Newsletter 2013

Snow!!
Snow!!

So that was 2013. Not a bad year, all things considered; the glorious summer more than making up for the ice and snow at the beginning and the wind and rain at the end.

Health-wise we can’t complain either. Chris and I got the all-clear from our two diabetic health-checks, our two dental checks, and our annual plethora of eye checks, and the year ended with even better news: we each had a long-term medical condition clear up spontaneously. It seems that our bodies’ own defenses have eventually come up trumps where doctors and hospitals failed.

Christine’s mum (97) suffered a minor stroke in November. Happily she seems to have made an excellent recovery, and she’s now almost back to normal and getting out and about again. She’ll be particularly pleased to be able to visit her regular eating spots, the Gateshead Fell Cricket Club and the Stairwayz Cafe.

Telf Hutton (1923-2013)
Telf Hutton (1923-2013)

Christine’s ‘uncle’ Telf – John Telford Hutton who was actually Christine’s mum’s cousin – sadly died on December 19th leaving three sons and two grandchildren. His wife Rita died three years ago. Telf’s life was celebrated in a most uplifting Humanist funeral at Saltwell Crematorium.

On my side of the family there was some really sad news towards the end of the year, Uncle Ray, who was always the ultra-fit family member who put much younger ones to shame, had a nasty fall and this seems to have affected him badly. He and Aunt Jean have had to move into a residential home to give them the support they need. We wish them both well.

We also heard that Brian, the husband of my cousin Eve, has lost part of his sight in one eye. We hope he has a speedy and full recovery.

The highlight of the year as far as Gateshead is concerned was the opening of the new Trinity Square on 23rd May. The 1967 concrete monstrosity known as Trinity Square with its indoor market, shops and business units and the famous “Get Carter” car-park was levelled in 2010. On 22nd April 2012 the Tesco store, which had been on an adjacent site since 1972, closed and was demolished very soon afterwards. Now the new Trinity Square has risen on the combined sites with its many shop units, a huge Tesco Extra store and a large, 3D-equipped, 9-screen cinema called Vue Gateshead. There’s also a large student accommodation complex above the shops which will open in September 2014. This has 993 en-suite rooms, plus leisure and administration facilities and a sports court. Much more needs doing to improve the rest of Gateshead’s town centre, but the new Trinity Square is certainly a fabulous start.

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Trinity Square, Gateshead Tesco Extra – Opening Day

The family highlight was the marriage of a nephew, Chris Waugh, to Nichola McSkelly on March 23rd. It took place at the splendid Beamish Park Hotel with snow on the ground and a chill in the air, and it was a really lavish affair. The meal was delicious and well presented and the day was rounded off with a dance in the evening – which Chris and I didn’t attend. All in all a most successful – and doubtless very expensive – event. The only other family event was a first birthday party for Charlie William, the delightful son of ‘cousin’ Jessica and Tom at High Spen. Lovely seeing a new arrival in the family – his great-grandfather, Maurice, would have been so proud.

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Chris and Nichola signing the register Charlie William with Jessica and Tom
With John and Sheila at the Ravensworth Arms
With John and Sheila at the Ravensworth Arms

On the social scene we’ve seen lots of lovely folk over the year. In June and September we met up with Marian. who I’ve known since we were toddlers, and her husband Geoff. Also in September we had a drink with Sheila, a friend and former neighbour from Rowlands Gill, and her husband John. It’s lovely reminiscing on times past in Rowlands Gill, and catching up on their latest news. In June Ian, a former teaching colleague from Sunderland, came over to see us on his high-powered bike. Ian is the only colleague I’ve kept in touch with over the years. We both taught at St Joseph’s Secondary Modern in Sunderland from 1967 to 1973, Ian teaching science and me teaching maths. Two non-Catholics in a Catholic school – a school under the paternal guidance of parish priest, Father Anthony Daley, who sadly died in 2008, and expert management of headmaster, Tom Garton, who sadly passed away on 22nd September this year. I’m not a supporter of “faith” schools by any means, indeed I think they should be abolished, but I must admit that St Joe’s was a first class school. Had it not closed, I would have been more than happy to have spent my entire teaching career there.

Meeting Tim Skellett at the Ravensworth Arms
Meeting Tim Skellett at the Ravensworth Arms

It’s great meeting Internet friends in real life, so I was delighted to have the opportunity of meeting Tim Skellet, a psychologist from Germany who runs a web forum for Atheists. Tim was in the UK for a conference, and took the opportunity to visit friends in various parts of the country. He was coming up to Newcastle for a few days, so we arranged to meet for a meal at the Ravensworth Arms on 10th August. A most enjoyable experience.

Alan Dixon and family
Alan Dixon and family

In May, I was idly Googling for new references to Rowlands Gill and High Spen as I do from time to time, and the Rowlands Gill search took me to a page entitled “Sister Kerrie”. I knew a Kerrie Morpeth in the village back in the 60s so I followed the link, and sure enough it was the same sweet, pretty kid I’d known through the church all those years ago. The web page had a sequence of photos showing Kerrie at various stages through her life and I was shocked to see that the last one was taken at a hospice in Norfolk. Sadly Kerrie had died in 2012. The web page was a tribute to his sister by an Alan Dixon, so I wrote to him with my condolences and my memories of his sister. We quickly became friends, so in September, when he was in the North-East visiting relatives, I welcomed the opportunity to meet with him in Saltwell Park and have a chat over a cup of tea. I also met three lovely ladies, Alan’s wife Carol, his daughter Tracey, and his niece Maria, Kerrie’s daughter. I met with Alan again in November. As well as being a great guy, Alan is a talented artist, musician and singer and his web pages are well worth a visit.

Unusually we didn’t see much of cousin Ray during the year because of his work commitments, but he popped over in February, and  in September he came with his son, Ethan, who was seeking my help with a programming problem. It was great to see them both. Cousin Ian came over to the UK from Canada at the end of November and managed to squeeze in a few days up in the North-East. I arranged for some old school friends to meet with him for a meal, and Chris and I, together with cousin Eric and his lovely wife, Christine, had Sunday Lunch with him at the Ravensworth Arms. I’ll really have to try to get another cousins’ reunion organised before too long, maybe next year. Christine’s cousin Simon and his wife, Zoe, called in August, and her cousin Dee’s son Simon popped in at the end of October with his wife Kathryn – great to see them again.

Christine's 70th
Christine’s 70th

I continued to meet with my old friend Bernard every month or so for a meal at the Ravensworth Arms, and Chris and I continued to meet there regularly with our genealogy friends, known affectionately as “The Gang”. As you might gather, Chris and I have a great fondness for the Ravensworth Arms. That’s because we had our first date there on 15th February 1980, and because they’ve always been very good to us – as illustrated in September when we had Sunday Lunch there to celebrate Christine’s 70th birthday. As soon as the manageress found out about the occasion she went off and bought Chris a lovely bouquet of flowers, and she gave us a discount for the meal.

We did eat elsewhere from time to time. In Low Fell we frequently have a meal or a snack in the Stairwayz Cafe. When we are in Newcastle we generally eat at Fenwick’s Terrace Restaurant or at “The Place to Eat” in the John Lewis store. We also eat at a variety of places when we’re with the Retired Members Association of my former union, the NASUWT. They meet monthly for a meal and a friendly chat at different places throughout the region, and we join them very occasionally when the locations are easy for us to reach on public transport. This year we went with them on 9th July to the Marquis of Granby at Sunniside.

The “Famous Five”, our little group of friends from the same year-group at Hookergate Grammar School, had some great “historical” outings during the year and the weather was really kind to us with sunny days for every outing. We went to Hexham on 24th April, ate at the wonderful Shire Gate Cafe and then explored the Abbey and the Old Gaol. Then it was Chillingham Castle and a visit to the unique Wild Cattle on 18th June, followed by a delicious meal at the Tankerville Arms up in Wooler; and finally a lovely day on Holy Island on 28th August, with a meal afterwards at ‘The Barn at Beal’. A unique feature of this restaurant is a CCTV screen showing the causeway to Holy Island and the rising and falling tide. Though on this occasion the maximum tide came and went without even reaching the causeway – a common occurence we were surprised to learn. We rounded off the year with a very early Xmas Meal at the Ravensworth Arms on 20th November – early so we could also celebrate our 33rd wedding anniversary and my 68th birthday. On this occasion we also welcomed another year-mate to our little group, Pamela Brougham (Sykes as was) who has now brought our number up to six. We’ll need to think of a new name for our troupe.

On 6th August, a hot, sunny day, Chris and I went on a trip to Sunderland Museum and Winter Gardens and the adjacent Mowbray Park. My great, great grandfather, Francis Pears, who lived in Consett, visited this museum and park on 30th June 1888 and wrote about the visit to his daughter, but I’d never been there myself despite working in Sunderland for six years. We enjoyed our visit just as much as Francis had 125 years ago, and we promised ourselves a return visit, perhaps at Easter. See “And About Time …“.  On 14th August, a few days after our visit to Sunderland and another glorious sunny day, we popped down to our local park, Saltwell Park, and enjoyed the sights and sounds there. Just as we did last year, we forgot our age and took a trip on the Thomas the Tank Engine land train. A lovely day.

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Museum and Winter Gardens, Sunderland Land Train in Saltwell Park

We generally avoid Newcastle on weekends, but we did venture there on 22nd June – and what a hive of activity it was. In Old Eldon Square there was an Armed Forces recruitment drive in full swing, with an artillery piece, armed Land Rover, personnel carrier, multiple rocket launcher, a military band and several stands. At Grey’s monument there were various campaign stalls – including Amnesty International, the Revolutionary Communist Group and the Tea Defence League. The Tea Defence League stall carried the slogan “Occupy Wonderland”, and was manned by a micro-skirted “Alice” who was apparently giving away cakes. Then, on Northumberland Street,  we had a couple of hip-hop dancers wearing ‘Ant and Dec’ masks, and a chap dressed in a gold suit pretending to be a statue. All life is here!

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Multiple Rocket Launcher A soldier of the future?
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The Tea Defence League Hip Hop
The Little Theatre, Gateshead - the newly enlarged foyer and bar.
The Little Theatre, Gateshead – the newly enlarged foyer and bar.

The Little Theatre here in Gateshead had some great productions this year and we enjoyed every one. These ranged from the light-hearted ‘Calendar Girls’ and ‘We Happy Few’ to the really heavy “Wilderness of Mirrors” and ‘The Crucible’, taking in some great comedies like “Wife after Death’ and ‘Equally Divided’ and some great mysteries like ‘Something to Hide’ and ‘Communicating Doors’ along the way. ‘Communicating Doors’ by Alan Ayckbourn was my personal favourite – time-travel, murder-mystery and farce all in one fast-moving package!.

We also saw two productions at the Newcastle’s Theatre Royal: ‘Cinderella of Ice’ with The Russian Ice Stars in April, and the annual pantomime in December – it was ‘Jack and the Beanstalk’ this year. Both shows were excellent value for money.

It was another great year for local history talks, particularly in May which is designated “Local History Month”. During that month here was a huge range of talks and walks arranged by Gateshead Libraries’ staff. I attended seven events and Chris came to three – all were excellent; my favourites being talks on Kibblesworth, a village I knew very little about, and on the Waggonways of Gateshead.

Emily Davidson - Minx or Martyr?
Emily Davidson – Minx or Martyr?

Outside Local History Month, there was a fascinating re-enactment of the inquest into the death of local suffragette Emily Davidson under the hooves of a racehorse at Epsom. This took place at Gateshead Heritage Centre and involved a great team of actors known as The Time Bandits who we see quite regularly in Gateshead. I also went to illustrated talks on the Great North Road with George Nairn, and to a Felling Local History Society’s talk entitled “Crossing the Tyne”.

There was only one local history course this year in Gateshead. As usual this was given by Anthea Lang and this time the subject was the interpretation of old maps. The course ran from 3rd October to 19th November and covered a lot of ground – it’s surprising how much we can learn from maps. My own contribution to local history in the Borough was my usual Rowlands Gill Ramble. This year I did the walk as part of Heritage Open Days in September. There was a very good turn-out for the walk, including, I was delighted to see, Maureen Brunton, yet another class-mate from Hookergate Grammar School.

Lucy Adlington of History Wardrobe
Lucy Adlington of History Wardrobe

History of a wider area was also well covered. There was an excellent talk by Malcolm Grady on the myth of Victorian prudery entitled “Should we Cover the Piano Legs, Dear”, two colourful presentations by “The History Wardrobe”, one on costumes in Jane Austin’s time entitled “Ladies of a Certain Age”,  and the other on the “Wartime Wedding”, and Richard Pears’ fascinating talk at Pelaw Library on the history of toilets entitled “Necessary History.” Richard Pears, a librarian at Durham University, is a talented local historian and secretary of the Whickham Local History Society. He has produced some really informative and entertaining talks over the years; this was his best to date. Despite the coincidence of surnames and interests, he and I are not related – as far as we know.

Richard Dawkins at the Centre for Life
Richard Dawkins at the Centre for Life

We also attended talks at Gateshead Library on “Wild Weather” and on “Crime and Forensics”, and a “Medicine for Members” talk at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital on the subject of strokes. In January I braved the ice and snow to attend a talk at the Centre for Life in Newcastle given by the well-known evolutionary biologist and atheist, Richard Dawkins. His reputation as a great science educator is well deserved.

Library Lates at the Central Library
Library Lates at the Central Library

We’ve started to attend the monthly “Library Lates” at Gateshead Central Library, This year the theme was food and drink, and each month we sampled traditional delicacies and drinks from a different area – for example, the North-East, North Africa, China, California – and learned a little about the area. There was also a quiz with a prize each month – we were in the winning team at the ‘North-East’ event and ended up taking four cans of Newcastle Brown Ale home with us. The theme in 2014 is to be literary genres starting with Murder and Mystery in February.

As ever the Newcastle Skeptics in the Pub group provided some entertaining and educational talks during the year. We learnt about ‘end of the world’ cults in January, homeopathy in February, robots in April, public contributions to major astronomical projects in June, science denial in July, cyberwarfare in November and optical illusions in December. A really great selection for a science fan like me.

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‘Open Mike’ Night Alice Sheppard
North-East Humanists' Quiz and Buffet
North-East Humanists’ Quiz and Buffet

Although I’ve been a member of North East Humanists for some time, I don’t often get to their meetings. However Chris and I both attended their quiz and buffet at the Bridge Hotel, Newcastle on 6th December. The food provided by the pub was excellent with something for everyone – including a delicious lasagne. The quiz was good fun with questions set by member John Severs, who is recovering from an illness, and delivered by his wife. He sets the questions every year, apparently, and he always has a theme. This year all the answers consisted of two words starting with the same letter – eg Marilyn Monroe. The questions were far from simple, but the team Chris and I were in came second, beaten by half a point. The prizes were book tokens for the winners, and wooden spoons for the worst team.

We no longer have any means of playing cassette sound tapes, and in January I found several tapes of interviews I conducted in the 1970s in connection with a local-history project. I took them to Hewitt’s, a local electrical shop, and he made an excellent job of copying them to CD. Later in the year I found several more home-made tapes and had them copied to CD too.

These included one tape featuring Eddie (Edwin) Farrow playing the piano. I first met Eddie as the father of a pupil, and later I learned that he was a Chopwell lad – born at 31 Tweed Street in 1910. Eddie was a fantastic professional pianist who had played with several major bands including  Nat Gonella’s and Carl Barriteau’s jazz bands. He’d played on the Queen Mary and on the QE2 and he’d played at the Embassy Club in London, at Emerson’s and the Club A Gogo in Newcastle  and at Wetherell’s in Sunderland. Eddie’s problem was drink – he was an alcoholic. However he did try to dry out and spent some time at a clinic in Newcastle and seemed to be having some success fighting his demons. He made several programmes for Radio Newcastle, and was due to take up a post as Frank Wappat’s “Musical Director” on his return from a summer season at Morcambe. Tragically he died while working at Morcambe – as Frank Wappat later put it, “He choked on his own drink-induced vomit.”

Eddie was buried on 26th August 1977 in St John’s churchyard at Chopwell. This is a small part of a home tape recording made at a silver wedding party for his niece, Nellie, and her husband, Ernie Gubbins. This was  at Chopwell in October 1976, less than a year before Eddie died, and he was playing requests … by ear! A lovely man with an amazing talent. What a terrible waste!

Last year the Tyne Bridge proudly carried the Olympic rings. Nothing so grand this year, but it did carry an advert for the “Great North Run” which took place on 15th September. As usual there was a flyover by the Red Arrows as the runners crossed the bridge and, as they are flying south at that time, they often pass directly above Low Fell a few seconds after they cross the river. I invariably grab a camera in an effort to take a snap as they pass overhead, but I’ve never succeeded – until this year, that is, when I managed to catch the aircraft nicely framed by telephone lines.

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The Tyne Bridge The Red Arrows

I didn’t get much opportunity to pursue my own family history or Christine’s this year as I seemed to spend most of my time doing research for other people. Not that I really mind; in fact I quite enjoy it, it’s just unfortunate that three different friends asked for help one after the other, and each project took several weeks. As I was finishing off one tree and looking forward to getting back to my own research, I got a major research request from someone else. At least I was able to help them all. I’m determined not to do the same in 2014, though I hate to say no.

The County Lunatic Asylum, Sedgefield
The County Lunatic Asylum, Sedgefield

One thing I did get around to in May was to obtain the records from the County Lunatic Asylum, Sedgefield (latterly called Winterton Hospital) relating to my maternal grandmother’s father, Richard Shields (1846-1899). It was no secret that he’d died in the asylum, indeed that fact was recorded on a family headstone in Great Lumley churchyard, but the family story – that he was there because he’d fallen and hit his head on a fender – turned out to be nonsense. As his death certificate reveals, he’d died of the affects of syphilis on his brain.

It is  not possible to get personal access to Sedgefield asylum records, but the Durham Record Office staff will, for a fee, photocopy sections relating to anyone who was there more than 100 years ago. When I got Richard’s records I put images and a transcription on a password-protected web page so my cousins, who share this ancestor, could see them. The documents reveal a really sad story. The first signs that something was seriously wrong was when Richard tried to kill himself, but it was only after he’d threatened to kill his wife with a poker and to shoot six of his family, that he was deemed to be a danger to himself and others, and certified insane by a local GP. Once at the asylum, his deterioration was rapid, and a year almost to the day after his admission, he died. We really are lucky to be living in an era when syphilis and many other killer diseases from earlier eras have been defeated by modern medicine.

Aunt Maud
Aunt Maud

I also solved a minor family mystery – which “grand house” had “Aunt” Maud worked in. When I knew Aunt Maud – who was really my maternal grandfather’s cousin – she was working in a chemist’s shop, but it was well known in the family that as a younger woman she’d been in service in some grand house, and had served in some senior position there. But which grand house was it?

We didn’t know over what time period she’d been in service, but I took a chance and ordered a copy of Maud’s 1939 National Registration record. Fortunately it came up trumps – at the time of the registration, 29th September 1939, Maud was a “Personal Maid” at Angerton Hall near Hartburn, Northumberland, the home of banker, Frederic Straker, and his wife. I’d identified Maud’s “grand house”. There’s more on this little saga in my post Aunt Maud’s “Grand House”.

In mid-December we were contacted by a Kristina Musson who had spotted an ancestor of her husband’s on Christine’s online family tree.  Her ancestor was only peripherally connected to Christine’s family via two marriages, but nonetheless we were each able to help the other with our respective researches. It was a fascinating and useful exchange of information, during which I learnt a lot about the family’s living conditions in 1880s Glasgow, and about the Scottish equivalent of our Poor Law system and about the Orphan Homes of Scotland, otherwise known as Quarriers.

In February I got the results of my Geno-2 DNA test which was submitted in November 2012. This test was sponsored by National Geographic Magazine with the aim of furthering our knowledge of genetic diversity and migration patterns, rather than looking for relatives. My results are now part of a database of nearly 700,000 results which are available to researchers. I did get some information on the migration of my own ancestors thousands of years ago, which adds to the little I already knew, and I also received an estimate of my ancestral genetic make-up, based on comparisons with reference populations in various parts of the world. It turns out that I’m 43% Northern European, 39% Mediterranean (Southern Europe/Levant/North Aftrica) and 18% South-West Asian (Indian Sub-Continent/Iran).

In November I took yet another DNA test – the “Big Y”. As with Geno 2, this test won’t help me find relatives, but it will help scientists refine our understanding of our DNA. Specifically the test is looking for new genetic markers on the Y chromosome – the chromosome passed down from father to son generation after generation. This will enable scientists to refine the yDNA haplotree used to classify males into haplogroups. The aim is to refine these groups as much as possible, perhaps in some cases down to individual family size, allowing a simple test to assign males to specific family lines. The results of the Big Y will begin to appear in February 2014, my own results are due in June.

The National Family History Fair was held on 7th September this year and was once again at the Premier Inn in Newcastle City Centre. There was a good selection of stalls from local and national organisations and a wide choice of goodies on offer. However, all I bought that day was one postcard. I bought it from dealer George Nairn, and it showed Rowlands Gill’s third post-office which was in operation from 1922 to 1948. Photographs of the building are very common because it is still standing, however I’d never seen an image of the building in its “Post Office” role. As it turns out nobody else had either, and the picture caused quite a stir when I put it on a local web forum.

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National Family History Fair Rowlands Gill PO

I went to a talk by George a few days later in Gateshead and I told him how delighted I’d been with the postcard he’d sold me. He said he had many more equally rare shots of the village in his private collection. He wouldn’t sell them, but he could arrange for me to see them and make copies of any I wanted. I jumped at the chance and arranged to visit George’s home in Chester-le-Street to see his fascinating postcards. I could have spent several days looking at George’s extensive collections covering a wide area, but I limited myself to cards showing Rowlands Gill and High Spen scenes, and I made copies of several I’d never previously seen. I had to pay for the copies, of course, but I was more than satisfied that I’d had value for money. Luckily I copied both sides of the cards, and the reverse of one card revealed an amazing coincidence – it had been posted from High Spen in 1907 by a relation of mine. See What a Coincidence!

Mail-Out at Gateshead Central Library
Mail-Out at Gateshead Central Library

Apart from the historical ramble at Rowlands Gill, our volunteering activities have been limited to helping out with mail-outs of the Gateshead Live booklet in April and August. Labelling and stuffing 5000+ envelopes seems like a really daunting task for five or six people, but it’s surprising how quickly it can be done – and it’s good fun chatting to the other volunteers. The mail-outs are organised by the Arts team at Gateshead Council which has had its staffing greatly reduced because of funding cuts.

For years I’ve used a canvas shoulder bag for carrying all sorts of things, so I was most annoyed when a ballpoint pen leaked inside it causing an unsightly stain. The bag had been a free gift with something we’d bought years ago, so I  held out little hope of  being able to replace it, but I thought I’d check on Ebay just in case. Surprisingly, there it was, an identical bag – and only £5.00.  Isn’t it amazing what you can find on Ebay? I now have a pristine replacement for my stained bag – and fountain pens aren’t allowed anywhere near it!

Fruit Set I won in 1953
Fruit Set I won in 1953

I’ve sold things on Ebay in the past but to be honest, in most cases, it was more fuss than it was worth. So, for our major declutter, we decided to gives things away rather than sell them. Clothes and bric-a-brac end up in one or other of several charity bags – carefully avoiding those which only give a donation or a small percentage to the charity, rather than 100% of the profit they make.  Larger items go to a nearby charity shop run in aid of St Clare’s Hospice at Jarrow. That’s where I took a fruit set I’d won at a domino drive when I was a seven years of age. I hated to part with it, but I don’t think it’s ever been used or even been on display in the 60 years I’ve had it. It really had to go, it was literally a waste of space.

Scanner given away on Freecycle
Scanner given away on Freecycle

I also had three radios to dispose of, and charity shops won’t take such things, That’s where Freecycle came into its own. Freecycle is a web forum where people can post details of items they would like, or items they want to give away – the strict proviso being that everything must be free of charge. I posted details of my radios – a VHF/UHF scanner, a Short-Wave receiver, and a domestic Medium Wave /FM receiver on the Newcastle Freecycle site, and all three were soon being collected by their new owners.

We had quite a few tradesmen in the house over the course of the year. In January we had a local joiner, Jon Nelson, to deal with the door from the yard into the back lane which had swollen a lot due to the wet weather and was almost impossible to close. Then, at the end of the month, we had  our existing wooden back house-door replaced with a uPVC door. The existing wooden door was only ten years old, but, like the door into the lane, it was prone to frequent swelling and jamming.  This installation was done by Andy Fowler of Strathmore Windows & Doors Ltd at Rowlands Gill. Both men did excellent jobs.

In April we had vertical blinds fitted to all our windows by a company called Home Charm Blinds from Heaton. Eight months on, the blinds are still working well. Later that month we had to call in Bob Thornton, a central heating engineer to deal with the hot water system. He got the system working, but we had to call him again in November with the same problem, and on that visit he spotted the reason for our recurring problem – a component in the combi-boiler, a micro-switch, hadn’t been installed properly. It’s not a component we’ve ever had replaced or adjusted, so it was probably a manufacturing error.

In June we had gardener, George Jukes, to tidy up and replant our small front garden, and later that month we had odd-job-man, Torsten Gorlitz from Newburn, to paint a fence and external wooden doors.  There was more painting in August when we had Peter and Paul of Able Decorators to paint our kitchen.  We’ve used Peter and Paul for nearly all our internal decorating for many years, and they always do a first-class job.

The workmen mentioned so far all did really good jobs, but we were let down by two workmen. The first, a roofer who did an excellent job for us a few years ago, was called to repair some flashing. He came and gave us a price and promised to get in touch to fix up a date. Seven weeks on and we’re still waiting despite several reminder calls.  The second let-down was by a plumber. He was a young lad, keen, flashy new van, all the tools and an impressive string of qualifications. We asked him to repair or replace a sink waste which was leaking, and he quickly installed a new waste – but it leaked, and no-matter what he did, it still leaked. Eventually we called another plumber, and within two minutes he spotted and repaired the problem. That young lad, it seems, had everything but experience. That wouldn’t have happened in the days of real apprenticeships when youngsters worked with and learnt from experienced men for several years.

Computer Cooling Fan
Computer Cooling Fan

When I was younger I would have tackled all of these jobs, except the boiler troubles, myself, but now I  don’t have the nerve. There was one job, however, which I did do myself because I wouldn’t trust anyone else to do it – in October I replaced a failed computer fan.

I wish everyone a happy and healthy 2014  and I’ll end on a seasonal theme: a few pictures of Fenwick’s animated window display. (Like all photographs in this blog – Click to Enlarge)

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