COLUMN: January 10, 2013

I HAD to pop up to Newcastle – the one upon the Tyne, not the other one that’s under Lyme, to avoid confusion.

I don’t know without looking at Wikipedia which one came first, but I’m sure it rankles with the original. “Look,” the nascent Geordies would have said, for argument’s sake, “at those Johnny-come-latelies under Lyme with their lah-de-dah castle. How dare they, bonny lad?”

Wiser heads would have said: “Well, to be fair, their castle is newer, so technically they are correct, and it is we who should change our name to, I don’t know, Castle? Whey aye!”

That would have been dismissed and those upon the Tyne and those under Lyme would have had a big row, followed by a summit at which an untidy fudged solution would have been found, whereby both places would be called Newcastle, but the Lymes would put the emphasis on the “new” part in intonation, while the Tynes would put the emphasis on “castle.”

But I am no historian. I am just working on the evidence available to me while the internet is down.

Anyway, Newcastle. I say I had to “pop up.” It was an eight-hour round trip on the train, changing at York. The existence of York, actually, must really annoy the people of New York. It’s a bit like those companies who had to shell out fortunes to buy website domain names because early adopters called Terence Esco and Steve Ainsbury had set up little homepages in their bedrooms.

“Come on, buddies,” the Americans probably say to the people of York every so often, “Let us be York now. You can be Old York. We’ll even pay for the signs,” not taking into account the cussedness of Yorkshiremen.

The lesson is, never name your product or town “New Something.” It’s fine for the first five minutes, but you’re just storing up trouble for later years.

Oh, yes, Newcastle. Handsome place. Didn’t stay long, and caught the Kings Cross train back to York. It was quite busy. I searched for a seat, but soon realised that was uncharacteristically optimistic of me.

The only place I could put down my bag was outside the toilet. And so I leant against the window. Eventually I noticed an electrical socket. My phone’s battery was drained because I got lost in Newcastle and had used the map app.

A little notice next to the socket said, “Not for passenger use,” but I reckoned I could get away with it.

But there was a woman standing next to me. Maybe she was undercover. Maybe a warning light would go off in the cab. Who knew? I looked at her and rolled my eyes. She rolled hers back. It was quite a trick. Then I leant against the window again.

“How long have they been in there now?” asked the woman. “What?” I said. “Whoever’s in there,” she replied, pointing at the toilet.

“There’s nobody in there,” I said.

“Aren’t you in the queue?” she asked, her rage barely suppressed.

“No, I’m just standing here,” I replied.

“What?” she barked. And she stabbed the button. The door slid open and she dashed inside. The door slid shut. Then opened again.

“How does it work?!” she asked.

I looked at the toilet. “Erm . . . ” I started.

“The door!”

There were two buttons. One to open or close the door and one to lock it. “I think you have to press that one first, and then that one,” I explained. She tutted again, the door closed, and the little engaged light came on. I was almost as relieved as she presumably was.

The door swooshed open again, and the woman strode out, glaring at me. “You could have said,” she stated.

“Said what? Am I supposed to tell everybody who passes by that I don’t need the toilet? ‘Excuse me, mate, I did a wee before I left?’ Maybe I should make a sign?”

She stalked off, and I spent the rest of the journey to York trying not to look as if I needed the toilet, and having to tell people to press the lock button second, like some sort of freelance toilet attendant.

I don’t know what convinced the designer of the toilet to have one button to open and close the door and a separate button to lock it.

What sort of person goes to a public toilet and closes the door, but isn’t bothered about it being locked?

And I tried the socket. It didn’t work.

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