Saturday, 27 June 2015

Newcastle upon Tyne - a stroll about the toon

Blaydon Racists?





Ah me lads, ye shud only 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,

Gawn alang the Scotswood Road, to see the Blaydon Races......




It's about 6.30 on a still June morning.  Chaffinches burr their skirling songs with a geordie lilt, and Leazes Park is fresh and calm. Around the boating lake fishermen stare at their floats, or doze in their bivouacs, licensed by the Leazes Park Angling Association, whose 31 club rules include: Anglers fishing specifically for carp must use a suitable soft unhooking mat with a minimum size of 30 x 18 inches to prevent damage to fish..... One man I meet has all the gear, and, with his camera set up on a tripod, he instructs his pal on how to press the shutter, a 20 lbs 12 oz common carp gently cradled in his arms. After the photo shoot they cushion the fish wetly back into the water and proudly relax.  This wasn't a record breaker - Steve Henderson got one weighing 27 lbs 13 oz in 2009 - but it was a good night's work.....




The Park was created in 1873, and the lake was originally used for boating and ice-skating.  These days fish and birds take precedence, though there have been periods of neglect.





The bandstand was built by George Smith and Hay in 1875, but 'disappeared' (?) in the 1960s (prime suspects Terry Collier and Bob Ferris).  It was reconstructed from archive pictures as part of the heritage park regeneration. Other recreations include the 1902 bust of Alderman Sir Charles Hamond, who supported the original campaign for the park - the bust was 'lost' in 1992 - and the 1879 wrought iron Jubilee Gates, which 'fell into disrepair' ..... These, and the bust, were restored in 2004.

The ups and downs of the fortune of Leazes Park mirror the recent history of this city, as the ship-yards declined in the late twentieth century, though the University was founded in 1963 and employment in the public sector grew.  The park is now well-kept and well-used, and a discreet stone set in the ground before a memorial tree marks a kind of regeneration of the city.




Overshadowing Leazes Park, and dominating the city, is the Newcastle United FC stadium, St James's Park, which began life in 1880 and was completed in 2000, now having a capacity of 52,338 seats (though 68,826 watched Newcastle play Chelsea in 1930).  It is the second biggest sports ground in the UK with the largest cantilever roof in Europe; it has hosted concerts by Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen; and it will be one of the venues for the Rugby World Cup this autumn.....




Football is part of Newcastle, part of the brown blood that carries the city's DNA. Jackie Milburn is fondly remembered not only in statue but also in the name of the north stand of St James' Park (better memories than the Gallowgate stand which is built on the site of Newcastle's gallows). Jackie Milburn was second cousin to Jack and Bobby Charlton (remember 1966?) and was related to Jack, George, Jimmy and Stan Milburn (I'd never heard of them either, Ed).... His statue, currently in Strawberry Place, just opposite the eponymous pub, cost £35,000, and was paid for by donations from Newcastle United supporters.  He was inducted into the English Football Hall of Fame in 2006.....



Wor Jackie
1924 - 1988

In honour of John Edward Thompson Milburn
Footballer & Gentleman



Another local legend was Sir Bobby Robson, who as a boy was taken to the stadium to see Wor Jackie, and then ended his career as manager of the Magpies. His statue stands at the Gallowgate East Corner.....



And now a word for Bobby Robson, hero of the Toon; 
A football man, a gentleman, who never let wor doon; 
A friendly word, a cheery smile, and brave right to the end; 
We're proud to say your one of wors, 
Sir Bob... Auf Wiedersehen

(Billy Mitchell: to the tune of Blaydon Races)



[A confession:  football was part of my passion when I was a kid, but somehow it bled away, and as seats have come in and prices gone up, I have felt less and less enthused. 

Another Geordie superstar was Paul Gascoigne, and although one of Sheryl's two children was in my daughter Hannah's class in Rome, and Gazza sometimes lunched in our friend Franco's trattoria when he was contracted to Lazio, he never helped me regain my love for the beautiful game. Working with Steve McClaren's sister and brother-in-law in Rome, and meeting the England Manager-to-be, also never quite rekindled the spark I had once felt on the concrete steps of Bramall Lane, clutching styrofoam cups of oxo and a rolled up newspaper..... But my confession is this: there is an aura on this quiet morning as I wander around St James' Park, and something stirs in me. Football means something here, something beating like a heart, and I can feel that pulse....]



The sun is well up now.  I take a moment to rest in St Andrew's, reputedly the oldest church in the city, with more twelfth century remains than any other.  I am struck by a memorial to Charles Avison, 1709 - 1770, The most important English concerto composer of the 18th century.  Mentioned by Laurence Sterne in Tristram Shandy, and in John Wesley's Journal, he was also mentioned by Robert Browning in his poem Parleying with Certain People of Importance in their Day (1887):  
Hear Avison! He tenders evidence
That music in his day as much absorbed
Heart and soul then as Wagner's music now.

A notice in the church recalls that Avison's circle included William Herschel (Court Astronomer to George III) and Thomas Bewick (an engraver, best known for his History of British Birds, though also honoured by having Bewick's Swan named after him.....)  The notice, however, concludes, Sadly, and probably because of his loyalty to Newcastle, his fame waned after his death and his work has been largely neglected and forgotten.




Nearby, remains of the city walls vie with brickwork and tile in what has become Chinatown....  Nothing quite seems but what it is.....





A few steps away, in a slice of old town that has survived the Newcastle Science Central Development, a modest house bears a plaque:




1, Summerhill Terrace,
Mo Mowlam lived here....



A blue star, rescued from Gateshead, adorns a fragment of wall, commemorating what once, apparently, gave reason to discreet hospital wards.....




And, looking up, chimneys in great number once pumped smoke into the air,




While cobble stones and iron railings caught the sparks of life, and let them die...





To revive my flagging spirit, I slip into the cafe society, and take a cappuccino and a bacon roll, all'italiano.....






It's good morning now, and the world is awake.  Between the Central Railway Station and the Newcastle Chinese Christian Church (#4 Bewick Street, named after the engraver above) I meet Cardinal Basil Hume, standing in a garden that represents his particular attachment for the holy landscape of Northumbria and the Northern Saints from which he drew spiritual inspiration....





I meet another worthy Geordie in Grainger Street, which bears the name of Richard Grainger, who designed and built much of the centre of the city between 1824 and 1841, including Grey Street, which Nicholas Pevsner described as one of the finest streets in England.... 



Man With Potential Selves
one of three painted bronze figures
by Sean Henry (2003)




It is 10.05.  Outside the Church of St John the Baptist, a couple take a leisurely breakfast, perhaps thinking that had it been a Tuesday, Thursday or Saturday, they could have been inside for Eucharist.....






While at the Beehive Hotel, only minutes later, I note that several people have already commenced their sacramental rites, whether you see them as first, or last......







Though just down the road, opposite the Job Centre, Java Jim's has served its last coffee, subject to demolition or perhaps what may be worse, subjugation to a chain.....







For a moment I slip into the Cathedral, partly to avoid the black looks of a bronzed Queen Victoria who perches outside as if seated on a hedgehog, and partly to use St Nicholas's conveniences, for which I am most grateful. This, the most northerly of England's cathedrals, is, according to its website, a place of quiet serenity set amid the busyness of a vibrant city.....  The organ, originally supplied by Renatus Harris in 1676, was once the plaything of Charles Avison, his son, and his grandson, and it is still in use today.  Though not actually at this moment.....
  




Another place of quiet serenity, is Stephenson's High Level Bridge, which carries trains between London and Edinburgh 112 feet above the Tyne, and southbound buses and taxis to Gateshead on the lower level. Why anyone should have spent nearly half a million pounds in the middle of the 19th century constructing a weak bridge I am not sure, but perhaps this fine example of privatisation is a clue to the perilous state of the nation's finances today (or not?)




It does however provide an excellent place to stroll, perambulate, cycle, contemplate ending it all, or  simply to practise graffiti, leaning out to inscribe the wrought ironwork with words such as BARBARA, DAREK, 2015, POLSKA, over which another hand has written boldly, WIOLA.  I peer down to scan the muddy tidal shores by the swing bridge for a desolate corpse, or perhaps just a trace of suicidal angst, like a knitted cap, or a fox fur muff - but there is nothing. Just mud and that eternal foggy river stretching away to wherever.....

[I remember now, it was from Newcastle that I sailed to Bergen in 19 hundred and whenever, on the SS Leda, I believe, sister ship to the Vomiting Venus, bobbing swan-like across the North Sea with basinfuls of bile-green schoolboys enjoying the crossing far less than the exuberant Norwegians who treated the trip as a 24  hr bar to escape Nordic frowns on any alcoholic enjoyment.....]





From this vantage point it is clear why Newcastle is upon Tyne, and why the bridges are such a feature of its fame.  But, one wonders, what happened here before the bridges? R W Johnson wrote in The Making of the Tyne, in 1895, Everywhere from the dancing waters of the harbour to the ebb and flow of the throbbing city (are) industry, resource and expansion, coal staiths, shipyards, engine shops, dry docks, chemical works, forges, electrical lighting laboratories, warehouses, merchant's offices, steamships, railway trains, without end, without number - from Shields to Scotswood there is not its like in any thirteen mile of river the world over.

But he doesn't mention the bridges....  I pick up this on a website dedicated to Bridges on the Tyne: The bridges over the Tyne between Newcastle and Gateshead are justifiably famous. They are not merely bridges, but icons for the North East. Over the years the single (Georgian) bridge existing in the early Victorian period has been joined by six others.....

So there was a Georgian Bridge? But what about the Romans? Did they ferry the entire 9th Legion across in coracles? Is that why they never came back? Reluctantly I stray into Wikipedia country, and learn that the Romans bridged the Tyne with the Pons Aelius in the mid second century AD. 

Ah.

While I am there I also learn, from Wikipedia, that, The Castle, Newcastle, is a medieval fortification in Newcastle upon Tyne, England, built on the site of the fortress which gave the City of Newcastle its name.....

Ah!

I was wondering.....







Anyway, tempus fugits, and I must get a whizz on....  Must see the latest of the bridges; that which folds up to let the great flux of shipping pass.  






It is rather beautiful, and it captures the idea of a half sunken bicycle wheel that seems apt somehow....






This last image was captured from the fifth floor of the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art.  The third and fourth floor are closed as they are working on installing the spectacular new commission DEPOT, made especially for [our] Level 4 gallery, [which] re-imagines ‘Jonah the Giant Whale’, a preserved whale exhibited inside a lorry which toured across Europe from the 1950s to the mid-1970s. [Fiona] Tan will rebuild the 71-foot-long vehicle; however, it will now contain a cabinet of curiosities, inviting the viewer to climb aboard. Drawing on Newcastle’s forgotten history as a major whaling port, Depot is an exhibition within an exhibition..... 

You get the picture?  I had, perhaps, indeed, forgot Newcastle's history as a major whaling port....

But not to worry, I can at least see Undetailed Progress, by Northern Ireland's Tony Swain, in which the artist uses sections of newspaper that are pieced together as a support for paintings of fragmented landscapes and abstract patterns.



[Using acrylic paints, he fixes these ‘works on paper’ directly to the gallery walls, emphasising the everyday and temporary feel of newsprint. While occasional details of the newsprint and images survive, most are transformed by their inclusion within Swain’s painted world.]


Ah.







But I wanted to read the paper....




Not really....

Not today, anyway....



My time is nearly up.  From the stillness of that gasping carp to the still carping gasp of the Baltic, I have traversed thoroughfares and alleys, bridges and quays....  a marvellous morning perambulation.  But I have one last port of call before I have to leave.....

The beach.....







Unexpected, maybe, but Newcastle has been busy reinventing itself forever, and there's no call to stop now. Just because the Romans left..... Just because shipbuilding declined, mining stopped (so no more coals to Newcastle) and so on and so forth.....  Here, on the beach on the Quayside, by the law courts, and hard by a neat new pub called the Broad Chare, which serves Haggis on toast with duck egg and HP sauce, absolutely washable down with a pint of The Writer's Block Pale Ale (A very well balanced golden bitter with a massive citrus aroma. Pine fresh with lemon and pink grapefruit on the palate and an American edge from the Centennial finish).....

[Jeyes Fluid anybody?]

Sorry.  

I love it.

Here on the beach on the Quayside, where the whalers used to queue to get into the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art across the Millenium Bridge, I meet Terry Collier, or Eric Burdon (what's in a name?)  Here, on the beach, under an engraved representation of the river Tyne, in the sun, on the sand, I meet Bob Ferris, or Hilton Valentine, and he goes on about how there used to be ships here and ships there, and whalers and colliers (and Ferrises and Hiltons).....







Across the river, roughly where perhaps the infamous Dr Gibbs held his surgery:

[Sum went to the Dispensary an' uthers to Doctor Gibbs,
An' sum sought out the Infirmary to mend their broken ribs.]

Anyway, across there, where now wafts the Sage, Gateshead, gleaming and pupating inside its swelling exoskeleton, there lives another world of Blaydon racists, those fiercely defensive northerners who sing lustily to the loudest of their ability.....

Don't get me wrong.  Don't let me be misunderstood..... The Geordie is a race apart, but for good reason. He may fish in the night, drink in the morning, and laze in a deckchair on the beach in the afternoon, but his heart is made of football, and his love is for his fellow, and he'll dance a jig an' swing his twig the day he goes to Blaydon.....

Love it.....







Oh! me lads, ye shud a' seen w'us gannin,

Passin' the folks alang the road just as they were stannin'.

Aal the' lads and lasses there, aal wi' smiling faces,

Gannin' alang the Scotswood Road to see the Blaydon Races






Oh, what happened to you?
Whatever happened to me?
What became of the people we used to be?
Tomorrow's almost over,
Today went by so fast,

Saturday, 20 June 2015

Scotland - Munros - Three Steps to Heaven

À bout de souffle.....



My Big Bro' bags Munros, which are mountains in Scotland over 3,000 feet (914.4 metres) high. They were first listed by Sir Hugh Munro in 1891. He listed 283 separate mountains as Munros, and 255 other 'tops' which are subsidiary summits over 3,000 feet. A review in 2012 has 282 Munros and 227 tops. 

My Bro' has 73 to do......


So, in a fit of lassitude (and brotherly love), I agreed to keep the old goat (sorry, my brother) company, and I find myself being driven mad by the new roads by-passing Edinburgh on a June Friday evening.  It's mid-June; so the days are long, and balmy.....  I packed diligently for the trip, with shorts, tee shirts.  And I forgot gloves and waterproof trousers.  It's June?  

Yeah.




Saturday morning finds us at a car park near the Old Bridge of Tilt, in the grounds of Blair Castle near Blair Atholl. The mention of Blair is ominous, and this leads me to think of ex-racing pundit (and opponent of Blair's invasion of Iraq) Robin Cook and his untimely, mysterious death in the Highlands..... I feel breathless already. Neither the weather nor the forecast are that good, and it is as well that I have been able to borrow some waterproof trousers and a pair of gloves.....  Not that they will make it any easier!





The route from our point of departure to the summit of Beinn Dearg is said to be a very long hill-walk through mostly straightforward terrain.  It is going to be 29 kms (18.25 miles) with an ascent of 1028 metres up a Land Rover track on the approach then hill paths on exposed higher ground.  



The last trek I did was along a stretch of Hadrian's Wall in aid of the Alzheimer's Society - and that was a year ago.  The last Munro I went up was Sgurr Alasdair in the Cuillin - and that was in 1976! In recent years fitness has not been my forte, and in general I prefer white wine to Kendal Mint Cake and pubs to fruit bars.....




It is easy-going to start with.  The scenery is not exciting, with the heather yet to bloom, and dull clouds sitting on the hill tops. Something like a blend of rain and soup seeps from the sky, and I realise we are taking our time when a volley of younger chaps suddenly appear and pass us.  It's true that we overtake them when they stop at the Allt Sheicheachan bothy to take some performance-enhancing drugs (probably Nutella) but predictably they shoot past us again just where the path branches off the made track.


The path becomes rough and steep, and a wind picks up.  I have to put the gloves on, as suddenly my fingers are painfully cold. Something pings hard against my hood making my ear sing.  For a moment I think it is raining the pink granite granules that scatter the ground, but it is only hail....

The wind picks up.  The temperature drops.  Visibility is not relevant as I am only looking at the rising ground in front of me.  I see a cairn, and think we have made it, but, typically, there is another hill to go.  

The wind almost picks me up. Gusts of what I guess to be 50 or 60 miles an hour add to the chill. I concentrate on the achievement.  It cannot be far now and then we can eat our sandwiches.  Then it will be all downhill.....





Yes, well.  There is a certain element of achievement at the very top.  But this is outnumbered by the other elements that conspire to kill us if we sit around too long.  So, no time to rest, Big Bro' declares no lunch here, but a quick exit.....

My fingers are so cold I fear frostbite, but as we descend the views open up and gradually I appreciate just how far we have come.  






And it is grand.  There will be better views, and there could be better days, but we have breasted the inaccessible, and spread out in front of us is a highland landscape that you have to work for.

We take an alternative route back, following the track we left earlier to slip round the southwest slopes of Beinn a'Chaitfollowing the Allt Slanaidh as it tumbles to join the River Tilt in the Glen far below. Everything seems still now we are out of the wind, but then we see deer close by, watching us from both sides of the track.





A weak sun appears, which is just as well as we have to take off our boots to ford the swollen river. From here it is just jarred knees and stiff hips and rambling chatter as we dodge the bullets from the shooting range on our left, back amongst the light greens and churring chaffinches of deciduous woods.  

I must admit that the walk has left me trembling like a hand-held camera, and a little out of breath, but not so damaged as we cannot manage fish and chips and a couple of pints of Light Ale at the Moulin Inn just outside Pitlochry....






Next morning, with the prospect of a brighter day, but a nagging thought that I should have brought a Zimmer frame instead of hiking poles, we mosey up Glen Lyon to park at Inverar.  





Most Munroists here do a circuit route that takes in four Munros, but Big Bro' has done three of them already, so we 'just' have the one to do - the 1029 metres of Carn Gorm. Nothing really.  A walk in the park compared with yesterday. Or perhaps it would be had yesterday not happened.  And we still have to get to the top.....





The start is OK, possibly made easier by some heavy hydro-electric work along the Inverar Burn which has necessitated a smooth road. But once across the burn things start to get steep. The phrase thigh-buster is used in another blog about this route, and, sure enough, it's not long before my thighs are bust....




Fairly soon after this I begin to wonder whether there shouldn't be defibrillators installed at discreet intervals on hills like these, but then I counter that thought with the reminder that most people who come here are probably rather fitter than me.  The point is reinforced when a couple of youngsters sprint past me in trainers.  I ask whether they were out in the weather yesterday, but one of them says he was working late last night.  My case rests.....






I grumble on, imagining I am on Everest as a patch of snow becomes an ice-field to me.  It's mid June, for Chrissake!  But then the sky breaks up and cloud shadows race across the shoulders of the hill below, and, between inhalations I am inspired again.....





And looking back I spy the green sward of Glen Lyon, where we started.  A walk in the park?  The perfect site for a cable car more like.




Those scudding clouds should have made me realise that we were now in the jet stream, and, though it's not quite as bracing as yesterday, it is, in fact, proper bracing up here!  But soon I catch up with Bro' and get the thumbs up.  

With Loch Rannoch in the background, it's time for lunch!







It's Day Three in the Big Brother world, and there's blue sky, I'm thinking. I get up feeling strangely fit, the back pains, stiff knees and arthritic hands all part of a bad dream.....  Or am I dreaming?  



Off to Coishavachan up Glen Lednock where we watch young Martins bathing in a muddy puddle, before starting out for Ben Chonzie, a mere eight miles and 712 metres of ascent.





We start in what could pass for June - green grass, fluffy clouds in an azure sky, lambs ready for mint sauce.....  But every silver lining has its clouds, and soon we can see squalls fleeting across the heavens.  





It's even more realistic (?) in black and white.  You get more of the sense of chills....




We are fortunate.  A spray of sleet ruffles our eyebrows, but it's as fleeting as the mountain hares that bound crazily through the scree. 

Parts of the path are quite steep, but Bro' has taught me to breathe gently and I'm not as breathless as before. Though, ironically, it is the view from the summit that takes my breath away..... 





If there is a heaven, and if it were a bit like this, I reckon I could die happy.  I am slightly surprised perhaps that the thirty-three miles and two and a half thousand metres of ascent in three days hasn't had me shuffling off my mortal coire (sic), though these days I sometimes wonder if there's much difference between being alive and being dead (don't ask - it's all in the mind).  

Big Bro' has seventy-five more of these hillocks to surmount.  If I have breath enough, I will be his Cairn Terrier again, and with pleasure.  As I am sure someone once said, the more it hurts, the better it is......



Shortly after Eddie Cochran was killed on the A4 at Chippenham in 1960 (his taxi blew a tyre and hit a street lamp), his song Three Steps to Heaven reached number one in the UK Hit Parade. Eddie (and his brother Bob)'s three steps were a little different from the ones I have just taken, but it's still a mighty fine tune to get high to.....






And now, as Jean-Paul Belmondo, as Michel Poiccard, pretending to be Laslo Kovacs, said in Jean-Luc Godard's À bout de souffle (Breathless):  I'm tired. I'm going to sleep......