World Cup Dispatch: Part Two (Fish, Chips, And Frozen Man Parts)

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Contributor Andrew Post is traveling in the U.K and Ireland for the next two weeks covering the World Cup and his trip for This week he’s in North East England before heading to Dublin, then on to Scotland. Minus any hooligan-related incidents, Andrew will be checking in with dispatches along the way. God help him.

By Andrew Post

For A Few Pints More

After the anticlimactic but non-fatal draw between the USA and England, it was time for a day of rest. Elaine, one of my gracious hosts, had to go to work for the day, but Adam decided to take Jeff and I into South Gosforth (one of Newcastle’s northern suburbs) to meet her afterward.

At about one o’clock, Adam’s mate Jay showed up in his blue Renault. Jay was born a Geordie (for a definition, see my first dispatch), but lived in London while attending university, and has traveled extensively in the U.S. and Australia — all of which meant that his accent wasn’t as pronounced as Adam’s or Elaine’s. His car was like a sardine can, a minuscule hatchback with just enough space for us tall blokes to get our knees under the dashboard.

Walking and driving through sizable English cities makes one sympathize with the numerous Britons who have deserted their shores and gone to live in the States. The main reason is elbow room. London was cramped enough, but Newcastle, though logically laid out, is a maze of byways, one-lane residential streets, and omnipresent roundabouts. Navigating this maze — in a Renault no less — is an exercise in reflex and agility. Clearance between parked cars and moving ones is practically nil at times. Roundabouts eliminate the need for stoplights, but they tend to throw a heavy dose of inertia at drivers as the car whips into the outside curve, throwing all its passengers to the left.

Compound this with the fact that I was sitting up front, and (23 years of driving American cars notwithstanding), there was no steering wheel. My disorientation and dismay should be understood.

Gosforth proved to be much like the rest of Newcastle: refreshingly clean neighborhoods composed of red-brick, two-story houses, many with bay windows in front and small sheds in the rear. The city was well-maintained if slightly aged, with immaculate lawns and gardens. Whatever pity I felt for the English driver immediately evaporated as we arrived at our destination: In England, it’s perfectly acceptable to park on the sidewalk.

We stopped in at a pub called the Brandling Villa, a big, open bar with, as expected, much brass and wood paneling, and a large projector screen set up in a corner (as at Luckies the day before). The Serbia vs. Ghana match was on, so we sat down, ordered up a traditional English Sunday roast (and a round of pints) and settled in.

I once thought that pancakes, a couple of eggs and a slice of bacon was a permissible Sunday brunch. I was clearly wrong. The Sunday roast is hearty enough to fuel a Minnesotan farm boy through a hard winter. In North East England, the Sunday roast consists of mashed potatoes, cubed sweet potatoes, several giant slices of roast beef, green beans, and a hank of Yorkshire pudding (batter baked in an oven and served as a side). This feast comes to the table dripping with copious amounts of dark brown gravy. My hunger wasn’t just sated, it was roundhouse-kicked in the face.

Suitably fueled, Jay, Jeff, Adam and I began the rounds. Taking turns to fetch pints, the four of us managed to sample every single beer on tap, and most of the cider — about seven or eight rounds between us. We tried the Leffe, the Mordue, even the Mordue, a dark red ale from a local brewery. We were there, sitting in the pub, watching football and drinking for something like six hours (I think, I lost count around pint four). The match was long since over; Germany was now creaming Australia. We pulled out a Scrabble board, then switched to Monopoly after disagreeing on too many Geordie slang terms. (“Yeah” was not spelled “Ye,” I insisted to Adam.)

Elaine showed up at 7:00 p.m. and we had a couple more rounds, then called it quits. The Metro ride through northern Newcastle was something out of a fantastic dream. Palatial buildings — actually schools but looking like castles — reared out of the twilit sky (which refused to darken, even at a quarter past nine). The green fields and hedgerows, typical rolling English countryside, darted by in the gloom. Once again I was struck dumb by the fact that I’d actually made it here, observing it with my own eyes.

The Old Castle In Newcastle

On the morning of the fourteenth, Elaine was due at work again. While she was out, Adam, Jeff and I made a solemn bargain: After visiting the old priory in Adam’s hometown, Tynemouth, we would take a dip in the North Sea. No wading around or dancing in the surf, we were going to go under.

After a few minutes at the Tynemouth Library to print our boarding passes for our impending trip to Dublin, we went for a hearty English breakfast at the Waterfront Café. Each plate was piled high with beans, bacon, sausage, eggs, and black pudding (fried pig’s blood, shaped into a patty — goes rather well with egg yolk or the vinegary Brown sauce which is so popular in Northern England). We also ordered about a loaf’s worth of white bread toast, upon which we stacked eggs, black pudding and sausage to make decadent sandwiches. I could hear my arteries and my colon screaming as I ate, but I tuned them out. I was in heaven. The English eat what they like, and nobody can make them feel guilty about it.

Our next stop was the Newcastle priory, which has been around since 1300. There isn’t much left today, except for some columns, some walls, and a few replicated stained-glass windows. When Henry the VIII dissolved the Catholic church, he took the roofs off all the chapels and priories, and, as Adam pointed out, “the elements did the rest.”

The grounds were no less stunning for that. The priory sits on a black cliff overlooking the mouth of the River Tyne, and looks more like a castle than a monastery. An enormous gatehouse, nearly intact, broods over the entrance, portcullis and all. Between the Scots in the North and the Vikings in the East, the monks were kept on their toes for centuries.

Arrow slits adorned the walls, and one could imagine the green lawns dotted with vegetables and crops during a siege. Cannons taken from the Spanish armada and a naval gun from World War II stood sentinel on the seaward side. The graves of sailors and mariners from the 18th and 19th centuries dotted the lawns between the cliff and the priory building, and the tombs of the saints and the gatehouse garrison looked as intact as the day they were shaped. The priory itself brooded atop the cliff like a monument to darker times. It’s a religious experience, standing in a building older than the country one was born in.

A Dip In The North Sea

We walked down the hill and into King Edward’s Bay (known as “King Eddie’s Bay” by the locals). In the words of George Costanza, the sea was angry that day (and a dark blue). The sun shone, but its rays couldn’t stand up to the wind blowing off the water; it was a balmy 19 degrees Celsius. The water temperature, according to the chalkboard by the lifeguard station, read only nine.

Jeff, Adam and I began to get a sense of what we were doing as we found a flat rock and disrobed. Originally, we had planned to wait for Jay, who was bringing clean towels, but we decided to man up and go in anyway. Jeff was a Canadian, Adam was a Geordie, and I was a proud descendant of the Norsemen who invaded these shores hundreds of years ago. There was no way we could back down now.

We walked over the silky sand and entered the surf. The chill was immediate, a crawling numbness in our toes and ankles that crept slowly upward with the icy water. As the cabbie who drove us out to Tynemouth had told us, “You’ll have to squat down for a p— afterward.” Our gentlemanly regions, I took it, were likely to disappear. That seemed more likely than ever as the water got above our knees. Onward and onward the pounding surf came, splashing ever higher, bringing groans and yells and some rather feminine squirms on our part. When we could stand it no more, and our shorts were wetted, we dove under.

I gained a keen sympathy for every single survivor of the Titanic in that moment.

Up we came, howling, our bodies stiffening involuntarily, the skin contracting, droplets of water flying from our hair and flailing limbs. It was a rout. We splashed back to the beach, hollering and grinning like idiots, and ran across the sand, standing in the shelter of the cliff, where the breeze was lightest and the sun was warmest, to dry off. When the numbness receded, we were intact. We put on our clothes, shook the sand out of our cuffs, and walked away — satisfied, manly men. We’d challenged the North Sea and fought to a draw.

Fish ‘n’ Chips

Down we strolled to Fish Quay for the day’s final goal: real, English fish ‘n’ chips. We moved past the statue of the great English admiral Cuthbert Collingwood, the Geordie who took over command of the British Navy after Lord Nelson took a fatal bullet at the Battle of Trafalgar. He is a local hero north of the Tyne, and his statue stands brooding at the mouth of the river, guarding the “Toon” from further encroachment.

The Waterfront is a brightly lit fish ‘n’ chip shop in the east Quayside district, which, though no longer the home of the once-great Newcastle fishing industry, still smells strongly of fish. We sat down and ordered up three large cod, with mushy peas and tea on the side. It knocked Long John Silver’s into a cocked hat. Enormous slabs of codfish were delivered to our table, still steaming, the crust of batter exceeding an inch in thickness, mushy peas dripping down the side, with tea, milk and freshly-buttered toast to go with it.

We did our manly best, but we were unable to finish. The portions were too gargantuan, and our English breakfast was still supplying us. We didn’t go down without a fight, though. I shoveled scoop after scoop of battered cod, dripping in malt vinegar, into my mouth, along with the mushy peas (peas mashed into a paste with a little sugar) as an excellent palate-cleanser. The tea was too hot to drink with something heavy like fish and chips; something cooler would have been preferable. Nonetheless, we left the Waterfront and walked back up to Front Street, near the priory, our bellies stuffed, satisfied and waddling.

At the top of the hill, we headed into the Turks Head, the usual meeting place for Tynemouth folk, and Adam’s favorite pub. Japan was busy playing Cameroon on the t.v., and we got busy with pints of cider. After a few refreshing drinks and another round of congratulations (concerning our tolerance for cold water), we decamped and headed home.

We had now seen the better parts of Newcastle and the waterfront. It was now time, come the dawn, for Dublin. Neither Jeff nor I could believe we’d come so far and done so much, and neither were we ready for what was in store. We knew it would be, as is said in this part of the world, “a good craic.”


Coming Next In Part Three: Summer in Dublin –whiskey, pretty girls, blue skies, castles, Irish pubs, and one of the fairest, greenest and most architecturally-rich cities in Europe.

Read Part One Here

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