Christmas can be about many different things depending on who you ask. It can be a time to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, a time to spend with family who you never see for the other 364 days of the year, a time when suicides skyrocket or a time when domestic violence goes through its seasonal surge due to the financial strain thrust upon families in a desperate attempt to oblige with modern day Christmas consumerism. Well, for me Christmas has simply been the time to adjust back into a Western way of life after over a year in Asia. At first, I felt a little like Tom Hanks when he returns to civilisation in Castaway, the quiet roads are overwhelming and it took a few days till I was brave enough to get into a comfortable bed. But it doesn’t take long till you realise that most things that you’d hoped would have changed haven’t, then soon enough you feel like you’ve never been anywhere and the whole thing was just a dream…
I’ve forgotten how to use a Western toilet
So, Likethewheels has returned and here is the first in my series of posts on life back in the promised land – North East England. Starting off in non other than Newcastle-Upon-Tyne. I took a walk on a brisk December day through the city to highlight some of its most famous (and infamous) landmarks.
Byker on the outskirts of Newcastle’s city centre, is well known for two things, Byker Grove, the BBC children’s drama series set in the area, and the Byker wall. The Byker wall was designed in 1968 by Swedish architect Ralph Erskine and is a stretch of 620 maisonettes that, as the name suggests looks like a giant wall. At the time the ’waall’ was a marvel of weird Scandinavian style, but over the years it has become a victim of crime, vandalism and general urban decay. The structure was once the home of the notorious ’Rat Boy’, a teenage burglar from the 1990‘s. Rat boy gained his name using the wall’s ventilation system to break into the resident’s flats and to hide in his secret lair from the police.
Section of the wall
Rat Boy, as depicted by Newcastle adult comic, the Viz
The Quayside is the area along the banks of the river Tyne on both the Newcastle and Gateshead sides. Once the commercial and industrial part of the city, the area became very run down but since has been heavily rejuvenated. Until 2008 the quayside was known for the Tuxedo Princess, a floating nightclub. The Princess sported an amazing revolving dance floor which was most likely the culprit of the Quayside’s Sunday morning pavement pizzas. Mick Hucknall once graced the Princess’ starboard and was apparently blown away as he had never thought anything could come close to being as hideous as himself…
The Baltic Flour Mill, now a centre for contemporary art, over the years has displayed some wonderful and interesting exhibitions by the likes of Yoko Ono and Antony Gormley. I must say though that it can also be a collection of some of the most pretentious bullshit I’ve ever seen in my life, a garden shed filled with soil? Now that’s what I call art.
View from the Baltic
The Sage performance centre is another stand out building on the Gateshead quayside, I once attended a Patti Smith concert here where she referred to it as a giant peanut. I would say it’s more like a glass stool…
Newcastle castle keep, is the oldest remaining structure in the city. The Norman keep was built around 1168 by Henry II and is not surprisingly the fortification that gives the city its name. There’s no Oldcastle, it’s thought that the city used to go by the name of Monkchester for reasons unknown. I didn’t pay the three quid entry this time, that’s the price of a pint over here, but I can assure you the keep has a great view from the roof.
Artist’s impression of the keep and castle garth, circa 1250
The Old George Inn is Newcastle’s oldest pub, and was once the local of King Charles I while in a nearby open prison. Just around the corner you will find the Bigg market, come here on a Saturday night to witness the epitome of British stag weekends and drinking culture. Bring your morph suit…
Grey Street renowned for its Gregorian architecture, is considered one of the finest streets in the UK. It follows the natural contours of the Lort Burn which flowed into the Tyne but is now underground.
As for the curve of Grey Street, I shall never forget seeing it to perfection, traffic-less on a misty Sunday morning. Not even Regent Street, even old Regent Street London, can compare with that descending subtle curve -Sir John Betjeman
Grey’s monument situated at the top of Grey street, was built to acclaim the 2nd Earl Grey, the first modern prime minister of the UK for his great reform act of 1832. Charles Grey, a native of Northumberland would be proud of the fact that now his monument is a popular meeting place for charvas, preachers, tramps and goths throughout the city. To add a little excitement to your weekend shopping sessions, walk past the bearded chronicle seller, call him an arsehole then run away…
A poor man’s Nelson’s column, from the same sculptor
In Newcastle we have an annual festive tradition, where the young and old rub shoulders to gaze at moving mechanical dwarfs, wizards and pixies telling the story of some of the world’s best loved fairy tales. Sound like your idea of a nice trip? Then you’ll love Fenwick’s window. Set slap bang in the middle of Northumberland street, Fenwick’s department store has been putting drug free smiles on the faces of Christmas shoppers for more than 40 years. If the enchanting music isn’t enough for you, then tune your ears into the Northumberland street funky bass player.
Add a bit of fusion funk to your Christmas shopping
Finish off a long day’s walking with some traditional North East food in the form of Greggs or an old school steak and ale house.
Cheese and onion pasty?
Northumberland steak pie
So Christmas has come and gone and the year is drawing to a close, I hope you all have as much fun in 2014 as I have this year. Christmas can be about many different things, I’m glad this year I’ll be spending it with the beautifully ugly people of Newcastle. For some reason every year I get a present that I never seem to ask for… a drinking problem…cheers!