Tour 2018 - Durham (Day 3) / by Mark Messerly


SoTD: Captain Tiptoes presents Lapsnack Habas Picante - Described as Incredibly British Spicy & Crunchy Broad Beans. Before I discuss the foodstuffs let me relay the pithyness written on the back of the sack. “That snipped, clipped stiff upper lipped, erect and square to the front Captain Tiptoes (assisted by Monica Cheesewax, the strangely beautiful daughter of Mr. Heritage Parsnip) bring you these perfectly shock resistant little beanies…” I’m not British and maybe this is a culturally acceptable level of cuteness, but ye gods does it piss me off. These are not snacks for children, that being the only possible excuse. Children wouldn’t eat them because they have more sense than the unshaven pork pie hat wearing aging hipsters these are meant for. As a snack what they’ve got going for them is that they’re not too greasy and don’t upset my stomach. When you bite into them they dissolve into a chalkiness that is almost not unpleasant. Their spiciness is wildly overstated - like the health benefits of having your ductwork professionally vacuumed, or the sexiness of skin tags. I don’t know, they stave off peckishness I guess.

Britishism: Screw Face - Stink Eye

Shaun quite kindly offered to drive Joe back into York (we were half an hour away) so he could spend the morning with his family and then take a train to Durham. That left us an hour before we had to get back and pick up the slugabeds at the hotel. I, quite triumphantly decided to go to the National Train Museum, devoted entirely to the works of Pat Monahan. They fucking love him there. Kind of like the Germans and Hasselhoff. In the much smaller section though there were a number of magnificent steam engines. One shed contained several of the Royal Carriages, including Queen Victoria’s train. Apparently she was the first Queen to ride by train, the chugging rhythm tickling her nethers in a way that was morally acceptable. The other shed was just massive, akin to the hangars in the Dayton Air Force Museum. And it was glorious. Huge, shiny, intricate machines with lots of valves, huge levers, and innumerable important looking dials. There’s a working turntable, a bullet train, and ummm…. a nice green one and oh hell, I don’t know shit about trains. They were just beautiful machines. You should go.

We left for Durham and with Joe gone we were able to indulge in our favorite pastime - discussing how cute he is when he sleeps. It’s breathtaking.

The drive held some nice treats. We passed the White Horse of Thirsk. It was designed and financed by Thomas Taylor, around 1857. He had seen the chalk horses in the south of England and wanted one too. It’s a 314 ft long and 228 ft high horse carved into a hillside. The seemingly difficult obstacle of the rock in the north being limestone and not chalk was overcome by dumping six tons of limestone to change it from grey to white. It still needs the occasional touch up. I just read that during WWII it had to be covered because it made too good of a target for German bombers.

We stopped for lunch at Middlesbrough. We were introduced to a place called Union Jacks that sold Pieminister pies. These are savory, pretty much what we’d called pot pies, and we’re told an outstanding version of them they are. They were fantastic of course but the thing that made me happy was something you could buy called Parmo or Teesside Parmesan. I’ll just let the internet describe it: “Whereas Chicken Parmesan is a flattened slab of chicken, pan-fried while coated with breadcrumbs and then grilled with Parmesan cheese, a Parmo involves deep-frying the chicken in an egg and breadcrumb batter, then smothering it in Bechamel sauce, before finally grilling with cheese.” Chuck and Lisa had it and said it was, if not life changing, at least pretty damn good. The reason I was pleased even though I’m a vegetarian is I’m always thrilled to find local or regional customs that survive the globalization of culture. You don’t have to like Cincinnati chili to be pleased that there is something made and massively consumed in our region of southern Ohio that is almost unique to it.

The next bit was something Shaun was quite excited about. The food took longer than expected to come out and Shaun began driving with purpose whilst muttering under his breath. We were hurtling through an industrial type area and after going round a curve in the road saw a large blue structure traversing the River Tees. It was the Tees Transporter Bridge and a relatively rare type of bridge it is. Basically you drive onto a platform which is an open air gondola that can cross the river in 90 seconds. It was built in this manner because of a 1907 Parliament decree stating that river traffic must remain unaffected. We pulled up just as they were loading for the last crossing of the day. Mind you, it was only 3:00 in the afternoon and apparently closes for an hour at lunch as well, but Shaun said it’s volunteers run it so this relaxed approach to river crossings is better than none I guess. We crossed satisfyingly and then sat on the far bank and ate our pies, trying to ignore the discarded couches, refrigerators, and clothing.All the while hoping to avoid the bodies undoubtedly strewn about like eggs at a blind kids house on Easter morning.

On to Durham. I was quite excited because Durham possesses a world class cathedral and castle perched on the bluff above the River Tyne. If I lived there I would visit the Tyne daily.* We were playing the Old Cinema Launderette and as we pulled up I noticed we were nowhere near a river, stream, brook, creek or cathedral. Just a stretch of suburban looking street that could be anywhere. So be it. The Laundrette is a tiny space that functions as a small laundromat, bar, and music venue. It was super cute and hipstery. We had been told we would have to be very quiet and this turned about to be very true. There was no opener so Chuck and Lisa would do a duo set and then the band would try to create a set that didn’t rise above the level of a living room stereo. We set-up in front of the dryers, soundchecked, and busted out for the hour available to us for dinner. Shaun is Celiacs and he had been told there was a fish and chip shop in the city center that could make gluten free fish. This is where those of us with dietary restrictions come in handy. Because of this shop we were forced to leave the neighborhood and I got to at least see in passing the cathedral. We walked through narrow ancient streets and ended up eating in the town square, surrounded by awesome people watching. The women of the north in particular once again proving their imperviousness to the cold and their wizard-like ability to walk with startling rapidity on cobblestones wearing towering high heels. There was statue of Neptune that’s 270 years old, and a timeline tracing the history of the city back to AD 995 when it was founded by an instance of divine intervention.** Would love to visit again and do this lovely city justice.***

On the way to dinner we came up with a list of songs we thought could be played quiet enough to not incense the person living above the laundrette. Exciting and terrifying. I love playing a varied set but we had not played a bunch of these songs in years. We’re not the E Street Band. We can’t play a whole catalog at the drop of a hat. Well, we can, just not well. Like tonight! Here’s a sampling of some of the songs we attempted this cozy night: Motorcycle Song, Little Paper Birds, Don’t Leave Just Now, and Acetylene. I can’t remember what else, but it was definitely “A Very Special Needs Evening with Wussy.” It was fun though, the audience absolutely dear, and Joe even played the piano on “Beautiful.”

Tomorrow is Glasgow.

*Everytime I come upon the Tyne I’m struck by how moist and wet it is...
(Fuck - Durham is on the River Wear. Well that’s a pretty big thing to get wrong but I’m not ready to let go of my joke just yet.)(or ever it seems)
** Matthew Sweet’s best song? Perhaps.

*** Or Claire's. Or Forever 21. Whichever.