Today I boarded a train from Middlesbrough to Hartlepool, having already travelled from London to Darlington and from Darlington to Middlesbrough, and within a few minutes I found myself engrossed in conversation with complete strangers. An elderly woman, a younger woman and two even younger women – it could have been grandmother, daughter and grand daughters – were talking and laughing.
"Did I tell you? E's out on 'is bike and 'e's supposed to call 'is wife 20 minutes bifor 'e geds 'ome."
"Bifor 'e geds 'ome?"
"Bifor 'e geds 'ome, but 'e forgot."
"So 'e geds 'ome and she says 'go out again foot nother hour and then call me 20 minutes before ye ged back."
"And 'e did it?"
"E went out foot hour an' called 'er."
"What's the world coming to?"
"Did yer 'ear that?" said the younger woman, addressing her question to me.
"Sounds a bit mad if you ask me," said I in my London accent.
"Well it's true. I bought 'im a teeshirt for 'is birthday and 'e said 'I can't take that home'."
"Why not?" said I.
"Well 'is wife wouldn't approve."
"Who bought him the tee-shirt?"
"I bought it fer 'im."
"Well, she probably suspects he's having an affair," I suggested.
"Wi' me? E's 60!"
"I takes all sorts," I said and, as the train arrived at Hartlepool, we all disembarked with smiles on our faces and wished each other well.
|Harlem? Nope, it's Hartlepool|
I was booked in for the night at the Grand Hotel and there's an Indian restaurant in the basement. You can't get much better than that in my books – curry, lager and bed. Hartlepool's alright. It's a bit derelict here and there, and there are plenty of shops with their shutters down, but it's fine and, like most places I visit around the world, I could probably live here. I quite like the North East for reasons I can't fathom, but Newcastle, Middlesbrough, Hartlepool, you name it, I like it. And if you go further north, beyond Morpeth to Alnmouth and Berwick-upon-Tweed, I like it even more. It must be the North Sea and the general bleakness. I'd love to visit the Farne Islands and Holy Island, Bamburgh Castle and Whitby, all places I've never seen.
The Grand Hotel's curry was perfectly acceptable and the breakfast was fairly good too: I had fresh fruit salad, Coco Pops (I only ever eat Coco Pops when I'm in a hotel), a fudge-flavoured yoghurt (not that brilliant) and scrambled egg on toast, although the latter was a bit late as I wasn't asked if I wanted a cooked breakfast until I'd finished my fruit salad and Coco Pops and I had already put a couple of slices of bread in the toaster. When it arrived – with two more slices of toast – I decided just to eat the scrambled egg, but I felt guilty about leaving two slices of bread untouched. How wasteful. So I waited until the waitresses had left the breakfast room before I made my escape.
Normally, hotel restaurants double as the breakfast room, but the very idea of eating breakfast in an Indian restaurant would have been enough to put me off. Fortunately, the hotel thought the same way as the Grand Hotel Hartlepool has a separate breakfast room on the ground floor.
|View from room 210, Grand Hotel Hartlepool|
Everything in the bathroom seemed to work and they get top marks for having a normal sink – two taps and a plug on the end of a chain. Perfect. No faffing around trying to work out where the plug was or how the taps worked. Simplicity at all times.
I'm on a tight schedule. I've got some reading to do and then I'm being picked up by a PR colleague, I've got an interview to conduct and then I catch the train home. I'll probably have to go from Middlesbrough to Darlington and then take a train south to King's Cross. Not a problem as I have a copy of the Guardian to read and it looks as if David Cameron's 'clean' image has been tarnished, thanks to a Lord Ashcroft – or is it Ashford, not sure – who has written a book, called Dave, in which he recounts stories of Cameron's drug taking and general debauchery. Ho! Ho! Ho!