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Published: August 25th 2019
I was up bright and early. The sunrise was flooding light from the east into my high tide abode. The hotel breakfast was a tenner, but with a Spoons just round the corner it was a no brainer to have a traditional for less than half the price. I refilled my flat white 3 times to get me going. The badminton in the World Transplant Games was starting in earnest today at Sport Central. I nipped in to check proceedings. The previous day there had been a few at practice. Today, there were possibly 250 people milling about as well as the competitors. There was a large Thai and British contingent, as well as significant numbers from India, France, Sweden, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. A few Germans wandered around looking efficient. The Iranian women looked over dressed to compete, but play they did. I heard a Brit bemoaning that he had just been spanked by a Thai. The Thai support enthusiastically waved their red, white and blue pom poms in celebration. The most elaborate warm ups came from the Indians, who seemed to get a full upper body massage to get the muscles working. The standard seemed mixed. A number
St George's Church
looked pleased to be there, but others looked like they had been former high level badminton players who then had a transplant. I watched a while, but it was too nicer a day to be indoors. The irony of the event was highlighted outside. The majority of those competing were delighted their operation had allowed them the health to participate. Meanwhile, one stood outside having a craffy fag. A lesson not learnt.
I brought myself an all day pass on Arriva buses to cover the Northumberland zones. I had 2 football venues in mind for later and this would cover both bases. The bus departed the Haymarket Bus Station for the "coast". I briefly hot chatting to 2 older ladies from deepest Contty Durham. They pushed in the queue in their keenness to reach the sea sir. The wonders of the concessionary bus pass were allowing them to have another day out for free. "We go everywhere", one announced. I struggled with the accent and I hail from the North East. "We struggle sometimes too, pet". Their verdict on Darlo was that nobody speaks English. The Brexit voters were off on their usual rant. I skipped Tynemouth - that
was on my schedule for tomorrow - and alighted at Cullercoats.
Tynemouth, Cullercoats and Whitley Bay effectively merge into one. The first striking sight as you approach from Tynemouth is St George's. A 180 foot tower acts as a navigation point ships out to sea approaching the Tyne. The church seems of a disproportionate size for what was a small fishing village. I walked on round to the small harbour, which has been home to a fishing fleet since the Middle Ages. Today, only a few part time craft remain. The Cullercoats Fish Lass was an iconic character. The village attracted artists and one of America's most famous landscape painters, Winslow Homer, set up here for an 18 month period in 1881. The arrival of such an esteemed name was quite a puzzle, but he set up a studio above the harbour and resided in Room 17 of what became the now demolished Bay Hotel. The flats which replace it near a blue plaque, marking the stay. The North Sea has seen many a ship get into difficulties and the Lifeboat Station below was established with funds from the Duke of Northumberland in 1848. The replacement building and watch
tower above were added in 1879 and were in use unttil 2003. The inscription on the adjacent building states Dove Marine Laboratory 1897. It was built to facilitate the study of the waters off the North Sea coast ansd is now part of Newcastle University. I walked on to Whitley Bay. The Bay was only added in Victorian times, after confusion with the port of Whitby on the North Yorkshire coast. The seafront houses are being transformed into modern apartments with fabulous sea views. The old Hotel Rex was looking a sorry state, so that will probably be next on the list. As with many Seaside resorts the town has a feel of former grandeur, but is trying to reinvent itself to be relevant to now. The most iconic building in Whitley Bay is an example. Spanish City was a funfair and amusement park. It is to Whitley Bay, what the Pleasure Beach is to Blackpool. The most recognised symbol is the 75 foot high dome. It stands out in white, like something more suited to North Africa. A renaissance style frontage facing town adds to the confusing architecture. The first phase phase opened in 1909 and additions were made
after the First World War. Dire Straits immortalised it in their Tunnel of Love song. The demise of the British seaside led to the eventual closure in 2009. The revamp was finally completed in 2018. The amusements are gone, yo be replaced by a very ambient up market fish and chip restaurant in the dome space. A champagne bar looks out to sea from the first floor. They have done a good job and I hope it prospers. I moved on into the town centre, passing the Playhouse and the grand old railway station frontage (which is now served by the Metro). The Hillheads area is home to Whitley Bay sports. Posters advertised the weekend FA Cup tie, but first the team had to tackle a trip to Ashington tonight. The Ice Rink looked a bit sorry for itself. It is now difficult to conceive the Whitley Warriors were among the elite of British ice hockey in the 1980s.
The beautiful day looked like it was about to spoil itself. Black storm clouds gathered to the north over Blyth. I boarded the bus, changed at Blyth and after a magical mystery tour around Bedlington and other places I had
never seen before I landed in Ashington. The black clouds deposited their contents on the towns and villages, as I sped north. Puddles abound as I arrived in town, but the rain had ceased. I once did a job here in the mid 1990s at an estate agents. The aftermath of pit closures was a fairly recent memory in those days, so I was not sure whether things would be better or worse 20 odd years on. The bus station was the new hub. It was nothing more than a collection of new bus shelters, which had been added as part of the adjacent new leisure centre and supermarket development. Station Road had a market. It was packing up for the day. I guess the deluge of rain had put paid to the footfall. The other businesses were also quiet. I walked as far as the Town Hall, which similarly seemed devoid of life. The most impressive building by far was the old Cooperative. It was now split into various businesses, but the grand staircase at the rear of what was the main shop was still evident.
I toyed with a haircut. The Turkish barber had taken a foothold
in town. They had perhaps over estimated demand. I counted 4 establishments, so I figured a price war was on the cards. The crowds gathered in the one which was cheapest by far. The others twiddled their thumbs. I figured that the locals perhaps knew something I didn't and cancelled the idea. The hairdressing business in Ashington is truly international. I know this, because The Venue was advertising "Leanne Willis - International Hairdresser". I disrespectfully wondered how such a title was claimed, but a quick internet search located our Leanne as a member of the Great Britain hairdressing team. I noted her teenage daughter who also worked there was a risng star in world junior hairdressing circles.
Ashington is a football town. The famous Newcastle centre forward, Jackie Milburn, hails from the town. The town also produced 2 of the England's 1966 World Cup Final winning team. The Charlton brothers grew up in Beatrice Street not far from the town centre. I checked the quoted address and found Number 114. In an era where plaques and statues are commonplace, I half expected some tribute. I found an unmarked terrace house, only distinguishable from the others by cladding Vera Duckworth
would have been proud of. I read in an article the Charltons developed their skills playing in the back street. It would be a struggle today in amongst the lines of parked cars. I asked a neighbour whether there was any tribute in town. He shrugged and suggested there was maybe something over at the football ground. Jackie Milburn has a road named after him. The Charltons go unrecognised. A bloke said later to me in a matter of fact tone..... "they never played for the Toon". Newcastle United was and still is everything here.
I wandered back to the town centre iin search of food. The Spoons was heaving and it was only 5 pm. The party had clearly been in full swing for hours. The name of the establishment was not Milburn or Charlton, but the Rohan Kanhai. The great West Indian captain had found a living playing as a professional for Ashington Cricket Club, in the days when County Cricket restricted overseas players and before international batsmen could make a small fortune in a few weeks slogging in the T20. Rohan Kanhai might not have the recognition that Chris Gayle and Brian Lara subsequently received, but
the man was was certainly appreciated in Ashington for his seasons here in the 1970s. The cheapest bitter was £1:59, so value was high. I had a pint of a very acceptable guest ale slightly higher up the price point and watched events unfold. It was steak night, so plenty indulged. It was an extra £1:25 for a 12 oz sirloin. Conversation was kept to a minimum, as folk plughed through their meals. The majority then disappeared outside for a fag. There are many examples of old buildings converted into drinking establishments and Ashington didn't exactly seem short of grand old buildings that needed saving. The old cinema in nearby Blyth is a classic. It was therefore a bit disappointing that the Ashington version was just a plain modern shell. The table next door were talking football. They taunted one of their number for renewing his Newcastle season ticket and extolled the virtues of lower forms of thegame at Northern League level. "You're gonna be miserable every week". "You shouldn't give that bloke anymoyof your money". The "bloke" they referred to was owner Mike Ashley. Meanwhile just over the road in one of his businesses, the tills of Sports Direct
St George's Church
were ringing. It seems Mike Ashley wins all round in these parts! I couldn't resist upgrading my sirloin to the 12 oz size, but settled for jacket potato instead of chips to reduce the calorie intake. Football beckoned and I made my way outside.
Ashington CFC now play in a modern new facility on the edge of town. The CFC stands for Community Football Club. I figured it would take me about 20 minutes. The old ground was closer to town in the Station Road area. Portland Park has now been knocked down and redeveloped. It once played host to the most northerly point of the English Football League. Ashington were members of old Third Division North between 1921 and 1929, when they failed to get re-elected at the expense of York City. As late as 1950, Ashington attempted to get back in the League system. They received no votes. The new ground lacked the character to make the groundhopping crew drool, but had a perfectly seated main stand with clubhouse bar and some very speedy wifi. A small section of seats opposite was flanked by 2 covered terraces. The visitors were nearby Whitley Bay FC, where I had
spent the early part of the day. It wasn't surprising then that they rocked up with a decent sized support. Ashington took the field in their traditional black and white stripes. A penalty miss dented their confidence in this game and Whitley Bay took advantage. They were 2 up by the time Ashington converted another penalty award to set up a close finish. The new sin bin robbed Ashington of a player near the end and with it, any chance of a draw. I walked briskly back to the bus station to find my bus back to Newcastle. The bus wasted no time on the return. I listened to the tales of a fellow football fan on the journey, but in truth his accent was so strong, I probably only caught 30%!o(MISSING)f the words. I . nodded and smiled politely. Appendix 1 World Transplant Games 2019 Baminton Singles Date : Tuesday 20 August 2019 @ 1000 Hours Venue:
Sport Central, Newcastle, Tyne & Wear Appendix 2 EBAC Northern League 1
Ashington CFC 1 Whitley Bay FC 2 Date
: Tuesday 20 August 2019 @ 1930 Hours Venue
: Woodhorn Lane, Ashington, Northumberland. NE63 9FW Attendance
: 350 Scorers
: 0-1 Procter 24 Mins (Whitley Bay) 0-2 Stephenson 72 Mins (Whitley Bay), 1-2 Downey 77 Mins Pen (Ashington) Ashington CFC:
Staples, Gibson, Lancaster, Herron, Caines, Coppen, Johnston, Lowery, Williamson, Stevens, Ross Subs: Kalthoeber, Downey, Anderson, Price, McHugh Whitley Bay FC:
Lister, Bexton, Salmon, Bott, Anderson, Graham-Bage, Procter, Orrell, Hird, McFarlane, Martin Subs: Annang- Colquoun, Brennan, Stephenson, Taylor, Kerr
Tot: 1.29s; Tpl: 0.098s; cc: 13; qc: 35; dbt: 0.0696s; 1; m:saturn w:www (126.96.36.199); sld: 1;
; mem: 1.4mb