Video Saturday – Billy Joel

When I lived in The Queens (a pub) in Whitley Bay (78-82) there were two cool places to go of an evening, this was before Whitley Bay became an ultra-cool place to be of a weekend, this was in the day when “sleaze” and “yesterdays town” were the two phrases that sprang to mind when Whitley Bay was mentioned, this was just before the Metro made it to Whitley Bay and suddenly the inner-city crowds were attracted to the town, trendy bars sprang up, some owned by famous popular music stars and the hordes took over.

No this was back in the day when the place was frequented only by contractors looking for cheap digs and travelling salesmen passing through once every four weeks looking for a cheap woman, back in the day when the current Mrs Jerrychicken and I were what was commonly called “courting” and a chap like me needed a cool place to impress his court-ee.

There were two cool places to go in Whitley Bay in the autumn of 1980, one was tentatively called a “restaurant” right on the seafront, Alices Restaurant in fact and just like the Arlo Guthrie song it was a homage to America, these days we’d call it a burger bar but in 1980 McDonalds hadn’t been invented in the UK, a Wimpey bar was as close to genuine American burgers as you could get and Wimpey wasn’t close at all, not even by the most generous measure.

Alices Restuarant sold home made “American” ham burgers, a sit-down diner style restaurant with checked table cloths and Norman Rockwell Saturday Evening Post posters decorating the walls, we’d go there regularly through the week and eat exotic sauce and garnishes with our quarter pounders, it was in Alices Restaurant that I first tasted BBQ sauce and sweetcorn relish, it was like being in a foreign country – and you can stop laughing right now, remember, all that Newcastle had to offer as a garnish was pease fooking pudding, or fart fudge as one of Suzannes relatives still calls it.

The other really cool place to take your walking-out companion was the bar on the corner of The Rex Hotel. The Rex was the biggest hotel right ont he seafront at Whitley Bay and had probably seen better days, I hope it had seen better days anyway because the 1970s were pretty dismal for The Rex and its reputation amongst the travelling salesmen of the UK as the best place to pick up a loose granny for the night on the weekly “grab-a-granny” nights, and when they said “granny” believe me, they really did mean octogenarian.

But in the autumn of 1980 someone at the hotel had invested some of the proceeds of the weekly granny sales into the large unused bar right in the corner of the hotel, the one with the huge picture windows on three sides that looked out across the promenade to the North Sea and beyond, sounds nice doesn’t it, we’re talking October/November here, dark rainy nights, streetlights broken, not a soul on the streets, maybe a cat wailing somewhere for effect and a raincoated figure in a fedora hat leaning on a lamp post lighting a cigarette while he stares at an upper storey window – I just added that last bit for effect, good eh…

And so myself and the current Mrs Jerrychicken would ajourn to the bar in the corner of The Rex and we’d be the only ones in the place and we’d sit at its large circular bar in the middle of the room and order beers and a pizza to share, hey, I knew how to “court” a girl in those days, “share a pizza ?” it worked every time.

And some monkey in the bowels of the hotel would get a Findus frozen pizza out of the freezer and spend forever warming it up while we sipped our first beers and talked into the night – and without fail the barman would put on the Billy Joel tape “Turnstiles” and “New York State of Mind” would ring out around the cavernous but empty room – we were starring in our very own Norman Rockwell painting, four nights a week.


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