The Jim Clark Museum

The trip to Duns has become an annual pilgrimage.  Last year in April, to commemorate fifty years since Jim Clark’s death at Hockenheim in 1968 and, this year, for the opening of the extended and much enhanced museum. Last year in the Elise, this year, 167 miles on the F850 GS on a perfect day for riding.

The displays include a new commemorative film, his trophies, a walk-around time-line of memorabilia and two of his iconic vehicles:  the Lotus 25 R6 on loan from the Tinguely Museum Switzerland and a Lotus Cortina on loan from Dario Franchitti – perfect choices.  Clark was stunning in any Lotus but for real entertainment, there was no better sight than Jim flying the Ford at ten tenths through the apex on three wheels.

The Power of One

The Lotus 25 R6

The Lotus Cortina “in flight”

The interior

Lotus Cortina – close up

Looking at the Cortina more closely, I was reminded that they were originally badged under the Consul brand. My parents belonged to the ‘Ford family’ owning three consecutive Consuls throughout the 1950s and early 1960s. They have appeared at various times in this blog, including the original MK1. Just at the time they might have gone down the Cortina road, they chose the Corsair – a big mistake, the first being so unreliable, it was quickly replaced by another. I can only assume at a significant discount.

The primary difference between the two Corsairs was that the first’s crunchy column-change was finally replaced with a standard floor-change in the second. Mother had learned with a column-change and in her usual determined fashion, she was sticking to it, long after it was a good idea. When they returned from working abroad in the mid 1970s they remained loyal to Ford, finally acquiring a Mk III Cortina. After that it was a Volvo 343 followed by a series of pedestrian Vauxhalls. As with many other aspects of their later years, automotively they had lost their way.

Fairway and tarmac …

There are no signs.  The implication is that if you don’t know where to go then you shouldn’t be here.  It will be different when the Open arrives along these shores but at all other times, Muirfield is discreet, understated, almost forbidding.

It starts in the car park.  Should I really be here.  Is this row of covered stalls really intended for guests.  The pewter grey Elise looks perfectly at home, more at ease in its surroundings than me.  The walk to the course and clubhouse is no less a pilgrimage than first steps along Magnolia Drive.  Still there are no signs but the imposing P Johnson & Co Iron Gates is the obvious direction – if Bates Motel had boasted a golf course, this is how the entrance might have looked.  To the right is the pedestrian gate and this alone solemnly announces that you have arrived at The Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers.

Inside the clubhouse my generous host for the day gives me a tour of the inner sanctum: the wood panelling and changing room reminiscent of a boys grammar; the polished trophies, some of the earliest ever played for; the tall red-coated portraits; the maps portraying the evolution of the course; the dark bust of the 1950s Captain, C J Y Dallmeyer; the scorecards from past Opens and a replica of the Claret Jug, complete with up-to-date engravings – 2017 Open Winner, Jordan Spieth.  Quiet as a library, this place is special.  In the hall I meet the Recorder, various members and later the Captain – all welcoming, polite, men of standing.  This is not the stuffy, jurassic establishment portrayed by the social and print media, this is the polar opposite.

The seventh, Muirfield

We play foursomes, the traditional Muirfield game – my playing partner takes the odd tees and I take the evens such that I will take the final drive up the eighteenth. I had no preconceived agenda about setting a score so assistance and a joint responsibility suits me fine.  More than that, it is a thoroughly enjoyable team game and we rise to the occasion, hitting fairways and sinking putts – a birdie at the par 5 ninth puts us five up.  At the turn, we head to the clubhouse for lunch. This is how all golf should be played. ‘And, if it be retorted that a player plays twice as many shots in a fourball game as in a Foursome, the Muirfield man would reply – “Play 36 holes in 4 ½ hours and you will get the same number of shots, twice the exercise, far more fun, and you won’t have to wait between shots.  Furthermore you will learn to play better golf.” ‘ – Foreward to G Pottinger’s Muirfield and the Honourable Company.

The thirteenth – unlucky for some, we made par 😉

Lunch is taken in the lounge, jacket and tie being mandatory.  I have brought a tie from the funerals drawer for the occasion – I am a guest and I must honour club traditions, no matter that such attire is at complete odds with my late hippy demeanour.  A generous tray of sandwiches is accompanied by a gunner (ginger beer, ginger ale, dash of lime and a measure of angostura bitters), followed by coffee and the traditional Muirfield and Prestwick liqueur – kümmel, a sweet, colourless drink flavoured with caraway seed, cumin, and fennel.  First impressions are mixed but I warm to it as the glass empties. I am unsure of the effect it may have on the back nine.

Sure enough, post lunch, our partners make a comeback.  We are playing to Colonel Dallmeyer’s rules.  Individual handicaps are ignored – each team plays level until one pair goes three-up and your opponents receive strokes until the leading pair are back to one-up.  After the sixteenth we are playing level again – we lead by one with two holes to play.  All of the Muirfield holes have witnessed high drama and historic occasions, none more so than the 17th at the 1972 Open.  Trevino has hacked his way into rough at the back of the green in four, Jacklin is sitting comfortably on the green in three:

On the same hole we are lying three in the semi-rough to the right of the green having avoided some monstrous bunkers – our opponents have been in several:

… Hew extracting himself from a bunker on the 17th – not for the first time.

I chip within a distance short enough to be given the hole – we have won 2&1 – what Jacklin would have given for five at the 17th in 1972.  That year I was oblivious to the high drama being acted out at Muirfield.  On the same day and around the same time I know exactly where I was – at Brands Hatch for the 1972 British Grand Prix, watching Emerson Fittipaldi take the flag for Lotus.  In those far-off days, major sporting events were concluded on Saturdays, not Sundays.  The modern migration to the Sabbath has less to do with the slackening of religious observance and more to do with maximising TV exposure.  This fuzzy clip from Brands was filmed by BBC Eurovison and the commentary is in Austrian:

This youthful obsession explains the Lotus in the Muirfield car park – it is not about prestige or one-upmanship, it is about history, teenage dreams and the joy of driving – as Andrew Frankel recently observed in Motor Sport – ‘The secret is not to go lobbing it around – the pleasure comes not from power and slides but feel and finesse’ – it has ‘a level of feel that makes all other sports cars seem like you’re driving them wearing oven mitts … the car is simply fabulous’.

However, I confess, given the choice now, I would be at the Open – modern day F1 is a pale shadow of its former self.  It has been a convoluted journey from Kentish tarmac to the fairways of East Lothian.

The eighteenth – as a consolation, our opponents win the hole with par.

With sincerest thanks to David S-S for organising my visit and to Hew and Mark for their excellent company. A very memorable day.

Dunston Staiths

Dunston Staiths, on the River Tyne, is believed to be the largest timber structure in Europe. It is a Scheduled Monument, Grade II listed and is owned by registered charity Tyne and Wear Building Preservation Trust (TWBPT).

Opened in 1893 by the North East Railway Company, it was built to allow large quantities of coal arriving by rail from the Durham Coalfields to be loaded directly onto waiting colliers (coal ships) ready for the onward journey to customers in London and abroad. At the coal industry’s peak around 5.5 million tons of coal was moved this way each year – http://www.dunstonstaiths.org.uk/

This short film, Coal Staiths of the Tyne, shows the site in operation in the early 1970s,  The set of wonderful stills were taken by Sirkka-Liisa Konttinen.

LPs and fag breaks

Christmas 1972 and I bought her Joni Mitchell’s Blue and she bought me Santana’s Caravanserai.  Seven days previously I had offered a cigarette and we took it from there.  What do the young do now, buy an iTunes voucher; where is the history, where is love’s audit trail.

I worked shifts at UMRCC on Oxford Road, Manchester.  The route to work was by train from Altrincham and then a short walk from Station Approach to the University’s computer centre, passing an array of guitar shops, the discreet family planning outlet next to the railway arch and the Regal Cinema rebranded as Studio 1 to 5 which, that summer, was prophetically screening Peter Bogdanovich’s The Last Picture Show; all of this is gone.

Thanks to the endless trivia available on the Internet, I know this to be true.  On Tuesday 19th June 1973, I was working late shift and when The Old Grey Whistle Test was broadcast that evening, I was having a fag break in the rest lounge. I don’t know what struck me first – the music or the video, a black and white montage of formation skiers in descent which, as one online reference claims, is Nazi propaganda. I was hooked and the next day went in search of the LP.  Released on 25th May by Virgin, the record was Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells.

Fags and LPs were the passport to many things – a life without them would have been unthinkable.

Odd that this uplifting masterpiece should be the product of such a tortured young individual.

Time flies …

Years turn to days, hours turn to minutes, time rushes by.  In May 2014, on a trip along the Macclesfield Canal to some old familiar places, I found myself at Bosley, inside the cottage that had once been home.  It had been thirty two years since I last closed the front door and headed south, expecting never to return.  Invited across the threshold by the kindly Phylis, it was an odd and unsettling experience.

Immediately I returned to Northumberland I wrote to the good lady including some old images of the cottage and a few memories of our time above the Cheshire Plain – on a clear day, from the main bedroom window, Jodrell Bank’s Lovell Telescope is visible nine miles due west, glistening and listening intently to the stars.

Sadly, I recently learned that Phylis had passed away and the cottage sold.  My letter had been kept and given to the immediate neighbours who in turn passed it to the new owners, Jane and her partner.  In turn, Jane emailed me wanting to know more about my time in her new home and so here we are.  Words build bridges, words make connections.

I have struggled to understand what was so unsettling about sitting simply in those rooms again. Perhaps it was this – I was back where the future was unknown, back where there was still the possibility of different outcomes.  I could have changed, I could have become someone else, instead I stayed the same …

… ultimately I am a person who can do evil. I never consciously tried to hurt anyone, yet good intentions notwithstanding, when necessity demanded, I could become completely self-centred, even cruel. I was the kind of person who could, using some plausible excuse, inflict on a person I cared for, a wound that would never heal.
Haruki Murakami, South of the Border, West of the Sun

My ‘plausible excuse’ was alcohol.  This was the late 1970s when pub culture thrived. Pubs provided a social centre, an easy means to connect with the locals.  They were not restaurants with separate tables, they were a place to congregate at the bar, talk and drink. In a short space of time, me and my ‘walking companion’, Kerry the Irish Setter, had developed a wide circle of drinking companions.  After her romp across the fields, a tug from the lead implored me in through the front door where Kerry had also developed a taste for beer.  Invariably a weather beaten farmer would let her lick the top off his pint, not realising she had recently been partaking of her other passion – licking cowpats.

... Bosley

On good terms with Jim the landlord and his wife Mavis, the Queens Arms became a second home, it was just too convenient.  When the snows came in January ’79 and stayed for weeks at a time, there were endless lock-ins and drinking to the small hours, safe in the knowledge that the law would not be making surprise calls.

... three doors down from my gate - the driveway on the left

The Queens Arms was a Boddingtons pub and in those far-off days the Cream of Manchester was produced at their independent brewery adjacent to Strangeways prison.  A golden ale with a creamy head, it did not journey far.  When the drays called, the Queens and the Knot Inn at Rushton Spencer, two miles further on, were as far south as the kegs travelled.

Inconveniently, John Boddington, one of the family board members, lived down the road near Rudyard Lake and would occasionally drop in to check up on this southern outpost. Forelocks were tugged, free ale supplied and overly polite conversation ensued. All was usually well.

The Queens was a tied house with no option to sell beers or lagers from any other brewery but Jim liked a bit of colour.  Along the top shelf he proudly displayed a long line of cans featuring the Lager Lovelies, produced by Tennents.  In those non-PC times it was acceptable to promote drink with buxom wenches, a different girl with every can you bought.  John Boddington was a tall man and it wasn’t long before Janet, Jane, Heather, Pauline et al invaded his peripheral vision.

“That won’t do Jim, that won’t do at all”

They’re only for display John, purely decorative; I assure you, purely decorative; definitely not for sale”

It still won’t do Jim, it still won’t do”

Nothing more was said.  That night we drank the lot, toasted Mr Boddington and for one night only, abandoned the Cream of Manchester.

If I had limited myself to the Queens it wouldn’t have been so bad but there was lunch time drinking too, at a time when many large employers provided access to bars on site and failing that, there was always the option of a healthy walk – to the nearest pub. Invariably, a quick one on the way home also never went amiss; it never occurred to me I might have a problem.  Afterall, everyone I knew did the same, everyone I knew was a drinker.  This went on for years and it is only when you stop that you realise where you have been.

Alcohol affects people differently.  For me it bred restlessness and an unerring sense of discontent.  Pauline, on the other hand, just turned nasty but that’s another story.

... my favourite drinking partner
Raven Cottage ...

Mexico 1971

This seems like a small miracle. My dad was an amateur photographer with a passion for Agfa’s colour process – his creativity was as much about the chemistry as the still image. Moving images held no interest.  Except, for one brief moment in time, it did.

The evidence was found at the bottom of a box of negatives in the shape of two reels of Super-8 marked Xochimilco and Bermuda.  They must have been shot during his time working in Mexico in the early 1970s – this was all I knew.

Inspired by J D Riso’s moving post, Liquid Memory, I had the Super-8s converted to DVD. The results may be over-exposed and scratched but emotionally it is overwhelming. Suddenly my mum is alive again, my sister has reverted to her 27 year-old self and most surprising of all, there I am, twenty again – I have absolutely no memory of this film being taken.

005-Mexico-composite-wordpress

It starts in over-bright light with a group of figures walking towards the Mexico Olympic Stadium and then moves to the Trajinera boats at Xochimilco. My sister is chatty and smiling, my mother distant and imperious. As always, my dad is invisible, behind the camera.

I imagine the cine camera was borrowed, it certainly never found its way back to the UK. Neither did we have access to a projector – it fits my sense of the dramatic to believe this has never been seen before.

The short film ends with my mother in Berrnuda, walking away to an unknowable future. (the rest of the Bermuda reel has been omitted).

With thanks to TVV Productions for their excellent conversion service.

The conversion watermarks appear because I am too mean to fork out for a full movavi licence (movavi converts DVD VOB cine files to MP4 for display on Youtube).

Different faces …

… you would not think to look at him
That he was famous long ago
For playing electric violin
On Desolation Row

... for playing electric violin on Desolation Row

There is nothing that connects the above image with the next other than they are both block mounted, both have been yellowing in the attic and both were taken around the same time, in the late 1970s/early 1980s.  I would guess they were taken with a Praktica L using one of the many lenses I carried together with my Dad’s Mamiyaflex – humping that lot about was like going to war and not conducive to capturing Cartier-Bresson’s ‘moment decisif’.  This tousle-haired snub-nosed cherub is my eldest, Patrick – taking the controls of a helicopter at a Cornish air museum:

... at the Helston Air Museum - early 1980s

And finally, this one has absolutely no connection with the above. On Thursday I made the annual pilgrimage to Birmingham for the Motorcycle Live Show at the NEC. This young lady caught my attention – I cannot imagine why 😉 A modern day Loren, she could only grace the Ducati stand:

... the Ducati stand, Motorcycle Live, NEC (yesterday)

As I type this, the wind is blasting around the house, the rain lashing at the window and I fully expect the power to go off at any moment.