Monday, March 15, 2010

Back from Newcastle

We had a fun, if exhausting, time in Newcastle over the weekend. The train journey went very smoothly, the only problem being that the heating controls got stuck on the way up and our carriage was absolutely boiling. It took three separate requests by three separate passengers over two and a half hours before the staff got the problem fixed, by which time I was a dripping wreck! Not what you need when you're attending an event an hour after arrival.

Luckily our hotel was only minutes from the station so I was able to freshen up before we headed out to explore the area and find the venue of the book launch. Newcastle looks to be a much more historical place than I'd realised; within minutes we'd discovered a section of 13th century town walls and a medieval friary, as well as Chinatown and St James Park (the Newcastle football ground). The book shop, The Back Page, was very close to the stadium; hardly surprising since it's a sports-lover's dream, stuffed to the rafters with football books, football dvds and football memorabilia, some of it quite rare. It made a fascinating backdrop to the party.

The launch itself was great fun; seven or eight of the authors came along and we met the editor (who grew up on the Byker estate in Newcastle, hence the publisher's name); discovered more about Byker Books' history; and chatted about our stories, writing and life in general. I picked up my contributors' copy of Radgepacket 4 which has more stories than previous volumes and looks great value at only £5.99. More of that later...

Since we both love Chinese food we couldn't resist dinner at one of the many buffet restaurants along Stowell Street? Lane? - huge choice of dishes and absolutely delicious. The highlight for me was jelly and fruit for dessert since I'm still a kid at heart!

Yesterday we had the morning to kill before our train back to Brum, so set off to explore the rest of the city including various shopping centres (they're strung out like washing on a line); the famous Grey Street with its statue of Earl Grey (of tea fame); and the river with its impressive gaggle of bridges, and a craft fair along one bank. Newcastle is obviously a vibrant city filled with music, culture, creativity and nightlife; in fact I don't think I've ever seen so many nightclubs per head of population - there were simply hundreds! The downside to that is a slightly higher than average amount of antisocial behaviour, with gangs of people shouting all night, broken glass and vomit everywhere, even early on Saturday afternoon. Highlights including seeing a curlew at close quarters at the edge of the River Tyne, and finding a lovely statue of a man with some pigeons in the Eldon Square shopping centre (you can see a pic of it here).

We were really glad to have seen the place at last, as we've been promising ourselves a visit for years. It's a long way to travel from Brum (three and a half hours each way on the train) so combining the trip with the book launch made a lot of sense.

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