15 November 2010

Blyth to Middlesborough

Wind again, and although there is a slight change in direction, blowing from the east there is no let up in the adversity. It is cold and miserable as I struggle to keep the bike in a straight line. Frequent rain squalls blow though and even a hail storm, which I can say is not funny!
I have been buoyed at many times on the journey with memories associated with the areas through which I am travelling and heading towards the Tyne provides plenty. I served my apprenticeship with a Geordie outfit, Common Brothers, whose offices once graced Quayside, a short distance from the High Level Bridge. Drydocks on Common's controlled ships were always at Tyneside shipyards so events of 50 years ago, are suddenly as fresh as if they were yesterday. I recall after up to 15 months away from the UK, that on the homeward legs when returning to the Tyne, the ships were always painted overall, just to look immacutate for the visit of the owner when we docked. Even as a teenager, it seeemed to be daft to me, that once this ceremony was over, the fresh paint was wrecked with heavy plant, staging, pipes and the ship being overrun by hoards of yard workers. What a waste!
I am delighted to see that the Tyne ferry still operates and I have a good feeling to note that this is one of the last major river crossings of the trip. One more box to tick off!
On reaching South Shields, I really am in home territory, having many happy times in this most hospitable of towns. This time, I do need to follow the coast road, and am delighted to see such a great renewal along the sea front. It also is a pleasure to see that the Marsden Grotto, a famous landmark night club in Shields is still operating! A call for an interview from the Scotish Catholic Observer comes just as we are sharing the morning tea break. It is pleasing that AOS is getting this kind of publicity in Scotland which will hopefully in turn result in enhanced recognition of the work of AOS.
After Sunderland, there are more choices relating to the route. It looks to be far more intersting to follow the coast roads of the A1066 and A178, but we are staying at the Caravan Club site to the west of Middlesborough at Stockton on Tees and the easier option of taking the A19 and A66 is just too appealing. These busy A roads have no charm unless they are provided with cycle tracks set away from the main carriagways but these luxuries haven't arrived yet to this section of the A19. Furthermore, the relative sanctuary of the 2 feet wide strip between the solid white line and the grass verge seems also to be missing here. Thus, it is a wild ride and I trust to God and both my solid and flashing strobe rear lights to keep me safe! The great news is that the wind has shifeted to the north and I am able to fly along, making very good progress. The flyover at the interchange with the A19 and A66 isnt for the fainthearted but with the following wind, it is elating to be not only keeping station with cars but passing them as they slow in the afternoon traffic queues.
No rest for the wicked again, however, as Tony McAvoy wants us to get to the Teesport Seafarers Centre for 1700hrs in order to meet port officals and other who he has informed about our arrival so after the usual comforts of tea, cake and shower, we are off to Teesport.
The Teesport Centre is another friendly welcoming place and we meet a couple of seafarers from a steel products carrier who arrive to get Lebara phone cards. These cards permit overseas calls at very reasonable costs and thus are a lifeline with home. We are taken by their friendly good nature but there is an underlying melancholy in their demeaner. When one of them tells us that it will be in july 2011 when he returns to his family in the Philipines, we dont need to ask why.
Tony takes us home for dinner and we are grateful to Tony and to Lynn for their kindness. We also note that there is a framed citation hanging on his living room wall, a Bene Merenti (Good Work) from Pope Benedict in recognition of his work for AOS. Tony, you are an example to us all!

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