It's been suggested in some quarters - you know who you are - that the only reason why The Belated Birthday Girl and I spent Easter in Newcastle this year was so we could tick BrewDog Newcastle off our list. That was partly the case, I'll admit: we've set ourselves this target of twelve locations in twelve months, and we had to go there eventually. But there's a lot more to the city than one bar, of course. For a start, there are all the other bars, not to mention its other cultural and architectural delights.
Still, there's no denying that this article is going to end up feeling a little like the red button pieces I write to accompany the Monoglot Movie Club articles in Mostly Film. So, following on from an article focussing on one particular aspect of a city, here's a second one about everything else: travel, accommodation, attractions and so on.
This being Easter, we had a tradition to uphold - watching a film on Easter Sunday that was made near to where we were staying. Last year it was Venus in Whitstable, and I should have noted at the time how much trouble it took to obtain a copy of the DVD. This year, it was even worse. With HMV going into administration, buying our chosen film on the high street proved impossible, even in central London. Meanwhile, the online retailers are largely tax-dodging crooks who were responsible for the high street shops closing down in the first place, so I'm trying to avoid using them at the moment.
A search on findanyfilm.com suggested another alternative: online rental. We tried a couple of test rentals first, and I'm glad we did: because our first attempt was made through iTunes, and it was useless. Whether it's down to the bloat of Apple's software or the stuff embedded within their video files, our test purchase of Cruel Intentions never played more than 90 seconds without dropping frames or seizing up altogether. Much as I hate to admit it, Sky's rental service proved much more reliable: Rupert Murdoch's ploughed the money he made from hacking Milly Dowler's phone into setting up a solid IT infrastructure that does what it's supposed to.
Thus for a measly £1.99, we were able to watch Get Carter in a hotel room overlooking the Tyne Bridge. (I probably should link you to a trailer at this point, but be warned it gives away almost every single plot development.) Unlike some previous years, spotting the locations wasn't difficult: it's a film that's completely tied to the city it was made in. I haven't seen it for years, although when I first got cable TV in the mid 90s you couldn't get away from it, as TCM appeared to be showing it virtually every night. You do forget how utterly, bracingly grim it is, like a walk along Whitley Bay on a rainy winter afternoon. I've managed to avoid the Stallone remake of a decade ago, but I can't believe it's anything like as misanthropic. Still, it remains one of Michael Caine's finest hours, and the terrific Roy Budd score doesn't hurt.
What else did we do? Culturally, the highlight of our weekend - and one which emphasises the close mental association we have between Newcastle and Edinburgh - was a visit to The Stand, the sole English branch of the excellent Scottish comedy chain. It's as brilliantly run as the Edinburgh and Glasgow clubs, built around the assumption that people who go there want to see comedy rather than just get tanked up. It's a nicely structured space, too, with curtained-off areas of seating only gradually being revealed as the audience builds up. On the night, we had a solidly entertaining bill consisting of headliner Daniel Sloss, local legend Simon Donald (playing down his Viz history more than when we last saw him), Peter Brush and Lee Kyle. Susan Morrison did a terrific job as compere, a fiftysomething Scottish woman gleefully sexually harassing the twentysomething males in the front row.
The Saturday night show at the Stand costs £15, which is a little pricey for a comedy gig outside London but worth it. If, however, you're trying to reduce your spending, there are a few useful free bits of entertainment available for you. The Tyneside Cinema does regular morning tours of their lovely art deco building - you can learn about the history of the cinema, discover the involvement of the great-uncle of Ridley and Tony Scott, and also watch an old newsreel in the main auditorium. The architecture of the Sage Gateshead arts centre is a little less traditional, and didn't have any tours scheduled - although that's about to change, albeit expensively. On the Easter Sunday morning we visited, there was an Easter Egg hunt arranged for the kids, so we sneakily followed that as a route around the building instead. On Sunday afternoons, there are free concerts held in the foyer: we saw pianist Jo Turner play a wide variety of tunes, to the delight of several children who just stood in the middle of the lobby gawping at her.
As ever, we couldn't get through a weekend like this without a couple of nice meals, not including the cake and Scotch egg binge discussed elsewhere. We passed on the Premier Inn breakfast to go for a few alternative options: the upstairs room at the supersized deli Olive & Bean, the homely cafe atmosphere of Quay Ingredient, and the only-thing-nearby-that-was-open-on-Bank-Holiday-Monday-but-still-all-right Great Coffee. We had a pleasant Easter Sunday lunch at Cafe 21, a respectable tapas supper at El Torero, and some top-range pub grub at the Broad Chare (which also has a beer list to rival that of BrewDog Newcastle, without the cheeky price markups of the latter). But amazingly, I'd have to say that the best meal we had all weekend was at the bistro attached to the Stand, which is amazingly high quality and good value considering it's the second most important thing they do in the building. (The Belated Birthday Girl would rate the Broad Chare a little above the Stand, for her particular meal at least.)
Overall, we had a great time in Newcastle for Easter, despite winter threatening to break out again at any moment. Which only went to prove something I've always thought about the people who live there: they're as friendly and charming as you'd expect, but they have no internal thermostat whatsoever. On a near-zero Saturday night when everyone else was out on the streets in t-shirts or minidresses, The BBG and I were almost the only ones there wearing coats. Still, once I'd noticed the only other people who were that heavily dressed, I came up with a foolproof plan for any other soft Southerners planning to travel there: wear your biggest coat, sellotape your tube pass photocard to your sleeve, and you'll be able to claim free drinks at any bar you like because they'll think you're a bouncer. (I take no responsibility for any injury or loss of life incurred as a result of that previous sentence. Being a monkey, and all.)