I long ago took note of the fact that people do not want to hear about or read about your triumphs and your wonderful experiences. It's boring. They don't like that. Instead they get far more pleasure out of stories of ineptitude and depravity. So, instead of recounting our successful trek across England along ancient Hadrian's Wall over breathtakingly beautiful green hills I will tell you about the last night of the trip when I nearly got the shit kicked out of me in Newcastle.
Saturday night in Newcastle begins at 11:00 am. John and I were on the second floor of "The Charles Grey" pub overlooking, appropriately enough, Grey's Monument (yes, that's the Earl Charles Grey of tea fame) for an early pint and lunch when we overheard a heated discussion between the barman and a young gentleman who was, as the English delicately put it, "in his cups". He was being refused service because of his state and he did not like this. The young man stormed off. A few minutes later a customer came in and told the barman that the fellow who had just left was pissing in the stairwell. Remember this is 11:00 in the morning. This was an omen.
After an afternoon of taking in the sights John and I ended up at the "Crown Posada" in the heart of the city, off a small cobbled lane. We had asked Maxine, the owner of our B&B, for pub recommendations. She listed off a few places that we already knew to be of the glass and chrome and sparkly lager variety so when we described in more detail what we were looking for she smiled and nodded and said, "Oh, you're looking for an 'Old Man Pub' then!". I guess we were. The Crown Posada is a classic old man pub, perhaps one of the very best I've ever seen - all dark wood, leather banquettes, pressed tin ceiling, gleaming brass and, best of all, an old record player spinning blues, jazz, deep cuts from The Who and The Stones. Packed, loud and friendly. And the only place in the centre of the city where someone over the age of 25 feels at home on a Saturday night.
Why do I make that last statement? I make it because starting at around 7:00 pm the streets increasingly filled with people between the ages of 16 and 25 until it was only them and there were thousands of them. They fly in from all over Britain for this. Seriously. Despite the single digit October temperatures every last girl/woman out there wore an ultra-miniskirt, low cut blouse and very high heels. Every. Last. One. No exceptions. And every last boy/man wore designer jeans and a two sizes too small t-shirt with no jacket. Every. Last. One. It was bizarre. It was like being on a movie set. The only exceptions were John and I and the police. The cops stood inconspicuously down side streets with their distinctive yellow safety vests and checkered hat bands. They stood very quietly, watching, listening. As the evening went on the crowd grew louder and wilder and unsteadier. You could begin to hear glass being broken by about 10:00 pm and the general shouting gradually ramping up into shrieks from the girls/women and bellows from the boys/men.
John and I ducked in and out of the Crown Posada while this was going on. It was like stepping back and forth through a magical portal between two entirely different worlds. The last time we stepped out, sometime shortly before midnight, I found myself suddenly facing one of these bellowers.
"Oi! Yee 'Merican?"
I glanced around quickly to make sure he was bellowing at me.
He was moving into chest bump position with his two sizes too small grey t-shirt. I could see that his eyes were bloodshot and his arms were pink from the cold.
"Gan canny r ah will dunsh yer heed!"
Or something like that. He may as well have been speaking Latvian. The combination of accent and liquor had rendered him incomprehensible. Regardless he looked very irate and was clearly winding up to put the boots to me.
"Ok, it's cool man," I chuckled and smiled. This only enraged him further.
His wobbly girlfriend then began tugging on his shirt sleeve and managed to pull him off in another direction. He obligingly stumbled along, but not before looking back and shaking his fist at me, "Fook off!!!"
John and I made an impromptu decision to head to the end of the street and grab a cab. We were about the climb in when a girl/woman came stumbling up shrieking "I need this cab! I need this cab! Please!!" The cab driver looked at us and mouthed "no" very clearly, his eyes wide, his head shaking slowly. We elbowed the shrieker aside and got in. We locked the door. The cab accelerated and the shrieks and bellows faded away.
"Another Saturday night in Newcastle," the cabbie said.