New Year’s Day brought an informal get-together at the Millstone with the usual singers and musicians. No obvious hangover sufferers!
Later in the month we paid a visit to Stage 2 at the Sage to see Grace Smith perform with Katie Doherty, among other acts. Grace had been Colin’s violin teacher for a while, and had taken him from complete beginner to not too scratchy!
At the Theatre Royal we enjoyed “Comedy About a Bank Robbery”. It is rare for us to be literally helpless with laughter, but this production managed it several times in one night.February
We were back at the Theatre Royal to see Scottish Ballet’s production of Cinderella, then to the Sage to see the Transatlantic Sessions. We are indeed fortunate that Newcastle- Gateshead attracts such quality events.
St Andrews Operatic Society’s choice of production this year was Thespis. This operetta was the first collaboration between W. S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan. No musical score of Thespis was ever published, and most of the music has been lost. Instead, St Andrews staged Baker & Henty’s version, details here. It was a great success. Colin played Bacchus, a part which required much practice!
Finally, we were off skiing, heading for Bad Gastein where we’d stayed several years earlier. The skiing was good, our favourite slope was as empty as usual , and our stay was as comfortable as ever. Bad Gastein is well served by rail, so we took the opportunity to pop over to Zell-am-See for the day.March
We saw “Future Traditions” at the Sage. This is a chance for students past and present from the Folk Degree course at Newcastle University to showcase their talent. This was much in evidence!
A visit to the Theatre Royal to see “The House on Cold Hill” was followed by “Rumours of Fleetwood Mac” at the Sage. What an excellent tribute band they are, almost as good as the real thing. What really appealed to Colin was that they accurately reflected much of Fleetwood Mac’s history, including the Peter Green days.
Finally, we spent an evening with friends from NAM, 10-pin bowling. Neither of us shows much talent!April
In April Colin started training as an Observer for the IAM. We also attended a “Day of Dance” in Darlington, as Step This Way was dancing and Colin was playing for them. Pat took the opportunity to shop for shoes for Kate’s forthcoming wedding.
Later in the month we attended a recording of Gardeners Question Time at the Live Theatre in Newcastle. It was fun to see what goes into the recording. There were so many questions and so much discussion that they had enough material for two programmes.
We also joined some friends for part of a folk weekend they’d organised in Wylam, and later in the month took part in a celebration of the life of Ken Self, one time organiser of Ashington Folk Club, regular attender at the Millstone and a peerless performer of local songs.
And so to the big event of the year – Kate and Iain’s wedding! The wedding was centred around Bury St Edmonds, and we spent a couple of nights at the very posh Angel Hotel. The big event was held in a huge barn, with yet more space for children in a giant tepee. As FOTB Colin got to walk Kate down the aisle and make a speech. He believes his performance in both cases was matchless. Arlo, as usual, did his own thing! The wedding was also, of course, a chance to catch up with friends and relatives, particularly Iain’s family, and to meet the Wisconsin contingent (ex colleagues of Kate’s from Madison University) who’d made the long journey over. (photos)
We were no sooner back up north than it was time for Colin to lead a NAM Chip Shop run round the borders. Then it was off to Cleabarrow. This is the home of our friends Penny and John, who live in a lovely spot above Bowness. It being the confluence of several anniversaries, and not being accustomed to doing things by halves, they had decided to have a 10-day event! We managed the first 5 days and had a whale of a time. Lots of food, drink and activities – including various performances by both of us. From the Saturday evening here’s Pat’s monologue and four songs of Colin’s – Song 1, Song 2, Song 3, Song 4.
Then it was on the bike and off to Stirling to enjoy the Whit bank holiday with our friends from NAM. Both there and back we enjoyed the border roads by going via St Mary’s Loch. We were staying on the university campus at the Stirling Court Hotel, and spent one day riding out with friends and another walking round Stirling, including the castle. We also managed the climb up the hill behind the hotel to the National Wallace Monument.
The busy month ended with us seeing Spamalot at the Theatre Royal. Excellent!
This summer we thought we’d have a different type of holiday to our usual fortnight on the bike. Colin had had a hankering for a Greek island holiday for many years and, given we didn’t fancy spending too much time on a beach, Crete and its history seemed the perfect answer. So after chatting to a couple of travel agents and some friends who’d been there, we plumped for a suggestion of Thomas Cook’s – a fortnight in the Driades Apartments in Piskopiano, in the hills above Hersonisos. The holiday is written up here.
Back home, the Live Theatre on the quayside in Newcastle was hosting a revival of John McGrath’s “The Cheviot, The Stag and The Black Black Oil”, so we went along to see that. Interesting and moving. Then Colin had an IAM training day at Croft Autodrome, and we finished off the month with a walk round the Hoppings and a nice dinner at the Jesmond branch of Dabbawal.
Pat had the long-delayed surgery to remove a bunion from her left foot. The operation itself was fine but the aftermath was tedious to say the least. Weeks in a cast followed by more weeks in a surgical boot, then in wellies as the foot was still swollen, physiotherapy, no biking and precious little gardening. At the end of it all the toe is still not straight and it can be painful under pressure. Not an operation she’d recommend.
St Andrews Operatic Society held its customary summer concerts, with the usual varied programme. Colin has decided not to join future concerts, however, partly because of them tending to clash with other events, and partly because of the religious songs included in the selection, the singing of which has been making Colin, a practising Humanist, increasingly uneasy!
Finally, we both attended the Durham Folk Weekend, on the Saturday. Colin was playing for Step This Way and we both enjoyed the other dance teams. The weather was a bit iffy but didn’t spoil it.August
It was time for Pat to fulfil a long-promised trip with the Carricks to Falkirk. Train to Edinburgh for a day’s sight-seeing and shopping, then the local train to Falkirk and an overnight stay in the Premier Inn, an old mill building on the canal. Next morning we were off for a ride on the Falkirk wheel. Unfortunately it was too rainy for us to enjoy the other attractions nearby and we ended up in a shopping mall in the town centre. We managed a visit to the Kelpies the next morning and the children enjoyed the play facilities there before we headed back to the station.
Colin qualified as an IAM Observer. He also led a NAM ride to St Mary’s Loch. Thankfully the weather was fine, unlike the recce the week before when it had rained torrents all day.September
Step This Way danced at Sedgefield Folk Festival. Then we spent a couple of nights with the Strings Attached crowd at Slaley, home village to Ros and Kevin Doonan. We stayed at the Rose & Crown which, like the village shop, had been taken over by the villagers themselves.
Finally, we started a weekly Pilates class just up the road. It’s a gentle class, aimed specifically at simply loosening joints. It seems to be doing us good!October
In the (planned) absence of its usual compere, Colin had the honour of running the monthly session at the Millstone. It helped that he’d compered nights at the Davy Lamp Folk Club on many occasions, so the job held no terrors for him.
We went to see Matthew Bourne’s Romeo and Juliet at the Theatre Royal. The music, of course, was stunning, and we loved the production. Then Colin had been booked to do an off-road biking course at Drumclog in Ayrshire, but it had to be cancelled because of yet more atrocious weather. Talking to bikers who had done the course the previous day and found it impossible to keep the bikes upright, we thought the cancellation was probably a good thing.
We saw the hilarious improvisation “Austentatious” at the Gala, and then it was time to head south for a few days. We had expected to drive down in our Golf, but it developed a misfire on the Saturday beforehand. Not wanting to take any risks we sorted out a hire car from the Birtley branch of Enterprise – a Vauxhall Mokka, which did us very nicely.
As planned we spent the Monday night near Farnham, spending some time with Dougal and family, so that Colin could spend the Tuesday morning at Motolegends. There he duly bought a very expensive textile motorcycle suit while Pat availed herself of their hospitality. Then it was down to Lyndhurst for three nights, including a visit to Jean and Terry and their son Peter before staying the night with Kate and Iain in their new house in Papworth Everard. Since they were both working next day, we took the opportunity for lunch with Rob and Sandi. They took us out to a favourite place of theirs, very nice indeed and with a delicious veggie selection. That evening being Halloween, Kate and Iain were visited by a hoarde of small trick-or-treaters before we went out to their very good local Indian. A well-fed day!November
The Pitman Poets were appearing at the Gala, so that was a must-see. We know all four of them from being individual stalwarts of the North East folk scene, but their playing together was something else. Beautiful, in fact.
Terri Doherty, another friend of hours, had tickets to see the Brighouse and Rastrick Brass Band at the Sage, but, being unable to go, offered us the tickets. The band was, of course, extremely good – but LOUD. Our seats were in the very front row, and we found the volume just too much. At the interval we went up to the 1st floor balcony, where the lady pointed us to two free seats. Much better!
Finally, we took the train up to Glasgow for the night, to see the Lumineers. Colin had seen them several times on TV and had vowed to see them in concert if he could. Their mailing list gave us early access to ticket sales, and we got plum seats. Unfortunately, we found the acoustics in the Hydro disappointing, so most of the vocals got lost. Still, the music and atmosphere made the trip well worthwhile. We also managed a couple of nice meals!December
Colin’s group Backshift played what was to be their last booking before amicably going their separate ways, at an event organised by the local U3A.
Still on a folk theme, New England friends Dana & Sue Robinson came to stay for the night, on their way to a booking in Northumberland.
Then began the saga of “Not the New Floor”. We had decided it was time our hall and staircase had a facelift. Pat had stripped the dark varnish from the bannisters – not a job to be undertaken lightly – and we pulled up the old staircarpet. We had chosen some lovely wooden flooring for the hall and a grey carpet runner for the stairs. The fitters for the floor duly arrived, removed the hall carpet, sanded and varnished the stairs and prepared to fit the floor. Then the debacle got under way! It turned out that the flooring was not being shipped after all, for reasons too obscure to go into. Our fitters were terrific and found someone to fit a temporary bit of carpet (several bits actually , pieced together) so that we wouldn’t have bare boards for Christmas. Pat spent a good part of the day on the phone with the suppliers and was eventually promised the flooring in the new year. The fitters agreed to stand by for it to be delivered.
At this point Pat fell quite ill. It was something between a heavy cold and flu, but it completely laid her up for a couple of weeks, and it was nearer two months before she fully recovered. So although we enjoyed the usual Xmas visits from family, the catering and housekeeping was adjusted, with everyone joining in and a helping hand from Marks and Spencer.
New Year’s Eve saw Pat with sinusitis and an appointment to see a doctor next morning. We were impressed by that! 2020 was seen in quietly, and not too boozily!