It's not that I'm a shyster (ahem), it's just that I have limited time to discover the joys and woes of England. Leaving at six in the morning, it took me a whole hour to get from Croydon to the other side of the Blackwall Tunnel as the northbound approach of this river crossing was crawling at a snail's pace. Sunday wouldn't have been a problem but I left the start for the following day, so is it any wonder why I don't like Mondays? Once I'd passed that, I watched as the miles of traffic shifted slowly into the capital from the M11; I was escaping to the north and there were more than two chevrons apart between myself and the vehicle in front. Luxury.
After consuming a reasonable fried breakfast at some faceless motorway service station, I arrived in Lincoln at 10.00am. Lincoln is a small city that fits the 'quaint' description but there's two sites that you need to make time for. Lincoln Cathedral looks awesome from the front; it's just like any other cathedral on the inside mind, but worth a mooch just for the stylish wood carvings depicting the Twelve Stations of the Cross. The second sight is the castle, which is a two minute walk from the cathedral. This place held more historical interest for me; it used to be a former womens' prison and is still used as a county court. But the jewel in its crown is that it holds an original Magna Carta and I was eager to give this important document a butcher's. Unfortunately I found out that the original charter was away on tour and replaced with a copy, similar to the one that's displayed in in the cathedral. AWAY ON TOUR! Now why didn't they tell me this in the first place? However, the surrounding exhibition more than made up for the disappointment and also on display is the ancient Charter of the Forest (not a facsimile), written on animal skin and dating from 1217, this was still in use up until 1971 making it the longest remaining statute that was in force in England. The explanation of how both charters came into existence is simple to understand, beautifully well presented and therefore an ideal day out for children. I was in my element.
It's possible to devote an hour to the cathedral and another to the castle. I decided on a time limit for both based on how much loose change I had for the parking ticket machine and besides, I wanted to do lunch in Hull.
Following the signs to the Humber Bridge, I climbed northwards until I drove around an unassuming curve on the A15 where I was suddenly greeted by the imposing sight of the bridge itself. Even in shitty weather this particular structure looks damn impressive; it's no wonder that Phil Brown was eager to come here. The Humber is a large body of water and it's more enjoyable to cross compared to navigating the Severn bridge (note: the tolls do not discriminate against Ford Escort vans by doubling the charge). On arrival at this fishing village, I made my way to the old part of the locality, had fish 'n' chips in a restaurant set aside for tourists - I was the only one there - and saw some typical Northern sights (see below):
Dusk was closing in as I navigated the pitiful rush hour on exiting but I felt slightly dismayed at not having visited two of Hull's prime sights: The KFC Stadium and The Welly Club (the latter being the city's top live music venue which has hosted famous artists like The Housemartins and Cool To Snog), I'll put them on my 'places to do' list for next season.
In no time at all I was cruising along the A165 up to Scarborough which marks the start of the North Yorkshire Moors. There was just enough daylight left to appreciate this vast National Park, the scenery augmented by patches of snow that had not yet melted. Halfway through the Moors and I'm in Whitby; Dracula's English connection. Being pressed for time meant no stoppages but I did get a glimpse of the old abbey as I drove over the town's main road bridge which overlooks the harbour. This is the place to go for Whitby jet.
It was dark by the time I reached Middlesbrough and the only reason I had to stop was to take a piss. This particular city looks quite boring at night but I'm told that it's a veritable disaster area during daylight hours. I'm not sure which time of the day I'd choose if I were to visit again, but I shan't be putting it on the list unless it becomes part of a sporting away fixture. Why else would anyone go there?
You don't get any fog in the Tyne Tunnel, besides which it would've sounded strange to sing: "Fog in the Tyne tunnel is all mine, all mine...", just doesn't work, does it? I'd be bypassing Newcastle for the time being, heading instead to Northumberland.
I took time out to rest, explore the locality and catch up with friends.
I woke up this morning and soon got the blues. My newsfeed reported that Crystal Palace FC had gone into administration and further more, Victor Moses would not be in the squad for tonight's match. Financial problems at the club had been on the boil for quite sometime so it was no great surprise that it would spill over like this. In addition to all our troubles, Newcastle have been top of the table for, ooh, ages and we had a tough challenge ahead. Traveling the half hour journey to the centre on the Tyne and Wear Metro from Whitley Bay was made shorter by a friend wishing me well despite the foregone conclusion. The end result wasn't too humiliating; our lads put up a spirited fight and we've since made up for what has been a miserable week by beating Peterborough (as well as Wolves). Then again, Peterborough have been bottom of the table for, ooh, ages.
St James' Park ratings:
Stadium - in very good nick as it should be for a club this size. Away supporters are ushered to the seventh level (no lifts) of the Sir John Hall stand in an effort to knacker them out so they won't be able to cheer their team on.
Security - that'll be the local constabulary. Tough Geordie coppers on tough Geordie horses telling southerners "if yuz tek anuffa sip o' that drink yuz gettin' banged oop". Like I'm dead scared.
Transport - Tyne and Wear Metro to St James station which stops right outside the ground. Well done, Geordies.
Food - I wasn't that hungry.
(Newcastle United 2 - C Palace 0. Attendance: 37,886)
The journey back south included a pleasant four hour drive on the M1. There's a point on the journey just as you cross the Durham / Yorkshire border where you can see the North Yorkshire Moors to the left and the Yorkshire Dales to the right at the same time (although this might involve a spot of head turning unless you happen to be an eagle or a hammerhead shark). Not long after passing an industrious looking Sheffield, a slight detour was made towards Royal Lymington Spa in Warwickshire (Shakespeare's country). This is quite a posh place, nice, clean, all white Georgian architecture, it's so polite it's offensive. As darkness had already descended on what was a drizzly day, I decided against an exploratory amble about town opting instead for the warmth of the nearest pub just across the road from the venue. The band I had booked tickets for were playing in The Assembly, which was recently given a major overhaul by top bordello make-over man Lawrence Llewelyn Bowen. Give the fella his due, he's not done a bad job and now that the smoking ban is fully enforced, the white architrave should stay white for quite a while. It's a superb place to see a live act as it's a 1,000 seater (or should that be standing?) venue, intimate but at the same time you have lots of room to breath. Either that, or the band could've sold more tickets. I won't go into the merits of HMHB as it's ground that's been covered before but a special HMHB podcast featuring Howesy can be downloaded here and a review of the Leamington gig can be found here.
Setting off towards London on the M40 I thought I'd be home free in a couple of hours. Wrong.
Somewhere between junction 9 and 8a, I feel a slight pop coming from the gas pedal. Odd. I press down with my foot and quickly discover that there is no power. This presents me with a challenge: I'm in the third lane struggling to overtake a petrol tanker who is needlessly hogging the middle lane and to make matters worse, another vehicle decides it would be fun to sniff my arse at high speed (otherwise known as tailgating). Trapped but moving. I have to get over to the hard shoulder and I'm constantly slowing down, this is not good.
85...70...60mph and getting slower.
It's too dark, where the fuck am I?
I know exactly where I am, I'm in the middle of fucking nowhere and about to get stranded. Bollocks! Why didn't I renew my AA membership?
Hazard lights are a miracle of modern times. Apply them and watch how people give you a wide berth. Bye bye petrol tanker, bye bye coffee breath sales executive in a Mondeo rushing home to his wife, hello hard shoulder. As I'm cruising along trying to find the widest spot to the left of the motorway, I see in the distance what looks like a van at a standstill, all indicators blinking simultaneously. That'll do for me, Tommy. Hazard lights are a miracle of modern times.
The two blokes in the van are waiting for the arrival of the breakdown service, which gives us something in common. Barely thirty minutes goes by when this knight in a shining armoured patrol car turns up, deals with the blokes in the van first and then me. The bonnet is popped open to reveal a broken connection between the accelerator cable and the gubbings which lets more fuel into the engine. An improvised running repair with cable ties is hastily made and off I go, which means no two hundred and fifty quid towing fee to fork out = result . Fears of kipping in the car with high speed traffic dangerously whizzing past on a shivering cold morning are thwarted, as for that night only, the county bestows me with the title of Oxfordshire's Jammiest Git of the Month.
I'm home free.
More pictures here.