Saturday, October 10, 2015

Sometimes You Can Go Back

I'm pausing for a few days before I complete my 500-mile Walk Around Newcastle, a walk I started in 2010.

The walk does not include Newcastle upon Tyne, the town where I grew up: after all, it's a walk "around" Newcastle. Today, though, I'm pausing the walk, and wandering in Newcastle.

Today's central Newcastle upon Tyne is a busy, popular place. Pragmatic downtown development has kept the city a place people want to be: shopping during the day, Party Central at night.

I've returned to Newcastle many times, and it's gratifying to see elements still there from my childhood. Mercifully, the bomb sites are long gone: as a child, I thought they were normal.

An essential part of my mum's life was taking the bus "into town" (Newcastle) ostensibly to do essential shopping. As a kid, this was always a treat.

My mother loved her "second breakfast" at Fenwick's department store. First, we had to walk through the highly perfumed cosmetics department where I would miserably start sneezing or experience a mild asthma attack. I learned to walk quickly, while pinching my nose.

I re-lived that tradition, this morning, with a scone and a cuppa. I noted the cream cakes: perhaps I would return in the afternoon to honor another of Mum's traditions.

After a scone, another tradition: a trip upstairs to the loo. Mum would always go to this Ladies, reminding me that the Queen, always "went" when she had a chance, "just for insurance."
I then headed to the Grainger Market, only subtly changed in its 180 years. Ahead of me was the Weigh House where my mum would stand on an old-fashioned scale. An attendant would operate the sliding weights then hand her a slip with the bad news written on it. This place was Mum's talisman in her lifelong battle with her weight.

A used CD shop filled the space once occupied by a used book store. My mum found hundreds of books there for me to read and love.

Here the modern world sits comfortably with the old. A stall that might have once been the domain of a watch repairer, was now a place you would bring your phone to be repaired or unlocked.
I was glad to see traditional counters displaying meat and produce: shrinkwrap and more refrigeration, but the idea was the same.

I needed to capture the thoughts that were spinning through my head. The Literary and Philosophical Society was just the place to write this post. 
Largely unchanged since it was built in 1825, the "Lit and Phil" is a special place for me; for Mum it was sacred ground. She would come here often, have a chat with the "tea lady" then carry her cup into the ladies' lounge. There she might read something erudite, but in her later years it was probably a tabloid carefully hidden inside a broadsheet newspaper. She would enjoy the schadenfreude of a then-imploding royal family.

When I was almost five and about to start primary school, I earnestly made Mum promise she would never go into town without me. She promised, but years later she confessed her obvious lie. These days I go into town without her, honoring her memory.


  1. Very sweet memories! Thanks for sharing.

  2. Nicely written. What a nice walkabout. I think I could get used to regular outings for those pastries and a stop at the "Lit & Phil" - do people in England still read?

    1. Thanks, Dave. I think you would enjoy the pastries. Unfortunately, the Lit & Phil is not representative of reading in Britain.

  3. Your mum was a lovely lady

  4. Thank you, yes she was, and one of a kind.