I always thought that afternoon tea is quintessentially an English middle class thing taken by ladies of a certain statute that live in the Home Counties and are in town for the day doing a little bit shopping. Why do I think like this, well this image was forged during my childhood watching classic movies like Random Harvest where someone like Ronald Colman would end a tiring day at parliament entertaining his wife in their tea rooms to an assortment of sandwiches scones and cakes. Whilst the frozen northerner is neither an MP nor middle class he is now finding that he is gradually being exposed more and more to the concept of afternoon tea by my wife the Contessa Di La Proctero. Why we have started taking afternoon tea I absolutely no idea but, deep down I suspect that my wife thinks this what people around a certain bracket should do (in my case we are taking people over 60). In my more formative years taking part in such a ritual would completely unheard of but, as the years ebb away things change and so must you. Introduced into Britain in 1840 by in all probability the then Duchess of Bedford, I could argue afternoon tea is more popular now than it has ever been mainly due the fact that is now embraced by people of all classes which is the way it should be, God know how many places are now serving it, you may see it as somewhat of an extravagance that can be taken only at places such as the Ritz, Claridges or the Dorchester or you may just like the simplicity of afternoon tea at Marks and Spencer, it does not matter as long as you like it, most menus follow a tried and tested formula which works really well although, there some establishments like The Running Fox in Felton, Northumberland that offer a more rustic approach that works equally as well. Is the Contessa Di La Proctero going to transform the frozen northerner from his cloth cap roots to something to more sophisticated, I wouldn’t think so, but that is not going to stop me enjoying afternoon tea.
The thing that I love about blogging is that it normally requires a certain amount of research and with the introduction of the internet, information on all sorts of things is more readily available than ever before. But in some cases, precious little data can be found which makes the subject in question a lot more interesting, as in the case of the immortal Colin Veitch. Now unless you are bit of football aficionado the chances are that you will have never heard of the highly gifted and very fascinating Mr Veitch. Born in the Heaton area of Newcastle, this talented Heatonian first came to notice when attending the city’s Rutherford College where his interests were not just confined to football, where Veitch flourished as a scholar excelling in a variety of subjects. The first captain of Newcastle Schools, Veitch signed for Newcastle United in the summer of 1899 and became part of Newcastle United’s greatest ever side, a team, which would dominate football during the Edwardian era winning the league championship on three occasions and appearing in six FA cup finals but winning it only once in 1910 when they beat Barnsley after a replay. A man with strong socialist sympathies, Veitch scandalously won only six caps for England, a disappointment that one cannot help but think that this rather limited international career, may have been severely hampered by his involvement in the players union which, in 1909 took industrial action against the FA. Veitch should have gained a lot more than a paltry six caps but typically of the FA at that time or any other time for that matter, the FA allowed their air of superiority to impair their judgement and they looked the other way when it came to selecting a genuine genius of a player again, a player so good that he could play with equal brilliance in any position on the park with the exception of goalkeeper. Retiring in 1914 at the onset of the First World War Veitch served in France reaching the level of 2nd Lieutenant before returning home to re-join Newcastle United working in various capacities, he stayed at the club till 1926 where he was unceremoniously sacked. After spending a brief spell as manager at Bradford City he returned to his beloved Newcastle to work as a journalist on the Evening Chronicle, his outspoken views on his former club would see him being banned from the press box at his former club. Not that would bother Veitch too much, unlike your average footballer at that particular time that could often be seen to fall on hard times; the academic Veitch had wide range of diverse interests immersing himself in the arts and politics. The labour party begged him to stand for parliament an offer which he politely declined, choosing to spend his time moving in literary circles, befriending amongst others, George Bernard Shaw,Veitch was also a founding member of the Peoples Theatre in Heaton where often performed on the stage alongside his actress wife Minnie. Veitch is one of the most fascinating player I have ever come across but, in all honesty the amount of information available about charismatic Veitch is fairly small and limited, which is tragedy became if ever a footballer deserved legendary status this is the man. Everything that I read about has led me to conclude that despite his outstanding sporting accomplishments I really think that he should have stood to become a member of parliament as a Labour MP and who knows what he could have achieved championing the working man. Unfortunately there is no monument or statue outside of St James Park to recognise his achievements only a small plaque at 1 Stratford Villas in Heaton where he lived while playing for Newcastle United which is rather sad because for man of his stature, there should be monument like Nelson’s column, modern day players bigger house and a lot more money than the accomplished Mr Veitch but they are nowhere near as talented.
Canals, cycling, café culture cannabis and cheese, The Frozen Northerner spent the bank holiday weekend in the land of Total Football which is of course, Holland. The last time I was in Holland was a very interesting experience which saw me engaging in a ridiculous journey trying to get home in the wake of the Icelandic dust cloud with Amsterdam just one of the many stops I made whilst crisscrossing across Europe. This trip had been meticulously researched by the Contessa Di La Proctero and saw us stay in medieval city of Haarlem as opposed to the more obvious choice of Amsterdam. Oh, my god what a surprise this place turned out to be, with its winding cobbled streets and glorious canals Haarlem proved to be one best city breaks I have experienced in a long time. If you are there on a Saturday you really must go the Grot Markt and sample their street market which is absolutely wonderful, while there take in Haarlem’s superb cathedral with its gothic charm, thereafter you may that wander around the narrow streets and canals before heading down to river and view the charming windmill Molen De Adriaan. With its numerous museums also to visit believe me you will wonder where your days went, if walking is not your bag then hire a bicycle and see this very underrated city from a different perspective or just sit outside one the many pubs and cafes and have coffee or something stronger and watch the world go by. In an evening the choices of place to eat and drink are endless but you must a least make one trip to Jopenkerk which is church that has been turned into brewery/restaurant/bar serving up traditional Dutch ales. The only downside to this trip was that it was all too short and in my ignorance Haarlem was a place that I had completely underestimated, from the way that I salivated over Haarlem it pretty obvious that I will return to this undiscovered gem of a city it just matter of when, so the next time you’re thinking going to Amsterdam don’t, go to Haarlem instead you won’t be disappointed.
The Frozen Northerner is not, as has previously been noted, a huge fan of large department stores such as Selfridges, Harrods, Harvey Nichols and the like, he prefers the much smaller fast disappearing independent retailers that are dotted around the country. Having said that there is one department store that I absolutely adore and that is Rutherford’s of Morpeth or to give the shop its proper title G Rutherford and Co Ltd. Why do I love this shop, I have absolutely no idea, maybe it’s just its quirkiness or maybe it reminds me of the long gone and much lamented Wooster’s which used to situated in Pudding Chare, Newcastle, I really don’t know, but any visit to this popular Northumberland market town will see me drop in just to see what they have on offer. This family run business started out as a small draper’s shop back in 1846 and is still run by the Rutherford Family, in the shape of managing director Richard Rutherford which sees a fifth generation Rutherford in charge of the store. How a shop such as this can survive with the advent of internet shopping and out of town retailers such as the Metro Centre I am not sure, but it would be a tragedy if this shop was to ever to disappear. This shop has everything from home furnishing to cookware to men’s and women’s fashion as well as all sorts of other items too numerous to mention, is it all top end stuff no but that’s not the point, Rutherford’s really is a great store, simply because it is Rutherford’s, is it ever going to overtake the likes of Fenwick’s then the answer is a firm no, but please go because you will find that Rutherford’s is a lot more fun.
In the summer of 1971 The Frozen Northerner would recline in his mother’s front room with his three best mates and let Terry Swinhoe read to us the juicier bits of Richard Allen’s cult bestseller Skinhead. Featuring the legendary Joe Hawkins, Richard Allen’s books were a must for working class lads in the north east of England or anywhere else in the country for that matter. We didn’t listen to Terry because we couldn’t read, Terry just made it that little bit more spicy, especially when talking about Joe sexual escapades. So when I stumbled upon Old Dog Books and came across “Who the Hell is Frank Wilson” by Pete McKenna, I thought the book warranted further investigation. Set to the backdrop of Wigan Casino the story revolves around aspiring young DJ “Epic” trying to become a face on the then thriving northern soul scene. Add to this, Blackpool gangsters, council corruption, bent coppers, the IRA and lots and lots of cocaine and you have recipe for a half decent book. Unless you are a fan of northern soul, you have probably never heard of Frank Wilson who worked as a record producer for the renowned Tamla-Motown label during the 60’s and early 70’s. What makes him so special is that he recorded the classic northern soul anthem Do I Love You (Indeed I Do), now while this may mean nothing to the uninitiated, owning an original copy of this revered single was and still is worth a lot of money. One the main characters Ronnie Hardman wants a copy badly, more for personal reasons than anything else, although the monetary value of the record is certainly not lost on him. Obtaining an original copy is not going to be easy for Ronnie who is more than happy to use an excessive amount of violence to achieve his objectives. The ambitious Epic has to deal with all challenges thrown down by Ronnie as well as some other nefarious charmers and it does not always have a happy outcome for Epic, but that is part of the attraction of the book. Did The Frozen Northerner enjoy the book, the answer would have to be a resounding yes, nothing is going transport us any of us back to that magical time of my life so reading about is just about the next best thing. The only downside was that it would appear that somebody at Old Dog Books have appeared not have proof read the book, as is quite often a considerable amount of text missing in parts of the book which was hugely disappointing, that aside the only question left to answer is where am I going to find Terry Swinhoe to read out the juicer bits.
The frozen northerner has just returned from his third holiday of the year, which took me and my wife the Contessa di la Proctero to the island of Ischia. Situated in the Bay of Naples, Ischia is the largest island in the bay alongside the more famous isle of Capri and the enchanting island of Procida. It is well documented that I have a long standing love affair with all things Italian so it was going to interesting to see what I made of my first trip to this volcanic isle. We stayed at the Hotel Durrelli which was located about 10 minutes from Ischia Town in one direction and about 10 minutes from Ischia Ponte in the other. The view from our balcony offered us a panoramic view of the islands as well as the north of Naples and Sorrento as well the island’s own Castello Aragonese which was quite spectacular. Although the hotel had a more than adequate pool area, the frozen northerner and his wife tended to wile away their hours at Maronti beach which, was about 20 minutes away from the hotel by bus. Prior to my holiday I had been informed that transport on the island was poor but I found this not to be the case with local bus service both regular and frequent. If like me sunbathing and reading is your bag then Maroni Beach is a must, with its beautiful unspoilt beach and that gentle breeze wafting in off the sea I could have stayed there forever. In the evening I tended to alternate between going to the Town and Porte. If you head to the town wander up and down via Colonna and savour some of best Italian fashion on offer or just sit in some café with a nice glass of red wine and people watch like I tend to do. Both areas as you would expect are bustling with a huge amount of restaurants and bars, personally my two favourites were the Caffe Morelli where I tended to enjoy a Campari Spritz and the bar/delicatessen Ischia Sulumi, as well as serving up some of the best hams and cheeses I have ever tasted this little gem offered great alternatives to beers like Peroni and Moretti by offering a great range of beers made by the Neapolitan micro-brewery Birra Maneba which were absolutely outstanding. Sundays in the shadow of the Castello Aragonese were spent watching the locals play water polo surrounding by yachts of all shapes and sizes, with sun beating down on that flawless blue sea, your mind is entitled to stray to thoughts of retiring and give up the rat race, god I am so tempted when I am in places like this. I could probably talk endlessly about Ischia because it a place I really loved, but no good talking about it, you must go and discover it for yourself, you won’t be disappointed.
Despite the fact Roger Federer won his 18TH grand slam title the frozen northerner found this year’s Wimbledon was a rather insipid affair, what with Sue Barker’s constant fawning and Andrew Castle’s slimy commentary the BBC really need to take a long hard look at their sports coverage, as it appears to be looking rather tired and dated. God, the amount of times I was told that Roger Federer is the greatest player of all time begged belief, Roger is great there is no doubt about it, but the greatest of all time, sorry, better than Laver, Borg, McEnroe, Sampras, Gonzales, Kramer, Budge and Tilden then the answer has to be firm no. All of Federer’s titles have been won in the open era of tennis which has only been around since 1968, thus severely restricted the careers of players of the calibre of Gonzales Kramer, Budge, hell, when Tilden turned pro in 1930 he had won 10 grand slam titles without appearing at Wimbledon every year, never mind Roland Garros or the Australian. Borg’s 11 Grand slam were all achieved in very short space of time before he left the sport at the tender age of 26, if he had played on who knows what he might have won, now I know what you are thinking which is that the frozen northerner just does not like Federer which is far from the truth, it is that I just think there have been better, I need to be convinced by Federer and I am not, oh and there’s another thing, Budge and Laver can argue about, Grand Slams, they are the only players to win all four Grand Slam titles in a calendar year with Laver doing it twice. Furthermore the likes of Laver and co nearly always competed in the doubles and mixed doubles at these major events making their task of consistently winning the singles titles just that little bit harder. What makes these kinds of assessments so difficult is that there is very little footage of the early great players and there aren’t too many people around who can remember Tilden or Budge, or even Ellsworth Vines, who the very shrewd Jack Kramer though was the greatest player ever to lift a racket. People like Kramer, Dan Maskell and Bud Collins spent the life constantly assessing players and their expertise greatly outweighs my rather limited knowledge. However, for me personally no one is ever going to get past Laver, who for me was pretty much incomparable, Borg would probably be my number two with the despised McEnroe at number three. The BBC commentary team can wax lyrically as long as they want about Roger who is truly great, it’s just that he is not the greatest.