Newsletter 2011

Well, 2011 is nearly history. Can it really be a year since we were saying the same about 2010? At least this year we’re not battling the elements over the festive season as we did last year. We’ve had a brief period of snow and a brief freeze, but nothing to worry about. Christmas day in the UK proved to be one of the mildest on record. Last year it wasn’t just the festive season, the snow and ice lasted well into the new year and caused tremendous disruption, so let’s hope we don’t have a repeat at the start of 2012. After the early ice and snow, the year wasn’t too bad weatherwise, we had a good share of sunshine and warmth and not too much rain. Our main grumble in 2011 was the tremendous winds we seem to be getting with alarming regularity.

Our son, Jonathan, went out to Portugal about two years ago with his partner, Helena, his son, Hari, and step-son, Alex. They’re still there and seem to be doing well. Jonathan had problems finding a job at first because of his limited Portuguese language skills, but he’s now found one which requires an English speaker – an ideal job for him.
SamOur cat, Samantha or “Sam”, is in good health despite celebrating her 16th birthday on 1st September. Well, that date’s just a guess as she was a stray, but according to a vet, the date is within a month or so, so near enough. At present she’s wearing a shocking-pink bow, so she looks very Christmassy.

Health-wise we can’t complain, though we’re both rather overweight – me more so than Chris – and we both have Type 2 Diabetes. We have regular check-ups with our GP, his practice staff and specialists from the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, and our eyes are checked annually by our optician, Tony Nurowski. I was aware that I had diabetic neuropathy (loss of sensation) in one foot, but I was rather shocked to be told that my diabetes is beginning to affect my eyes too. Fortunately Chris seems free of such side-effects at present.

In 2010 both our chiropodist, Ken Scott, and our dentist, Chris Magnay, retired. They were both very hard acts to follow, but their replacements, Michael Gallagher and John Rivers, are excellent. 2011 was the first full year they’ve treated us, and we’re more than satisfied with both of them.

We effectively have a new doctor too as our nominal GP, Dr Schumm, seems to be taking fewer surgeries now; perhaps she’s approaching retirement. Luckily all the practice doctors are first class and we’re happy to see any of them, but it so happens that we’ve most often found ourselves seeing Dr Finnerty recently, so we regard him as our de-facto GP now.

Although we’ve had a myriad of tests of various kinds, and a few medication tweaks, the only actual treatment either of us have had this year was a couple of antibiotic courses for minor infections, and our annual flu jabs in September. Oh, and earlier in September, I had a pneumo jab too. Apparently I should have had it some time ago, but I’d somehow slipped through the net. So 2011 saw very little treatment and, most unusually, no hospital appointments at all – a very good year indeed.
FloraIn February one of Christine’s good friends of many years, Flora, left the area. Christine knew Flora before I came on the scene, and Flora was matron of honour when Chris and I married in 1980. She was born in Rhodesia and came to Gateshead with her husband and growing family. Sadly her husband died, leaving Flora to raise her five children alone. Flora worked her way through college, became a qualified teacher, and she held down a full time job while raising her family amazingly well. All five children went to university and have good jobs. Now Flora has retired and she’s moved to Essex to be near some of her children. Very sad to see her go.
Little TheatreChris and I continued to enjoy the productions at Gateshead’s Little Theatre through 2011. The Progressive Players do a fantastic job for an amateur group, with ten plays a year, each running for a week. The latest was a comic adaptation of “The 39 Steps”. It was hilarious. We haven’t been to the Theatre Royal much this year as things there are worse, not better. First they hiked the seat prices substantially, and now, in the name of putting things back as they were in the early 1900s, they’ve changed the seating layout on the upper floors much for the worse, and installed seats which give you severe backache after a very short time. The place certainly looks gorgeous, and they get some wonderful shows, but they’ve rather ruined it for us and, I suspect, for many others too. We were regulars there for years, now we’re reluctant to go at all.

We also get to most of the “Medicine for Members” talks at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital. These are on a variety of medical topics and consist of presentations and question/answer sessions by doctors, nurses and other professionals. Recent topics have included Rheumatology, the Hospital Path Labs and the work of the Emergency Ambulance Service. The talks are always fascinating and they provide a rare opportunity to ask questions of the medical professionals who serve us so well here in Gateshead.

Nick PopeI’ve also become a regular at Newcastle’s Skeptics in the Pub meetings, most of which are held at the Bridge Hotel beside the Castle Keep. This group consists mainly of graduate and post-graduate students and recent graduates of Newcastle University, mostly in the BioMed fields, but there are a few members from other fields and a few older members, such as myself. A lovely group they are too. We meet once a month, sometimes more, and we enjoy talks on a wide variety of vaguely “skeptical” topics given by invited speakers such as the gentleman pictured here – Nick Pope, former government UFO investigator. Occasionally we meet up for “Socials” at the Old George Pub off High Bridge – not “Socials” in the sense that I understood the word from my “Methodist” days, ie a dance and a buffet, but rather a friendly chat over a pint or a Pepsi. Most enjoyable. I’ve yet to persuade Chris to come along to these events, but my cousin Ray and his partner and sons come along from time to time.

Other talks and lectures which I’ve attended included some excellent science and history talks at the Lit & Phil, a few meetings and film shows of the North East Humanists, and the annual Robinson Prize Lecture in Cosmology at Newcastle University. This year it was entitled ‘Why is the Universe Bio-friendly’ and was given by the world-famous physicist, Professor Paul Davies. And the year ended on a lighter note with The Bright Club on December 7th – great stand-up comedy from a bunch of academics at The Black Swan on Westgate Road.

AntheaWhen it comes to history talks, the high spot of the year for many years has been Local History Month. More than 80 events in Gateshead, mostly talks or walks, during the month of May. The talks take place in Gateshead Heritage Centre, the Shipley Art Gallery, or in one of the libraries around the borough and are on a huge variety of local-history related topics. Although Local History Month is a national endeavour, Gateshead’s provision is massive compared to most, and that was entirely down to the efforts of Local History Librarian and Heritage Centre Manager, Anthea Lang who organises it single-handed. Unfortunately Anthea retired in June – we went to her leaving party at The Central Bar on June 14th – so what happens next year remains to be seen. Her post was not filled, so unless they bring Anthea back to do the job as a freelance, it’s unlikely that future Local History Months will be on the same scale as in recent years.

My own contribution to Local History Month every year is a history walk in Rowlands Gill, my home village for 32 years. We start and end at the library and try to take in as many of the sites of historical interest in the area as we can in 2 hours, looking at old photographs of the sites en-route. We round the afternoon off with a cup of tea and a biscuit kindly laid on by the library staff. This year’s walk on May 12th was quite well attended and everyone seemed to enjoy the event.

I do the same walk again as part of the Heritage Open Days programme every September, this year it was on September 9th. During both annual visits to Rowlands Gill, Chris and I invariably pop into the local cafe – for many years it was called “Tea for Two” and was run by Gloria Philipson, now it’s called “The Kitchen” with Gary in charge. I usually opt for their All-Day Breakfast – delicious.

Talking of food – our regular “dining out” spot is now the Ravensworth Arms at Lamesley. Pleasant setting, very friendly staff and great chefs. We’ve been through a few places over the years – The Victoria; The Gold Medal; Fenwick’s Terrace Restaurant; The Marquis of Granby; The Rose, Shamrock & Thistle; The Gold Medal; The Ninepins; the Shire Cafe at Hexham and The Tyneside Coffee Rooms – but we changed for one reason or another. Maybe the place changed owners or changed chefs, and the food or atmosphere was no longer to our taste, or maybe we just fancied a change. We still go to The Victoria, The Shire Cafe and the Tyneside Coffee Rooms very occasionally, but usually it’s The Ravensworth Arms once or twice a week. Recently we’ve been back to Fenwick’s Terrace Restaurant a few times too, but only when we’ve been shopping at Fenwick’s itself or nearby, and I can’t see it replacing The Ravensworth as our regular spot.

Jean and RayWhen my Canadian cousin, Ian, was in the UK in October, I organised a family get-together, and the natural choice of venue for me was The Ravensworth. 35 managed to attend – 10 of the 13 “Walker” cousins, plus assorted spouses/partners, children and grandchildren, and the guests of honour, Aunt Jean and Uncle Ray – shown here. Jean is the only one of the six Walker girls who is still with us. We had a great time catching up with family news and seeing how much the children had grown since our last get-together.

The GangThe Ravensworth is also the venue for meetings of “The Gang” – a small group of long-time members of the NORTHUMBRIA mailing list. We meet up every two months or so for a meal and a natter. A great bunch. In November we were joined by Canadian mailing list member, Heather Punshon and hubby, Derek. I know Heather from way back; she was a student maths teacher during my last year at school. Hard to believe that was all of 47 years ago! Another mailing-list member from Canada, Doreen Welch-Perri, was over here in August and we met for a coffee at the Tyneside Coffee Rooms. It was a great pleasure to meet Heather, Derek and Doreen.

If Chris & I just fancy a snack while we’re shopping in Low Fell, we pop into a little cafe above a flower shop. We’ve been using that cafe for more than 20 years. Over that time it’s had a couple of names – Streamers and Cafe Carvoeiro – and many more owners, but it’s always been a pleasant spot where you could get a hot drink and a tasty light meal. This year saw the arrival of Chris Shaftoe and his wife, and the latest rename – it’s now The Stairwayz Cafe – and they seem to be making a success of the place.

I’ve attended two local history courses this year, both under the general heading of “The Changing Face of Gateshead”. The first, on the history of the Shipcote area, was based at Gateshead Central Library and consisted of 10 weekly classes beginning on February 2nd. The second, on the history of Bensham, was based at St Mary’s Heritage Centre and consisted of 6 weekly classes beginning on October 5th. Both were ably conducted by Anthea Lang – as a council employee for the first course, and as a freelance tutor for the second. For the first course Simon Green assisted too. These were really good courses and I think I learnt a lot.

We used to volunteer for a variety of things – far too many – but we’ve cut things down a lot. Apart from the history walks mentioned earlier, all we do locally are occasional mail-outs at Gateshead Old Town Hall – envelope stuffing, generally arts material aimed at schools. On the internet, I maintain the Northumberland web pages of the GENUKI genealogy information service, the pages of the Northumberland and Durham Family History Society, and I run Rootsweb’s NORTHUMBRIA genealogy mailing list.

In February Chris and I attended a Requiem Mass at St Joseph’s Church in Gateshead for Matty Lang, husband of Anthea mentioned above. Matty, a lovely man whom we’d met several times, had been suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease for some years. Although I’m used to Catholic church services as I taught in a Catholic School from 1967 to 1972, this was the first Catholic funeral I’d attended. It certainly was a grand send off. After the service we attended a funeral buffet at The Gold Medal on Chowdene Bank.

On April 24th we were due to attend the baptism of Joshua Grigor, grandson of my late father’s cousin, Edna. Unfortunately we didn’t make it as the pollen count was very high that day and I was laid low with hay fever. A great pity.

WeddingWe did get to another family event on July 15th: the wedding reception for Andrew Stephenson, the grandson of another of my father’s cousins, Maurice. Andrew married Lauren Taylor, who is serving in the navy. The marriage took place at St Benet’s in Sunderland with the reception at the Marriott Hotel in Seaburn. Nice to have a rare opportunity to meet members of the extended family and new family members.

Three events of national importance occurred in 2011. First the census, nominally on March 27th. Questionnaires always irritate me, particularly when they ask us to categorise ourselves into racial or “ethnic” groupings – concepts which scientifically are utterly meaningless. They say they ask such questions to ensure that minorities are treated fairly – seems to me they can achieve that goal by simply treating everybody in exactly the same way. Asking people to categorise themselves can only make things worse. Sorry, I’ll step off my soap box. On April 29th we had the marriage of Prince William and Kate. Nothing cheers the nation up as much as a major royal event, and this was no exception. With the public-service cuts beginning to bite, we certainly needed cheering up. Then, on May 5th, came the Local Government Elections and the referendum on voting methods. As expected, massive propaganda and misinformation from both main parties ensured that the majority chose the status quo, first-past-the-post, and rejected what promised to be a much fairer system. Pity!

BobbyVisitors during the year included Christine’s brother, Bobby, from Brisbane, who was over in the UK in April and May. We spent quite a bit of time with Bobby and, as always, his time here seemed all too brief. My cousin, Eve, and husband, Brian, also visited the area in April and we met up with them at cousin Ray’s place in Gosforth – a most enjoyable mini family reunion.

Newly Married7Later in the year two of Christine’s recently-married relations brought their wives to meet family members here in Gateshead – on October 27th, we met cousin’s son Steven from Bournemouth and his new bride, Kathryn; and a month later, on November 29th, we met cousin Simon from London and Zoe. Both new family members seem really nice.

On April 18th, Chris and I visited Ian, a former teaching colleague at St Josephs in Sunderland. He’s the only former colleague I’ve kept in touch with, no doubt because we share an interest in electronics, computers, photography – and cats. He lives in Sunderland and we always enjoy our occasional visits to Ian’s place. It’s hard to believe it’s 40 years since we worked together in Sunderland. Back then my journey to work involved a train journey with bus rides at both ends – now there’s a Metro station right beside St Joe’s, which would have greatly simplified the daily treks.

famousfive-e1347730094821For the last two or three years, Chris, myself and a few friends from my year at Hookergate Grammar School have met up from time to time for excursions around the area. We discovered that we all had genealogical interests in similar areas to the north and north-west of Hexham, indeed all of us have relatives in one small churchyard at Bewcastle in Cumbria. As well as trips to graveyards, museums, churches and ancestral haunts, these outings invariably include a meal – our venues so far have included The Milecastle Inn and the Robin Hood Inn at the west and east ends of the Miltary Road respectively, the Boat Inn Restaurant at Kielder Water and Riverdale Hall at Bellingham.

We didn’t know quite what to call this little group of ours to begin with. “Old Hookergatians” was unappealing, but what else was there? Then I spotted the term “Palmarian” in an old school magazine – an allusion to the school motto “Non Sine Pulvere Palmae” – so I was going to suggest that we become the “Old Palmarians”, but I was beaten to the punch by the partner of one of our number who referred to us as “The Secret Seven”. It quickly morphed to “The Famous Five” and that name has more or less stuck. By whatever name, they are great company, and we always have a good time.

Hookergate Grammar SchoolThis year, on July 21st, this same group attended a really moving event – an open day to mark the closure of our old school, Hookergate, near High Spen. We were given much greater access than we expected – almost all the rooms were open and we could explore to our hearts’ content. Memories flooded back as we wandered the corridors and classrooms. So sad to see the demise of the school where we spent seven happy years and which has served the area for nearly 80. My old junior school at Highfield was demolished in 2008, so this will be my second such loss in a very few years. It’s like chunks of my past disappearing off the face of the earth. A sort of bereavement-lite as it were.

Nicholas PearsJuly was also the time I made good on a promise to myself to put a headstone on my grandfather’s grave. My grandfather, Nicholas Pears, died in 1955 when I was only nine. I can remember him, of course, but I never really had a chance to get to know him. He was buried in an unmarked grave in Greenside Cemetery, presumably because my grandmother couldn’t afford a headstone. Fortunately she did purchase the plot, so the option of erecting a headstone has always been there, but it was never done. I’m grandfather’s only surviving descendant, so if I didn’t erect one, nobody would. I decided I must do it – by all accounts he was a good man, and he deserves a memorial.

HeadstoneI put off doing anything about this for a long time, but on May 26th I just happened to be in the Grainger Market and I spotted the office of Ian Wood Memorials. Within an hour I’d ordered the stone and paid a deposit; and within a day I’d written to the council to get ownership of the plot transferred to me, and get permission to erect the stone. The stone was erected on July 1st – it’s simple, yet dignified. The inscription reads “In loving memory of a dear husband, father and grandfather Nicholas Pears Born 26th May 1895 Died 10th January 1955”.

I also got round to accessing the 1939 National Registration records for my parents and grandparents. Those of us obsessed with family history like to track down every record available to us, and a new source has recently become available. There was a sort of mini-census, called the “National Registration”, taken at the end of September 1939 to facilitate conscription and other exigencies of war. Most of us assumed that these records would be inaccessible for 100 years, like the censuses, but one gentleman decided to find out for sure. He put in a Freedom of Information request for details for a particular address from those 1939 records, and he was successful.

Apparently the National Registration records formed the basis of the National Health Service record system in 1948, and the original records are still with the NHS at their Southport offices. Anticipating a flood of similar FoI requests for access to these records, the NHS formalised the procedure with application forms etc, so now it is easy for anyone to apply. The only drawback is the cost – £42 per household accessed. I thought that in September 1939 both my parents were living at home with their parents – but I wasn’t sure if any of dad’s uncle’s were living with him and his parents, and I wasn’t sure which of my mother’s sister’s were still at home. It would be worth £84 to find out.

So I applied, waited several weeks, and obtained the records. Dad’s place, 6 Watson Street, High Spen, was straightforward – there was just him and his parents only – but, surprisingly, mum wasn’t with her parents at 11 Mersey Street, Chopwell; only the younger sisters were there. So where was mum? I knew she’d been “in service” with the Bookless family of Jesmond a while earlier, but I’m sure she’d said she was finished there before the war. So where was she? Another £42 answered that question: she was in service with a Mr Lazarus, a pawnbroker and jeweller, and his family at 10 Beechfield Road, Gosforth. An interesting if expensive snippet of information.

Although I’m quite keen on modern technology, I’m always way behind everyone else in adopting it. I suppose it’s my innate resistance to change that’s the problem. What I’ve got does the job and I’m used to it, so why change? So it wasn’t until March of this year that I belatedly bought myself a smartphone to replace my bog-standard mobile and my Palm PDA. I plumped for an Android device (Samsung Galaxy Europa on the O2 network) as I generally find Google’s offerings to be both functional and intuitive. I must say that I’m more than satisfied with the device.

I am even further behind with computer operating systems. I write a lot of my own software and it is often tied closely with a particular OS, and needs adapting for a different version. Consequently I didn’t adopt Windows XP until 2007 when it had been around for six years, and we’re still using it on our Desktop and on Christine’s laptop. Realising that we can’t stick with XP indefinitely, I bought a laptop running Windows 7 in June of this year. The idea is to get used to Windows 7 and to try to either adapt my software to run on this OS, or to find new software to do the same jobs. With luck, by the time we’re forced to abandon XP, we’ll be able to do everything we need on machines running Win 7.

One program I’ve been forced to replace is my home-brew genealogy program. I wrote this in the 1990s and I’ve added features regularly since then. It now does exactly what I want, exactly how I want it done, and I’m quite attached to it, but it simply won’t run under Windows 7. I could do a complete rewrite, but that would take a long time and I’d really rather be doing genealogy, so I decided to switch to a commercial program. I’ve now purchased Rootsmagic 5 and transferred all my data to that program. It works satisfactorily, but doesn’t quite have all the features I’m used to. I suppose I’ll get used to it.

We also replaced our stepladder during the year. The one we had was very heavy and not quite high enough for our needs, so when it developed a twist and became decidedly unsafe, we were delighted to get rid of it. In March we replaced it with a much lighter and slightly higher stepladder from B&Q at Scotswood.

We also bought an additional door chime to take care of an increasing problem – my deafness. Nearly 30 years ago I installed a front-door bell-push wired to two door chimes, one in the passage and one in the kitchen, and at the time these were quite adequate. But now, when all the internal doors are shut and the TV is on, I simply cannot hear those chimes at all from my usual spot in front of my computer. Chris can, but she’s not always around. So in October, to resolve this, I bought an “extender” and “wireless” chime. The extender connects to one of the existing chimes and when the chime sounds it sends out a radio signal to trigger the new chime which can be located anywhere. With that chime typically one metre from my ear, I cannot miss it!

Other equipment replacements or upgrades during the year included the microwave cooker and the upright vacuum cleaner. We had a Dyson vacuum cleaner which worked well but was very complicated to change over from normal use to using the various attachments. So when I damaged the Dyson machine cleaning up some slightly damp sand, we welcomed the opportunity to dispose of it and get a replacement. We chose a Panasonic upright from John Lewis and it has proved just as effective as the Dyson and is much more user friendly. The microwave was old and a little corroded under the turntable, and we would have replaced it ages ago, were it not for the height limitations imposed by the only suitable location for it in the kitchen. There were lots of machines available, but all were too tall. Eventually, in April, I spotted a suitable appliance in Fenwick’s and ordered it.

Not all replacements were successful. Christine saw some shelves on display in IKEA and thought they’d make a good replacement for the aged bookshelves we’d inherited from my father. I was very reluctant to make the change as the existing bookshelves were from the 1940s and, though simple, were very strong. Chris reckoned that the IKEA unit would give us an extra two shelves, which would indeed be useful, so I agreed. Unfortunately the desired colour was out of stock at the local IKEA, so we had to wait several weeks before the flat-packs were delivered. It was simple to assemble, but as soon as I stood it against the wall I realised how dreadful it looked. It just didn’t fit in. Fortunately Chris thought the same, so it was quickly dismantled and disposed of, and our old bookshelves reinstated in their rightful place.

Of course we had break-downs and repairs too. In March the washing machine suddenly refused to move, luckily it was under warranty, so the repair – new brushes for the motor – cost nothing. In June the hot water system stopped working. but it was quickly fixed by engineer, Bob Thornton, who does all our heating/hot-water repairs. Apparently it needed a new “diaphragm”. Then in October the landline telephone went off – surprisingly our ADSL broadband continued to work, though the speed dropped significantly and it also cut out briefly from time to time. Once I’d navigated through BT’s confusing telephone menu system twice using my mobile phone – once to report the fault and once to supply additional information requested by the engineers – things went very smoothly and the fault was rectified within two days. Luckily the fault was in a street cabinet, not on our premises, so the engineer only needed access here briefly to test his workmanship. It took slightly longer to get the broadband speed back up to its usual 6.1-6.8 Mbps, but my ISP, Metronet, managed that within a week

We had workmen here on other occasions. In March we had a new gas meter installed. As I’ve just recently realised, the old one had measured in Imperial units whereas the new one is metric, a change which caused a temporary panic this month when I saw how many more units we were using this year compared to last. In September we had a plasterer here making good a problem section of the kitchen wall which I’ve had hidden behind a decorative board for 25+ years. We used a company on our local council’s Registered Traders list – Arc Plasters of Sunniside – and they did an excellent job.

In September we called another company recommended by the council, Croft Windows of Swalwell, and we asked them to replace or tidy up the internal trims on some windows which were installed some time ago by other companies, and also to rectify faults in two window hinges. They too did a very good job.

Front GardenWe had our regular gardener, George Jukes, twice this year as usual – once in the spring and again in October. He is rather expensive, but he does a grand job with our tiny front garden, keeping it neat and colourful.

We now do nearly all our regular food shopping at Sainsbury’s at the southern end of the Team Valley. Since the summer, our neighbours, Maureen and Steve, have kindly given us a lift there and back once a week – most helpful. Sometimes we also go there ourselves after eating at the Ravensworth which is close by. We also use a Co-op, a “Nisa” convenience store, a bakers, and a greengrocers, all at Low Fell, for odds and ends at other times.

Beginning in October, I ordered a series of genealogy-related DNA tests with a leading American company, Family Tree DNA, in the hope of confirming some uncertain family links and perhaps finding new ones. Initially I ordered just the Y-DNA test which relates only to my all-male (Pears) line. I intended to take some additional tests, possibly next year, but when the testing company announced an end-of-year sale with greatly reduced prices, I took the opportunity to order autosomal tests for Christine and myself. These can potentially match up with descendants of all our ancestral lines. A few days ago, just before the sale ended, I also ordered a mitochondrial DNA test, which relates to my mother and on up through the all-female line.

HeinrichSome results are back – no major breakthroughs yet, but already there are numerous very tantalising hints and leads. However it’s a complex subject and there’s a lot to digest. It looks like I’ll need to curb my Francophobe tendencies as I seem to match with a lot of people in Brittany! I won’t have that problem with my newly-found Merle relatives in Germany, as it’s a country which fascinates me. The gentleman I have a DNA match with is a Heinrich Merle (shown in this photograph taken by Karl-Heinz Merle of Neukirchen at a recent family gathering), though my contact is his English-speaking relative, Guenter Merle of Griesheim near Darmstadt. It seems to be a great family, though quite how I relate to Merle in my all-male line (who should all be called Pears), is a mystery – but DNA doesn’t lie! Altogether a fascinating area of research. Those who know me through the NORTHUMBRIA genealogy mailing list will think me quite a hypocrite as I’ve often argued strongly against DNA testing for genealogists. I’ll admit my change of heart next time the issue is raised.

As Christmas approached we had a number of Christmas meals. First was with “The Famous Five” at the Robin Hood Inn on the Military Road on December 1st – a bit of a mix-up there as I’d mistakenly booked by phone from a 5 year-old menu I found on the web. When the owner eventually realised this, he had no means of getting back to me. However, he kindly got hold of the necessary ingredients just for us, and we got exactly what we’d ordered, though not, unfortunately, at the 5 year-old prices.

Our second festive meal was with “The Gang” at the Ravensworth Arms on December 5th, and finally, on December 13th, we went down to Mount Oswald Manor outside Durham City for a meal with the Retired Members Association of my union, the NASUWT. All the meals were excellent – as was the company.

We were very early with our Christmas cards this year, probably too early, but we’d had an early prompt – we’d actually received a Christmas card on the 22nd of November! Likewise with our little tree and other decorations at home, and buying presents for family and friends, all were dealt with unusually early. So after the round of Christmas meals, there wasn’t really much left to do in preparation for the Big Day in the remaining ten days or so. Perhaps that unexpected hiatus was what prompted us to deal with an issue that’s been niggling at us both for many months – what to do with our Davidson flower bowl and frog?

BowlIt wasn’t particular old, made around 1930 I believe, but it was rather attractive, it was locally made, and it was of a comparatively rare pattern. We didn’t want it, so we’d decided a long time ago to offer it to Tyne and Wear Museums as we’d seen similar objects at their Shipley Art Gallery. Of course it was another of those things that kept getting put off. So it wasn’t until December 15th that I phoned the Shipley, they referred me to the Laing Art Gallery in Newcastle and, to cut a longer story short, I offered them the bowl and they were “delighted to accept” it. I delivered it to the Laing on December 21st.

The origins of that bowl are the subject of a minor household dispute. I was convinced that I remembered that bowl at my paternal grandmother’s house at Rowlands Gill, so I assumed we’d inherited it from her. Christine, however, was certain that she’d bought it at a “Bring and Buy” sale many years ago. I happily accepted that I could be wrong – until three days ago, that is, when I found three photographs I’d taken at my gran’s in 1971 of an identical bowl, complete with flowers. Well, perhaps ‘identical’ is not quite true – the bowl I snapped in 1971 had a base, the one we gave to The Laing did not, but otherwise they were indistinguishable in shape, colour and pattern. When the bowl was on sale in the 1930s, the separate base was an optional extra, so our bowl may never have had a base, or it may have had one which was subsequently lost or broken. So ‘our’ bowl may indeed have been my gran’s bowl minus its base, or it may be a quite different one. In the interests of household harmony, I’ll accept that coincidences do occur and we could be dealing with two identical bowls – two identical rather rare bowls – but at least I have the satisfaction of knowing that my memory wasn’t faulty.

David PettyAmong the Christmas cards which arrived about 10 days before Christmas there was a hand-written letter; it wasn’t good news! It was from, Lilian, the wife of a friend, David Petty, informing me the David had died on December 3rd. I got to know David at university. We came from the same backgrounds, had the same sort of geeky, obsessive characters, and, as we studied exactly the same combination of subjects, we saw quite a lot of each other. Then we graduated and I went into teaching at Sunderland and David joined an electronics company in Stockport. I visited David a few times in Stockport in the late 60s – memorable visits as I did three things then I’d not done before and haven’t done since. I went to a professional football match, Manchester United vs Southampton – I played snooker – and I played 10-pin bowling. Those sports, particularly bowling and snooker, always remind me of that time.

After that, apart from exchanging Christmas cards, we rather lost touch. Until 2006, that is, when I had occasion to contact David on university alumni business. We spoke on the phone and exchanged a few e-mails – it was really nice to catch up after so many years. Hard to believe he’s gone.

Then Christmas Eve arrived – and no Christmas Eve is complete without a minor household emergency, and this year it was provided by our toilet seat! One of the two metal hinges attaching the seat to the toilet snapped. Too late to shop for a replacement, so it was on with the overalls, out with the tools, and after a while we had a secure toilet seat again. In theory it’s as good as new, but in practice I’ll probably replace it after the New Year, just in case.

So what will 2012 bring? More cuts, that’s for sure. One we know about already is our bin collections here in Gateshead being reduced from weekly to fortnightly, but that’s no big deal. And ultimately we’ll muddle through whatever the government and council throw at us. None of that’s particularly important – all that really matters are our friends and our nearest and dearest. So here’s to a happy and healthy 2012 for you and yours.


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