My eldest lad, Stephen is currently enjoying his student career in arguably the party capital of the United Kingdom.
I am of course referring to Newcastle.
Believe it or not, I had never been to Newcastle prior to 2011, when I first visited him up there, a shocking state of affairs if you think about it, considering my boast about being a seasoned traveller. I have tried to rectify this by visiting again and this weekend just passed, Mrs PM and I arranged to spend a night on the Toon with Stephen.
Newcastle is about three and a half hours away by car and this time I suggested that we catch the train instead of driving so that we could relax and spend the journey with more cerebral pursuits such as reading and in-depth analysis of the nuances of progressive rock (in my case at least).
In the end, my attempts to satisfy my intellectual side were slightly thwarted by what proved to be a very interesting train journey.
The train was full of people travelling to the various stops along the way, such as Huddersfield, Leeds and York. The people who were travelling to Newcastle were the most interesting; those visiting for a good time.
A group of boisterous lads walked past us and left one of their mates coughing his guts up next to the door. As he caught them up, I heard him say to one of his mates:
“Oy! You’re supposed to be looking after me tonight! What chance do I stand if you leave me choking by the door?”
This was one of a couple of stag parties that were on their way to Newcastle.
Right next to us were a group of young women who immediately extracted several alcoholic beverages from their bags when they sat down and proceeded to drink them with gusto. They were all yapping away as you imagine a group of young girls about to go for a night out on the town would do – but their animated conversation did not cause me or any of the passengers to scream “Please keep it down ladies!” in frustration.
All of the young women were deaf.
Each one of them was signing frantically, so much so that their hands were blurred. Their activity was punctuated by the odd noise but apart from that it was pure silence and animated mouthing and lip reading. One of the girls at one stage took something out of her suitcase and struggled to close it again, choosing to sit on it, in the aisle right next to me, and repeatedly bounce on it in a futile attempt to close it.
I couldn’t help myself; it was so funny that I ended up smiling. She looked at me and laughed and then mouthed “Sorry”. I mouthed “It’s OK!” back.
We arrived in Newcastle and checked into our hotel, arranging to meet Stephen there. He turned up looking slightly subdued.
“What’s the matter with you?” I asked. He is normally a chatty young lad. And then it dawned on me.
“Are you hung over?” I asked.
“I’ve felt better,” he confessed. “I didn’t get in until 3am last night.”
After a late lunch we wandered around the city for a while. Mrs PM was tired so went back to the hotel for a snooze, leaving Stephen and I to go to the cinema to see Olympus Has Fallen.
I noticed that the volume of music from various establishments was extremely loud and remarked upon this.
“It’s only 5pm; these places sound like night clubs.”
“This is Newcastle,” said Stephen as if that was the sole reason for the activity.
After the film, we collected Mrs PM and went to a pub for a pre-dinner drink. The pub we chose was very noisy and full of large groups of men and women ready for a big night out. There were three hen parties and a stag party, the latter of which had reserved a table that was absolutely full of beer. Most of them were already drunk.
Maybe I’m getting old but it was just a bit too much for me. I suggested somewhere else but it seemed that everywhere was the same. All I wanted was a nice quiet drink and a lovely meal. We had earmarked a restaurant and by the time we got there it was absolutely full.
Eventually, we found a combined bar/eating establishment and managed to get a table. Although it was noisy, the food was superb and I spent the time chatting and watching the other customers. Most of them were young and wearing hardly any clothes. The men wore T-shirts despite the chill and some of the women wore very tight-fitting dresses.
I had to avert my eyes lest Mrs PM punch me in front of my son.
As the evening wore on, the place we were in slowly changed its emphasis. The diners slipped away and a DJ appeared just to my right, playing loud music, as younger people started to enter the establishment.
The sheer volume of music drove me to distraction and I suggested that we call it a night. Stephen was fine with that because he was still recovering from last night’s exertions.
The time was 11pm.
We left Stephen and strolled back to the hotel. Every building seemed to be bursting with life; youngsters congregated outside a seemingly endless number of late night drinking establishments, each louder than the rest, with all manner of loud music bursting out of them. Bouncers joked with perspective customers before letting them in.
I saw one young lad throwing up against a wall as his mates stood around chanting
“CHUNDER! CHUNDER! CHUNDER!”.
as if vomiting were a right of passage.
It was yet another poor stag suffering from a massive bout of overindulgence.
When we got back to the hotel, there was a wedding reception in full swing. Large numbers of well-dressed men and women in varying states of high-spiritedness and inebriation wandered about the hotel as we climbed the stairs to our first floor room. Loud music blared from a nearby suite marking the place where the happy couple were celebrating.
We were about to open the glass door to the corridor leading to our room when we spotted a man on the other side of the door staring at us like a member of the cast of The Walking Dead.
I opened the door and said “After you,”.
He muttered something unintelligible and quite literally wobbled through the door. It was then I noticed the vomit stains down his shirt – another victim of overindulgence.
Our night was fairly restful but, being a light sleeper, I was woken up a couple of times by various party animals returning to their rooms in the wee small hours.
We awoke early on Sunday morning and enjoyed a fabulous English breakfast with quite a few other diners, a lot of whom were nursing hangovers.
Mrs PM and I were fully healthy and followed breakfast with a stroll along the Quayside area, enjoying the scenery and the market adjacent to the Gateshead Millennium Bridge. Unlike the previous night the city was peaceful and the night clubs and bars we passed were all quiet and closed up, seemingly resting until the masses descended for the next party.
We met Stephen for a final coffee and lunch and watched the Gateshead Millennium Bridge tilt upwards to allow a couple of boats underneath.
I didn’t know it did that.
Before we said goodbye to Stephen, I handed over some money to help him cope with life as a student, making him promise to spend it on food rather than another night of debauchery.
“Of course,” he reassured me. “I’ve got work to do, you know – and I DO have to eat.”
On the train on the way back we shared the coach with a bunch of other lads who had been to Newcastle for a stag party and although they were a little worse for wear they were still quite boisterous.
I realised then that I am too old for that kind of thing and while Newcastle is a great place to visit, the social life is a little too intense for a decrepit old git like me. I can still enjoy watching it though – it is a great place for people watching.
That didn’t stop others my age, I have to say.
As Stephen says, this is Newcastle.