1st October 2016

This Friday was pre-planned and packed full of activity. As part of North East Socialist Singers we were invited to sing with our wonderful Musical Director Bethany at an event which was of particular interest to me and my second foray into the previously skirted around world of ‘folk’ in under a week. (I think it is the image of elbow patches and real ale that has kept me at an interested distance for so long).

I can’t remember how I came across Tommy Armstrong (Tanfield’s/Stanley’s Pitmen Poet) initially. It certainly was in my adulthood and in the days of tapes, as I had a cassette of TA songs which had been recorded in Delves Lane. Years later when I tried to find it on Spotify I could never find the exact recordings (isn’t that always the way?) In the 80’s/90’s the name of TA was known in Stanley as the local council offices were named after him in his honour. I have a vague memory of lyrics being written on walls but I may have landed well and truly in Fantasy Island with that one.

Over the years I have known it was important to keep the name of TA alive and have taught many children the fol-de-lol chorus of Stanley Market. I got to fol-de-lol along to Allen Crawford’s recording of two TA songs earlier in the summer. You could say fol-de-lols were my forte. So, last night was duly anticipated by me but was at the close of a long day which also saw me travel into Durham for my Friday choir. I stopped off at Wharton Park in Durham as it’s become a place I like to walk through when I am there. Since they took Wilkinsons away (boohoo) I have had to find somewhere other than the Sally Army (good 30 minute filler) to go to pre choir. Oxfam bookshop is a fave haunt of mine but it closes at 5 and if you go in after 4.35 you are almost willed out of the building before you step over the threshold. No one wants to be under pressure when browsing for books so I have knocked that one on the head at that time of day.

As an aside – there is a cafe in Stanley which shuts at 2pm. No way can you call by for a cappuccino after 1.15pm. It’s just not tolerated. If you are in there having food the door is locked from the inside at 1.30pm. You are left to shovel down the last slice of corned beef pie in silence with one or two other people who don’t know the establishment’s rule that dinner time (and yes, I mean dinner) is 11.30am – 1pm. You then have to get the attention of the owner to come and let you out.

So, aside from that imposing building by the riverside, which I do visit regularly also, I have discovered the little gem of a park high above Durham behind the train station. I once talked to some children about it and was telling them about the zip-wire in the park. I was obviously conveying my excitement in my expression and the way I was excitingly telling them about it. I said I hadn’t been on it but would one day and take a selfie of myself on it. I will too. I just have to wait until all those pesky kids stop hogging it and the Parky doesn’t follow me around with his walkie talkie…

Aside from that, I have been taking a photograph of the same scene every month since June. There is a large frame in the park that I intend to monitor the changing of the seasons through. Hence, dashing up there Friday as it was the last day of September and I needed to capture the scene. When I looked at them at home I realised Kevin was in the July frame and it was a lovely day in the summer. I had just been to a protest outside of County Hall and walked down to meet him. All my frame photos from now until next July will be minus Kevin…

I knew I would need to eat as I had a long evening ahead. As public loos are as difficult to locate in Durham as they are everywhere else I often end up calling into Wetherspoons when I am there. I have even stopped giving the menu a cursory glance and looking around for my ‘friends’ whilst looking at my watchless wrist, I just brazenly head to the toilets, use the facilities and then head out again looking the bar staff in the eye. Brass neck.

Yesterday, I thought I may actually eat there too as it’s cheap and close to where we practise. So, I genuinely did walk in and look at a menu on a table. The food didn’t put me off. The people all around me did. There seemed to be some kind of bald headed man convention in full swing and the snippets of conversation – odd words even (‘season’, ‘match’, men over 40 with nicknames) were enough to send me heading to the door.

Inevitably, I ended up back at the scene of last week’s scone shocker (they didn’t warm it through. Really). I wasn’t going to be stung by that trick two weeks running though so I ordered a jacket potato. Straightforward. No complex questions about sauces or bread types or anything else to terrify me. And then…the girl behind the counter gave me the THING pictured above next to my coffee cup.

I carried it to my table by its edges. It was some kind of electronic device and was intermittently flashing. In a cafe. I worked out it must be connected to my order somehow. I knew it wasn’t a potato. I realised somehow it would be replaced with said potato when the microwave pinged. What I feared of course was how this signalling would occur. Was I in a hospital? Is being paged for your food the thing now? Did I have to watch the damn thing looking for some kind of sign that my food was ready to collect. If so, from where? There didn’t appear to be any potato action occurring immediately behind the counter. There followed several long minutes, where I hardly dared take my eyes from the ‘thing’ and was fraught with the anxiety of how it would let me know ‘the jacket potato I didn’t really want but I couldn’t get a scone because last week they hadn’t warmed it through’ was ready. Would I need to speak through it???!!! At one point I was ready to slope off sans potato but realised that would be very silly so I held on, frozen with fear.

I had finished my coffee by the time the thing blipped/lit up/almost levitated off the table (by then I would have thought anything was possible) but luckily the waitress was heading over to the source of the racket and blustering diner. I may have shouted ‘How do you make it stop?!’ but I couldn’t be certain on that one. No recollection of how the potato tasted but they had done that obligatory side salad thing and lain atop it was a sachet of SALAD CREAM. Death knell. No going back now.