Newsletter 2015



The most significant event of 2015 for the Pears household was undoubtedly the loss of our little feline friend Samantha on January 5th. Although it’s nearly a year since we lost her, she’s greatly missed and I still find myself looking for her when I enter the house after being out for a while. On a personal level, the most significant event I suppose was my 70th birthday! Not that I mind being 70, but it’s a landmark nonetheless.

There’s been a huge change in our weekly routine as Chris is now taking a much bigger role in looking after her mother who is 99. Christine’s sister, Carol, is still bearing the brunt of the task, but Chris is now taking responsibility during the day on three or four days a week.


Once again, we’ve been very lucky healthwise with no major problems for either of us in 2015. We had our annual Diabetic Eye Screening and other eye tests with Tony Nurowski at Summers Opticians, Low Fell in February and our Diabetic Reviews at our GP surgery in March and September. These reviews include comprehensive blood tests and in many ways act as general health checks. During the September review we received our annual flu jabs – not 100% effective, but any protection is better than none. Our chiropodist, Michael Gallagher, still visits us every six weeks to check our feet. During the year he’s opened a little surgery just a quarter mile away, but we still prefer him to visit us at home.

Our only hospital visits during the year were a couple of routine nurse appointments and ultrasound scans for Chris – everything was fine – and a couple of hearing aid appointments for me. I’ll need to make another hearing aid appointment soon as my left hearing aid seems to have gone rather quiet.

Our dentist has changed yet again! We had our 6-monthly dental checks in April and October, and on our October visit we found that our dentist, Samira Rais, who we’d only seen twice, had gone back to India. So we have yet another new dentist, Diane Stevenson, who is the senior member of the practice. The practice itself has changed too. It was Robson and Partners until last year – now it’s part of a large company called Oasis Dental Care. We’re very happy with our new dentist, but not so certain we like the new set up.


Lara with her proud parents
Lara with her proud parents

There have been several happy additions to the family during the course of the year, including, in March, Lara, daughter of my cousin’s daughter, Lisa Lumley; in July, Jakob-Terry, son of my third cousin, Sarah Jane Taylor; and, just six days before Christmas, Isabel Eden, daughter of my second cousin once removed, Alexandria Newby. And finally, the addition of a husband rather than a baby – my cousin’s daughter, Amy Smith, eloped to Gretna Green on December 30th to marry Scott Anthony Hamblin.  Best wishes to all of them.

Ethel Waugh 1927-2015
Ethel Waugh 1927-2015

2015 saw some terribly sad events too. Ethel Waugh, my brother-in-law’s mother, died in January, and my uncle, Ray Nattrass, died in July. They were both lovely people and will be greatly missed. Our thoughts are with their families. Both Ray and Ethel were very elderly and both had been ill for a while, but there was one death in my extended family of a much younger man. Gordon Ross Philipson, a much loved and respected school teacher in Brisbane, Australia, died suddenly on June 25th at the age of only 54. His many friends, students and ex-students have left some wonderful tributes on his Facebook page.

Eileen McCombe 1923-2014
Eileen McCombe 1923-2014

During the year I also found out about two family deaths in 2014 – Jean Bright, the widow of my dad’s cousin, Arthur; and on the other side of the planet in New Zealand, Eileen McCombe, step-daughter of my great uncle Arthur Axford. When my parents were alive, such was the efficiency of the family grapevine that I would have heard of events like these within hours. Now I only seem to find out that people have passed away when Christmas cards are returned.

It was really nice to see my cousin Ray who visited us in August, and Christine’s cousin Simon and his wife Zoe who visited in May, but the main family get-together of the year was the Walker family reunion at the Ravensworth Arms on October 3rd which I had the pleasure of organising. All descendants of my maternal grandfather Joseph Walker were invited and we had 28 attendees, including my cousin Ian from Calgary in Canada. Though some cousins had attended uncle Ray’s funeral in July, we hadn’t seen many of them for quite a few years, and it was great to see them all again.

Walker Reunion 3rd October
Walker Reunion 3rd October

My main family history research subjects this year were the siblings of my great-great-grandfather, Francis Pears. He was one of five children of Francis Pears Snr and Hannah nee Armstrong who’d married at Hexham in 1836. The family comprised Thomas born 1837, William born 1838, Francis born 1840, John born 1843 and Joseph born 1846. Only two of the five, Francis and William, seemed to have left any descendants. I knew that the eldest, Thomas, had died young, but what became of the other two, John and Joseph, was a bit of a mystery. I think I’ve just about cracked it – just a few “t”s to cross and “i”s to dot.

The main frustration with autosomal DNA results is that the DNA shared with a “match” could have come through any branch of the family. You know you’re related, but that’s all, and that makes the search for the common ancestors very difficult. One of the best ways of narrowing down the possibilities is to persuade relations to test as well, then, any matches you share with that relative, must be descendants of the ancestors you share with that relative. So far I’ve only persuaded two relations to test: my first cousin Ray Urwin and my third cousin Tony Freeman. We await the result of Tony’s test, but we got Ray’s results in April and we share many matches, all of whom must be related to us through one of our common grandparents, Joseph Walker and Elizabeth nee Shields. So we can now confidently say that our common ancestors with those matches will be ancestors of Joseph or Elizabeth, greatly easing the task of identifying them.


Paola Fognani
Paola Fognani

We still have our weekly visit to the Ravensworth Arms for a meal and that is where we generally choose as a venue to meet friends too. This year we met with friends Marian & Geoff for meals on three occasions – I’ve known Marian since we were toddlers in Rowlands Gill, so we have a lot to talk about. We’ve made friends with Paola, the wonderful vet who did so much for Samantha our cat, and we’ve had five most enjoyable meals with her at the Ravensworth. Without Paola’s help we would have lost our cat much earlier, so we will always be most grateful to her.

Famous Five at The Sun
Famous Five at The Sun

We had several meals at The Ravensworth with “The Gang” – a group of eight or nine family historians of similar vintage to ourselves, and with the “Famous Five” a group of six or seven (we’ve grown) from the same year at Hookergate Grammar School. The Famous Five also had two most enjoyable outings in 2015: the first involved a meal at the Washington Arms followed by a look around Washington Old Hall, the second, a meal at The Sun in Morpeth followed by a visit to Wallington Hall.

Maria & Alan
Maria & Alan

We don’t get to many of the monthly meals organised by The Retired Members Association of my former union; this year we only managed to make two of their get togethers – at the Washington Arms and at the County Cricket Ground at Chester-le-Street. I also continued to meet with good friend and former classmate, Bernard, every month at the Ravensworth. We never seem to run out of things to natter about. Finally, I met with Geordie exile Alan Dixon and his niece Maria for a cup of tea in Saltwell Park. Alan has since moved from Nottinghamshire to the Pembrokeshire coast so I don’t think he’ll be able to visit his homeland as often as he did.


Our local “corner shop,” a Nisa outlet run by Steve Barratt, has completed its expansion into two adjacent units, and our local Co-op Food store has been completely refitted. Both stores open until late at night and both can now stock many more lines than before – very convenient for local residents. There’s also new Cafe/Community Rooms on the main road called The Nest. The community rooms seem very busy with classes of various types and the cafe is proving popular, particularly with mothers and little children. The cafe looks very nice, but it’s noisy and doesn’t serve the sort of food we like, so I don’t think we’ll be using it. Fortunately business at the nearby Stairwayz Cafe and at the Chatterbox 592 Cafe further along the road, which we do use from time to time, doesn’t seem to have suffered.

qe_new_entranceThere were huge changes too at the nearby Queen Elizabeth Hospital with the opening of the new state of the art Accident and Emergency Department and new Main Entrance. Fortunately we haven’t had occasion to use A & E since the opening, but we did attend a talk in June on “Emergency Care at the QE” which described the new facilities in detail and explained how they would work. The problem of finding one’s way around the hospital has also been addressed with various areas of the hospital now colour-coded, and the direction signs have been coloured to match these. In July I volunteered to help test the new signage. There were about twenty of us involved and we were divided into pairs and given a series of tests where we were told to forget everything we knew about the hospital and navigate from given start points to given end points using only the hospital signs. Then we had to report back to a debriefing session and describe the problems we’d encountered. We found quite a number of issues, many of which, I’m pleased to say, have since been rectified.


My reading material covers a wide range of subjects – science, technology, history, language, even theology – but the one thing shared by at least 90% of the books I read is that they are non-fiction.  I’ve barely read any fiction since I was a youngster, and as a youngster my favourite reads were the Famous Five and Secret Seven books by Agatha Christie.  In the summer I was browsing the bookshelves in a local charity shop and I spotted a collection of five Famous Five books and I bought them on an impulse. I quickly read the lot, and I was hooked again. So I bought the full set of 21 Famous Five books, plus a volume of FF short stories. They didn’t last long either, so I bought the full set of 15 Secret Seven books, plus a volume of SS short stories, and I read those. I’ll probably read them all again before too long – I must have reached my second childhood already.

Neither Chris nor I travel too well so we haven’t been on a holiday for many years. As an alternative we thought we might try staying at some local hotel for a day or two – and where better, we thought, than a place we know very well, the Ravensworth Arms. It’s less than three miles from our home, but it’s set in wonderful countryside with some lovely walks and views.  So in June we spent one night there just to try it out – we stayed in one of the chalets which was originally part of a blacksmith’s shop – and we enjoyed it. So in August we stayed for two nights in the same room, and we repeated the experience in October and again in November. No doubt we’ll do the same in 2016.

Room 7 - Ravenworth Arms Hotel
Room 7 – Ravenworth Arms Hotel

Perhaps not quite recreation, but we’ve been spending a lot of time de-cluttering. I’ve been going through a cupboard full of folders deciding what should go and what should stay. Chris has being doing similar things with her old catalogues and paperwork.  Where does such rubbish come from? Nearly all of it ended up being recycled. I still have a filing cabinet and a few boxes to tackle, but I’m having a break at present.  We also tacked our old coal-house and outside toilet which were intended to be storage areas for gardening tools and DIY odds and ends, and a workshop, but had morphed over the years into a tip.  In August we hired a large skip for a day and got stuck into the task. It was worth the effort.

Gadgets and Tech.

As usual I couldn’t help buying what certain people unkindly refer to as Boys Toys, though of course they are in truth indispensable household aids. Last Christmas I got really frustrated trying to source and buy replacement bulbs for our ageing Christmas tree lights, so early in January I bought a set of 50 LED lights and we used them this Christmas for the first time. They are illuminating our tree as I write – just a nice steady multi-coloured display, though I could choose various types of flashing, fading or chasing sequences if I felt so inclined.

Security Camera
Security Camera

Around Easter time I bought some Wi-Fi security cameras which I’ve mounted in various parts of our abode. These can be armed using a mobile phone or tablet when we go out, and once armed, any movement in their field of view or any sound will result in an urgent e-mail being sent to me with an image of whatever triggered the camera attached. I can also view a video/sound recording which starts 7 seconds before the camera was triggered.

Some 46 years ago I was teaching in a secondary school at Sunderland, and on the day we broke up for the Christmas holidays I found myself looking after my own form, who were first years. We decided we’d sing carols and other popular songs, and as there was a rather expensive reel-to-reel tape recorder set up in the room, I recorded the occasion. I later transferred the recording to a cassette, took the cassette home and put it in a safe place. So safe,in fact, that I didn’t come across the cassette again until June this year. I no longer had a cassette player so I took the cassette to a local chap who can transfer sound recordings to MP3 files. What a wonderful experience it was to play that recording and relive that December lesson from so long ago – tears were rolling down my cheeks as I remembered those lovely kids. Strange to think they’ll all now be 57 or 58 years of age and very likely grandparents.

I’ve had a good selection of Kindle books for quite some time and I had been reading them on my PC, tablet or even on my phone. In July I saw a very cheap Kindle Paperwhite in the Gateshead branch of CeX and I couldn’t resist buying it. What a difference it makes! It’s so easy to use, so now I use the Paperwhite exclusively to access my e-book library.

Telephone marketeers are an increasingly irritating curse, and I’d had enough. Despite being registered on the Telephone Preference Service database, which marketeers are supposed to check before calling anyone, I was getting a ridiculous number of such calls. To try to minimise this I bought a pair of BT8500 phones which are designed to counter marketeers. To put it simply, the only callers who can get straight through are those in my contacts list – everyone else has to jump through hoops to get through. In the two months since I installed these phones I haven’t had a single marketing call.

The final gadget of the year was actually a 70th birthday present from my school-friend, Dave Routledge – a pair of bluetooth headphones. Now I can listen to music or video soundtracks from my tablet without having to rely on the tinny little built-in loudspeakers. I’d never been tempted to buy headphones myself, but now that I’ve used them I wish I’d had them years ago.


Another great year at Gateshead’s Little Theatre with the usual faboulous selection of plays. Of the ten productions during the year, Chris and I attended nine – The Ladykillers, Playhouse Creatures, The Dumb Waiter/Betrayal, Miranda, Blue Stockings, Ladies of Spirit, Get Up & Tie Your Fingers, Heatstroke and The Hound of the Baskervilles – and enjoyed every one. We also went to the Theatre Royal several times during the year and we saw Puttin’ on the Ritz, Oklahoma , And Then There Were None, The Sound of Music, and the fantastic pantomime Dick Whittington.

Concert Royal at the Heritage Centre
Concert Royal at the Heritage Centre

Our taste in music is rather varied as can be seen from the concerts we attended in 2015. In January we went to a concert at Gateshead Heritage Centre by Concert Royal entitled Under the Greenwood Tree – sounds from the baroque and classical eras played on period instruments. Concert Royal features harpsichordist, John Treherne MBE, who is the conductor of the Gateshead Youth Orchestra and former Head of Music Service for Gateshead Borough.

The marvellous New Century Ragtime Orchestra generally puts on two shows a year at The Caedmon Hall, Gateshead Library and we wouldn’t miss them for anything. This year the shows were in February and July and featured their regular vocalist Caroline Irwin. The July show also featured guest pianists Stephanie Trick and Paolo Alderighi. We’ve already booked for the first of the 2016 shows. Zulu Wail by the New Century Ragtime Orchestra

Larkin Poe at the Caedmon Hall
Larkin Poe at the Caedmon Hall

In April we went to a rock/folk concert at the Caedmon Hall by Larkin Poe, a band from Atlanta, Georgia fronted by two talented young sisters, Megan and Rebecca Lovell. Such a range of songs – wild, hot, haunting – and incredible effects from the slide guitar played by Megan. This band has played at Glastonbury and has recently backed several top flight entertainers, including Elvis Costello on two of his tours. Backing Larkin Poe at the Caedmon was an excellent local folk group called Gilded (sic) Thieves A wonderful night’s entertainment . Don’t by Larkin Poe


Early in the year we attended several of the “Library Lates” events at the Central Library. Five or six library staff organise these for 20 or so members of the public. At these we have a bite to eat followed by a talk on the evening’s topic liberally sprinkled with book readings, and we end with a quiz based on what we should have learnt from the event. Topics this year included Past Times and CrimesCelebrating Children’s Fiction,  and 30 Years of Hamish Hamilton.

Also at the Central Library, I attended a talk on “The Liberation of Belson” and a magical event by History Wardrobe on “Fairy Tale Fashion;” and at Gateshead Heritage Centre I went to some wonderful talks on a huge variety of historical topics: Enter the Word of Jane Austen, People Plaques and PlacesAs I cam’ through SandgateHome Front on Tyneside in WW1Laurel and HardyMedicine in WW1 and Georgian Geordies.

I usually manage at least one history course a year and this year was no exception. In February I enrolled  on a 5 -week course on The Great War – the beginnings with Anthea Lang and Malcolm Grady. Sadly I was not able to get to the next course in the WW1 series dealing with events of 1916.

Professor Brian Randell
Professor Brian Randell

The Lit & Phil Library in Newcastle put on a lot of lectures every year, mostly on subjects of little interest to me, but I always make a point of checking them out on the library website  because, just occasionally, they have a real gem.  This year there was a really intriguing item listed for October 15th: Uncovering Colossus – From Ludgate to Los Alamos given by Professor Brian Randell whom I know well. It turned out to be just as fascinating as the title suggested; it was the story of the fight to declassify details of the wartime computer called Colossus, a fight which was finally successful in the 1990s.

Part of the Pathology Lab
Part of the Pathology Lab

The Queen Elizabeth Hospital continued their Medicine for Members talks with some really interesting talks on What is a Pathology, Asthma and Emergency Care at the QE given by people who really know the subject: the consultants, nurses, technicians or scientists directly involved at the QE. Those of us who attended the Pathology talk in February were given the opportunity to tour the QE Pathology Centre the following month. We thoroughly enjoyed the talks and the tour.

Newcastle Skeptics in the Pub changed its regular venue during the year. We had been meeting mainly at The Bridge Hotel with occasional forays to The Old George, but mid-way through 2015 we switched to the Tyneside Irish Centre in Newcastle’s Chinatown. Unlike The Bridge and The Old George, this venue is wheelchair accessible and can easily accommodate the much larger numbers we’ve been getting recently.

Ash Pryce stops his own pulse
Ash Pryce stops his own pulse

The new SitP committee put on a wonderfully  diverse range of topics this year: Dying – What you Need to KnowSecrets of MoneyConfessions of a former Health Food Shop WorkerHow to Talk to the Dead,  Ada Lovelace – Victoria Computing VisionaryBDSM and the UKTresspass is Good for Cities and Islam and Apostasy. They were all most enjoyable and thought-provoking, but my favourites were  How to Talk to the Dead in which Ash Pryce, himself a talented illusionist, demonstrated the tricks employed by psychics and mediums, and BDSM and the UK in which Margaret Corvid introduced us to the world of bondage, domination and sado-masochism, a sub-culture I knew absolutely nothing about.


This would have been an expensive year for us were it not for the skills and tenacity of appliance repair man, Marshall Grainger of South Shields. He repaired a blockage in the Washing Machine, a leak in the Dishwasher and a non-rotating brush in our Vacuum Cleaner. In each case we’d got to the stage of searching for a replacement because we’d just about given up on a repair being possible – but Mr Grainger came to the rescue.

Back in the 80s, I took some mirrors from an old dressing table and mounted them directly on the walls in the living room and entrance passage. Chris had the idea of framing these to improve their appearance, so we asked joiner Michael Hood to tackle this, and he did a magnificent job.  Over the years we’ve struggled to find a decent joiner with good problem-solving skills, and now we’ve found one. We subsequently asked him to replace damaged woodwork on a sink unit, and to box in some pipework, and I’m sure we’ll use his skills again in the future.

In addition to these, Bob Thornton and Russ Anderson kept our boiler heating, our toilet flushing and our shower draining, while George Jukes and Earl Clelland kept our garden tidy and our trees trimmed, and Peter and Paul of Abel Decorators turned some yellow doors white.

Unusually I actually tackled a job myself in January – I remounted some wall-shelving which had collapsed under the weight of several very large books. It was quite a big job but I enjoyed getting back into DIY. It wasn’t long, however, before I was reminded why I’d given up this sort of activity years ago – every muscle ached and I was in agony for days!


So that was 2015 – not a bad year for us by any means, but lets hope for an even better 2016.

One thought on “Newsletter 2015

  1. HelloBrian, looked up your page as I have recently been contacted by Sheila Butcher(bell). Shenowlives in Australia and seems in a reminiscent mood having reached seventy sh.Itold her to research your websites re Mr, Oysten and Mr Soulsby.i have always been curious. You have a photograph of your friends from Hookergate in a pub. I cannot recognise say you donot travel. perhaps I do much. this year I am going to Natal South of my ancestors was a Methodistmissionary inVeruleum? Inthe eighteenth century. Lost of inhabitants from the Dales went there to start a new life. I amjustbeginning to research this episode. Cheers SandraAukland-Bell


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