Given how difficult it is to arrange an overseas holiday, I thought I’d take Charlie and Freddie, my two youngest, to the north-east for a mini-break. Admittedly, not the most glamorous of locations, but we had a reason to be there: QPR were playing two away games on the spin, the first in Hull, the second in Middlesbrough. We planned to take the train to Hull in time for Saturday’s match, hire a car, drive along the coast, stopping at Scarborough and Whitby on the way, and arrive in Middlesbrough for Wednesday night’s game. Then it would be back to London the following day.
Seeing a less affluent part of the country was an eye-opener for Charlie. I don’t mean the devastation left by the decline of Britain’s manufacturing industries; rather, he was surprised by how similar the north-east is to London.
‘I didn’t know they had Sainsbury’s outside England,’ he said, staring at a superstore in Hull.
‘We’re in England, you numpty,’ I said.
This became a running gag, with Charlie expressing mock astonishment each time he spotted a well-known high-street brand ‘outside England’. It wasn’t the absence of these chain stores that differentiated the north-east from London, but the lack of attractive alternatives. There were plenty of shops below these familiar names in the retail hierarchy — but not many above. Where were the Italian delis, the artisanal bakeries, the organic greengrocers? In a coffee shop in Scarborough I made the mistake of asking for a cortado and when the man behind the counter looked puzzled, I explained it was halfway between a double macchiato and a flat white.
‘I’ve no idea what you’re talking about,’ he said. ‘Far as I’m concerned, coffee’s just coffee.’
Happily, most of the people we encountered were more welcoming. I had told my sons that northerners are much friendlier than southerners, and the reaction of the Hull fans after QPR beat them 3-0 proved my point. We’d been invited for an early supper at a Greek restaurant by a professor at Hull university and didn’t have time to go back to our hotel to get changed, so had to make our way there in QPR colours. Had we been Chelsea fans wandering around Highbury after the Blues beat Arsenal last Sunday, we would have been showered with abuse — possibly worse. But whenever we crossed paths with someone in a Hull shirt they congratulated us and said we deserved to win.
I daresay it helped being accompanied by two boys — even the most malevolent hooligan would hesitate before beating up a father in front of his children. But it isn’t just football fans who are sentimental about kids. After the Middlesbrough game we got back to the Holiday Inn Express just as the kitchen closed.
‘No chance of a pepperoni pizza?’ I asked the receptionist.
‘Is it for your two lads?’ she said, smiling at them.
It wasn’t actually. I’d bought them each a chicken pie and some cheesy chips at the Riverside Stadium, but I nodded and did my best to look like a concerned father.
‘I’ll see what I can do,’ she said.
Not only did she bring us a pizza, but we were all given a free croissant with a packet of Nutella. So much for my diet.
Another reason for the trip was that my mother’s family — the Moorsoms — were originally shipbuilders in Whitby and a cousin had told me they featured prominently in the local Captain Cook museum. According to my cousin, they built the ship that Cook sailed to Australia in. Consequently, I frogmarched my sons round the museum, scouring the exhibits for references to my ancestors, but couldn’t find any. Freddie joked that they’d probably been removed because of their links to the slave trade. ‘If you look in the harbour, you might find a statue of your great-great-grandfather,’ he said.
QPR beat Boro 3-2, coming back from 0-1 down, so it was a successful trip. Charlie was almost beside himself with excitement after the game, telling me he’d been cheering the team on so enthusiastically that he’d had difficulty catching his breath. ‘It’s the best feeling in the world,’ he said.
I shared his joy. After more than 18 months of having to watch our team on the telly, playing in front of empty seats, it was glorious to be back, surrounded by tens of thousands of people singing their hearts out. Please God, don’t let there be another lockdown.
Got something to add? Join the discussion and comment below.
You might disagree with half of it, but you’ll enjoy reading all of it. Try your first 10 weeks for just $10