Je Suis Charlie

Sun 4 – Sat 10 Jan

Back on my travels – Newcastle
I spent most of last week in the North East visiting projects funded by the organisation I am employed by. I travelled up on Monday after a session with my friend and personal trainer Sara before coming back to London on the 7.04am train on Friday. Both journeys were fine though on the journey back there were a group of posh Japanese ladies who had wanted to go to Durham but found themselves going all the way to London as it was a non-stop service (oops). I booked well in advance and got a great deal on my accommodation staying at the Tune hotel in Newcastle – clean and modern though a bit Spartan, some shelves would have been useful. And lots of remote working with daily checks and acting on e-mails. Amazing how quickly everything gets back to the normal routine after the Christmas/New Year period no matter how much we try for it not to.

Where I visited
The five projects I visited are my Websites of the Week (below). Streetwise is a mental and sexual health project for young people I know fairly well. Two projects deal with issues I am comfortable with (mental health, and dementia – for the latter specifically technology to support those newly diagnosed) but two took me out of my comfort zone as they concerned with visual impairment and benefit sanctions. It was also an eye opener seeing the new geographical locations you end up in or just travel through when you use public transport. I had big plans to visit several sites whilst up there including the new library (though I have been before and it is fab), the Laing art gallery, and the Baltic / Sage. Unfortunately time was more limited than I expected particularly as some of the projects took much longer to travel to than I had realised. But I had a good time and I would recommend Newcastle as a great place to visit.

Eating out
I did manage to treat myself and eat out every night. I love eating out but I cannot afford to go to expensive places. Monday night I went to the Ottoman Turkish restaurant near the central train station. Lovely food and I had a delicious shish kebab. Tuesday night I went to a ‘traditional’ Indian restaurant having my favourite – prawn puri and then chicken dansak. The meal was a special offer at £10 and I had poppadoms, a hot towel at the end, and an After-Eight with the bill. Good but probably the least best meal of my week. Wednesday I went to an independent Italian restaurant and had a home-made pulled pork pizza. The only let-down was the skinny prissy waiter who gave me a look when I asked for the dessert menu. And on my last night, Thursday, I went to a Spanish restaurant and had ‘tomato bread’ with patatas bravas and chicken in a cream and brandy sauce followed by lemon cheesecake.

And drinking out
Outside London and particularly as you head North, the more friendly and chatty people become. I got into conversation with several Geordies (including talking about being HIV+) and got several recommendations for pubs to visit. It’s interesting how social life outside London does seem to focus more on the pub / bar rather than the coffee shop. I did not get to every place recommended and one I did visit was very spit and sawdust – an experience but not one I felt too comfortable in nor would rush back to. However, I did visit a traditional pub I would highly recommend, the Crown Posada (right next to my hotel!). I do like having a drink and reading my book. Some people may think that is strange because pubs are so orientated to socialising but I enjoy it. Another find was the Intermezzo coffee bar attached to the (independent) Tyneside cinema; decent coffee and open till 11pm. At least twice after dinner I ended up there to chill before going back to my room. I also found a great coffee shop called ‘Geek Retreat’ which is designed for geeks. It felt so comfortable having a coffee and reading Terry Pratchett whilst surrounded by geeky merchandise (i.e. Doctor Who) and people who have the same passion though most seemed to be into board and card games which do not really do it for me. There is a Geek Retreat in Glasgow as well so I must try that out.

And shopping
I did some shopping as well. My favourite are the charity shops and there are a few in Newcastle and Gateshead. I found a couple of new t-shirts, a nice short sleeve shirt, and a pile of books – more books to be read at some point in my life. I also got Dave some presents – a book about his favourite plants (Clematis) and Pauline Prescott’s autobiography (apparently she was known as the ‘Elizabeth Taylor of the North’) as well as a mug originally from the V+A Museum. I did have to make an unexpected purchase in that my jeans split whilst on my Tuesday morning project visit so before going onto the next place I had to pop into the main shopping centre in Newcastle to get some new ones. I also treated myself on Thursday night to a massage at the main gay sauna – a service they have just started providing. I was a bit apprehensive (my provincial bias?) but the young guy was actually very good and the cost (£25 for an hour) was very reasonable.

Exercise and weight
One of the side-effects of my period away may well be that my start on losing weight the previous week has gone pear-shaped (literally). This would not only be due to the good food (and alcohol) but also the reduced exercise. I did manage a very successful jog-run on the previous Sunday achieving 26.14 mins, 4.39 km, 5.59 pace, 323 cals. Good though only the calories of one croissant and my Achilles was aching after. I got a session in with Sara on Monday where we did some intensive leg work. And then I went back to my beloved gym on Saturday. I spent an hour and a half doing various exercises. I just love pottering around the gym then having a recovery chill after with a coffee.

Mum and Dave
Mum is doing OK but her recovery is slow, she still is in pain and with restricted mobility. I checked on her every day whilst away and stayed over on Friday night after I returned. My brother took her to the laundry which made life easier for me. Me and Dave managed to spend our weekends together as normal. The previous Sunday we did the Pimlico car-boot and then had chill time together for the rest of the day. We had planned to go and see Nightcrawler at the ICA but could not be bothered to go out again even though the TV was shit. We met again on the Saturday just gone and had lunch together before chilling in front of the TV in the evening. The Tudor programmes on BBC2 were fun and I had a new bottle of wine to enjoy. However, tiredness overcame me and I was in bed by 9pm. I wanted to stay up for Celebrity Big Brother which looks like it is going to be a good one this time but I could not manage it. I wish I could be more of a night owl.

Reading and books
I finished the dreadful Wickham book on the supernatural I mentioned in last week’s blog. It desperately wants to be a serious book i.e. with stories from around the world but is ultimately silly, sensationalist, and poorly written – avoid. I then read Sukhdev Sandhu’s ‘Night Haunts: A Journey Through the London Night’. A good selection of real life portraits but ultimately quite brief and journalistic. It did remind me of a better book I would strongly recommend – ‘A Book of Silence’ by Sara Maitland. Last week I also read Terry Pratchett’s ‘The Thief’ – the 25th book in the Discworld series. Brilliant and amusing as ever, I love reading one of his novels every so often just to be cheered up. I am currently reading ‘Quilt’ by Nicholas Royle. This is a book I have had for ages and I have finally got round to reading. It’s about a man dealing with the death of his father; good though deep and literary. One of the other things I have started to do is burning my Doctor Who story DVDs onto my i-pod and then listening to them as I walk around town. It’s a change to music and a great way of appreciating them. When I play them out loud I never really appreciate what is happening – it’s too easy to be distracted. I’ve listened to adventure including the first, seventh, and eighth doctors.

Couple of negatives
Though I am trying to see the good in my life, I am not going to get carried away and see life as a conveyor belt to nirvana. Two big negs this week. First, it was great to get away but I have twigged that there is something in my life that when my usual routine is disrupted then some good things get forgotten or overlooked. This is often true of taking my meds on time as well as this week my good diet plans going to pot and I stopped the habit I had got into of doing DuoLingo to improve my language skills before I go to sleep. So the task is not to get stuck in a rut but not to lose the good stuff when I step away from my routines. The other big neg was my beloved QPR. A dreadful FA Cup game result against Sheffield United; why are we always so shit in the FA Cup? This was followed on Saturday by a 2-1 defeat to Burnley. Our away form is so dreadful and we are back in the relegation zone.

Wonkers of the Week: This is an easy one. Obviously has to be the scum who killed the police and civilians in Paris. The perpetrators, bar one of them’s girlfriend currently on the run, are all dead – fair justice. Worth thinking about the civilians (normally Muslims) who are facing indiscriminate murder by religious extremists on a daily basis in Iraq, Syria, and Nigeria. The actions of some religious people makes it difficult to even talk about having a faith.

Websites of week:

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