Alt.Spiritual Gateshead, UK and Five Easy Cooking Recipes for My Bonny Geordie, Conductor John Wilson

Here are 5 easy cooking recipes I wrote down just for you, John my love, after remembering you mentioning cooking sausages for your best friend*. The dinners below, besides being tried and true and easy-peasy, are plain, nourishing, tasty, cheap, quick, satisfying, and don’t require fancy kitchen equipment or expensive ingredients:

Angel of the North Plus CraftFive elements make Gateshead a uniquely potent locus on the spiritual plane: 1) the Kolel in Bensham, the world’s most important center of esoteric Talmudic scholarship; 2) the Sage symphony concert hall on the River Tyne, which because of its particular physical manifestation is blessed by Sarasvati; 3) the underground cable hub; 4) the Angel of the North, a huge guardian structure overlooking Low Fell, the working class neighborhood where my beloved grew up (see above); 5) the city’s long history of UFO sightings and alien visitations. Above the Angel: “The Blaydon Races” (Geordie Ridley, 1862) sung by Jimmy Nail, Tim Healy and Kevin Whately for the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation. “Ah me lads, ye shudda seen us gannin’ / We pass’d the foaks upon the road just as they wor stannin’ / Thor wes lots o’ lads an’ lasses there, all wi’ smiling faces / Gannin alang the Scotswood Road, to see the Blaydon Races…”

NEWCASTLE LAMB STEW

  • ½ lb boneless lamb, cut small
  • 1 large potato 8-12 oz, peeled and cut into small pieces
  • 2 medium carrots, peeled and sliced (though carrots are not traditional)
  • 1 large onion, peeled and chopped
  • 1 tsp salt
  • ½ tsp pepper
  • 1 tsp dried thyme
  • 4 cups liquid, preferably beef, lamb or pork broth; otherwise, water or combination water+broth totaling 4 cups
  • 2 tbs cooking oil, margarine, butter or other desired fat

Saute lamb pieces and onion in fat until lamb starts to brown and onions begin to soften. Add remaining ingredients. Bring to a boil, cover, and cook for 30-45 minutes or until lamb and vegetables are tender. If desired, adjust seasonings. If desired, thicken consistency with a paste made from water+flour or water+cornstarch or other thickener. Add paste to pot and cook over high heat, stirring constantly until mixture is smooth and gravy is of desired thickness.

Serves 2, or 1 with leftovers.

GATESHEAD SAUSAGE STEW

  •  ½ lb good quality smoked sausage such as Polish or garlic, left whole or cut into 2 pieces or sliced
  • ½ lb potatoes, peeled and cut up
  • ½ lb cabbage, cored and sliced to cole slaw consistency
  • 1 large onion, peeled and chopped
  • 4 cups beef broth, fresh or tinned (no boullion cubes or powder, please!)
  • Salt and pepper to taste, depending on type of sausage used

Combine all ingredients to a large pot, bring to boil and cover and cook on medium heat for ½ hour or until all vegetables are tender.

Serves 2, or 1 with leftovers.

GEORDIE CHICKEN CURRY

  • 2 cups cooked diced chicken or tinned boneless chicken (note: leftover roast or boiled chicken may be used)
  • 1 onion, peeled and finely chopped
  • 2 cups chicken broth, tinned or fresh (note: if you have boiled chicken for this recipe, use the broth in which it was boiled)
  • 1 cup tinned peas
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Combine chicken broth and onion in saucepan and boil until onion is just tender. Then add chicken meat and peas. Add salt, pepper and 2 tsp curry powder or more if spicier dish is desired. When mixture is heated through, add flour or cornstarch paste (note: see Newcastle Lamb Stew above) to mixture, stirring constantly until desired thickness. Serve on bed of plain boiled white rice with side of mushy peas and mango chutney if desired.

Serves 2, or 1 with leftovers.

TYNESIDE MINCE AND MASH

For the mince:

  • 4 oz ground beef, pork or lamb or 2 cups minced beef, pork or lamb (note: roast or boiled leftover meats may be used; if using fresh ground meat, saute with onions, adding a little oil if meat is quite lean, then add remaining ingredients)
  • 1 cup minced onion
  • 2 cups meat broth
  • 1 tbs Worcestershire sauce
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Bring all ingredients to a boil and when onion is soft and raw meat is cooked add thickening paste (see above).

For the mash:

  • 1 lb potatoes, peeled and cut up

Boil potatoes in separate pot in water until very soft. Drain potatoes thoroughly, add 2 tbs butter or margarine and mash thoroughly with masher or large fork. When mixture is thoroughly mashed whip it with a large spoon, adding more or margarine if desired until mash is very thick and smooth. Transfer mash to serving plate and top with mince. Serve with boiled Brussels sprouts if desired.

Serves 2, or 1 with leftovers.

WEE BONNY JOHN’S SIMPLE FISH AND CHIPS**

For the fish:

  • ½ lb firm whitefish filet such as cod, snapper or perch

Cut filet into 4 2-oz pieces.

For the batter:

  • 1 cup flour, seasoned with salt, pepper and dried dill weed
  • ¼ tsp baking soda which has been dissolved
  • in 1 tbs vinegar

Stirring constantly, add sufficient water to make a thick batter.

For the chips:

  • ½ lb potatoes, peeled and sliced into chips of desired size

In a pot or deep skillet heat vegetable oil to high heat. Add chips and fry until golden brown. Remove chips from oil and drain on newspapers.

Dip fish in batter to coat and immediately fry in remaining hot oil for 2-3 minutes or until underside is brown; then turn fish with slotted spatula and fry for 1-2 minutes more. When fish coating is brown and firm remove fish from oil and drain on newspapers with chips. Serve with boiled carrots in parsley butter.

For the carrots:

  • 8 oz carrots, peeled and sliced

Boil in water until tender. Drain carrots and remove from pot. In drained pot add

  • 4 tbs butter or margarine
  • 1 tsp minced parsley
  • 1 tbs minced chives
  • 1tsp dried dill weed

Melt butter and stir until herbs and butter are evenly mixed, then add reserved cooked carrots and toss in parsley butter for about 5 minutes until carrot slices are evenly coated.

To serve, place fish, chips and carrots on serving plates and sprinkle fish and chips with salt and malt vinegar.

Serves 2. It doesn’t keep.

*If you mean bangers, the best way to cook them is to prick them so they won’t explode, then fry them gently in lard or bacon fat.

**That’s Mister Grumble‘s name for you, John love, not mine. At least I got him to stop calling you The Butcher of Oklahoma.

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Things I Did for Love, 1: Watched Get Carter (British MGM 1971, Mike Hodges Director) and Sarah Millican; and Listened to, But Didn’t Watch, The Orville

This is all bound up with my beloved John Wilson, Conductor being from Gateshead, of course. Even that Seth MacFarlane show.

Sarah Millican first. I swear, I tried listening to this fast-talking comedienne from nearby South Shields the middle of last year but could not keep up with her pace or her accent. Later I started watching old episodes of Auf Wiedersehn, Pet but it’s just so…masculine, you know? Which I suspect pretty much defines Geordie culture anyway… So I started alternating watching that show with When the Boat Comes In, which was more successful for me, as the estimable Northumbria-born actress Jean Heywood provided a good model of what a feminine northeast accent sounds like. After her it was a snap to follow Millican.

Second, The Orville, Seth MacFarlane’s Star Trek-like TV series. Like the 70s folksinger says, “I’m a stoner, I’m a trekker, I’m a young sky walker…” So yeh, I’d be interested in watching this show just to see if it measures up to the standards of my youth. Unfortunately, none of MacFarlane’s projects (except for pre-2013 Family Guy) ever sound interesting enough for me to overcome my intense personal dislike for him. So…maybe later. I did, however, listen to the show’s theme music, which was written by Andrew Cottee, the same young man who wrote some arrangements for The John Wilson Orchestra over in England. The theme does everything expected of it.

Third, Get Carter, 1971, starring Michael Caine and the City of Newcastle. Made this movie last on my list because it deserves two paragraphs, being the British noir classic that it is…

Sidebar: As we all now know from film school, existentialism is the engine of noir, which means that petty details like Michael Caine speaking in a thick Cockney accent* when his character’s supposed to be from Newcastle-upon-Tyne oughtn’t to matter to the sophisticated auditor. But I had a problem. I’m sorry. A year and a half ago I wouldn’t have cared, one Brit being the same as any other. Then I fell in love with John, Low Fell lad, and individuality suddenly became a very important thing to me.

The Movie Overall: Not quite sure why the filmmakers transplanted novelist Ted Lewis’s story from his original setting in Lincolnshire (Lewis’s birthplace), to Tyneside, but since it’s the classic story of the Anti-Hero’s Revenge, which works anytime, anyplace, it does fine here. Michael Caine’s a little podgy but quick with his reflexes and still a treat for the ladies. Lots of sex and violence, lots of local atmosphere, local faces, and landmarks like Tyne Bridge, the Newcastle Racecourse and, of course, the carpark across the Tyne River.

The Carpark in Gateshead Scene: By a stroke of luck Get Carter was just streamed on Criterion so I watched the entire movie, then to make sure, watched the carpark scene twice more in order to understand why it so sticks in the mind. Because it does, you know, even though I’m not a fan of movies like this. I guess it’s because there’s rather a high elegance to this scene that contrasts with all the mundaneness and phony poshness around it… Very arty, but a genuine statement. Or maybe it’s just because I like watching Michael Caine get all riled up.

Get-Carter-1971-Behind-The-Scenes-Michael-Caine-Brian-Mosely-Trinity-Square-Car-Park-Gateshead-2The now torn-down carpark at Trinity Square in Gateshead in this famous scene was a dreary piece of English Brutalist architecture that, according to its creator Rodney Gordon, was never meant to stand the test of time anyway. That’s the theme to The Orville above.

*I understand that a stage version of Get Carter was recently performed in Newcastle, with Carter’s accent spoken correctly.

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“We Can’t Let Those Hands Go Down a Pit”: Jean Heywood (1921 – 2019) in When the Boat Comes In, Episode 7, BBC 1976

Of course it’s not Bella Seaton (Jean Heywood) speaking that line, it’s her daughter, schoolteacher Jessie, pleading the case of an artistic young pupil doomed to work down the coal pit in Gallowshields, a post-WWI fictional town—a composite, I believe, of all the little towns along the River Tyne in the north near Newcastle (you know, that place in the phrase “Selling coals to Newcastle is like selling ice to Eskimos”) including the town where my beloved John Wilson was born and bred, Gateshead*.  Bella is the strong-willed matriarch, as we Yanks would say, of the Seaton family, so she gets a lot of scenes, which is great because I pick up the Geordie accent from Northumberland-born Heywood more easily than from anyone else in the show.

As I might have mentioned a few postings ago I did three of my flicks speaking in a foreign accent: one in French, one in Cuban, and one in Malaysian, which I actually did in Filipino but no one could tell the difference. I like to practice the Geordie accent during off moments, you know, because it reminds me of John, and so it gives me pleasure.

Jean Heywood When the Boat Comes In.jpgAmerican audiences will probably better remember Jean Heywood, who died in September at the age of 98, as the grandmother in another classic story about artistic aspirations in the north, Billy Elliot. There’s neighborhood lad Alex Glasgow singing the show’s theme song “When the Boat Comes In” with the backing of the (now Royal) Northern Sinfonia.

*Low Fell, to be precise.

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John Wilson and Rodgers & Hammerstein

I started collecting these Moments after getting right annoyed, not when I first heard my beloved Geordie lad John Wilson cheerfully dismissing Oscar Hammerstein II‘s lyrics as being “needless”, not after the 2010 BBC Proms (an R+H tribute) or even the 2017 BBC Proms (Okla-freakin-homa! for God’s sake), but later on when I read about John in Brighton trying to conduct a sing-along with his concert audience in “You’ll Never Walk Alone” the way Liverpool soccer club fans like to sing it when they’re winning—a song cue I HATE HATE HATE and would like to strangle the group responsible, Gerry and the Pacemakers, for.

John Wilson Crush SunderlandCrush Sunderland!

The rule for bringing up a Rodgers & Hammerstein song in a Moment is simple: You sing it spontaneously—knowing the words and understanding and conveying its sentimental message—at the right moment. You have to read the moment, John. In the Jack Benny scene the humor is clear because everybody knows the words to “Getting to Know You” and everybody knows about Jack’s musical vanity vs his excessive courtliness toward pretty talented women; in the Cheers scene, Diane’s song cue is truly meant to comfort and inspire, and so makes for a genuine moment for everybody; in 3rd Rock, well, “Oklahoma!” is just the ultimate rouser. You don’t even have to sing it well. (So a much better sing-along song actually.)

So it kind of heartens me, John, that you won’t be going back to mangling The Great American Songbook for awhile. Here’s hoping you take a long vacation in Bermuda, my Tyneside darling. Get a tan, get laid. When you come back, commit yourself to the orchestral repertoire you do best. Remember, I’m still listening…and I think you know why.

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Bradley Creswick, Leader of the Royal Northern Sinfonia, Discusses Vaughan Williams’s “The Lark Ascending”

This is the group my beloved John Wilson wished a happy birthday to, and it’s a truly worthwhile one: The Royal Northern Sinfonia has an outstanding record in community outreach in the northeast of England. It’s pleasing to think that bonny John had a childhood filled with such musical memories—makes me recall my girlhood days hanging around Northrop Auditorium and the Minneapolis Symphony, now the Minnesota Orchestra. (Will tell all about my Vietnam War-era music school/protest days sometime.)

Royal Northern Sinfonia Leader Bradley CreswickBradley Creswick at the upstairs hall at The Sage, the Royal Northern Sinfonia’s permanent home in Gateshead, on the south side of the river from Newcastle. That’s the Tyne and the Tyne Bridge out the window.

Royal Northern Sinfonia is a British chamber orchestra, founded in Newcastle upon Tyne and currently based in Gateshead. For the first 46 years of its history, the orchestra gave the bulk of its concerts at the Newcastle City Hall. Since 2004, the orchestra has been resident at The Sage, Gateshead. In June 2013 Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II bestowed the title “Royal” on the orchestra, formally naming it the Royal Northern Sinfonia.

The vid above doesn’t have the entire Vaughan Williams, so here’s my Tyneside lad conducting this exquisite piece:

The Lark Ascending”
Made in Britain, album
Ralph Vaughan Williams, composer
Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra
John Wilson, conductor
Avie Records, 2011

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John Wilson, Conductor Wishes the Royal Northern Sinfonia a Happy 60th Birthday, 3 December 2018

John Wilson and Royal Northern Sinfonia

Oh John honey. You’re a sweetheart to do this when you’ve barely unpacked.

John conducted Ralph Vaughan Williams’s Symphony No 5 in D major with the Royal Northern Sinfonia at The Sage in his home town of Gateshead 1 March 2019.

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At the End of the Year 2018: While I Still Have Conductor John Wilson In My Head

I’m still finding it mighty strange that John was born on the same day as my father’s final birthday, in 1972—on the 25th of May, which would make them both Geminis—but somehow it starts to make sense: There’s John of the BBC and Eric Coates and Ralph Vaughan Williams and the tra-la-boomy-boom that makes up English music; and then there’s John of the big-shouldered swaggering sweating bombastic vibrant American tune book. One (when he plays it well) makes me want to cook him a nice lamb stew with pearl onions swimming in the rich gravy; the other (again, when he plays it well, which is almost always) makes me want to—well, I was in The Business, you know, use your imagination.

John Wilson Album
Low Fell Lad Makes Good

Only don’t be too sure which is which. Like I said, John almost always plays the music of his own country and heritage well, with a deep feeling that’s irresistible; whereas when he works out the great American tunes it turns out more often to be hit-and-miss, with many many many more misses than hits.

But oh! When he does hit!

When bonny John and his orchestra play “Get Happy” or “The Trolley Song” or “June Is Bustin’ Out All Over” or the MGM Jubilee Overture—or the absolute best of the lot, “Slaughter On Tenth Avenue“—it’s freakin’ heaven, and I’m not the only one to say this. Subtlety is not this lad’s forte when it comes to the American popular repertoire. But when John goes big, bright, busy and loud when the number actually calls for it, screams out for it, it’s so damn satisfying when he does it and does it brilliantly that I want to—how can I put this?—do something for my darling in gratitude…make him a nice meal…fatten him up a little… (Ess, kind, ess!)

For right now, though, I’ll settle for a natter on a quiet afternoon, rather not in London, maybe when you get up to Gateshead again, back to The Angel of the North

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