I forgot to mention the other day that people in Hartlepool are know as "monkey hangers". The story goes like this. In the early 19th century, a French warship was wrecked off the Hartlepool coast. The sailors were all drowned, but in the debris the locals found a monkey -- obviously the ship's pet -- which had survived. For fun, the French sailors had dressed it up in a child's naval uniform. Taking it to be a spy (for the two countries were then embroiled in a long and vicious war), the monkey was tried, sentenced and hanged by the jolly town folk from a spar on the beach. The people of Hartlepool don't mind the moniker at all; in fact the local football team are still proudly known as the monkey hangers.
Wandering north this morning from Easington Colliery, where the movie Billy Elliot was filmed, I ran into two former coal miners out walking dogs on the bleak moorland above the long defunct mines. People around here are still very bitter about the closure of the pits by Mrs Thatcher in the 1980s; whole swathes of industry subsequently collapsed in the north east, and the mining communities lost their tight cohesion and local loyalties; worst of all, unemployment has remained depressingly high ever since. One elderly fellow told me he had worked for 40 years "down pit". He and his mate had to fill 42 "tubs" with coal every day (two and a half tubs being the equivalent of one ton of coal). They were paid two shillings and sixpence (15 pence in todays's money) per ton. I asked him how he felt about today's politicians. He clasped my arm and said, "Labour works us to death, but the bloody Tories starve us to death".
The people of Easington haven't however entirely lost their sense of humour. In the high street, amid the boarded up shops, are two adjacent stores. One is a pet shop, the other sells papers and liquor: "Paws and Claws" and "News and Booze", respectively.
Tomorrow I head off for Newcastle, and with luck I should be in Edinburgh in two weeks' time. I must admit I am getting exhausted, especially when I get lost, which happens quite frequently. This may of course be because I don't actually walk in the correct fashion. Last week, one of my walking companions (I won't say who it was, but he was often seen consuming Mars Bars) asked me: "Rob, do you walk like that because your foot is still painful? Or have you always been pigeon-toed"? Alas, I suspect the latter may be the case.