The hurricane has turned the vertical horizontal. I have been warned by the woman serving breakfast at the pub I was staying in that I would get nowhere today; she had had to traipse through fields and weave through barbed wire to make sure the Frosties were on the table for hotel guests. I confused her day further by ordering a very odd breakfast: beans and mushrooms with toast on the side.
She’d never heard anything like it. Where was the meat? How could I not want 37 forms of pig, from rasher to black pudding? I’m the kind of eccentric that steers clear of the abattoir.
Once, in a B&B in Belfast, when the effervescent owner offered me the Full Irish, I asked would it be OK to just have all the bits that weren’t meat.
“You’ll be wanting our vegetarian special then.”
She proceeded to bring a plate covered in every bread imaginable – soda, potato, wholemeal and more smothered in beans. Her smile was so beatific that I felt I must eat it all for fear of disappointing her.
My centre of gravity changed and my legs buckled under the weight of me. I went on a solo tour of the street murals hoping that I would walk down a street that would fill me with so much fear it might shift something in my stomach, but to no avail. Twelve hours later, I did most of my show leaning against a table.
Today, I am visiting three shops in the northeast. The 8.22 to Carlisle is running 70 minutes late, that fits well with my timetable, but Carlisle is the end of the line in all directions. I stand on the platform, staring at the indicator board as though it’s a magic eye picture, hoping that eventually the words “cancelled” will be transformed to “five-minute delay”.
I am both determined and powerless, so I resort to my one course of action, tweeting frustratedly. Helen, who owns all the bookshops I am visiting today, thinks she can pick me up if she can find one clear road. I dawdle around Carlisle. The whole town seems hungover. I see four hangdog men pushing pushchairs disconsolately. Whoever they were on Friday night, they are not any more on Saturday morning.
Helen arrives in a small red Fiat that is an apt rebuttal to all the great big boxy cars that dominate the roads. We take the scenic route close to Hadrian’s Wall and slalom around the fallen branches. We pass Sycamore Gap, a tree that stands beautifully alone between the roll of two hills.
The bookshop in Corbridge is a former church. The preservation order on it means that the pulpit must remain and I stand in it to sign books. The many clerics on my family tree would be happy now. A local optician who is unable to attend has left me some lovely local chocolates to make up for any post-hurricane anxiety.
We move on to the Biscuit Factory, a Newcastle art gallery with a smashing cafe that is just open enough for salad. Sadly, Whitley Bay has been battered, the streets are full of broken glass and the top of the seaside clock has been blown off. Helen decides to postpone tonight’s gig. She gives me a Patti Smith book to keep me company. Now I have a night alone in Newcastle.
I am too tired for a Saturday night. I reckon I could have managed a Tuesday, but Newcastle may just be too darn vivacious for me, alone in my specs and duffel coat. I lock myself in my hotel room with a bag of peanuts, a bottle of wine and the last of my luxury chocolates. I listen to Saturday night build; street singing echoes off the sky.
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