“There's so much to see, and the car park is free...”

A page of curios and bric-a-brac, and in no particular order, this is all stuff that doesn't belong on the 'main' pages, though some may argue that some things here deserve a page of their own but I'm not going to start faffing about with the menu bar again. Expect lots of brief snippets further down (and not too many pics).

PUBLIC PARKS and GARDENS



Raleigh Chopper

The faithful Wilson Chopper, dayglo boyhood companion and getaway vehicle to many a shenanigan, so special was he that after 33 years I can still recall his serial number: NB4046066.

Amazingly stolen thrice, and each time recovered by the lads on Laburnum Avenue, the most memorable time was in the Spring of 1975. I was riding on the Links when a much older kid asked "giz a shot" — buggered off with the bike of course, so after me bubbling not unreasonably like a 9-year-old all the way home, the police came, made notes, then drove me around the Spanish City and along the coast and there, at Cullercoats, was the piece of shit pedalling along the sea front — can still see his terrified face as he was nabbed, the rotten twat.

Huh. Arrived home sadly one Saturday night in 1977 to find my brother Gary — in an uncalled-for move that would delight a modern day NT Council — administering a liberal coating of black Hammerite to my bike-ular chum. Harumph. No-one, no-one should ever mess with a man's wheels.
 
Churchill Playing Fields was the biggest and the bestest. Several acres of sports fields and pitches for healthy folk (usually P.E. teacher dads who garnered neat little rows of prize banners on the rear windows of their Hillman Hunter estates), the proper fun part was the kids' play area smack-dab in the middle, and fenced-off to discourage the dog owners of Holywell Avenue from exercising their giant poodles. A well-thought-out landscaped playground was provided with a central hill through which concrete tunnels ran, somewhere to scurry through on your honkers, bang your head, or indulge in a secret piddle. There were the usual swings and things, one of those treacherous rocking horses with 4 or 5 seat pads (great if you stood on the foot rests, held on to the handles and 'got it going' — responsible for chopping off a few hands I'll bet), a couple of climbing frames shaped like giant spiders, one big enough to walk or ride your bike under.

Now Churchill was extra special for younger kids — I remember my sisters taking me to the play area where in summer you could hire a trike or small bike for a few pence from the council man in a tiny little wooden shed (a nicer cousin of the lighthouse car park attendant). The shed remained there for years and, with bikes inside, locked-up at night with only a small padlock — nothing was pinched or damaged until around the late '70s when it all went up in smoke. Soon the tunnels became teenage drinking dens (nowt to do with me) so that was the end of any early childhood memories there.

The large running track was often used in summer for, well, running tournaments which were a bit drab, until 1978 when The Hell Drivers came from the USA (it said on the posters). Those guys would perform stunts such as drive up ramps and onto two wheels, pop wheelies, jump over lines of old bangers, and ride motorbikes through flaming hoops. That was more like it, and from then on any kid with a bike and a plank of wood would attempt similar things. Luckily hospitals were much nicer places to put Humpty together again in those days (there is still a scar on my forehead from going over the handlebars).

Whitley (or Library) Park used to be a well-tended public garden with a little stream trickling through on a concrete channel, with pathways and a couple of humpback bridges, till it reached a stone waterfall feature which never seemed to work (there was a natural spring in the park, which may have been the source). This was not just somewhere to disappear into following any incidents in the Spanish City, but a place full of deep bushes and dens and trees to climb. The park was a busy maze of interconnecting walks, flower beds and grassy areas, always full of life. I suppose the only decidedly 'wicked' thing we ever got up to here was to dare each other to go into the disabled part of the public toilets, pull the alarm cord and leg it.

Crawford Park is just round the corner from our old house in Paignton Avenue, West Monkseaton, and was the centre of existence until we moved down to Brighton Grove in 1974. The tennis courts, bushes and bowling greens (lovely, summery-sounding and satisfying 'clonk' when the bowls knocked together) are almost as we left them. The bowling pavilion sold 'sports mixtures' in little paper bags and glass bottles of heavenly pop in then-odd flavours like blackcurrant and, er, some red one. We had dens all round the perimeter bushes, moving on to the next following objections from the miserable lot (usually arms-folded women with those 'Paul and Linda' haircuts) whose gardens backed on. The main den was just behind the pavilion with a gap into which you rode your bike like the Batcave. An older kid I knew from school (Paul something, can't recall his second name) and me would hide in the bushes waiting for Sid the park keeper to wander past to a serenade of "Sid-ney, Sid-ney, you're not fit to wipe my bum..." At the bottom entrance to the park lived a dismal guy who had something to do with — or maybe he was — the Mayor, who couldn't seem to grasp the concept of kids and fun and nor did his big black doberman.

Other Parks were of less interest, but the one over the railway footbridge near the site of the old Monkseaton Station goods yard had two fabulous climbing frames, one shaped like a space rocket and one a huge space capsule. There were many play areas in and around the Hillheads estate, best of which was up near the Foxhunters roundabout boasting a giant 'banana' slide with a box at the top you could sit in, and a giant spinning 'witches hat' (another thing banned through loss of limbs). And Souter Park, well, nothing to us but a treetop den accessed by climbing on top of the bogs and the nearby ovular grassy miniature bike 'race track' (still there).

THE CINDER TRACK and HOLYWELL DENE

The Cinder Track is the disused railway which begins in the bushes to the left of the entrance to Hartley Avenue, down through the subway beneath Monkseaton Drive, past the odd pile of free newspapers dumped in a ditch, and on for literally yonks to The Avenue at Seaton Delaval and New Hartley. Whether during the school holidays or at the weekend, we would get the bikes out, pump up the tyres, make sure all nuts were tight (with special Chopper spanner), and spend all day in the open countryside beyond where Whitley Lodge and the golf course go back to nature.

“Freedom is a dusty road, heading to a highway...”

My favourite stretch was on reaching the bridge for the Beehive road (or Hartley Lane), ringed by endless cornfields as tyres sloshed through crispy-topped cowpats, before dipping down into the dark woodland of Holywell Dene, whispering trees and the ghostly silhouette of the footbridge. Up onto the bridge (it must have been brill standing on here when steam trains chuffed through the trees and passed beneath) and riding like Billy-O along the long, twisty path, past the top farm and down to the old mill (though now a ruin, unless it has gone completely, at around 1975/6 there were a couple of old rusty cars parked outside and dusty net curtains up at the windows suggesting someone may have still lived there, which was creepy in itself). Over the stone bridge crossing the dene, and a very steep climb up to the white Delaval Arms on top of the hill (weren't allowed a couple of cold refreshing pints in those days) and back across scenic clifftops, past the island, along the Prom, and home.

For other places to explore there were plenty public footpaths and bridleways, or just wherever we fancied. Along the Cinder Track past Holywell Dene and obscured by a copse of trees beside a small lake was a bird-watching hide made of telegraph poles with "Fort Jackson" scratched into the concrete base. From other tracks leading to where Holywell Dene snakes round to meet Seaton Sluice you could reach two Delaval follies, the Obelisk and Starlight Castle. Clin and I were once approached by a herd of cows (bit like South Parade) near here so, what to do, we both stood up on a convenient farm gate and widdled on them, which must have tickled them no end.

MARDEN QUARRY

Certain Public Information Films notwithstanding, I'm afraid to say the allure of the Quarry was indeed heightened in that maybe, just maybe, something exciting might happen or someone might fall in, beset by creatures of the deep. But boys will be boys. I remember an occasion when Clin, Wardy and myself walked precariously out across the frozen mini-lake as the ice began to crackle beneath — amazingly the ice held the three of us till we slid our way slowly to the edge, but that was enough of that. All year round there were always a few ropes, with maybe a car tyre attached, tied to the tall trees which swung out over the fridge-infested water. And just as suggested in the PIF linked-to above, the quarry could indeed take pride in its own abandoned Ford Anglia and a Presto trolley or two.

LITE BITES and SNIPPETTY BITS







































The Leisure Pool

I never did learn to swim properly, largely because when we went with the school, kitted out with orange inflatable armbands and a pair of borrowed and perished trunks, I was banned for skimming a polystyrene float across the kids pool which bashed Claire Hopkins in the face. Went a few times with friends later in the late-'70s, but scared of deep water and the grille on the bottom which was caked in pubes and corn plasters, would just go along and sit and watch with a paper cup of "vegetable soup" and a Wagon Wheel from the machine. We did make a den under the entrance ramp but that's about 'it'.

More Characters About Town

a) Grey-haired twin brothers who looked remarkably like Norris and Ross McWhirter. This twosome two were often seen enjoying a brisk walk, bounding around the '70s coast in their matching sports jackets and tennis shoes.

b) The parpular thrill of the Salvation Army band just wasn't complete without the presence of the smiling toothless elderly man in the cap and small coat who used to follow them everywhere.

c) Mr Kerr, the milkman, who had had a hand replaced with a hook. His HQ was in the back lane behind Mills on Ilfracombe Gardens and he would often let us ride on the milk float when he did his Saturday round.

d) Johnny Neptune (quite possibly not his real name) was a local magician and kids' entertainer who was often seen doing his magic or holding talent shows in the Panama Dip (around the time of the Folkmoot), and on occasion was deftly accompanied on upright ivories by his wife Cynthia, and/or possibly a lady with specs called Olive (or was it Olive, with her tinkly trills and roulades, who graced the Playhouse talent shows?).

e) Quite a few more to add — don't snortle, it could be you!

Alice's Restaurant

Psychedelic American hippy-themed face-stufferie at the bottom of North Parade, big circular windows, painted outside with stars and stripes. Once treated by my sisters (I suspect they were forced by our parents to take me along cos they had 'company' back at the house), I had a burger and chips straight from a Desperate Dan cartoon, cow horns and everything.

The Golf Course

Now come on, did anyone not go sledging on here in the winter time? There was a particularly deep snowfall in 1978 and, cos we didn't have sledges, we would lie down on our backs in our snorkel-hooded parkas and 'toboggan' head-first down the slopes. For the rest of the year we had a few dens (including one in the long round red brick tunnel, with planks of wood laid across so the water would flow underneath), and we would hide in the bushes and dare to run across the tall bridge whilst being shouted at by angry golfers in daft tartan troos that their wives probably bought for them.

Just somewhere to park
your bike...


Outside the library, now sadly unkempt slottage for the impractical parking of Choppers — too narrow for the larger rear tyres — causing many a bent front wheel when bike was pushed over with any force.

KALA + WBAB

We all remember those beastly Whitley Bay Aggro Boys, that's if they actually did exist in any form other than someone's badly-scrawled graffiti. But the question on everyone's lips was: just who or what were KALA? Was it just some skinhead who fancied himself as 'a bit of a lad'? My beer tokens are firmly wagered on 'Killingworth and Longbenton Aggro'. But these hooligans eh?

The Playhouse

My first memory of this place was being forced to watch Thoroughly Modern Millie with sisters in 1968, but fortunately I was sick halfway through after copious little tubs of vanilla ice cream (with the blue plastic spoons) so off home we went. Like all kids through the ages (except that bloody miserable lot nowadays) we would go to watch the usual Saturday morning Cinema Club — cartoons, B-movies, scary information films, and a sort of talent thing where kids would climb on stage and sing or do crap impersonations (usually annoying 5-year-old kids in berets, going "Mmm Betty..."). Wardy, Clin and me later managed to weedle our way in to help out with the theatre backstage, and one of the crazy things we had to do was to climb a long way up a ladder to the upper flys area, to operate the big handle-wheel which lowered or raised the curtain — would've been a hoot had one of us slipped and tumbled the 40 feet to our doom. Fun though, and sometimes we helped out painting the scenery too (and, as if that weren't enough, we got to meet Ronnie Carroll). Of course we went and abused it all, as one of our other friends, Daimler, worked as an usherette and would open the fire doors on Marine Avenue so we could saunter in to watch films without paying. Tsk, tsk......

Whitley Bay Street Cruisers

American Graffiti had Richard Dreyfuss and Harrison Ford. Whitley Bay had this cap-sleeved hairy bunch who burbled, tootled and throbbed their way around the one-way on weekend nights in their 'jacked-up' Cortinas. Furry dice, furry dashboards, furry sideburns, 'Kev' and 'Donna' on the green windscreen strip, obligatory (and illegal) orange lights beneath the sills to light up the road, and the odd red Viva with Starsky and Hutch stripes and Wolfrace wheels.

Yes these fashion sharks were serious, even once risking their chrome chain-link steering wheels on an outing all the way to Land's End as we see below. And, yes, that's my brother-in-law Paul on the right, with the go-faster blond streaks and boney ankles.



The Library

Wasn't there always something "big" about picking up your recently-applied-for Library Card from the lady with specs at the info desk. Many rainy or cold Saturday afternoons were spent in here reading Autocar and Motor (and, naturally to giggling pre-pubescent kids, Page 3 of The Sun). Built the same year I was born, I wish they would just restore this place, maybe modernise it a bit, instead of the bulldozer. Even if whoever that weird person it is continues to leave his/her dried bogeys and athletes' foot powder squashed between the pages of the books.
The Ice Rink

On rainy saturdays in the spring of '78, we'd catch the 308 bus up to the Ice Rink, the stage for many a bruised, icy bum, and spend the first half hour of the morning session in a pair of ill-fitting hired skates (pity the man with the stinky fingers from handling all those poor people's trainers), holding on to the sides till balance was restored, attempts at speed-skating, and skidding to an abrupt stop to spray unsuspecting girls with ice, 'Mr Blue Sky' or 'Baker Street' (hate that song) on repeat play.

Jubilee Party, 1977



Above is the 1977 Queen's Jubilee street party in Cliftonville Gardens. There's Clin again, in specs and purple jumper. Whilst this self-satisfied lot were putting their lives into their own hands by eating other people's sandwiches left out all day in the sun, I was in North Shields Infirmary having sprained my arm that morning whilst out walking Barney, our feisty Jack Russell. I wouldn't have been invited to this party anyway as I lived in Brighton Grove, so that upside-down wooden chair would certainly have not been reserved for the likes of me.

Parker's Ice Lollies

At the top of Eastbourne Gardens were two tiny grocery shops, Florrie's and Parker's. The latter was run by a very nice man, John, with his wife and brother Ken (that's two different people by the way) and they sold the top-notchest home-made penny ice lollies with the tastiest, squinkiest flavours ever like dandelion & burdock and cream soda (all made with a surely disproportionate amount of Sodastream concentrate but — hey — who honestly gave a shit about their teeth when sweets and pop were on the agenda).

The Bus to School...

We used to wait for the bus to Star of The Sea at the top of Eastbourne Gardens, right next to Scotts bakery — gorgeous smell in those days when they baked their bread round the back! But each Monday morning inside the bus, the air would be afresh with cleanliness, Vosene and Lenor. This would gradually wear off through the week, and by Friday it was back to that familiar unwashed pungence of stale Digestive biscuits and tallow. (And why did girls sitting on the back seats have to insist on cheese and onion crisps.)

Get the lads tooled up...

Supposing we got the urge again to cause more watery mayhem (see Spanish City page), the handy tap on the outside wall of the Empress from which we filled our halcyonic squeezy bottles has been neglected to this sorry state......
















































Sweaty Footnote #6 — The '70s for me started to lose its 'true '70s-ness' after 1978. I will always be a fierce advocate of the years from 1970 to 1977, maybe something to do with being at the wonderful Star of The Sea school and certain friends and the astonishingly fab music of those times. Perhaps things started to become more serious when there was gradually less Europop glitz and more New Wave attitude, or just through growing up and having to move on to a deeply unpleasant high school. Now an adult you can safely say I still have quite a few childhood horses to round up, otherwise this site would not have happened, but there's still a lot of work to do and memories to add before we're done......