Christmas is always a really big deal with my family. We get so into the decorations, and cooking up a gajillion sweets and goodies, and just being very festive, and it was something I found myself missing (quite to my surprise – I didn’t actually think I’d care) as I travelled around. So it was lovely getting to spend a few days before Christmas with the Heslops, who do Christmas just as festively and who totally made me feel like part of the family while I was there.
I got to stay with the Heslops courtesy of my friend Ruth, the youngest in the family. I’d met Ruth and Kate, two filmmakers from Newcastle, on a previous trip to Zagreb, and we’d gone to Budapest together, where we’d drunk too much Unicum and bemoaned the existence of Geordie Shore. Ruth was sweet enough to let me stay with her family, even though her brother and his girlfriend were up for Christmas and they had a full house.
People often say people in the north (of the UK) are nicer, and Ruth’s parents were definitely some of the nicest people I’d met. Pat and Alan made me feel so at home, and they were just hilarious. They’d all be telling funny stories and playfully bullying each other and were so jolly and wonderful. They were also super thoughtful about me being unable to handle gluten, and would make me gluten free versions of whatever they were eating. I loved staying with them.
One of the things I learned about Newcastle was that Geordie’s honestly feel really fortunate to live there. Ruth and Kate and their friends did, and when we popped down to the Lit and Phil society, there was a whole section just on Newcastle, which really emphasized their town pride.
I also really liked this series of benches they had around the city, all of which had a glass section saying ‘9 things to do on a bench’ and then each bench had a different suggestion – like this one which said “looking up at them, looking down on you.” How wonderfully whimsical.
The other thing I learned about Newcastle is that half the people there seem completely immune to the cold and would wander around in just t-shirts or tiny dresses while I had my three layers and scarf and gloves on.
It was nice getting to see the places that Ruth and Kate had grown up around; there was the pub around the corner from Ruth’s where we met up with Kate and a few of their other friends the first night I was there, and just hung out. I’ve never really experienced pub culture before (unless hanging out at Shady Pines or the Roundhouse counts) and I thought it was really cool that you could just go down to the pub and there’d be people you knew just waiting there for you to hang out with.
Ruth had planned to take me to some galleries but I much prefered to just wander around and see the town. As a bit of a tea fanatic, I was particularly tickled by the Monument to the 2nd Earl Grey, who Earl Grey tea is named after, at the top of Grey’s Rd.
I also loved the windows at Fenwicks, which are kind of like the David Jones Christmas windows we have in Sydney, but they’d decked them out with scenes from Alice in Wonderland, which is one of my all time favourite stories. We visited Kate at her work (Fat Face), then spent the afternoon having tea and bangers and mash at this cute little cafe staffed by this really kooky guy who joined us as we compared the smells of our hand creams.
And we went out in Newcastle. Apparently Mondays are usually huge – student nights – but because it was just before Christmas and a lot of students had gone home to their families, it wasn’t quite as busy as usual. We went to some grungy places, including this dive bar called Gotham. It had sticky floors and filthy bathrooms, but played good rock music and served trebles. The whole concept of trebles was so foreign to me; why would you shove three shots of vodka and coke into one glass – it makes it taste foul, and is harder to get down than shots. This is apparently a mainstay of Newcastle clubbing though, so I gave it a go before deciding that it really wasn’t for me.
Gotham was totally happening though! Ruth thought I would hate it because evidently I give off the vibe of being a bit of an elitist princess when it comes to going out, but I loved that everyone was dancing, and that there were so many people who were trying to do all this fancy footwork and show off to each other. It’s a lot more fun when people treat dancing as a hobby and you try to learn and teach each other new moves.
We went to so many places, because everything was closing early due to it being the week of Christmas. We definitely started off at nicer places than we ended up – one of the last places was blasting Black Eyed Peas and Christmas songs over their speakers. I’ve never ever heard Christmas songs when clubbing before, but in Newcastle they were getting on rotation every few songs. I was not a fan. Kate loved it though! We finally ended up at a gay club, and once it got the point where the music degenerated into just a succession of Christmas songs, we called it a night.
Ruth managed to make a huge, lovely breakfast for us the next morning before she went to work, and I took some time to just relax before I caught my coach to Edinburgh. Ruth and Kate had been right when they’d said that Newcastle’s so much better than Geordie Shore makes it out to be, and I was really glad I’d gotten to see some of it.