Backyard Bike Shop

Yesterday made an overdue return visit to Backyard Bike Shop, down next to the river. It’s a lovely place – a cosy cafe that does a small but quality menu, but switches to a cocktail bar after 5. Alas, we were too early for cocktails, but the food was delicious and the staff were friendly.

I normally have the avocado smash – predictable, I know, but the “will they do my egg how I like it?” is my standard cafe test. The lovely waitress explained their avocados weren’t ripe so, prompted to be more adventurous, I had the chick pea pancakes with dahl, and S had the courgette ribbons with goats cheese curd – both of which were utterly delicious.

Now to go back for their cocktails.

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A Family Christmas and a trip to Spanish City

I’ve never really done the ‘big’ family Christmas before. When my mum was alive, we tended to keep it small: my friends would come over with their kids in the morning, and various neighbours might pop in, but it was generally low key. Over the years I have had working Christmases, Christmases alone and ‘orphan’ Christmases – all of which were varying degrees of OK – but never done the big family event.

So I was actually a little nervous of agreeing to my cousin’s and his wife’s invitation to spend Christmas at theirs. They host the big family ‘do’ every year, of which I have heard nothing but good things, but I was still a bit anxious. Sometimes eating in big groups makes me self-conscious, and while they generously invited the friend (N) who was staying with me over the holidays, I worried that being thrown in the deep end of someone else’s family might be a bit much for her.

In the end, I needn’t have worried at all. My family are generally excellent company, and proved themselves great hosts, generous and welcoming to me and my friend, who was really touched by how much they made her feel at home. It was a multi-generational gathering that spanned pensioners to babies and all stages in between, lavishly fed and in a beautifully decorated setting. My cousin’s house – always impressive – looked like a Hallmark movie set; the photo below is of the hallway, not even the main room! (Should I ever get around to writing a Christmas romance, I might pop back here for inspiration.) There was vegetarian food aplenty (N is also vegetarian, but since one of the daughters of the house was vegan, this proved less tricky than I feared) and the whole day turned out just lovely.

Boxing Day, we did a brief detour to the sales, though my assertion that ‘it’ll probably be quiet’ was way off the mark, as the whole town was packed. Many of the pubs were closed, though – after a late lunch downstairs at the Tyneside because the coffee rooms were closed, we wandered down the Quayside with the plan to meet some friends in the Pitcher and Piano, which of course wasn’t open. Still, we managed a drink in both the Red House and the Head of Steam, and N got to see the Quayside at night, which is never a wasted trip.

Yesterday, we decided to take advantage of the clement weather and take a trip to the coast at Whitley Bay. Of all the things I miss about Brighton, proximity to the sea is the main one, so it was nice to be reminded that I have a stunning coastline just a Metro ride away.

It was also nice to see the recently re-opened Spanish City. I remember it well from my youth, and was sad to see it go into decline, so I was keen to check out this revamped offering. The building has been nicely utilised: a selection of restaurants (a waffle house and patisserie on the ground floor, alongside a restaurant, Trenchers, in the central space, which seems popular for fish and chips, with a fancier restaurant and bar upstairs, and a luxurious space for afternoon tea). In the end, N and I decided to eschew eating there for lunch, venturing to a little cafe round the corner on Marine Avenue that did a nice line in vegetarian tapas. But we did pop back in for an espresso martini – a tradition of ours – to round off the afternoon, and it was lovely to be able to have a fancy drink while looking out over the seafront.

Holy Moly and the Crackers

Friday night saw me embracing something new while also reliving my youth, in a way. My friend M is a huge fan of the ban Holy Moly & The Crackers (whose song Cold Comfort Lane was featured in the film Ocean’s 8). She saw them at Alphabetti previously, so persuaded me to get a ticket to go with her when they played the Riverside. I’m glad I did – the gig was an absolute corker, the band – who I discovered were local – played their hearts out and the place was rocking. They are coming back on tour next year with a new album, but you better not beat me to tickets.

It was also interesting to see the new Riverside. In my youth I was a regular, and went to see bands as short-lived as Menswear (who were supported by Travis!), as well as more long-lived artists. Now that whole area of town seems to have been turned into luxury flats, the venue has relocated to the old Fish Market on the Quayside. It’s a gorgeous space, and a nice integration of old and new, with lots of neon and a well-laid-out interior (plenty of seats to chill out on before the gig)┬ábut something about it jarred. Maybe because I spend a lot of my time not only in theatres but thinking about making them more inclusive spaces. Maybe that’s made me oversensitive (certainly my female companion said nothing). But I couldn’t help noticing that, despite hosting a mixed gender band and a very mixed crowd (and having plenty of women’s toilets), the decor felt very much designed for the male eye: it felt a very gendered space.

Giant pictures of musicians adorn the walls: men look cool, women look sexy. (There are a few female musicians featured, but they are the traditionally hot looking ones, such as Debbie Harry). A giant Pulp Fiction Patricia Arquette reclines in her bra against one wall; upstairs, a woman clad in knickers and fishnets has her back to the camera, showing off a God Save the Queen jacket. Rock quotes – all by men, at least that I saw – are painted throughout. It adds up to a subtle sense that it’s a space for men, that music is male, and that women get to take part providing they look good enough.

I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with sexy pictures, of course, or boudoir design, but I’m also not sure that a 21st century venue should feel so squarely like it’s aimed at the blokes. Should it?

Quayside market and Ouseburn Open

Terrible weather didn’t deter me from taking a wander around Ouseburn open weekend, where lots of the local studios – including The Biscuit Factory and Lime Street Studios – throw open their doors and you get a chance to meet the artists.

It was a lovely event – I could have spent a fortune, but limited myself to a picture and a couple of greeting cards. We also stopped for coffee in Hotel du Vin, which is a great pit stop in the area, in a beautifully repurposed building.

The biggest surprise of all though was the Quayside market. When I was growing up this was mainly somewhere packed with cheap shell suits and (probably) knock off DVDs, but now it is a foodie paradise with a range of great stalls. Definitely one for a return visit!

Prosecco on the Quayside

On the Quayside we stopped off for a quick drink at a place I think is called Signori – by this stage my feet were hurting and I needed a drink – a prosecco bar attached to an Italian restaurant. It wasn’t quite what I hoped – the decor was fancy but it felt slightly like a place that hadn’t established its identity yet – but as it was a match day and the town was heaving I was just relieved to find somewhere we could get a seat…

Lunch at Kiln

So my friend S and I went to Ouseburn today. It was a gorgeous day so perfect for a walk along the Quayside and pottering about, and as is becoming a pattern with our outings, lunch stretched into drinks. We did manage some culture – a wander round the Biscuit Factory and a coffee – but the highlight of the day was a trip to Kiln.

It’s a lovely little New York style cafe that does a great line in vegetarian food and cocktails. You can even buy some cups and plates made in the attached pottery, should you wish. I’ll definitely be going back!