What a difference a day makes. Yesterday I was blown all over the place by gusting winds along high cliff tops in brilliant although intermittent sunshine. Today it was equally hard going, but under leaden skies and in lashing cold rain amid giant steel and chemical works.
The day started badly. Leaving Redcar this morning I immediately got lost in Coatham Marshes, going around in circles in an industrial wasteland, and then some hours after that found myself in a muddle in Middlesbrough (or was it in the middle of Muddlesbrough), by no means England's loveliest city. However, as one man whom I asked for directions, wistfully put it: "Ugly towns sometimes produce good people. We're not all savages around here". Then he added, "some of us even read books". Later on, another chatty pavement informant told me that people from Newcastle are known as "geordies", those from Sunderland are "mackems", those from Middlesbrough are "smoggies", those from Redcar are "cod heads", those from the old mining communities "pit yackers", and those from farming villages (very cruel this) "sheep shaggers".
Alas, this good natured friendliness and banter is not to be found everywhere. When, damp and bedraggled, this afternoon I reached my destination (the Station Hotel in Billingham) the shifty-eyed hotelier (whose voice I recognized because I had spoken to him when I had reconfirmed my reservation a few days ago) declared there was no room available in his inn. Moreover, he said he had never heard of me. "It must have been one of my staff", he lied. Muttering foully I trudged off and found a room elsewhere, here in the village of Norton, a mile away, and irritatingly in the wrong direction of my travels.