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Monday, 19 August 2013

The Thirty-Nine Steps (Almost) and a Tyneside Blonde


The Thirty-Nine Steps? Not quite – but still a fair old climb to the now defunct signal-box at Wylam station, on the Newcastle to Carlisle line. And of course it brought back memories of the time, back in 1982, when I was a signalman at Moortown, on the Lincoln to Grimsby line. Eight or ten trains a shift, and for each one I had to scamper down the steps, close the crossing gates, run back up, clear the signals, see the train through, then reverse procedure. Very much the job for a gentleman philosopher, and I might have stayed there for many years had I not opened a copy of the Market Rasen Mail one auspicious day and spotted an advertisement for the post of rural rat-catcher.

I beat 140 applicants to take that job, and spent two exceedingly pleasant years cruising the North Lincolnshire countryside in my little yellow van, supping tea with farmers, killing rats, mice and wasps, and pondering my future – which was to involve four years at Hull University, a year in New Mexico, and a gradual slide, via an abortive academic career, into the role of self-employed writer….

Where was I? Ah, yesterday. Chainsaw Phil was up from Yorkshire, and we spent a thoroughly idle day drinking beer and listening to folk music. Some enterprising parties had arranged a Folk Train: toting their instruments, they would board the 12.15 train from Newcastle to Carlisle, serenade the paying customers, bale out at Wylam and invade the Boathouse Inn, there to play for several hours before boarding the 3.20 train back to town. Or Toon, if you prefer.


The above beers – White Hot, from Consett and Deuchars, from Edinburgh - we actually drank in the marvellous station bar at Newcastle. It’s one of those places which, as soon as you walk in, you want to call a ‘gin palace’, or perhaps an ‘emporium’. Check out the tiled ceiling (below) and you’ll get a flavour of the place. It once served as the First Class Waiting Room, a fact which, as soon as I heard it,  reminded me why I sometimes wish had been born many years ago into an extremely rich family….



Back home, after several more pints – mostly of a cheeky little brew called Tyneside Blonde – I took the Chainsaw down to the vegetable garden and showed off our produce, paying particular attention to the excellent calabrese, before lopping a head off and cooking it as an accompaniment to the lamb casserole I’d prepared earlier.

There were other events at the weekend, but I prefer not to discuss the wretched afternoon spent watching York City’s goalless draw with Hartlepool – possibly the most appalling ninety minutes I have witnessed at any football ground in the past fifty years. After that, going back to my sci-fi project feels like light relief.

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