LAST year, it probably won’t be recalled, the lady of this house flew off for a week in New York, otherwise the Big Apple. The column caught a bus to the New York that’s just outside North Shields, otherwise the gowk.

This time she’s swanned off for a week in Washington. The follow-up can doubtless by imagined.

It’s not a fear of flying that keeps me grounded, though I get a bit dizzy on the gangplank. Rather it’s the medics’ insistence that it would be foolhardy, clottish even, to take off at all. High risk at 30,000 feet.

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The original Washington, the one over here, is a curious place. Though said to be equidistant from Durham, Newcastle and Sunderland, it’s a fair bet that 95 per cent of the inhabitants of those cities have never once visited.

Similarly the A1 motorway hurries by to the west, the A19 to the east, both seemingly anxious to put their foot down as they pass.

Probably it didn’t help that, though the place was built in “villages” – Biddick to Barmston, Columbia to Concord – early road signs offered navigation by district numbers, one-to-fifteen.

The 2011 census counted the population at 67,085, up almost 14,000 from a decade earlier, making it the third biggest place in England without a railway station. Gosport and Newcastle-under-Lyme, since you ask.

Not even the Tyne and Wear Metro wanders to Washington, having several times considered, it but always thought better of the idea.

Usually, the column only goes for the football: it was time to pay a proper visit.

IT was two Fridays ago: bus into Darlington, train to Durham, breakfast opposite the bus station at The Water House – a Wetherspoons pub that once was the headquarters of the Shildon and Weardale Water Company.

By 10am it’s overflowing with men in yellow jackets and hard hats, though most remember their fetchings up and take their hats off when eating. If only they wouldn’t sing. Or swear. Or talk with their mouths full.

The Water House is probably the stay-at-home equivalent of Heathrow Airport, a transit point. One of the bairns has bought his mum a first class lounge pass; there doesn’t appear to be a first class lounge at Wetherspoons.

I’m on table 69, order breakfast, wait ages. Could it be that it’s really table 96? Shouldn’t they have a little line beneath the number, like they did – maybe still do – with bingo balls?

Unmissable, the workers are served first. What I need’s a high-viz jacket.

EGREGIOUSLY named Whey-aye-Five-O, the service 50 runs every half hour from Durham to South Shields, via Chester-le-Street and Washington. Quite a lot of folk seem to be headed from Chester-le-Street to Washington; I’m not sure what that says about Chester.

The bus station’s next to the Galleries Shopping Centre. It’s a perfectly good bus station – clean, functional and informative and thus an awful lot better than, say, Darlington’s. There’s just one snag: it’s connected to the shopping centre by a bridge.

So far as this caffy-hearted column is concerned, any bridge is a bridge too far.

In for a penny, in for a pound shop, the Galleries when finally accessed appears little different from any other big shopping centre in the land: that is to say, it’s hell on earth.

Since there are almost no seats, save those for which a purchase is necessary, the weary lean against the numerous litter bins. The bins carry advertising: “Tired of being tired? Try Floralix.”

It’s a masterwork of product placement.

The plan’s to have a swift look around and then head for the Sir William de Wessyngton in Concord, a Wetherspoons pub named after the first of the Washingtons and said in the Good Beer Guide to be a real ale oasis.

The reality’s grimmer, seemingly forever condemned to circle a shopping centre where the travel agency offers 14 days in Cuba as a more enticing alternative. A vigilant CCTV operator would watch engrossed, a disoriented hamster on a ceaseless wheel, proof that you don’t have to cross the Atlantic to be an innocent abroad.

Seared among the Christmas trees, Santa twinkles beneath his beard. In reality, though, he’s probably wondering what on earth that dozy old devil is up to.

Painted large across a beam is the aphorism, attributed to Frank Baum who wrote The Wizard of Oz, that there’s no place like home. That undoubtedly being the case, what on earth are so many of us doing here?

Even poor old Sisyphus, condemned for his sins forever to roll the same old boulder to within feet of the top of the hill, may never have had torments like this.

Among the stranger things is that no one seems to be buying anything, or at least carrying anything. Presumably they come here for fun.

FINALLY I find a way out, and another problem. Almost all the escape routes are over bridges, too. The centre of Washington also seems to have hardly any pavements. As probably they used to say at meetings of Newcastle upon Tyne TUC, what aboot the walkers?

At last there’s a sanctuary, a subway. A notice urges not to dump supermarket trolleys, but is hardly visible for dumped supermarket trolleys. Peace and Concord are further threatened because the paths are almost impassably icy.

Like all local authorities, Sunderland City Council is no doubt facing straitened circumstances, but surely they have a slush fund?

Somewhere over the road there’s yet another shopping centre, or retail park as apparently these things must now be called. That appears to be The Galleries, too, and with a pet food shop the size of a football pitch.

Royal Canin cat food is reduced from £31 to £21, though whether that’s a ton or a hundredweight, it doesn’t say.

At the fifth attempt I find someone who knows their way around, and discover that Concord is in diametrically the opposite direction. There’s also a house – not a white house, a rather grey house, and succeeded by many more of the same.

Eventually I head back to the Galleries, essay a few more elliptical laps, fall into a pub that really is called The Oasis and discover it to be a mirage. Not a drop of real ale in sight.

Like the best remembered of all the Washingtons, I cannot tell a lie: the experience has been fearful. It’ll doubtless have been better Stateside; she’ll be home, thank goodness, ere long.