So that was 2014. Not a bad year for us, but not a particularly good one either. Weather-wise here in Gateshead the year was characterised by unusually high temperatures from spring right through until October, and worryingly high winds on several occasions. Of course we won’t complain about the higher temperatures, but we could certainly have done without the winds.
On the human health front, we can’t really complain. Chris had a really persistent chest cold, which happily seems to have cleared up now, and I had a waterworks infection which virtually grounded me for nearly a month, but compared to many others we’ve been lucky. Chris was also referred to the Queen Elizabeth and Freeman hospitals for a few tests, but there proved to be nothing to worry about. We both had our seasonal flu jabs as soon as they were available, and Chris took the opportunity only offered to 70 year-olds to have a shingles vaccination. I ended up in the Queen Elizabeth A & E on November 7th with a cat bite – yes, it was Samantha who didn’t like taking her medication that night and showed her displeasure by sinking one of her canines deep into my little finger. Ouch!
Speaking of Samantha, she hasn’t been so lucky with her health: in fact her age (20 in September) is finally catching up with her. Back in February she was found to have an over-active thyroid, which was easily treated. But in June the vet found that her kidneys are failing, and this will be ultimately be fatal. To counter dehydration and possibly give the cat a few more months of quality life, the vet has been giving Sam sub-cutaneous fluids three times a week, plus periodic vitamins and steroids, and this seems to be helping. This was augmented on three occasions with overnight stays at an animal hospital at Heaton for more intensive rehydration with an IV drip . Unfortunately the vet who has been looking after Samantha, Paola Fognani, left the practice on December 18th. We’ll certainly miss Paola – without her competence, dedication and kindness I don’t think Samantha would still be with us. Happily the vet who has replaced Paola, Shona Hingston, has agreed to continue with the same treatment. It is however, just a matter of time, and whatever we do there will soon be a heart-wrenching decision to make.
My hearing has been giving me cause for concern for several years, but when I asked a few years ago if I could have a hearing test, my then GP wasn’t prepared to refer me. I asked again this year and my current GP agreed. I had ENT checks and hearing tests at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital on September 9th and was diagnosed with “moderate age-related hearing loss”. Two weeks later I was fitted with two behind-the-ear digital hearing aids and I’ve worn them during every waking hour since then. What a fantastic difference they make!
Our dentist has changed again. We were just getting used to John Rivers, our dentist since 2011, but 4 months before our most recent check-ups in October, we were told that Mr Rivers had left and we were now assigned to a new dentist in the practice, Samira Rais. We were rather apprehensive before we saw her for the first time, but we needn’t have worried as she seems to know her business and seems very pleasant too. Even more recently we received a letter informing us that the dental practice we use, Robson and Partners of Lobley Hill, had been sold to Oasis Dental Care. We’ll have to wait and see if this affects us in any way.
Christine’s uncle “Telf”, John Telford Hutton, who died aged 90 in December 2013, was cremated at Saltwell Crematorium on February 13th, and on April 25th we attended the burial of a friend, Sandra Cockburn at Saltwell Cemetery. Sandy, who was only 70, was a former neighbour of Christine’s and we often met her while shopping in Low Fell. She was always so friendly and full of life; it’s hard to believe she’s gone.
Not a great deal has changed in the neighbourhood, apart from the effects of council cut-backs resulting from the government’s so-called “austerity measures”. Volunteers have taken over the running of Low Fell Library and the planting and maintenance of the many street floral displays, but street cleaning is dreadful and many other services have suffered. More cuts are on the cards, so goodness knows what will be affected next.
One thing the council did do during the year was to replace all the “sodium” lights in the Borough’s side streets with modern LED units designed to minimise light pollution and greatly reduce the lighting bills. This worked well in our back lane which has very tall poles, but in our front street they put the LED lamps on the existing short poles. These poles were ideal for the sideways-facing sodium lights we previously had, but they are no good at all for the strictly downward-pointing LED lamps. The result in the front street was four small pools of light directly below each LED lamp and darkness everywhere else. I complained through one of our councillors and the council Lighting Dept duly attended with their light meters and surveyed the street. Predictably they said everything was OK – except directly outside our house. Soon afterwards some engineers turned up and added a one-meter extension to the pole nearest to us and they stuck the LED lamp on top of that. So now the lighting in our part of the street is quite good – while in the rest of the street it remains patchy.
There have been changes in two local businesses we use a lot. Low Fell Post Office has had a major upgrade – gone is the old all-enclosed arrangement and now we have a much more customer-friendly, mostly open-plan Post Office. The other business, a Nisa store run by Steve Barratt on Kells Lane, is expanding into two shop units adjacent to his existing premises. The new section is complete and is now in use while the old store is upgraded to match the new decor. The entire store should be complete some time in February 2015. Another notable addition to the neighbourhood is a new mosque on Prince Consort Road. This lovely stone building started life as Prince Consort Road Primitive Methodist Church, but had been in use for many years as a Christadelphian Meeting Hall.
I’ve been getting rather annoyed at the problems I’ve had when I’ve needed proof of identity. I didn’t have a photo-card driving licence or passport, which are always the preferred documents, and it’s always a hassle to determine what else is acceptable. So this year I decided to upgrade my paper driving licence (which I’ve held since 1976 though I haven’t driven since 1983) to a photo-card one. It was surprisingly easy, and now that I have proper ID I am cursing myself for not having done this years ago and thus saved myself all the ID problems I’ve suffered. I also added my name to the Organ Donor Register – something else I should have done years ago. I don’t know if any of my organs will be any good for others by the time I kick the bucket, but if they are then I’d be delighted if they were used.
I’m not a cook by any stretch of the imagination, but in June I happened to catch sight of a recipe which appealed to me as it contained corned beef, spaghetti, tomatoes and grated cheese, all of which I love. So I tried it (with a slight variation) after Chris had gone to bed – so if it failed miserably I could tip it into the bin, wash the crockery and cutlery and generally hide the fact that it had ever existed. But surprisingly it was delicious, so I now make it regularly. Chris likes it too, but only has a minute quantity because she reckons it’s “fattening”. All the more for me! The original recipe was called “Corned Beef Italienne” so I’ve christened my variation “Corned Beef Gatesheed.”
In October I finally retired my archaic Samsung Galaxy Europa smart phone in favour of a much more modern “Motorola E”. The Moto E is very cheap as smart phones go, but it runs the latest version of Android and does everything I need. Another technical upgrade I’ve made this year is to replace the vast majority of light bulbs in the house with equivalent LED bulbs. These are far more efficient than incandescent or halogen bulbs and are even better than compact fluorescents in that they have a much longer life, provide instant light, don’t contain mercury, and some versions can even be dimmed. The problem hitherto has been availability and cost, but now Tesco are selling LED bulbs, which are direct replacements for a wide variety of types, at very reasonable prices. I also changed my broadband provider from Metronet to Plusnet in August and I’m very pleased with the service. I’m now paying less for an unlimited service than I was for a capped one, and the speed is excellent too.
Family news:- my second cousin’s daughter, Alexandria Ord, married David John Newby in September, and on December 25th Alexandria’s younger sister Ginna excitedly announced her engagement to Jordan Babak. Congratulations to them all.
Next year I should have rather more family news as we are planning a “Walker” family get-together towards the end of September. Cousin Ian will be over from Canada and we hope to gather together as many of Joe and Lizzie Walker’s far-flung descendants as we possibly can. The last reunion was back in 2007, so there’ll be plenty to talk about.
On the research scene I’ve been rather busy tying up loose ends in many branches of the family, but my main project this year has been an attempt to identify the William Wearmouth who was my “reputed” great-great-great grandfather. His daughter, Mary Ann Henderson, my great-great grandmother, was illegitimate and no father was named on her 1835 baptism record, but when she married in 1853 and was asked for details of her father, she stated that her “reputed father” was a “William Wearmouth labourer” and this information appears on her marriage certificate. Family tradition added a snippet of information – William Wearmouth supposedly married a farmer’s daughter. The problem is that there were six young men called William Wearmouth living not too far away who were of an appropriate age to be the “guilty” party. I’m nearly finished the project but I don’t think I’ll be able to make a positive identification using documentary material, but I should be able to narrow down the possibilities considerably. Then, if I’m very lucky and these remaining candidates have living legitimate descendants, I might be able to identify the correct person using autosomal DNA.
DNA can resolve all sorts of identification issues – I suggested it to a friend who who a very similar problem to mine and it worked beautifully. She now knows for certain which of the three possible candidates was in fact her great great grandfather. The only major research I undertook for anyone else this year was to trace the blood-ancestors of David Noble, a “second-cousin” by adoption. He had some very interesting ancestors including one of Tyneside’s most prolific postcard publishers, Thomas Howson Dickinson.
Chris and I have continued to eat out on Monday afternoons at the Ravensworth Arms, Lamesley – a treat after shopping at Tesco in the morning. We also made sure we attended all the special events at the Ravensworth during the year – Burns Night, Jazz Night, Valentines Night, Fathers’ Day and Elizabethan Night. The Ravensworth didn’t disappoint; the food and entertainment were excellent. We were sad to learn in May that long-serving managers Paul and Sharron Currie were leaving – we will miss them – but on the plus side, the new manager, Louise, seems just as friendly and efficient, and from our point of view, most of the changes she’s made are improvements.
I continued meeting with school-friend Bernard at the Ravensworth roughly every month throughout the year, and Chris & I both dined there with friends Marian & Geoff and with distant relatives, Brenda & Billy. Lovely to catch up with the latest news. Our little Gang of genealogy-inclined friends – Pat, Val, Fee, John plus Chris & I – also met there from time to time during the year, as did our group of year-mates from Hookergate Grammar School – Maggie, Pat, Pam & Dave plus Chris and I – generally known as the Famous Five. In past years the Famous Five meals were in a several places and were coupled with outings to historic places, but for a variety of reasons that didn’t happen this year and most meals were at the Ravensworth Arms. The exception was a meal at the Lion and Lamb, Horsley followed by a visit to Maggie’s home at Humshaugh – an historic visit if ever there was one as Maggie’s house dates from before the Civil War and has arrow-slits in its walls.
We also dined on three occasions with fellow members of the Retired Members Association of my former union, the NASUWT. They dine every month in locations throughout Northumberland, Tyne & Wear and Co Durham. We try to join them whenever their dining spot is within easy travelling distance of our home. This year we met with them at the Washington Arms, the Shepherd & Shepherdess at Beamish, and at the County Ground of Durham County Cricket Club at Chester-le-street.
When we wanted exercise we generally walked around Lamesley Meadows, a beautiful expanse of rural tranquillity situated surprisingly close to the urban sprawl of Gateshead and Low Fell, and even closer to the huge Team Valley Trading Estate. It’s magical watching the changes to the flora and fauna there through the seasons. We’ve rather neglected another of our favourite spots, Saltwell Park, this year, but we really enjoyed the few visits we did make. That was also where I met with my friend, Alan Dixon, a Geordie living in distant parts who was visiting his family in Gateshead. Alan is a talented artist and musician as well as a lovely man.
We enjoyed another wonderful selection of plays at Gateshead’s Little Theatre this year: “Kiss of Death”, “The Fifteen Streets”, “Haunting Julia”, “Amadeus”, “Enchanted April”, “An Ideal Husband”, “Quartet”, “Cat’s Cradle” and “Tartuffe”. Theatre is one area where so-called amateur efforts are often superior to multi-million pound commercial endeavours and this is certainly true of virtually all of the Little Theatre productions. It’s hard to pick a favourite from this year’s offerings as every one was so well produced and entertaining, but Oscar Wilde’s “An Ideal Husband” and Moliere’s “Tartuffe” had us in stitches from start to finish, and Leslie Sands’ “Cat’s Cradle” kept us guessing until the end.
I wish the same were true of the much vaunted Agatha Christie play “The Mousetrap” which we went to see at the Theatre Royal, Newcastle in September, but we’d guessed the guilty party within 20 minutes. It was well produced, well staged and well performed, but, in our opinion, far from Christie’s best. The biggest mystery to us is how it managed to run on stage longer than any other show in history. Our next trip to the Theatre Royal was much more rewarding – it was to see the annual pantomime. This year it was Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, and as usual the multi-talented Danny Williams, Clive Webb and “Dame” Chris Hayward ensured a two-hour feast of entertainment for children aged 1 to 100. A fabulous show.
More entertainment was provided in May at Gateshead Heritage Centre by Northumbrian Piper/Fiddle Player, Matt Seattle, and Vocalist/ Accordionist/Piper, Johnny Handle – a great evening of folk music which we thoroughly enjoyed. The Caedmon Hall at Gateshead hosted the New Century Ragtime Orchestra in July in what has become a much anticipated annual event and it was indeed a delight. As well as the multi-talented members of the orchestra and fine vocalist Caroline Irwin, the concert featured virtuoso pianists Stephanie Trick and Paolo Alderighi . We’ve already booked for the 2015 concert just to be sure we don’t miss out on what is always a great night.
Most of our forays to the Heritage Centre and the Caedmon Hall have been for educational rather than purely entertainment purposes, for both venues have provided some really interesting talks during the year. The Caedmon was the venue for three shows by The History Wardrobe on the history of hats, underwear, and fashion during Word War I. These were most enjoyable and informative presentations by costume historians Lucy Adlington and Merry Towne. Even more fascinating was a talk in March by forensic expert and ex-police inspector, Norman Kirtlan, entitled “Jack the Ripper – the Local Suspect”. According to Mr Kirtlan, the Ripper was a Whitechapel milkman (and time-served butcher) called William Benjamin Belcher who fled to Hartlepool with his family in 1888 changing the family surname to Williams. Far fetched though it sounds, Mr Kirtlan made a very strong case for this scenario – though, of course, there are hundreds of other theories and many of them seem equally convincing. They can’t all be true.
We attended all but one of the “Library Lates” this year most of which were on the theme of literary genres; “Murder, Mystery and Agatha Christie”, “Malory Towers, Midnight Feasts and Mysterious Events”, “Ian Fleming and Bond”, “Out of This World” (Sci-Fi) and “The World of Stephen King”. Two others on the subjects of “Commonwealth” and “Celebration” completed a great year. Thanks to the library staff who devised these entertaining events and worked late to cover them. In 2015 some of the “Library Lates” will be in the afternoons rather than the evenings in an effort to boost attendances. I’m not sure it will have the same atmosphere as in the evening but I shouldn’t prejudge. We’re booked for one of these “Library Lates After Lunch” in April and we’ll see how it goes.
Gateshead Heritage Centre did us proud as usual with a marvellous selection of talks during the year: “Necessary History” (Richard Pears) on the history of toilets, a Tudor fashion show (Julia Renaissance Costumes), “Brave Hearts” (Freda Thompson) on pioneering women, “30s, 40s and 50s Part II” (Andrew Clark) continuing last year’s talk on local culture during those decades, “Monkey Business at a Medieval Abbey” (Barry Mead) about the naughty shenanigans among medieval monks, “Making the Colours Sing” (Roger Fern) about local stained glass manufacturers, “We are not Amused” (Malcolm Grady) about Victorian humour, “Earl Grey and his Monument” (Peter Regan) , “Trowels to the Rescue” (Jules Brown) about conserving historic buildings, and “Martial Traditions in the North East” ( Dan Jackson) about volunteering for military service in the region.
The Medicine for Members talks at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital this year were on the subjects of: “Thyroid Disease”, “Lung Disease and Tobacco”, “Blood Pressure”, “Audiology”, and “Care in the Last Few Days of Life”. These were most enlightening and in many ways reassuring too. And on the subject of the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, there are huge changes afoot in the hospital’s Accident and Emergency department – there’s a completely new state-of-the-art A& E building designed to ensure that everyone receives the treatment they need as speedily as possible. As the year ends the new building is almost ready to open – it will soon be phased into use. It looks magnificent. We attended a presentation back in June showcasing these new facilities, and we really must congratulate those involved in the design and planning. Another change is not so welcome: the hospital restaurant, Quenellies, is no longer open 24/7; it now closes between 6.30 pm and 7.30 am. It isn’t even open during evening visiting periods. So now the only overnight refreshment facilities are provided by vending machines – far from satisfactory, particularly for relatives visiting seriously ill patients for long periods.
Newcastle Skeptics in the Pub (SitP) went from strength to strength this year despite a change of management in the summer. Two of our excellent committee, Richard Tomsett and Emma Kirkpatrick, gained their doctorates – congratulations – and moved on to pastures new, and the third member, Danny Strickland, decided to take a back seat. In their place we have Sam Hogarth and Weal Mac, and judging by their work so far, the organisation will be safe in their hands.
The SitP talks I heard this year were: “Why haven’t we cured cancer yet?” (Dr Vicky Forster), “Agents of Reason” (John Issitt) about radicals in England at the time of the French Revolution, “The Skeptical Bobby” (Stevyn Colgan), “Falling Standards – Where’s The Evidence?” (Mike Warren), “Population Matters” (Sandy Irvine), “Myths around poverty and worklessness” (Stephen Crossley), “Lifting the Lid” (Michael Marshall) about countering pseudoscience, “Open Mike Night”, “Bitcoin: Currency of the Future” (David Cook & Gary Broadfield), “Jesus: Memory or Myth” (Ken Humphries). All were excellent and many challenged deep seated views I’d held for decades.
My favourite by far was the last of these in which Ken Humphries argued convincingly that Jesus was a mythical rather than an historical figure. Booking this talk caused some controversy when two people posted on the event’s Facebook page to tell us that we shouldn’t even listen to this chap because he doesn’t know what he’s talking about, but will nonetheless convince many. A strange argument against a talk for skeptics who are, by inclination, very difficult to deceive. The same gentlemen attended the talk and tried to challenge Ken’s arguments in the Q and A session which followed, but it was obvious that Ken knew his subject far better than these Christian apologists and he was able to counter every one of their challenges with consummate ease.
Although I’ve been a member of the North East Humanists for years I rarely get to their monthly meetings at the Literary and Philosophical Society Library in Newcastle because of conflicting commitments. However I did manage to get to their October talk on the “The Science Behind GM Crops” by Dr Geraint Parry of the University of Liverpool. Fascinating to hear the truth about this vital and promising technology which is so unjustly demonised and feared by many, particularly in Europe.
We’ve had our usual assortment of workmen in the house during the year, mostly doing jobs I should have done myself but lacked the energy or inclination. First we had a local joiner, Ian Atkinson, remove a snow board from our roof. This was put up to protect a greenhouse which had stood at the back of the house many years ago. The very high winds in February caused the bolts which secured the snow-board to work loose, allowing the board to move and threaten to damage several roof tiles. Ian did a good job removing the board and the securing brackets and bolts without causing any further harm. In March we spotted an intermittent leak from the roof and called in Chris Moody, a roofer from Gosforth, to replace some flashing between our roof and a neighbour’s wall. He too did an excellent job.
In May we called in plumber, Russ Anderson, to tackle a slow-draining shower tray, and he managed to resolve the problem using a rather powerful chemical to dissolve whatever was obstructing the flow. It needed two doses, but it obviously did the job well as the drain is still working well seven months later. In June we had gardener George Jukes tidying up the front garden and in September we got Lodge Tree Services to trim and shape our tree and bushes. In July we had Peter and Paul of Able Decorators here for a day or two to repair and paint a ceiling. In previous years we’ve had to call out heating engineer Bob Thornton several times to keep our old Vokera boiler functioning. In 2014 we only needed him once – in August. Finally, at the end of October, our fridge began to go haywire – sometimes dropping below freezing point, sometimes rising to 10C. Our initial reaction was to replace the fridge, but instead we called appliance repairer Marshall Grainger of South Shields to see if he could supply and fit a new thermostat. Luckily he was able to do so and we have a working fridge again. A really good year as far as workmen are concerned with every one doing a good job.
I’ll end with a couple of pictures I took in the run-up to Christmas. First, a group of youngsters having a great time singing carols in Eldon Square shopping centre, and secondly a rather attractive window display I spotted in a house near to the vets in Lowrey’s Lane, Low Fell.
Postscript. Sadly our lovely cat Samantha was euthanised on January 5th 2015. She went completely blind the day before, and on top of her many existing problems, we decided it was just too much. Twenty years of joy – we will miss her terribly.