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Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

Dreaming in kitsch

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Obsession with tourism must be troubling me

I woke fairly early this morning after a long and troubling dream in which I had just witnessed the opening in fifteen years time of the newest South Shields entertainment initiative. Iain Malcolm South Tyneside’s (by then) veteran Labour Leader had seen his latest dream come to fruition, somehow he had cobbled together enough European and UK grants in a public/private partnership to have the old telephone exchange in Crossgate, South Shields transformed into a neo-gothic styled restaurant and night club, South Tyneside Council were to get first call on use of the place and a private operator would use it at all other times. The whole of the interior had been stripped out by a force of new apprentices especially employed by the private contractor as part of the scheme, the exterior had been clad in granite and limestone and people were impressed at how much it resembled the architecture of the Town Hall in nearby Westoe Road with its solid oak main doors and traditionally styled stained glass windows. However it was the inside of the place which really caught everyone’s attention, this was South Shields’ tribute to Westminster Hall, a magnificent chamber supported by huge columns and a fake fan vault ceiling, this was to be the most opulent medieval banqueting experience in the north-east! Malcolm had ensured that old craftsman ship had been revived to some extent with carved English oak and carpentry skills taught to young lads, others were passing on the skills of the stonemason, it also housed the most modern computer controlled laser lighting system and state of the art sound system, within fifteen minutes the main hall is transformed into a multi faceted entertainment complex, yes we all agreed this was a tremendous achievement in fifteen years. The levels of kitsch were unbelievable.

Why not, we all thought, tourism had grown as a significant part of the north east economy since the dark days of 2012 when it only accounted for around £200m worth of business, these days we are reaping the rewards of over £500m per year from visitors who come to see amongst other things our enlarged Roman Fort with its added reconstructed walls, the new swimming pool and alongside it the new leisure centre opposite the beach continue to thrive even in wet weather. The multiplex cinema and outlet shopping on the Dragon had proved to be a big hit, and even Jarrow had benefited from huge upgrades and a new visitor centre for St. Paul’s church where the history of Bede is now a major pull. Pulling it all together is the new fleet of privately operated electric mini buses transporting folks from one attraction to the other, plans are also in place by a local taxi company to replace the whole of its fleet of cars with the latest Nissan electrically driven model. They would be necessary as petrol driven vehicles were no longer allowed in the town centre – that had killed off the old car parking debates ten years ago –  and visitors were “encouraged” to use the park and ride facilities near White Mare Pool. Furthermore the expanded Ocean Beach Leisure Park and the illuminated sea front was drawing almost as many visitors as Blackpool, and they all had comfortable beds to sleep in at the new hotels at the Pier Head and Harton Staithes, which in turn had sparked a resurgence of the guest house trade on Lawe Road and Seafield Terrace.

Malcolm was beaming in his old age on the opening night as two hundred local dignitaries dined in the splendour of the new Cloisters On Crossgate, after a five course meal they were entertained by South Shields latest X Factor winner Geordie Robson who had seen his first two albums go “platinum” in the download charts within a month of release, the event was broadcast live on NETV and on South Tyneside Council’s website which was now enjoying the experience of having 10000 visitors for its monthly half hour meeting of the Borough Council where Cabinet decisions are rubber stamped. Yes, we all felt proud, an odd mix of Keynesian economics and private enterprise was driving money into the area, things could only get better (good grief Robson was even crooning that old chestnut on opening night).

Then I woke up!

With a house full of teenage guests, the sight of a blocked WC at 08:00 was no fun at all, and the temperature of that water was a complete shock to the system!

I put the dream on the back burner.

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New South Tyneside mayoral car

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Audi A8

Vorsprung durch Technik

In a week which has been full of further austerity packages both in the UK and Europe, yes folks the coalition government is failing to meet its own financial targets and must do more of what their EU masters demand, it is good to see that South Tyneside Council is about to help out the employment situation of the Germanic peoples by investing in a new car for the borough’s mayor. The old Volvo, on a “55 plate” with less than a reported 20000 miles on the clock has been sacked,  rather like “agent Bruce” and replaced in a jiffy by a model already regarded as experienced, with a good track record,  and up for the job. Just a shame that we couldn’t have gone for a luxury Nissan model and support the jobs of hundreds of South Tyneside men and women, it need not have been one of these perhaps one of the models made in Washington might have sufficed – better than exporting jobs abroad again.

Inside sources tell me that the new black Audi A8 is currently being prepared for use at Middlefields in South Shields, receiving the custom livery and coat of arms that a mayoral car must have whilst the poor old Volvo will be sent for auction “somewhere”. By my reckoning someone will be getting a real bargain as the leasing company releases this asset onto the market.

Of course the cars are leased – yes……surely?

Vorsprung durch Technik for Geordies.

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A silver lining or a darker cloud?

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Rising debts force sale of Newcastle Airport

Newcastle International Airport is 51% owned by seven local authorities including our own South Tyneside, the remaining 49% is owned by Copenhagen Airports International. According to unconfirmed reports in the Sunday Times the airport’s loan of some £320m is due for repayment in December 2013.

The report alleges that the airport has been put up for sale by our local councils, whilst the CEO of Copenhagen Airports Rasmus Christiansen says:

“We don’t comment on market speculation. We are often approached by airport investors but we are not in a formal process to sell Newcastle.”

What is not clear is whether the seven local authorities and Copenhagen Airports would be liable to clear the debts prior to a possible sale, or whether a prospective new owner would buy the debt too. This liability may hamper a possible sale, or hang a heavy millstone around the necks of thousands of council tax payers.

It must be hoped that KPMG can pull a rabbit out of the hat.

Watch this space!

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Written by curly

April 18, 2011 at 5:56 pm

Stagecoach, South Shields

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Stagecoach, South Shields

On the Buses!

There is an interesting little story here if some journalist would like to get his/her teeth into it, (something to do with fuel costs and how it might affect the price of your ticket).

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Written by curly

February 5, 2011 at 5:51 pm

No snow today

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“Tropical ” conditions return to South Shields

“Sunny Shields” is back in smiling mood today, the Arctic conditions melted away in one of the fastest thaws in living memory over the last 24 hours – the snow has gone.

Whilst the rest of us somehow managed to get around town, out of town, into town, thanks to the help of gritters who have used half of the winter stocks in two weeks, South Tyneside Council’s refuse collection teams found it far too difficult to negotiate the roads and side streets.

So, perhaps they’ll stand a better chance now that sub-tropical conditions have returned, my bins have not been emptied since 22nd. November!

It’s a good job we didn’t have any deep snow such as that seen in North Yorkshire or Central Scotland.

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Written by curly

December 11, 2010 at 11:58 am

Let’s give credit where it is due

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West Park, South Shields
South Tyneside copes with snow better than its neighbours

I’m not sure that our councillors really need to hold a special meeting to discuss the weather situation they might as well chat about the sunshine on the Veldt for what good it might do, yes we have a lot of snow on top of hard packed ice on our roads, but as temperatures plummeted to below -8 Celsius overnight our main roads were not too bad at all.

I’ve been out of the borough a few times this week, and when travelling through Hebburn to Bill Quay and Pelaw there is a marked difference in the road conditions as soon as one gets into Gateshead Council’s area of responsibility.  The Felling by-pass was treacherous on Monday and not much better on Wednesday, Sunderland’s efforts to keep the roads clear have not been a lot better and certainly not as good as ours. So let’s give some credit where it is due, those four gritters have been doing a tremendous job whilst we sleep snug and warm in our beds!

At least we haven’t faced main routes reduced to single lanes with a three foot deluge in the outside lane! On top  of that I’ve witnessed teams gritting footpaths (well they can hardly sweep up litter) and they’ve also deposited small stocks of rock salt in the estates to allow local people to do their own bit to keep paths and driveways clear. Our main shopping centres are largely cleared of snow within a couple of days too, so perhaps the only point worth discussing is stocks, availability, and whether or not we have enough to last for the rest of the winter. Admittedly, this spell of freezing weather has arrived much earlier than we would normally expect, but who is to say that January and February might not produce the normal quota of snow and ice?

I have nothing but praise for the way that South Tyneside Council has handled the current situation, but there will always be a few who might complain, they need to see the bigger picture and realise the importance of the priority routes which have been kept in really good condition under the circumstances.

Another interesting thing to note is, at the times of the heaviest snow falls, (yesterday evening and last Friday evening) before the gritters had hit the roads one could not tell where the road ended and the pavement started. Yet traffic was moving along quite nicely, slowly of course, and with large gaps between vehicles. I don’t think there were any huge accidents to note. It just proved to me that without gritted roads, the vast majority of drivers suddenly find some common sense and drive at the speed appropriate for the conditions, they appear to be much more wary of the possible dangers and many just stayed off the roads completely! Start gritting and they all start to speed up again – doh! (As with all rules, there were one or two exceptions.)

Now we just need to get some consistency between head teachers and the way in which they decide to open or close schools. Let me give you an example (without giving away names) ; yesterday the weather was a lot better than today, public transport was running fine, snow was soft and melting, yet one South Shields primary school decided to close because of transport difficulties. It’s neighbour, a community college stayed open under exactly the same conditions. Today, the situation is reversed, the college closed citing transport difficulties, but the primary school re-opened under far worse weather conditions than yesterday. Neither of them managed to get this information to the Town Hall in a timely fashion or to each other or to local news outlets where parents keep a close eye for information. Both of them made their decisions after children had set off for the school journey, which adds to parents’ difficulties in finding child minders or other supervision at short notice.

So perhaps head teachers need some coordination and clarification on their role as educators and informers, now that would be something more worthwhile for our councillors to discuss.

Oh, and the picture above was taken in the West Park, South Shields.

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Written by curly

December 3, 2010 at 1:53 pm

Sausages and “stable government”

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The long Bank Holiday weekend.

It all started after returning from the Snooker Centre in Chichester Road, South Shields, rather late on Friday evening to be confronted with the news that the new Chief Secretary to the Treasury, David Laws, had resigned after one of the shortest Cabinet careers in history, ostensibly to protect his privacy and with a hint that perhaps he shouldn’t have taken £40000 from the tax payers to fund his partner’s flat. Thus by Saturday it dawned on me that “strong and stable government” as portrayed by David Cameron and Nick Clegg was beginning to sound more like the braying of a couple of asses, surely MI5 still provides Prime Ministers with a brief about the characteristics of potential Cabinet ministers?

Apart from the fact that the expenses issue was being aired again by the hacks at the Daily Telegraph, spiced with an air of sexual innuendo, we saw the situation unfold whereby perfectly capable candidates to replace Laws at the Treasury were being overlooked, and I refer specifically to Philip Hammond who had mastered his brief over the past two years, in deference to Danny Alexander as “politics” intervened to ensure a full complement of five Liberal Democrats around the Cabinet table. Alexander, of course, has next to no experience of financial matters other than those immediately thrown into the brouhaha of his elevation. Thus we have a coalition government determined to reduce the deficit and the debt mountain with a mere novice charged with keeping spending under control, hardly what I would describe as either strong or stable conditions.

The rest of Saturday found me and “Missy” taking a ride in the car following the tasting of what can only be described as the finest Cumberland sausage that Britain has ever produced. I was intending to go to Carlisle as I hadn’t visited the place in over twenty years and had recently been given a pound of the said sausage a few days earlier, it was wholesome, dense, packed with prime meat, oats, and other goodies that made it essential to track down the maker. A few others from South Shields make irregular trips to the small village of Great Orton to the west of Carlisle to visit Jimmy Mulholland’s butcher shop/post office/general dealer it wasn’t too difficult to find in the grey wet village as it was the only shop there, but at 3:45 in the afternoon I feared he may be shut, fortunately he was not. Jimmy wasn’t surprised that I’d travelled from South Shields and asked if I knew the manager of the Snooker Club? Daft question I suppose.

Apart from providing Great Orton with most all its retail facilities, he also had Cumberland and black pudding sausage, as well as beef and tomato sausage, all looking as dense and tasty as the two pounds that I had in my mit! You can find Mulholland’s shop here and I can tell you that £2.75 per pound for the Cumberland sausage is money that you won’t regret spending, my only regret was forgetting to get some for my father!

Carlisle was heaving packed with shoppers despite the weather being gloomy and wet, the Lanes shopping centre was a big attraction and a fine example of how old shopping areas can be revived with a glass covering and new paving, another aspect, that we seem to somehow under achieve on in South Shields, is the amount of independent retailers thriving there amongst the national retailers who tend to “clone” our town centres it seems that a proportion of small units is kept at lower rents to allow them to get a foothold in the market place. The city centre seemed to me to be every bit as busy as Newcastle on a good day, but we had to press on, “Missy” neede to see Hadrian’s Wall on the way back.

The weather was not the best to appreciate culture and history but it didn’t stop around 150 “wooly backs” walking along the Military Road in between camp sites, mile forts, and ruined old turrets , we managed to walk a small section beside Steel Rigg car park before the rain became too heavy for her, but I grabbed a few pictures en route.

Sunday was just as gloomy, England’s dire performance against Japan ruined the day for me, as well further revelations about Danny Alexander, Vince Cable, and “two Jags” Prescott. Monday was far better, no sport to worry about and little in the way of politics to disturb the mind (other than silly people who decide to fight against armed soldiers with sticks and metal bars, – I mean, really, would you?). On a warm fine afternoon I tramped all around the fair city of Durham, photographing to my heart’s content and gathering a wealth of material to work on for South Shields Daily Pictures, people DO want to see the rest of our region, you know, I also found time to visit an old workmate Mike Innes on a newish retail development at Belmont and swap notes on how we are both doing, it’s good to stay in touch with old friends.

So what became a longish weekend away from work prevented me from sitting at this keyboard for any great spells, and in truth I am going to be struggling to keep up my output at anything like the levels that you have become accustomed to, the same will be true of Twitter, but the photoblog is easier to manage with the ability to post pictures for a decent period in advance.

So I hope you had a great weekend and that we can start to look forward to sunnier days in South Shields and welcome thousands of visitors to the seaside, even if we have to compete against the Tall Ships Race this year. I’ll be back here just as soon as time permits – or when the steam comes out of my ears, whichever is the sooner.

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Written by curly

June 1, 2010 at 6:33 pm