sydney Harbour Bridge was too much for me with whoooshing traffic on one side and the water and drop the other.

      We both did a small spot of shopping, Chris got some graphic novels and I bought some Chopin Ballades in a large traditional music shop, the like of which we don't seem to have anymore at home. A nice memory for me. We've eaten out most days, and finished up tonight at a Quayside Restaurant overlooking the Tyne.

      Newcastle has been a working class town. You can see it in some of its history. It has a really good feel to it. Chris and I both feel safe here. Relaxing in a very comfortable loft, itself in a gorgeous old Victorian building with lions adorning our windows, this has been a good place to decompress.
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