City of Mabgate

Last week, in my infinite curiosity, I finally got around to trying the other local baths, which I’ll call B – It’s a bit further away, it’s not run directly by the council but by a community organisation, and its big draw is that it’s basically a perfectly-preserved Edwardian bathhouse. Opened in 1904, fell derelict at some point in the 20th century, then restored and reopened by the council in 1992, then threatened with closure in 2012, and passed into the hands of the community in 2013, where it’s now staffed by a mixture of enthusiastic volunteers and paid staff, and is a proper community hub again.

The most striking thing about it, from my point of view, is how green it is – Everything that in a “modern” bath would be blue is green – Green lane markings, pale green tiled walls, green wrought ironwork around the balcony and holding up the beautiful glass roof, green painted wood on the cubicle doors and even green lights in the corridor into the main bath. The slipper baths are long gone, and have been replaced by a gym, but there’s a hot plunge pool that I plan on investigating, and a banya that’s still in good working order and is frankly much needed. The pool is accessed by two sets of stone steps, the pool edge is brilliantly non-slip gritstone, and it ranges from 90cm to 175cm at the deep end – Not deep enough for anything other than a shallow dive, but also not so shallow that a tuck-turn is impossible (Though it is a challenge at the 90cm end if you’ve got long legs and shoddy technique, like I have).


When I was there, there were lane ropes in, and the swimmers ranged from “slow” to “standing completely still”. I’ll try a few more sessions to see if any sense of lane discipline can be instilled into the regulars, but if not I’ll make it my Official Floatytime Pool, where I go to relax and steam, rather than to train. And honestly, floating in salt water, lit by gaslamps, staring up at the stars? Not a bad way to spend an evening.


Relatedly: This is all making me very hopeful for the reopening of Newcastle’s 1920s Turkish bath and city pool, which I used to swim in as a teenager, and whose restoration was announced just a few months ago.


Anyway, I rode over on Monday night, parked in the incredibly convenient disabled parking space right outside the front door, swam about 400m, steamed, did a further 400m, steamed again, then 200m, then more steam, then rode home again. i might do the same in daylight later on this week.


Also this week, the social worker has been around again, has worked out that she can’t help me at all, other than to see if I was eligible for a personal budget to hire a carer, and now I don’t want anything, because the thought of having to talk to someone, even as an employee rather than a friend, is horrifying. On the other hand, having someone to take me swimming, possibly even swim with me in the water to help me keep pace, then ladle me back into my clothes and help me get back home could be useful.


And, finally, I’m researching bikes again, specifically “How on earth am I going to push a bike around the Mod 1 track?”


So here’s some stats; My 125 weighs 140kg, and is 95 inches long. The bike that I eventually want (That Suzuki Intruder VZ800 that’s been sitting at the local garage for months, calling to me…) is 98 inches long, and weighs 200kg.



(That’s her. That’s Trudy. 2010. Less than 9k miles. ¬£4,ooo. She’s been fluttering her eyelashes at me ever since I picked up the Marauder after his 30,000 mile service.)

This is not a huge difference, but it might be enough to cause me issues. I think it’s about time that I booked in for some Direct Access lessons, to see how I feel about getting out and about on a big bike. Instinct and experience suggests that I’ll be smiling so much that the top of my head will be in danger of falling off, but caution also says that I need to really think hard and prepare well before trying a test.

Logic also says that since the Mod 1’s expiry is tied to the theory test’s expiry, I should try to do the two as close to each other and as close to the start of my DA lessons as possible, to give me the longest possible time before needing to re-take anything, in which to take my Mod 2.


As it stands;


My CBT was passed in August, giving me 21 months remaining.


The weather and, importantly for my mental health, daylight starts to pick up in about March, and that’s when I’d want to start doing my lessons. If I did my Theory in March, I’d have 18 months remaining in which to get my Mod1 and Mod2.


Finally, my lessons will take about a month or two, at the shortest (Starting with 8 and going from there), meaning that I’ll probably want to take my Mod1 in about April or May.


Assuming a pass in May, that’d give me a neat sixteen months in which to pass my Mod 2, and about five months before the weather got bad again and we lost the light going back into Autumn.


So, a vague timescale would be to take my Theory in March, my Mod1 in May and then my Mod2 in about July, giving me enough time to do plenty of lessons but not to have too long a gap after the last one before taking a test, since I know that I’ve already got bad habits on the 125 that I need to stamp out before doing a test (I spend far too much time with the clutch pulled in, for example).


It’s all pretty hopeful.


Finally, sadly, it’s pissed it down all day today, so I’ve not had time to take any pictures of my nice, clean, rust-proofed bike that I love possibly slightly too much to be natural. Tomorrow I’m going to wax him again and get photos before it gets too miserable.


Cherry Menthol Sea Monster

So, my two days up North were actually awesome. I’d packed light (Everything I needed fitted into the pockets of my leather jacket, including a change of clothes, a toothbrush and toothpaste, medication, soap, a support bandage, phone, wallet, keys, passport, notebook, multiple pens and a selection of empty vials for emergency use) meaning that I didn’t have to worry about where I was staying – No need to check in to the hostel, or commit to catching the last train to Algernon’s or back home, or to staying with Sambuca, I could just see where the night ended up. One of my big fears is of being socially stuck with people for extended periods, so having a handful of options which would let me have the option of sidestepping society was an important part of persuading me to travel. Even knowing that Sambuca always has a spare bed made up for me, I’m still always going to book a hostel bed in advance when I do this again, just in case.

Met up with Sambuca outside the railway station, and immediately launched back into the same conversations we’d been having in 2006. I seem to have a damn good record on having long-time friends who are really good at taking all of this in their stride (Other than the obvious exception, who will probably get his own blog post one day). We went up to Westgate and ogled about a million bikes. I have seriously fallen for a secondhand Suzuki VanVan; 2014, just over two thousand miles on the clock, previously owned by a couple who used it to pass both of their CBTs, then their Direct Access, then sold it back to the dealership and bought two Triumph Tigers. Every review of the VanVan that I’ve seen has included the words “Squidgy”, “Easy-handling”, “Gentle” and “That back tyre is verrrrry interesting, it’s good on dust and cobbles and makes the low-speed handling really forgiving”. So it’s not just a bit of pretty arsecandy, it’s a sensible machine for a nervous novice.

After that, we got a quick curry, then retreated to our old table in our old pub and sat until one in the morning, drinking a dozen bottles of brown ale and looking at photos of Tokyo (Wow, my ability to read Japanese goes downhill fast when I’m drunk) and photos of our mutual friends’ innumerable children (All, mysteriously, ginger). It turns out that, other than me, everyone still lives within half a mile of the river and east of the bridges and other than a couple who have gone into coupley hibernation, everyone still goes on on a Saturday night. Bliss.

Anyway, by time we got back to his house I was both very, very drunk and had put about a quarter of a bottle of of morphine down my neck to try to stop my hips and clavicles from completely destroying themselves. I’d nearly passed out from pain a couple of times in the pub (More alarming for Sambuca than for me) and had struggled to manage the steps down into the cellar, so I slept in the living room in what could only sensibly be described as a morphine coma, finally being woken up at ten when, in Sambuca’s words “The house woke up”.

I went up to get a shower, and found that my towel still had the tags on it. I came down for breakfast, and there was a whole breakfast bar set out, with four kinds of cereal, multiple teas, and toast. I was informed that the family had gone out, but that all of this had been laid on entirely for me. Basically one step behind buying a hat. And we sat and had a very civilised breakfast, with toast and marmalade, then he drove me down to the far side of the river to catch up with Algernon.

Algernon turned out to be very much trapped at work (match day, in the one pub in the village with satellite), so instead I wandered down to the seafront and managed to get caught up in a massive charity drive on the main street for the long-abandoned saltwater swimming pool – Built in the 20s, used as a pool until the 80s, turned into coldwater scuba training until the 90s, and then filled in with sand and rocks in an attempt at turning it into an “artificial rockpool”, which failed miserably and the whole thing continued to gently rust and corrode into the sea. So I decided to take a walk and went down to the abandoned pool itself and had a good look at it – Amazingly, I’d never seen it before in my life (There is a massive cultural divide between the north and south sides of the river) and it was more than a little eerie, thus perfect. Two massive tanker ships loomed prow-on, turning before they came into the river, but at the moment looking alarmingly like they might smash into the white-painted metal railings. The sea lapped up against the concrete base of the structure, the odd wave crashing over the side, and more water flowed in through the old infill pipe. I stayed for a while, standing where the old diving blocks would have been and sighting along the fifty-metre stretch which was once the main tank, sitting on the concrete steps which made up the viewing gallery, and trying to work out where the old changing rooms would have been. The whole site was strangely resistant to being reclaimed by nature, and it felt more like a ship in a breakers’ yard than anything else. I bought a T-shirt from the fundraisers on the way home, shared what I knew about its long-destroyed sister pool on the south foreshore, and promised to keep in touch.

From there  it was just a matter of getting back on the local train, then the regional train, then back home within three hours. The migraine was kind enough to wait until I went to bed to strike.

Today I am completely destroyed. My clavicles, which were complaining about being upright for so long, have gone on strike and crawled up my throat, my right hip is an immobile wreck, and my wrists are making a noise like a succession of bathroom sinks being thrown off a towerblock roof. But it was worth it.

And lo, that’s the end of the stressful week. Now I’ve only got two things to do in August left – Meeting up with Best Friend for his birthday, then doing my CBT on the 22nd. I think I’ve survived it.