Friday, 21 March 2014

Found Fiction, Thomas Merton, a Railway Murder and a Laughing Cat in Newcastle City Centre

Plans changed today.

I went into Newcastle with planning to sit in a cafe for a while, reading.

It wasn't a major change of plans.  I did sit in a cafe.  It just wasn't the cafe I'd expected to visit.

First I visited a Catholic Church and from their book stall picked up a couple of little Christian books, readings from Thomas Merton and Bede Griffiths, two Catholics who wrote much on contemplation and became greatly influenced by Eastern religions, Griffiths especially by Hinduism and Merton by Buddhism.  I'll say no more, because elsewhere I promised a spirituality free post!

I also grabbed a few journals of local history - Tyne and Tweed, which covers the history of Northumberland from, as the name suggests, the Tyne to the Tweed.  Here I learn of a murder on a train from Newcastle to Morpeth and learn that Barras Bridge, a road near the biggest shopping street in the city, is probably named after a barrow - a mass grave for plague victims.  I'm sure I'll learn of happier things too as I browse the journals.

And then to today's first cafe of choice.  At which point I decided not to go in.  The person serving was not the usual man but instead someone who I know has severe problems with me being transgender.  I'll say no more about that too, because I promised a gender free post!

So I walked to the Anglican Cathedral.  Alas, my favourite seat - the only comfy sofa with a table - was taken.  So after absorbing the organ music playing in the church I left.

Instead I decided to visit "The Laughing Cat".  It's very quiet in the morning as it's tucked away up an unappealing ramp near the library.  You wouldn't go up that ramp without good reason so most people don't know the cafe is there.

I haven't been there for a few weeks.  The last time was with a friend and there was much joyful singing along with the music playing, by staff and customers, that music being a version of The Rocky Horror Show.  It's a friendly place and a good spot to meet people for a drink or food - the pesto pasta is great, the home-made soups are filling and flavorsome, and the bacon is high quality.  And my friend treated me to take-away cake which was an enormous portion of grand chocolate cake.

I treated myself today.  Not just a drink.  But a cookie.  I know that's not much of a treat for most people but for me it's not usual.
I sat, relaxed and read the newspaper provided.  And looked at the cafe which had an entirely different set of things on the walls than three weeks ago.  Someone has used the cafe as an exhibition of his work, which is a regular thing there and in certain other local cafes.  To my left there was this picture:
Ahead of me was the counter, covered with cake and with a pot of little fig filled cake/biscuits that they call "nun's tits."
And to my right, the cafe window, looking out towards the Laing Art Gallery.
Just to complete the set, here's the wall behind me and the seat I'd chosen.
As you can see, The Laughing Cat is not busy in the morning.  I've been there for lunch with friends and there wasn't a spare seat but at 10am on a Friday morning it's often almost deserted.  All the art on the wall behind my chair was from this man's exhibition of his work.  It's well done and I can see the care and creative expression but to be honest most of it is too surreally macabre for my tastes for home.
My cafe visit had an unexpected pleasure.  Sitting on the table was an envelope.
READ ME!  I'm ever curious and obey words like this.  I thought it was probably going to be some left-wing political tract or something about gay rights (The Laughing Cat is known for being very LGBT friendly) or someone had left some sort of religious tract behind for the next unsuspecting customer.  Or perhaps someone had left an envelope by mistake.

Perhaps some of you would have had no surprise about the envelope.  Perhaps you've seen the letters "F F" on an envelope somewhere else and explored the contents.  As I explored I discovered that the letters stand for "Found Fiction".  People write a story, submit it to the found fiction group and their story is left somewhere.  These envelopes exist elsewhere in Britain and there are quite a few in the USA.  What a good idea.   So I read a story called "At the Stake", a less than jolly tale.  I don't know if you'll be able to read it too by clicking on the text but here's the story.  If you save the picture and then open it then it should be readable.  And if anyone from FF reads this and thinks these photos shouldn't be here please let me know and I'll remove them.

And so, full of drink and cookie I left the cafe until another visit calls to me.  A quick walk across the square to look down and across - the cafe is above a main road, gallery to the left and the city library to the right.
The Laing Gallery is free and is certainly worth visiting if you're ever in Newcastle.  It opened in 1904 and houses local glass and pottery and a range of paintings, with permanent and temporary exhibitions.  An exhibition of portraits of the Queen by Cecil Beaton was surprisingly interesting and an exhibition of drawings by the author Mervyn Peake was rather enjoyable.

The city library deserves a blog post of its own.  It was opened by The Queen and The Duke of Edinburgh in 2009 and replaced a structure that the broadcaster John Grundy called "a monstrous concrete blob."  It's a pleasant place to choose a book or to read a book.  I'll photograph it sometime but there are plenty of images online for anyone curious.

And then I looked up.  The Laughing Cat is on a balcony above the road.  And it's below this:
It's Bewick Court, a block of 133 flats completed in 1970.   There's a musical about Bewick Court.  I've often wondered what it would be like to live in one of those flats.  I know it would be a very convenient place to live but I suspect it wouldn't be an ideal quiet life there - given that last November there was a court case concerning a rape there and just a few weeks ago someone was arrested for an arson attack there which luckily was controlled quickly and without anyone being hurt.

I think on reflection I'll stay where I am, in our quiet house, and know that we're fortunate to be able to afford to live here rather than in a small flat amid the noise and haste.  I'll just pass it by unless I get to know anyone who lives there.

I'll just visit The Laughing Cat and enjoy it.

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