Well, the blog has now moved west. Yes, 27th March was the day when the combined forces of Daito Bunka University, JR, and KLM propelled me and a mound of baggage (of roughly equal mass, but very different volume) from Japan (cold and damp, at about 10C) via Amsterdam (sunny, dry, 5C) to Teesside in north-east England arriving over snowed-in North Yorkshire Moors to 'fine' weather. Fine in this context meant light snow, 2C, lashing wind off the North Sea, and men standing on the taxiway without gloves, hats, or even a thick-looking jacket. Fine.
I knew I was at home. There was a bloke who looked very similar to a lad I was at school with, badgering a middle-aged lady, who seemed uncomfortable, with "nah, nah, nah cahn't 'ave yer doin' that like" (no, no, no, I can't have you doing that) as he insisted on driving her down the A19 highway closer to her home. She looked as though she would have rather walked cross-country with the wind against her, but he was trying to be kind, in a way that resembles a dog being kind with an owner's ankle. Teesside kindness, not easily rejected.
Thursday 28th was a recovery day, but began with my UK mobile phone going off just after 7am, number withheld. Pulse racing, thoughts flashing, and the worry creeping up: has my house in Japan burned down/been carried off by a tsunami/been taken over by militant baptists? No British person would call at that time. They'd be too busy walking across ploughed fields with their cases being pursued by a man trying to help.
After sorting through bags and things I went for a walk, down to Stewarts Park, the birthplace of James Cook, master Navigator and RN Captain, which also now includes the Henry Blockow visitors centre. This pretty much encapsulates two-thirds of the notable heritage of Middlesbrough: a man who left to sail around the world, who went as far as possible away from home, and another man who came from Germany in order to make iron and money. They are the kings of Teesside, in association with the legion of footballers (and managers) produced along the banks of the River Tees, such as Brian Clough, Don Reavie, and Wilf Mannion (a small and artistic player of the pre/post-war era, once famously the subject of two Teesside blokes' wonderings: "who's that gadgy ('man/guy/bloke') talking with our Wilf?" It was the rather famous gadgy Pele). The park was as lovely as it had been when I was a kid, although rather colder and damper than I remembered, and without the relief of the hothouse, a Victorian structure with banana and palm trees of impossible heights that delighted us little ones every time, and with a smell and warmth that was beyond the range of our parochial exotic ken. The house was demolished in the 1980s, when the council had no money, was making swingeing cuts, and faced a Thatcher government as full of empathy as a boil on an ulcer. Oh the whirllygig of time. Now Teesside locals are full of the doomcast air of the beleagured and buggered, as the government is having an eighties retro throw-back to the good old days, so that local libraries, including the one nearest to the park, have been closed, and then re-opened under the efforts of local volunteers, and everyone seems to have adopted the air of those walking into an unrelenting north-easterly wind that shall be unlikely to abate before mid-summer, if it ever comes.
Yesterday was Good Friday, and as per form the first such Easter Friday I've experienced in Britain for 20 years was damp, sunny, cold, windy, and full of boredom, delight, and drama. The drama was provided by my dear sister driving from Liverpool, normally a journey of about two and a half hours, but which took five due to a major crash on the M62, and an unsignposted diversion through Huddersfield that featured two meter snow drifts, breaking-down vehicles, various warning lights flashing on the dashboard, and assorted mishaps. The delight was a wander around Stokesley, a small village outside Middlesbrough, on the edge of the N Yorks Moors National Park, which is a regular haunt, but particularly delightful with sun on the timidly emerging crocus, daffodil, and snowdrop flowers by the small river, as well as a minor shopping event in the local Co-op, and the unexpected excitement of a second-hand charity book sale of rare quality and interest. One of the five that I bought was Bill Bryson, The Lost Continent, where he drives in search of the perfect town in small town America, to mainly obvious, and obviously interesting and hilarious, disappointment. Hooked on the tales and prose, it made me reflect on what I hope to find during my one year sabbatical in Britain, due to begin from next week in Cambridge. Am I in search of the lost soul of the nation, the essence of 21st century Britain, or Perfectville, UK? Actually, I think I'd be satisfied with finding out whether that woman managed to shake off her Teesside helper, or if she is still dragging her roller-suitcase across the meadows of North Yorkshire?