Well hello, it’s good to be back and talking to you after our two weeks away. I’m wondering how this post is going to work because a few of you will already have seen the photos on Instagram but of course there was no space on there to give you the full story behind them so I hope it will still be interesting for you. As you know after various holiday cancellations we decided to spend two weeks over at our apartment in Newcastle really just to try out living life there. We knew it would give us a feel for how we might balance our time when all boys head in their own directions this autumn and a sense for how often we might rent it out to readers and friends. As always I have lots to talk about so I’m going to split it into two halves and here’s the first, British City Staycation – Newcastle Part 1.
British City Staycation – Newcastle Part 1
As we set off in the car we realised that neither of us had any expectations. We were both tired, ready for a break and a change of scene more than anything else having spent so much more time than usual in the North West over the last year and a half. It occurred to us that we’ve never spent two weeks alone together before and although we had people coming to visit, it would be a good test. Our spirits were high as we drove away, partly because we were leaving the heatwave behind us and going to a slightly cooler part of the country which seems crazy now.
Ever since we bought the apartment we’ve been looking forward to spending weekends there with friends and yet so far Covid has thwarted our plans every time. Halfway there my WhatsApp pinged and we drew breath, thinking ‘here we go again’ but this time we were lucky, it was a picture of our friends Gillian and Stephen setting off in their car, full steam ahead. You may remember that Gillian is one of the readers who won the competition to spend a weekend in France with us back in 2019 along with Anne who we’re hoping to visit in Ireland later this year.
And so we got there just in time to stock the fridge with welcome drinks before the Scots crossed the border and arrived in their usual ebullient style. Gillian and I had a brief wardrobe conference and both ended up wearing completely different outfits to the ones we’d planned. And here we are, on our way out for the first of what turned out to be an awful lot of glasses of wine that weekend.
Gillian – skirt; Mint Velvet top (sold out)
Me – jumpsuit (gifted SS19); And Other Stories sandals (SS19)
The Quayside in Newcastle has had quite a bit of investment put into it for the summer and we stopped at the Urban Garden there where you can play chess or order a watering can and tend the plants as you enjoy a glass of wine. Why is it that when you ask males to ‘look nice for a photo’ they do something like this?
Instead of this:
Anyway we’d booked a table at The Broad Chare which is one of our favourite places close to the apartment. It describes itself as a ‘proper pub with proper beer and proper food’ – right up our street – and a good wine list too as you can see from the board.
And those are all the photos we have from that night which ended with a greatest hits disco in the flat… and a remarkable midlife breakdancing moment from Stephen.
At this stage in the holiday I was still in the habit of checking my emails and halfway through dinner I noticed one had come in from Claire, a reader who was visiting Newcastle the following morning to look round the uni with her teens so we quickly made a plan to meet for a coffee. I’ve been kicking myself because we were all so busy chatting that we forgot to take a photo. Whenever I meet a reader I always find that we jump straight into a really good conversation because of course we always feel as if we already know each other.
For the afternoon, Mr MC had planned a walk around Ouseburn, an area adjacent to the universities that has a relaxed, creative vibe.
Gillian: T-shirt (now in the sale); And Other Stories skirt
There are lots of fun activities along the Quayside for the summer holidays including this brilliant optical illusion.
We had a long, lazy lunch at another of our favourite places, the Brinkburn St Brewery, and then meandered back stopping for an ice cream and a drink here and there on the way.
As we headed out for the evening…
Boden gold jacket (gifted AW20); Hush crossback top (SS19); Boden brocade trousers (gifted AW20); Aeyde shoes (AW19)
…we couldn’t quite work out what was going on. The women of Newcastle were more glamorously dressed than ever, most of them wearing fascinators and Gillian and I wondered whether we’d missed out on a dress code until we realised that it had been Ladies’ Day at the races.
Gillian: M&S jumpsuit (past season)
Me: Hush top (SS19); Boden trousers (AW20 gifted); Aeyde shoes (AW19); Midlifechic clutch (AW19)
For a treat we’d been saving a trip to the much lauded Purple Peacock which is spectacular inside – note the hat on the table behind the chaps… who once again were ‘looking nice for a photo’…
There were staffing problems because of Covid and we waited over an hour for our food. When it came, it was quite honestly the worst meal I have ever eaten… anywhere… ever. My pork skewers were raw and yet despite my protests Mr MC still ate one because he hates waste and, he insisted, they were fine… I was just being picky. It didn’t seem worth making a fuss because we’d have had to wait so long for a replacement meal so as soon as we’d paid the bill we left, making the most of the decor on the way out…
… which felt like an instruction!
Thankfully the bars were vibrant but not too full so we went to a few different ones on the way home and it felt so good to be somewhere new in a buzzy atmosphere after so many months of doing very little. We were all weary the following morning, feeling the full sum of our midlife years.
Gillian: Ralph Lauren shirt, H&M jeans
Me: Baukjen sweatshirt (sold out, gifted SS21); Jeans; Boden shoes (SS18); Midlifechic bag (SS18)
Our favourite greasy spoon was the place we needed to be.
And then, refortified, Gillian and Stephen headed off home, leaving us to an afternoon on the sofa. And just as we settled down I looked across to see Mr MC turn several shades of green… the raw pork skewer was doing its work. I suspect that he too may now be ‘picky’ with pork!
So I relaxed, imagining that we’d have a quiet few days ahead but no… the following day he had regenerated and was ready to carry on the fun. He asked me what I was in the mood for and I suggested a spot of culture. The sun was blazing down outside though and it seemed a shame to spend the day in a gallery or a museum so he told me he had a plan.
He started with the ‘world famous’ Trent House pub for lunch. Why is it world famous? Because it’s the pub that used to feature in Viz for those of you who remember that tome of Newcastle humour. This was his Geordie version of the wine and tapas lunch I’d suggested…
… and he even found me some ‘art’ – a statue of Super Alan Shearer outside the Toon Army football stadium.
He rounded the tour off off with a ‘bottle of dog’ at The Strawberry – the pub opposite the football ground – a place that is sacred to all Magpie supporters (so called because Newcastle FC wear black and white strips – oh and Newcastle Brown is called dog because allegedly Geordies used to tell their wives they were going to see a man about a dog when they were popping to the pub).
There were a few people on Instagram who felt Mr MC could have done better but, as always, his ‘cultural tour’ made me laugh. I promise it was just a joke and he’s very aware of his city’s culinary and historical specialisms.
At this point just the idea of a fortnight stretching ahead of us without any demands was a real pleasure. The apartment is so central that we can be very spontaneous, if we fancy popping out for cake for example or to John Lewis for a mooch we can be there within minutes. We didn’t plan, the sun kept on shining and so one day we wandered around the lovely old parts of town. This is All Saints Church which Sir John Betjeman described as one of the finest Georgian churches in England and it’s beautiful. We walked around the castle which I’m afraid I must say is a rather poor example if you compare it to the castle in my own birth city of Lancaster… at least I can trump Mr MC’s town on that front. There are crumbling remains of the city walls too and we shouldn’t forget that every time we walk along the Quayside we’re walking the line of Hadrian’s Wall. Oh and we discovered that the windscreen wiper was invented in Newcastle… who knew?!
Zara dress SS17; Boden shoes SS18; Sezane bag SS18; Sunglasses
Even though I didn’t feel like it, we kept up with our running. Mr MC found he could lure me out in the mornings with the promise of ending a 5K with brunch at Six, The Baltic Gallery’s brilliant cafe which is so temptingly close to our front door.
Vest top; Sweaty Betty Power Leggings sold out
The weather was so unfailingly good in our first week that we even planned a picnic in Leazes Park. Of course just as we set off it rained for the first time so we had it at home instead and it made me think of my grandmother – indoor picnics were a real speciality of hers when I was little. I’m wearing pyjamas in this photo because we were wet and cold when we got in and this is my favourite pair, I save them for Newcastle.
While we were there The Wine List kindly sent us a sample of their subscription service so a rainy afternoon picnic seemed like a perfect time to break into it. It’s a really easy way to increase your wine knowledge – you can subscribe to receive either 3 glasses, 2 bottles or 6 bottles a month and they come with a twelve month wine course. The wines they sent me were both German and I know very little about German wine so it was interesting to read about the growing regions in Alsace and try wines that tasted more like French wines with a twist than the German examples I’ve tried before. I’ll try to remind you about it in the run up to Christmas because it would make a great gift and it’s a good way of branching out if you find you always buy the same kinds of wine.
You’ll notice that Mr MC had prepared open stottie cakes with ham and pease pudding. I was surprised by the number of people who asked me about these on Instagram so I’ll explain. Stotties are similar to the bread we call barms at our side of the country – soft, fluffy oversized white rolls, usually the size of a dinner plate. Pease pudding is not the same as mushy peas, it’s made from split peas cooked slowly with ham shank and stock vegetables. The end result is blended to make a tasty paste and you layer it below the ham.
And then just as we were getting used to relaxing, we had a call from mum-in-law who wasn’t feeling very well at all. She had all the symptoms of Covid which was a real worry and turned our focus to her. In the end a test showed that she didn’t have it, it was ‘just’ a bad chest infection. However it prompted long overdue discussions between Mr MC and his brothers about her health. Over the last few months she’s been undergoing tests for both Alzheimer’s and Dementia and has just been told she has both and specifically Dementia with Lewy Bodies so we’re quickly trying to learn more about it. Mr MC and his brothers are busy trying to get LPAs in place and thinking ahead to the next few months but it isn’t easy when you don’t have any direct experience of this kind of thing.
She enjoyed coming over to the apartment for her tea though and sitting watching the bustle of city life go by through the windows. She even brought Mr MC’s dad’s binoculars to watch the kittiwakes and it’s nice to have them there on the windowsill. We feel more relieved than ever that we’ve bought the apartment because it seems that we’ll be going over more than we anticipated in the months to come. Some times will be tough but we’ll also have the release of the the city at our feet and I think Mr MC might need that.
I have a lot of work to get through over the next three weeks so I’ll tell you about the second half of our break next Friday. Until then a huge thank you to all of you who showed support and got me up and running with Instagram again. Gillian would tell you that I was quite literally shaking as I posted the first time. The mean and lonely were still out there with their barbed messages but it didn’t matter because seeing from your comments that I had my midlife army around me made all the difference.
Today is a big day in our lives because it’s the youngest’s 18th birthday so we no longer have a child in our family and it comes at the end of an all round big week. He and his girlfriend came to stay with us in Newcastle at the end of last week, I’ll tell you more about that next Friday but we noticed that each morning they were counting down the days to their A Level results and their nerves were building. However I’m delighted to say that they both did brilliantly and will be heading off to their first choices – him to Leeds Uni and her to Durham, both of them studying French and Spanish. It’s the same course that I did so I’m looking forward to enjoying it again – vicariously through them.
Like all of their year group, with most of their Sixth Form days being spent in lockdown it hasn’t been an easy journey but they’ve stuck together, worked hard and stayed strong. As we watch them blossom, all we hope now is that they can keep on having a little more freedom to really enjoy this stage of their lives and we wish them all the luck and happiness for the months to come.
And forgive me for a proud mum moment but in addition to thrilling me with his French and Spanish, the boy did his dad proud too by getting an A Star in Fine Art. The theme he chose was ‘unexpected beauty in ordinary places’ and his exhibits even included a rusty old car door that he salvaged from the salt marshes to use as a frame. Sadly another lockdown loss was that the big exhibition of all their pieces that they put on at school as part of the final assessment had to take place behind closed doors this year. Here he was getting three of his final mixed media canvases ready to take in.
So one small thing I can do for him is give him a mini exhibition here (and some of you may remember our visit to the ruins of our ancestral farmhouse last October which inspired the middle piece). It’s quite something watching your children’s talents unfurl isn’t it? Our three are all so different but I’m pleased they’ve each found out what it is that makes their hearts leap.
I hope everything’s gone well for you if you have an Upper Sixth Former in the house. It was a real mixed bag up here, the boys’ school had clearly marked far harder than the girls’ and so overall results appear to be lower for them than usual and rather high at the girls’. If that’s the case at just two schools I can’t imagine how much variation there must be nationally. There have been quite a few surprises and disappointments here so if the Covid scoring system hasn’t worked out well for you, please know that you’re not alone and it isn’t necessarily a fair reflection of your child’s abilities.
As well as celebrating and being grateful for all of the days that have led to the boy’s 18th birthday today, I confess that as I sign off I’m feeling a little wistful. My last baby is now a man and he’s stepping out into the big wide world. And so the final page of this wonderful chapter that’s been all about the chaos, laughter and love of active mothering is drawing ever closer.
But now I must go because the youngsters are waiting for a lift into town so that their celebrations can begin (again). They started at the stroke of midnight when the eldest took the youngest to the village pub for his first legal pint – the landlord and locals enjoyed making him sit and wait until the bell tolled before he could take his first sip!
So as we head into the weekend I hope the sun shines and that you’re spending it doing things that give you pleasure. Thank you for reading and I’ll be back with more next Friday.