Here are some random stories about different parts and places in my life – they aren’t in any order and there’s always more to come…..

A bit more about being a bairn in The Toon.

I think I was about seven when we moved to Irthing Avenue in Walker.  It was the shortest time we lived anywhere when I was little but some of the most important threads in my life started here. It was the upstairs of a pair of flats but these were like semis with tiny gardens in the front and an alleyway at the side. The backlane was unusual on Tyneside because it wasn’t wide enough for a car- it was a pedestrian backlane with cobbles and a gutter running down the middle like a Manchester ginnel. Me dad built a bench seat in the yard and as nobody else had a seat, all of our friends used to play in our yard. But this house had no shortage of good places to play – in front of the house was a big rectangle of waste ground. The weeds grew really high and we would lie amongst them, unseen by the world, we thought.  On the other side of the backlane was Allendale Road, running north to south down to Walker Road and the river. This was my first connection with the Tyne. I don’t know if I’d even been over it at that point – we wouldn’t have had any connection with South Tyneside but imagine spending seven years in Newcastle and not knowing the Tyne, but I was only a bairn. more


Secret Shops

written in 2008

I recently went to Plovidv, the second city of Bulgaria. Arriving late in the evening with 2 hours before meeting my children from the train, I wandered aimlessly around the lovely old streets and then found myself on a pedestrian street lined with shops. This is probably to be expected in a city centre but I’ve been living in some degree of hibernation in a small village in northern Bulgaria and I was rather startled to see the clothes, the colours, the shoes, the window displays –all that normal stuff. The happy hand of shopping beckoned to me – fortunately the shops were closed but hey – window shopping is a good second best.

I began to feel nostalgic about shopping. That is not to be confused with “spending money”. You know the conversation – usually, maybe always with women friends, where you both agree that a bit of retail therapy is the only realistic course of action. We would never say, ‘lets go and spend some money’ – indeed that would probably have the opposite effect and will make you feel more depressed. more

Things that haven’t happened….yet.

sam_0102This isn’t a story about regret. It’s recognising that there’s a big list of really great ideas that I’ve had at different points in my life that may have slipped into the world of fantasy. Take horses for instance. Maybe it was the years of growing up with early TV that was full of Westerns and people galloping off towards the horizon – the very wide horizon. I don’t think it was the galloping off bit that got me, it was the sense of freedom when you’re on a horse in wide open country. Actually, it’s quite hard to be in wide open country without a horse and it is wonderful to be carried around amazing places with no roads anywhere, for miles. But those cowboys had grown up on horses and so of course, there was no fear and they just trundled off to wherever they wanted with relaxed ease.  more

Something to do.

snowIn order to survive a period of hibernation, ie, not to die or go crazy, there are a few essentials that you need to get together. Apart from the first thing on this list, there isn’t a real order of priority and you could, of course, add to the list, but in my opinion, the basics are: about 6 cubic metres of wood; a cellar full of food; a load of alcohol; a big bag of grass and something to do.

I learned this a few years ago when I spent my first winter in Voditsa in Bulgaria. I was very naïve about what an Eastern European winter actually meant – so much so that the very first year that I was in the village, arriving in August, I rashly decided that I would stay for the winter. My new Bulgarian friend, Svetlana, who doesn’t mince her words, looked at me, narrowed her eyes and said ‘If you stay here this winter, you will die.’ more


20150216_145947 Being a Bairn in The Toon. part 1.

The first house that I lived in isn’t there any more. Chapman Street, in the East End of Newcastle was pulled down as part of the development of the Metro sometime in the late 70s. It was a long row of Tyneside Flats – front doors in pairs – the first one leading to the downstairs flat which had two bedrooms and the next door went upstairs to a three-bedroom flat. When the women cleaned their doors and their frontstep, they would kneel on the inside and wash a semi-circle of the pavement in front of the door as far as they could reach. Grandma Webb reckoned you could tell what kind of house it was by the state of the front door and the clean pavement. more



From Castle Douglas to the foothills of the Himalayas…..

Fagu looking down

Bilbo Baggins said that stepping out of your front door was a very dangerous thing – you never knew quite where you’d end up. One typical Scottish day, grey and raining, with my partner Davy and two year old Elly, I stepped out of the front door of my sister Lynne’s place at Dunjarg and set off down the very muddy track to begin a pretty long journey. We were off to India.

Since the India idea had been sown, it had germinated and fairly quickly grew to reality. We had sold the house and got rid of everything. I held a jumble sale in the house, gave things away and loaned things to people. Years later, I’d go into people’s houses, recognize something that I used to live with and ask: “Did I give you this or lend you it?” But that day, we had two bags and I have many times thought of the wonderful freedom of that moment. All we owned was what we carried, we had no home and nowhere to go back to, just a destination and it just happened to be on the other side of the planet.  more



woodWritten in Bulgaria in November 2007. I was beginning my first winter in Eastern Europe.

The word “convenient” doesn’t really figure in my life right now. In fact I’d go so far as to say most of my life is very inconvenient if you look at it from the point of view of someone living in western Europe. Interestingly though, its not getting me down. Convenience suggests something that saves time but time has a completely different set of parameters here so the benefits of convenience are also up for question. Sometimes I do take a bit of a detached look at my life and notice what I’m actually doing at that moment – like going out in the rain to collect a pile of logs – not a big thing but not very convenient if you think in terms of central heating. more




partyA Banned Russian Painkiller.

There’s something quite magical about an impromptu party – the kind that just happens when just the right amount of alcohol meets the perfect tune to get you off your seat, and, of course the right people. The number of people doesn’t matter – it’s the quality of their energy that counts. I came home from the bar one night in Voditsa with Elly and Dancho after a really good evening and, apparently, just the right amount of alcohol. We went into the house and turned on the music and suddenly the three of us started dancing around the floor. A little more alcohol and some energetic searching on the computer for just the right song that someone wanted to dance to and there we were – having a party. more



A Cure for Sea Sickness

goaI used to always get seasick. Even going over to Skye on the ten minute ferry from mainland Scotland made me queasy. Once, as I went to get the boat across the North Sea to Denmark, the sight of the waves crashing into Tynemouth pier made me ill before I even got on the onboard. But being a compulsive traveller, I’ve learned to deal with it and I was quite prepared to spend the whole of the twenty four hour boat journey from Bombay to Goa, in a horizontal position.

This didn’t look like a bad proposition actually because we had to sleep out on deck and it was either gorgeous warm sunshine or beautiful moonlight plus there were loads of dolphins swimming alongside.  more

The Things that Stick

toddyThe things that become part of your life are different from the things that you just learn about when you live in a new place. Most places that I’ve lived have left some impression on me but a few have left me with a new habit has become an indelible part of my life.

Take Ireland for instance. It was a chance conversation that took us there and between making the decision and packing up my life in Britain, I didn’t really have much time to research or even think about the new country I was about to live in. I have to be honest about this bit and share the shock that I got when I actually got there.

Living on the largest of the British Isles, there is an assumption that everyone on all of the other islands in our little archipelago, looks the same, speaks the same and is the same. I had unconsciously subscribed to this line of thought and I had a rude awakening when I went across the Irish sea. more



feb-19th-09The North Wind doth blow….

Written in January 2009

I’ve just been out to get some milk from my friend Naem who lives down the road and has 6 cows. I was also getting water from the spring. As I walked back up the road, I closed my eyes and, except for the lack of salt air, I could have been walking along a beach in Northumberland and not a village in northern Bulgaria. The wind was blowing viciously from the North just like the bitter wind that hurls across the North Sea – it cut into my skin; nipped my fingers; made my eyes water; made my gums hurt and made the top of my head feel tight. Bliss.