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Taxi Noir: Newcastle


Continuing our train tour in celebration of my sixtieth birthday, our train left Edinburgh at 9.10 am, bound for Newcastle.

Newcastle is an attractive city, but all was quiet at 10.30. We had a walk around a city that I hadn’t visited for about twenty years. The Bigg Market and High Bridge area is Newcastle’s famous beer street. This evidenced by tatty kebab shops, and Greek restaurants that look like they probably cater to plate smashing and cheap ouzo rather than slow-cooked kleftico. The area is a mixture of style bars and more upmarket places serving pheasant breasts for £24. The only place open was the Beehive, opposite the public bogs on Bigg Market. We saw a smattering of auld men in caps inside so jogged on. I might have just turned sixy, but I’m not ready for that jive yet.

I went to look at a pub off the main shopping street and we struck gold. The City Arms is a lavishly furnished pub, full of character and comfort. There were eight ales on. Shame no one else joined us.


Heads Down No Nonsense Mindless Noodles

We had another gourmet meal booked for this evening so we thought a Chinese meal would fit the bill for lunch. A big Chinese arch indicates Chinatown. The resturants didn’t look very inspiring, and some were closed. None had duck hanging in the windows like in London and Birmingham and we didn’t see any crispy pork on offer. We picked the Amaysia. The clientele were almost all Asian, which I took as a good sign. It was friendly, and the meals were good. We had huge plates of noodles: nae crispy pork so I had beef in black bean sauce.

Made the long walk to the hotel on the Quayside through the city centre. I liked the area just before the Quayside with all the windy little streets. Thwere are some interesting places, and it has more character than the shopping area. There’s a Brewdog and a few other interesting looking pubs and restaurants. On the Quayside we walked under the span of the Tyne Bridge, as impressive as any British bridge I’ve come across. The businesses aren’t all indentikit chain places; there are some places with individuality, including a cat café ( a cafe where you can pet the cats). I noticed a tomahawk steak house. This would have satisfied my lust for steak porn, but we’d made other arrangements.

We’ve stayed in Malmaison hotels before. Once in Birmingham, and several times in the converted Oxford Prison. It’s an upmarket hotel. It normally costs over £200 a night, but offers are often to be found. I snapped up our room for £89. The staff were friendly and efficient, as they always are at Malmaison. The lady said they’d upgraded us to a six-floor room with a bridge view. It was our best hotel view since Hong Kong on our honeymoon! The room was wonderful.

Our room overlooked the Gateshead Milennium Bridge. It changes colour every several seconds. Crane our necks and we could see the Tyne Bridge too. Who needs palm trees when you’ve got the fog on the Tyne? Actually, there was no fog. The weather was as perfect as it can be in January.

The restaurant was quiet, but it’s very nice. Our host, Amy, was friendly and professional, and not above answering my questions on what was on the other side of the bridge (answer: Gateshead). I always have a cote de boeuf at a Chez Mal. It was as good as ever.



The Wetherspoons on the Quayside is different from other Spoons I’ve been in. Often they’re bank conversions: this one looked like a pub. No doubt a style bar or microwave restaurant that fell out of fashion. Maybe Wetherspoons success lies in the fact that they were never fashionable to start with?

We walked up the hill and stopped at a cathedral. No pubs open, though I remembered the old man’s pub on the corner of Bigg Market and High Bridge. There were about ten old geezers in there at 10.30. It’s not an unattractive pub, but a bit tired.

Mo told me that one bloke put down his beer when we entered and looked her up and down. I didn’t notice anything unusual myself, until a bloke rushed in holding a bottle of vodka and had a heated argument with an old man about the price of knock-off booze. This was evidently part of a negotiation with a group of shoplifters outside. He stormed out shouting about us all being grasses, and wondering “what this country’s coming to”. No-one appeared ruffled and carried on with their drinks. I then wondered if anyone thought we might be the Police. We didn’t fit the customer profile, but do coppers wear biker jackets and drink pints of Guinness at 10.30? Then again, I was wearing my black DM shoes; known as the Police footwear of choice. We didn’t get any strange looks, but at 11 we left, knowing that the City Arms would be open.

A case of Groundhog Day here. We entered at the same time as yesterday. We were served by the same solo barman. We sat in the same seat. The postman came in to deliver. The chef turned up: just like yesterday. We were also drinking alone. A shame, as it’s such a nice pub.


Stadium Tour

I wasn’t sure how interesting a tour of an empty football stadium would be, but it proved to be one of the highlights of the trip. Newcastle have one of the biggest stadiums in the country, and this would be a perfect opportunity to see it – especially if they get relegated this season!

The stadium interior consists mostly of smart, if bland, office space. Only four of us presented ourselves to the stadium tour reception: the other two were young blokes. At 12.30 a personable guy greeted us and took us up in the lift to the 6th or 7th floor. He asked where we were from and what teams we supported. There was a Newcastle supporter from Harrogate and a Blues supporter from Birmingham. I was the only person who’d been to St James’s Park before. I went there in 1979 or 1980, the game where Toon fans threw a molotov cocktail into our end. Football was different back then and I admired their spirit. The stadium is unrecognisable from what I experienced back then. I don’t think the Gallowgate End had a roof on at that time.

We saw the stadium from right at the back. It was very high and steep. We both felt a little uncomfortable. I had a similar feeling when I attended a league game at Ajax many seasons ago. The stand opposite looks no bigger than the stands at Milton Keynes Dons, but two stands tower above the other half of the ground. It’s lopsided, but it has character. I still haven’t decided if it’s as impressive as West Ham’s Stade Olympique, but the stands are closer to the pitch, and that might just swing it from the point of view of the spectator.

We saw the executive boxes and the media room. The boxes have the names of the individuals or companies who hire them out for a season indicated on the inside and outside of the box, so spectators can see who they belong to. Some are rented by players. Jonjo Shelvey likes privacy so has the name of his dog on his.

We were told that after making adverse comments on Match of the Day, the Alan Shearer Bar was quickly renamed. When you upset a football club you’re quickly air-brushed out of history. I don’t think there’s a Harry Redknapp Bar at West Ham.

During the tour an ordinary-looking woman walked past us. I assumed she was an office worker making for the lift, but one of the young guys got excited and asked if he could have a photo taken with her. She was happy to do so. I asked the guide who she was. She was the new owner! (the one with the grim expression when the Match of the Day cameras show her during another home defeat).

The guide played Local Hero while we walked down the tunnel. For a few seconds I found myself trotting like a footballer before I corrected myself. We viewed the dugouts, directors’ seats, &c.

The changing rooms were pleasant enough. The home dressing room is larger. We were told that many clubs make their away dressing rooms uncomfortable for the opposing players: for instance by paining the walls a depressing dark colour. We learnt that Leicester have a column in the middle of their away dressing room. It serves no purpose apart from obstructing the view during team talks. Allegedly, Southampton have mirrors on the inside doors of their toilet cubicles superimposed with a football top. Whever you sit on the lav you view yourself wearing a Southampton shirt!

For the purposes of the tour, home and away shirts are arranged around the rooms. All the Premiership clubs have donated a shirt. Apparently, Manchester City charged for theirs!

We had a late 2pm lunch over the road in Chinatown. The Amaysia was as it was yesterday; less than half full, but most diners being Chinese-looking.

A long walk to the hotel to collect our bags, then an uphill walk to the station. The train only stopped at Darlington, York and King’s Cross. Our carriage was almost empty by York. We saw more freaks and weirdos on the quarter mile walk to Euston than we did on the whole trip. We got straight on a non-stop train to Leighton Buzzard and a cab home. A great holiday.