2012 Newsletter

SamThe years really are slipping by with alarming speed. I was barely accustomed to it being 2012, and suddenly it’s 2013. Well, we’ve all made it through another year and even the oldest family members – my lovely mother-in-law (96) and Sam (88 cat years) – are doing fine.

Once again we’ve had a mild Christmas/New Year period, but it looks as though January is going to be a cold month. Disturbingly some pundits are forecasting the coldest winter for 100 years, but we’ve heard that many times before and it came to nothing.

The main weather problem in 2012 wasn’t ice or snow, it was rain; lots and lots of rain. There were even “superstorms” on June 28th and August 7th where the heavens just opened for prolonged periods causing widespread, serious flooding and severe disruption to transport. On both occasions I had to go outside at the height of the storms to clear water from an area between a garden wall and a bay window. The area is drained, but the water was arriving much quicker than it was leaving, and it was threatening to reach some air bricks and enter the house. On the first occasion I just baled using a plastic dish, but on the second occasion I fixed up a syphon using an old washing-machine waste pipe. Physics does come in useful sometimes.

There was another heavy downpour on November 26th and this caused severe flooding in a few areas around Gateshead. We tried to reach our usual Monday lunch spot, the Ravensworth Arms at Lamesley, but the road was completely impassable, so we told the taxi driver to drive to higher ground so we could seek out somewhere else to eat. The first place we passed was the Angel View Inn near the Angel of the North. It proved to be a great choice. We had a lovely meal which was remarkably cheap, and we’ve been back on two further occasions. It probably won’t replace the Ravensworth Arms as our main eating-out spot, but it’s nice to have a change from time to time.

St Joseph'sVery early in the year there was a very sad event for my old home village, the demolition of St Joseph’s Church at Highfield which had become unsafe. Although I’m atheist and actively anti-religion, I realise how much places of worship like this mean to a great many people, so I do sympathise with their loss. The Catholic congregation will now hold their services at St Barnabas, the Anglican church in the village.

Derek OystonOne of the reasons why I am staunchly anti-religions is their appalling, immoral attitude to homosexuality. I am a strong advocate of gay rights, but it was purely coincidental that I spent some time in January researching the life of Derek Oyston, who was my physics teacher from 1957 to 1962 at Hookergate Grammar School, and who suffered terribly from society’s attitude to homosexuality. This research was prompted by a letter I received from his nephew, John Oyston, a Canadian anaesthetist. John was compiling a family tree and wanted to add information about Derek, whom he’d never met. When John Googled Derek’s name, much to his surprise it led him to the web pages of the Campaign for Homosexual Equality (CHE) who offer two annual awards in Derek’s name. Derek, it seems had left them a very large bequest in his will. John contacted the CHE hoping to find more about Derek, but all they knew was that Derek had been a teacher from Low Fell. John’s Google search also led him to me, as I had mentioned Derek somewhere on my website, so John wrote to me. I told him what I knew and I did quite a bit of further research about Derek’s sad life. I passed the results of my research to John, and some of my material is now on the CHE web pages.

Removing BollardsThe Gateshead Millennium Bridge over the Tyne is really beautiful but its appearance has been blighted from the start by the Vessel Collision Protection System – a series of ugly bollards and beams which the Harbour Master insisted be installed to ensure that vessels were restricted to the centre of the river. They were universally known as “The Harbour Master’s Piles” and were equally universally hated. Many argued that they were totally unnecessary, but nonetheless Gateshead had to install them. That particular Harbour Master has now retired and it was agreed that the piles could come out, so Gateshead has spent millions removing the piles which cost millions to install. The bridge now looks as was intended by its designer.

Trinity HouseIt was another great year on the local history front, with some fascinating talks and two excellent courses. The courses, “The Quayside in Victorian Times” and “The Changing Face of Gateshead” were both run by Anthea Lang. The talks, mostly but not exclusively during May, Local History Month in Gateshead, were on a wide variety of topics from Fashion to Life on the Home Front in World War II to the making of Get Carter.

Fashion ShowThe fashion event was entitled Dedicated Followers of Fashion and featured members of the Little Theatre modelling historical costumes from the theatre’s vast collection. These displays were from different periods of history and each period was introduced by music and song from that time supplied by Ednie Wilson and Anthea Lang. Another talk we attended  also had Little Theatre connections – it was Irene Crankshaw talking about The Dodds Sisters who founded the theatre.

My own contribution to Local History Month was the usual History of Rowlands Gill walk, and a display of old photographs in the library. I normally do another walk in September, but I was forced to cancel the event this year as I was suffering from a tummy bug. I’m beginning to wonder if I’m getting a little old to be leading walks. I’m thinking of offering a talk instead this year.

Bernard & MeDuring the above-mentioned Get Carter talk, which was on May 5th at Gateshead Central Library, I noticed someone in the audience I hadn’t seen since we were in the sixth form together at Hookergate Grammar School in 1964. It was Bernard Reay from Burnopfield. We arranged to meet for a meal at the Ravensworth Arms and we’ve met up there roughly once a month since then. It’s great renewing old friendships.

Banks seem to delight in introducing new types of accounts and declaring existing ones redundant, usually reducing the already minimal interest rates to zero at the same time. My small accounts had suffered just such a fate, so, after promising myself for months that I’d sort them out, I eventually bit the bullet and made an appointment with a manager at my local branch. It turned out that the manager I saw was a seemingly ultra-efficient young lady, and she carefully explained what was available and what she recommended for me. I took her advice and she then skilfully guided me through the computerized application forms.  I was most impressed.

She said I should get confirmation of the changes within two weeks – but I didn’t. I waited, and waited, and after four weeks I phoned customer services. Within a few seconds they transferred me to the complaints section who promised to check on the progress of my applications. They soon got back to me and explained that my application forms were still sitting on the computers at my local branch and had never been passed on to the departments which created new accounts.  The complaints department were most apologetic and they expedited the account creation in days and made sure that I didn’t lose out on the interest I should have earned. In fact they included an additional small sum to compensate me for the mix-up . So all was well – but as for that “ultra-efficient” manager I was unfortunate enough to encounter, I trust she received a suitable bollocking from on high.

NorthumberlandiaThe “Famous Five”, our little group of ex-Hookergate classmates with interests in family history, has continued to meet for our occasional outings, mostly with historical themes. We’ve been to Warden Church and Vindolanda Roman Fort; Corstopitum Roman Fort; West Woodburn and Bellingham Heritage Centre; Bothal Church, Warkworth and Newbiggin; Killhope Mining Museum; and Northumberlandia, the fantastic new earth sculpture near Cramlington.

Famous Five at VindolandaEach outing started with a meal, and we discovered some new eating holes during the year – The Lion & Lamb at Horsley,  The Manor House Inn at Castleside and the Snowy Owl near Blagdon – all of which proved most satisfactory.

Chris and I have taken more genealogy DNA tests and have found several other people who match us in various ways. There’s still a lot of work to be done to try to link up our ancestral paper trails with these DNA matches, but even if that doesn’t prove possible, we have certainly gained an insight into our distant ancestry. One of the tests we both took relates to mitochondrial DNA ( mtDNA ) which is present in both men and women but is passed strictly down the female line, so all 12 of my cousins on my mother’s side got their mtDNA from their mothers who got theirs from our grandmother, Elizabeth Walker nee Shields. So all 12 cousins have identical mtDNA – as do the children of the female cousins, and the children of the female cousins female children, like Luca, Charlotte and William.  This means that my mtDNA results are theirs too, and while I realise that most will have no interest whatsoever in this subject, I intend to send these results to my cousins just in case they may be of future interest to anyone who shares them.

The Cannon, Low FellThis is a Low Fell pub which for 180 years was known  as “The New Cannon” – “New” to distinguish the pub from “The Old Cannon” which is about a mile away. This arrangement suited everyone, except it seems the owners who changed “The New Cannon” to “Ye Olde Cannon” a year or two ago to widespread derision from the populace. Now common sense has prevailed and the farcical “Ye Olde Cannon” has gone – now it’s just “The Cannon”.

In June Chris and I went to one of the monthly lunches held by the Retired Members’ Association of my former union. This takes place in a different pub every month and many locations are quite inaccessible to those of us without cars, but the June lunch was held at the Marquis of Granby near Sunniside which we can easily reach. It proved to be a most enjoyable occasion.

SparrowWe used to get lots of sparrows in our garden, but for many years we’ve hardly had a single one despite our bird feeders carefully hung in the bushes. We assumed that the cat was scaring the birds off, but suddenly in spring this year we noticed several birds visiting our climbing rose and our bird feeders. The initial attraction was apparently the aphids of the rose bush, but when the aphids were gone, the birds continued to visit, though in slightly reduced numbers. Then, one day in in July,  we heard a bang on a living room window. I went outside and noticed a small bird lying motionless between the wall and a flower pot, so I carefully picked it up and placed it on the ground. Soon afterwards it regained consciousness so I placed some peanuts in front of it, but it showed no interest in eating, or indeed in moving anything but its head. I went indoors and watched it for a while, but it didn’t move. I left it, and three or four hours later the bird suddenly flew away. Sadly, despite my efforts to assist bird-kind,  the birds have blacklisted us again and we don’t see any at all.

Our six-monthly dental check-up/hygienist appointments in April and October showed that all was well and no treatment was necessary. Our annual eye tests/diabetic retinal checks were also fine with neither of us needing any changes to our prescriptions or referral for further tests, though my eyes continue to show “minor changes” due to my diabetes. Despite not needing any lens changes, Christine took the opportunity to order new spectacles as she fancied a change of style.  We were both persuaded to make further appointments for Optical Coherence Tomography scans of our eyes using the optician’s new state-of-the-art gear. I was a little nervous as this equipment can, among other things, reveal the early stages of conditions like macular degeneration for which there is no cure, but happily both of us were given the all-clear.

Our diabetic reviews at our GP Surgery this year were in February, June and December. All was well except that the blood tests for the June review showed that one of Christine’s blood results was just outside the normal range. She was referred to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital and had further investigations but nothing untoward showed up. The good news continued with the next routine blood test in November which showed that her results were all back to normal.

We both had our flu jabs in November – a sensible precaution for everyone. I’ve no patience with those who listen to the unscientific ravings of the anti-vax  campaigners, or indeed with those who refuse the flu jab because it only gives limited (~62%) protection. Whatever those deluded fantasists say, vaccines won’t harm you, and 62% protection is a lot better than 0%.   In July Christine also had her first routine mammogram since she was given the all-clear from her breast cancer. Happily all was well.

Tyne BridgeLast year we had the spectacular royal wedding, and this year we had even grander events to distract us from the county’s economic woes – the Queens Diamond Jubilee in June and the Olympic and Paralympic Games in July and August. We even had Olympic football in Newcastle. All the events were huge successes and Chris and I greatly enjoyed watching them on television.  The next ‘national’ event, the election of Police Commissioners on 15th November was a bit of a damp squid. We voted, but the turnout was terrible. A great pity. Many don’t approve of Police Commissioners on principle, but given that we are going to have them in the short term at least, we really should vote to make sure that the Commissioners we get truly represent the people they serve.

In September the Tyne Tees region of the country switched off its analogue television transmitters and upgraded its digital transmitters. This was the so called Digital Switchover and we were the last region of mainland Britain to make the change. Our home has been 100% digital for several years, so, apart from retuning our televisions  on September 12th and 26th, we were unaffected. So television in the North-East is now 100% digital – a vast improvement over the old 405-line analogue TV which ran from 1953 to 1985 and a significant improvement over the now-superseded 625-line analogue TV which ran from 1964 to 2012 with colour from 1967. Digital Terrestrial television began in 1998, I wonder what will be next?

dscf8467There were some marvellous talks  this year at Newcastle Skeptics in the Pub which usually takes place at the Bridge Hotel in Newcastle, but occasionally moves to the Old George off High Bridge. The topics included Innovation in the North East, medical malpractice associated with hip replacement, environmental issues, cross dressing, the excesses of Fleet Street, the evolution of language, genetically modified crops,  and the claims made by aid charities. The talks already scheduled for the coming year – which will all be at the Bridge Hotel on the second Wednesday of each month – look just a promising. Congratulation to our committee – Danny, Richard and Emma – for their great work arranging everything.

I’ve also been fortunate enough to be invited to some of the Newcastle University Skeptics Society (NU-Think) events and was able to attend their excellent talks on Optical Illusions, Human Evolution and Genetically Modified Organisms. Many thanks to Adam and Yuriy for the invitations.

Chris and I continued to attend the excellent amateur productions at the Little Theatre just along the road from us at Shipcote. This year the productions included Brassed Off about the demise of a colliery, Crown Matrimonial about the 1936 abdication crisis, Letter of Resignation about the end of Macmilan’s premiership and the wonderful Lady Windermere’s Fan by Oscar Wilde, but my favourite was the last show of the year, Rumours by Neil Simon. This was a lovely old-fashioned farce with a delightfully complicated plot and a truly delicious twist right at the end.

Tea SetThis is part of an old tea set which was given to my paternal grandparents as a wedding present back in 1918. It was very rarely, if ever, used by gran and granddad, and it was generally hidden away in cupboards. Later it passed to my parents and then to me, and, apart from a few occasions when an item or two has been displayed on a wall or on a shelf, it has remained hidden. I’ve decided it’s silly to hang on to things like this which just take up space and gather dust. It doesn’t have much sentimental value as I don’t remember seeing it in use and don’t really associate it with my grandparents, and it has little monetary value – similar sets have gone for £30 at auctions – so I decided it could go. I photographed it and gave it to a charity shop, apart from one odd plate which doesn’t have a corresponding cup and saucer.

Old PlateThis is one of three dinner plates that I do plan to keep, as I do associate them with my grandparents. In fact one of my very few concrete memories of my grandfather, who died when I was 9, is of him eating a meal from one of these plates. This was the set which was in use from day to day; I’m certain they are worthless in money terms, but they mean a lot to me.

We attended three Medicine for Members talks at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital. These were on the heart, knee replacements and dementia care and were presented by doctors and technicians who actually worked in those areas within the Trust. We really enjoy these events and we’ve learnt a lot about the excellent work in our local hospitals.

In September I attended the annual National Family History Fair at Newcastle Central Premier Inn. There are stalls manned by family history societies, archive departments, commercial publishers, large web-based companies and many others. It’s a welcome opportunity to see what’s happening in the family history world and perhaps pick up a CD or book of register transcripts. This year I bought some Plymouth marriage and baptism transcripts and a few old postcards of Rowlands Gill.

Land TrainAlso in September Chris and I spent a lovely hot, sunny afternoon in Saltwell Park, Gateshead’s fantastic public park. We even took a trip around the lake on a “land train” hauled by a diesel-powered Thomas the Tank Engine. Most of the park is looking magnificent following its restoration a few years ago which took it back, in all important respects, to its Victorian layout and appearance. It’s also much safer for children in particular, thanks to the ever-present, but inconspicuous, CCTV system.

Ann Frank ExhibitionThe same month I visited the “Anne Frank Exhibition” at St Nicholas’ Cathedral in Newcastle. This  covered Anne’s birth and early life in Germany against the background of Hitler’s rise to power, the family’s emigration to Holland and their idyllic life there, again contrasted with the rising tide of anti-Jewish hate in Germany and the rising threat of war across Europe. All this was illustrated with some wonderfully intimate family photos and stark news pictures. Then came war, the invasion of Holland, the family’s long concealment in an attic in Amsterdam and their betrayal in August 1944 by persons unknown. Then the long trek from camp to camp, with the family split – Anne went to Westerbork, then to Auschwitz, and finally to Belsen where she died at the end of March 1945, just days before the camp was liberated by Allied troops. All too familiar images of the horrors of life and death in Belsen remind us just what obscenities a supposedly civilised people were capable of. The postscript told of the finding of Anne’s diaries and the establishment of the museum in Amsterdam and the travelling exhibitions, and it ended with stories of more recent genocide in Europe and warnings to avoid such things in the future. A really powerful message hammered home by the story of a little Jewish girl who fell victim to Hitler’s madness.

Then in October I went to one of Newcastle University’s excellent public lectures: a most interesting talk entitled Molecules that Changed the World by K.C. Nicolaou of the The Scripps Research Institute and University of California. This was one of the annual Wynne-Jones Memorial Series of chemistry lectures in memory of Lord Wynne Jones, a former Professor of Physical Chemistry and Pro-Vice Chancellor at the university.

As I mentioned last year, apart from the guided walks I take and some websites I maintain, we now limit our volunteering to mail-outs – stuffing envelopes with various information leaflets for the Council Arts/Leisure Dept. This year we’ve helped out on three occasions, in July, October and December. All the volunteers know each other quite well, so these sessions are welcome opportunities to catch up with old friends.

RosesWe had our share of tradesmen doing various jobs in the house during the year.  In April our heating system suffered a pressure problem, but it was quickly put right by Bob Thornton, an excellent heating engineer who can usually attend at short notice. In July we had George Jukes to tidy up our front garden and plant it out for the summer – both jobs we used to tackle ourselves, but find too heavy now. He’s expensive but very good at his job.

In September we did what we’ve promised ourselves for years, we replaced our bath with a shower. Space considerations mean that it is impossible for us to have both, and we found getting in and out of the bath increasingly difficult, so this was a sensible move. The work was carried out by the multi-talented David Forster and he did an excellent job. We had the floor, toilet and washbasin replaced at the same time, and we are delighted with the result.

In October we had some internal and external doors painted by a gentleman who was recommended to us, Torsten Gorlitz from Newburn. He did a good job, but deteriorating weather and his other commitments meant that other planned outdoor painting has had to be postponed until spring.

Trinity SquareTalking of work; in November I had the opportunity to have a look at the work in progress at Trinity Square, Gateshead’s new shopping centre/office block/student accommodation complex. It should really breathe life back into the town centre. Trinity Square is due to be completed in April and it looks very much on track at present.

We have had dreadful problems this year with doors at the back of the house swelling in the unusually wet conditions. The back house-door was worst affected initially and we even had to call out Harrison & Sons, the local locksmiths, when the door would not shut. It remains stiff, but at least we can open and close it with difficulty and lock it up. The design of the existing door is such that a proper resolution is impossible, so we’ve decided to replace this entire door and frame, and we placed an order for the door and installation just before Christmas. It should be installed soon. The chap who will be undertaking the work, Andy Fowler, is based in Rowlands Gill, my former home town.

The other affected door is the one in the 8 foot wall which leads from the garden/yard to the back lane. This door was much more amenable to a simple solution – taking a slice from the side of the door – and this was carried out in a few minutes by a local builder, Jon Nelson.

HinnyAs Christmas approached Chris & I attended two most enjoyable events at Gateshead Heritage at St Mary’s, that wonderful old church near the Tyne Bridge. The first was the annual Victorian Christmas presentation which combines history, provided by Malcolm Grady, with carols and songs of the period provided by Ednie Wilson and Anthea Lang in their own unique way. The second was a most unusual presentation called Winter Tales, a multi-coloured fantasy  set in the world of the Northern Lights with story teller Pascal Konyn, dancer Andrea Masala and violinist Hinny Pawsey. We were lucky enough to be invited to the press review, so we saw the show for free.

Despite reservations about the recent renovations to the Theatre Royal, Chris and I decided to go to this year’s pantomime there, Alladin.  We avoided our old haunts up in the Gods which have been changed so much, and instead chose seats in the stalls. We also chose a matinee performance because we thought, correctly as it turned out, that the inevitable hoards of children would all be in school parties and hence quieter and better behaved than at evening performances with their parents. You really cannot beat a Theatre Royal pantomime, they are amazing. The special effects with characters seemingly “flying” unsupported over the audience – even turning upside down and almost touching upstretched children’s hands ten rows from the front – are incredible to watch.

Fenwick's WindowFor anyone with young children Fenwick’s annual animated window displays are a must. We like them too – they really have become part of the festive season and no Christmas would be complete without a visit to see them.

Our Christmas cards went out right at the beginning of December and just like last year we got a message back that one person we’d sent a card to, Ann Pringle, had died earlier in the  the year.  I didn’t know the lady well, she was the wife of George Pringle, a chap who’d helped me with some history research many years ago, but I remember her as so full of life and it’s really sad that she’s gone.

Right at the beginning of the year Chris and I had attended the funeral of Mrs Johnson, the mother of Pat, a good friend of ours. The funeral was held at Strathmore Road Methodist Church in Rowlands Gill, a place with lots of memories for me, but a place that’s changed so much since I was a regular worshipper there, and definitely not for the better.

Of course the funeral reminded me of my parents’ funerals in the same church, and of happier times when they were still with us. Another death in May brought back similar memories. In the 1970s my mum and dad were keen dancers, modern sequence dancing that is, and they were regulars at a number of local dance venues. Another couple from the village, Bill Gibson, a Co-op manager, and his wife Mary were regulars too, and they and my parents became good friends. Both Bill and Mary lived to a good age and long outlived my parents. Mary died in 2010 aged 90, and in May this year Bill died aged 95.

Finally, just before Christmas, I heard that Harry Batey, the husband of Yvonne, a lass I knew from the Youth Club and church many years ago, had died on December 12th. Yvonne and I just made contact quite recently after many years through Facebook, and I don’t really know her well, but my heart goes out to Yvonne at this terrible time. What a dreadful Christmas she must have had.

Gang Xmas MealI can’t end on such a sad note, so I’ll mention a happy occasion. Our little gang of long-time NORTHUMBRIA genealogy mailing list members have met every six to eight weeks throughout the year at the Ravensworth Arms for a meal and a chat. The pub provides a lovely environment for gatherings like this and they don’t seem to mind us occupying a table for three hours or more. As usual, the final get-together of the year was for a traditional Christmas dinner – most enjoyable.

I hope everyone has had a great time over the Christmas/New Year period and Chris and I wish everyone a happy and healthy 2013.


3 thoughts on “2012 Newsletter

  1. Hello Brian, your website was mentioned at our local history group at Dunston U3A and I thought you were a Brian Pears who lived in Dunston(also had a brother Wilf) who went to Blaydon Grammar School…..on viewing your website I realized I was wrong,..BUT I have thoroughly enjoyed a good hour’s read.!! June Cann (Dunston)


    1. Hello June. I’m pleased that you enjoyed viewing my website. The Brian Pears at Dunston is not, as far as I can establish, a relative, and I’ve never met him, but I did meet his wife, Judith, briefly while we were both waiting for taxis at ASDA some years ago. The taxi booking clerk told me of the coincidence of names, so I introduced myself to the only other person in the queue. Apparently Brian and Judith used to get a lot of phone calls intended for me as they were listed in the phone book and I wasn’t. Best wishes, Brian


  2. Hello
    I went to Hookergate, a few years later than you. I was drawn indirectly to your mention of Mr Oyston as I knew Michael Brown, a recipient of the Derek Oyston Award. Mr Oyston returned to the school as an English teacher and was my 4R form teacher in 1971-2. He was respected and/or liked, no easy feat in a teacher then or now, definitely eccentric. “Help, I’m caught in a teacher trap,” he would say as he deliberately got his foot caught in a haversack strap. He once drew a door-bell on the blackboard and pressed it, willing the (entertaining) lesson to end.

    Thank you for evoking the memory of this thoughtful, kind man.

    Mel Tyers


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