Miss Bracher

Miss Bracher lived at the bottom of our street and owned a Wolseley 150.  An ageing spinster, the Wolseley’s long face was entirely in keeping with her narrow features and thin life.  A few doors up, John Fawcett’s dad owned a Standard Vanguard.  A slightly rotund young boy with a matching father, the American inspired design, bench seats and column gear change, were custom-made for the over-size family (young John is second from the left, here).

The interior of an entirely original 1954 Standard Vanguard.

My dad’s Mk1 Ford Consul with its svelte modern lines was entirely in keeping with my view of the world and my place in it.

We lived at number 12, the duodecimal house. Years later I would come to understand the magic properties of the 1900 Series 24-bit word mainframes, supporting four 6-bit characters per word and using octal for binary short-hand, it was inherently superior to the IBM systems, which used 8-bit bytes and hex.  Not everything that is best survives. Similarly, for years I worked on X.400 based messaging systems, a significantly more elegant, reliable and efficient standard to SMTP which is used across the Internet. If I have lost you, worry not – put simply, once everything was right with the world, now I am not so sure.

That uncertainty crept in during my teenage years and never left the room.  My passion for the still image, I owe to my dad – an industrial chemist, he taught me the secrets of the dark room at a very young age.  I can still conjure him into existence with the smell of developer and fixer.  He had no real interest in cars and even less in motor sport.  When they became the centre of my existence, we effectively went our separate ways.

That separation means I struggle to connect with his ghost but there are plenty of photographs and, occasionally, words.  This from a blog post in 2013It is from a small photograph album made up of 3 x 2 inch contact prints which he put together as a young boy – they are individually captioned in a manner consistent with a 10-12 year old; this one – Mummy Daddy and Baby:

Mummy Daddy and Baby

Earlier this week I got the opportunity to sit in an Austin Ruby, a slightly later model of this car.  A wonderful machine, beautifully preserved, it would be a fictional pretence to suggest I was aware of my dad’s presence.  However, it did reinforce something I had always felt – we were born to an entirely different age.  Dad would have been 100 in 2020 – anything we shared together, is all so long ago:

Austin Ruby – the interior

Austin Ruby – the front end

Austin Ruby – engine bay

Austin Ruby – rear end

 

Winter’s Gibbet

Another September day, another ride out – this time to Winter’s Gibbet, Steng Cross, just south of Elsdon.

In 1791 the body of William Winter was hung here in chains, in sight of the place where he had murdered old Margaret Crozier of The Raw, Elsdon.

The present gibbet was erected on the exact site of the original. The large block of stone at the foot of the gibbet is the base of the Saxon Cross which marked the highest point of the ancient drove road, down which cattle were driven from Scotland to the English markets.

It is the saddest and loneliest of places, even on a mild September afternoon.

The stone block is visible at the foot of the gibbet

Winter’s Gibbet into a September Sun.

Looking south

This time on the Scrambler

Harvest

I have been waiting for this for a while.  Driving up from Hexham, tell-tale dust was blowing across the road.  Armed with the X-Pro2 and the Fujinon 18-55mm zoom I was back to the field in minutes hoping to catch a monster in action.  It did not disappoint – a Claas harvester was lumbering around in ever-decreasing circles throwing up vast dust clouds to confuse the enemy.

It was a super-heated afternoon with a hot sun piercing high dark clouds – it was very ominous.  Within an hour biblical rain was falling on Hexham, the harvester and all souls beneath.  It seemed unlikely that the harvest has been completed in time and, sure enough, this morning there was still a large patch of uncut oilseed rape and an abandoned combine harvester.  The dust in the air had been replaced by expletives:

Will I see you give more than I can take

Will I only harvest some?

As the days fly passed

Will we lose our grasp

Or fuse it in the sun.

Just some places …

… the bikes have taken me in the last few days in search of images.  The old rolling stock being put to an agricultural use sits in a field above Allendale.  Thorneyburn is way over yonder in the minor key – between Bellingham and Kielder.  Linnels Bridge and the Mill are on the road between Hexham and Slaley.  The transport for most of this can be seen in the last.  What an unpredictable summer it has been.

Old rolling stock

The gates at Thorneyburn

A cross at Thorneyburn

The Mill at Linnels Bridge

Linnels Bridge

Above Allendale and Catton

A short walk …

… to Errington, not in the Hindu Kush.  An ordinary March Sunday in Northumberland, we parked the car west of Cocklaw and walked the 1.5 miles to Errington and back.  A quiet corner of the county, there is little to see you might think.  Except, the fields were full of detectorists hunting Anglo-Saxon gold and not finding it – the farmer presumably does well out of their optimism.

At Cocklaw Farm there is a pele tower built by the Erringtons in the 15th century and was the family seat for two hundred years until they moved into Beaufront castle closer to Hexham. It escaped the usual robbery of stone in the 18th and 19th centuries due to its isolation and is now used for storage of farm machinery and livestock. It still stands almost 40 feet high but the wooden floors have collapsed, leaving in place only half of the ground floor vaulted lower ceiling which will soon fall in – ecastles.co.uk

In this image of wary sheep, Chollerton Farm and Mill is visible on the horizon to the left – an early 19th century farmstead with a windmill, threshing mill, steam engine house, boiler house and chimney as well as farm offices and cottageswww.keystothepast.info

In the distance, Chollerton Farm

In a field adjacent to Cocklaw Farm was this fine beast:

Handsome beast

This view north from near Errington is towards Middle Farm and Beaumont House – just east of the former, the OS map includes a marker for a ‘Hydraulic Ram’ but nowhere on the Internet is there any reference to this mysterious device:

The view north

We turned round once we reached Errington – this image taken last August when everything was greener:

Errington House

So, nothing much to see 🙂

For petrol heads …

On my first ride out on the Tracer this year I bumped into three guys doing publicity shots for a new AMG Mercedes C63s V-8 Bi-turbo at Cawfield Quarry, close to Hadrian’s Wall.  It is a desirable beast which sounds very purposeful, even on tick-over.  Fundamentally, it’s all about the thrill of speed, which makes you wonder why you would spend quite so much on such a car when could buy a garage-full of motorcycles for the same money. On two wheels, exposed to the elements, you really do get to find out what speed feels like.

Accompanying the post on Blipfoto I included a link to this video which for some reason became inaccessible – so here it is embedded in WordPress:

AMG Merc C63s V-8 Biturbo.

On show at Cawfields Quarry

And the Tracer – it can probably keep up, in a straight line

This was also the week that Nissan announced they would not be building the X-Trail at their Sunderland plant, all of which put me in mind of a prophetic piece written by Holman W Jenkins Jr, for the Wall Street Journal in September 2017 – Standby for a global car crash

German politicians and journalists have spent much of the summer  condemning Audi, BMW, Mercedes, Porsche and VW for ‘dieselgate’, saying they’ve besmirched the tag “Made in Germany”.  And it’s true that the conduct of firms like VW, which cheated on emissions tests, was egregious.  But it’s also true that the emissions scandal arose entirely from the politically correct meddling of European politicians whose pursuit of meaningless reductions in carbon dioxide forced car-makers to replace petrol models with diesel ones, thereby making air in European cities significantly less breathable.  And it was politicians and policymakers who provided the loopholes exploited by car-makers because they wanted to ensure that their cars remained marketable.  Governments from Berlin to Beijing are now doubling down on that mistake by insisting that car-makers build electric cars that can only be sold at a steep loss.  With oil at $50/barrel, and petrol engines continuing to make impressive efficiency gains, that will require an even more implausible magic act to preserve car industries and jobs.  A car-wreck is coming that will make dieselgate look like a fender bender.

 

Nancy

I have been ploughing my way through David Nasaw’s biography of Andrew Carnegie.  I have been panning for gold.  Carnegie was an avid golfer and somewhere in this 878pp tome there are unique, if short references, to the man’s passion for the game.  Golf in the Wild research can be a slow and laborious process.

I mention this only because I have been itching to move on.  Intrigued by the reference to Nancy Ridley in the previous post, ‘buried by the Lych gate’, at St Cuthbert’s Beltingham, I was curious enough to buy her long-out-of-print Portrait of Northumberland, first published in 1965.  I am a short way into its pages but her descriptions of Roman Wall Country are instantly recognisable, a litany of names and places I know intimately by foot, by car and on motorcycle.  It is our home.

After too many years ping-ponging between northwest England and the south, chasing IT’s filthy lucre, it is odd that I should find myself tied to this place, at the very edge of England’s last wilderness. Now, nearly twenty-five years in the same place, it would be unthinkable to be anywhere else other than here.

‘Here’ is a landscape that would be entirely recognisable to Nancy but her introduction to Portrait of Northumberland is from another time entirely – “The Tyne still maintains its reputation as the greatest ship repairing river in the world” – “Every Northumbrian town has a live-stock mart for the sale not only of home bred but also Irish cattle” – “This is one of the most popular holiday districts in Northumberland where the same people go year after year.  There are many good boarding houses in Allendale Town”.  Sadly, the ‘same people’ are now most likely to be found on foreign beaches.

Nancy’s introduction also includes many references to the Great North Road which in her time would have run through the heart of towns and cities on its way to the Scottish Borders and beyond. The same would have been true of the old Newcastle to Carlisle A roads on their journey through the Tyne Valley.  We walk round with computing power in our pockets, unimaginable in 1965 but, the most visible aspect of change are the roads and vehicles on them – this from newcastleuncovered.com

In contrast, these recent images from around Beaufront Woodhead present a landscape unchanged since Nancy’s time and long before:

Lone trees on the lane to Acomb

Broken gate

Unbroken gate

Bridge on the lane to Acomb

This morning, while snow still lay all around we drove to the Allen Gorge car park and again walked to Beltingham, this time in search of Nancy’s grave. It should be easy to find but even after a relatively short time, the headstone is almost indecipherable:

Nancy’s grave – almost indecipherable

Time, she says,
“There’s no turning back,
keep your eyes on the tracks”
Through the fields, somehow there’s blue
Oh, time will tell, she’ll see us through

Finally a technical point re the images – generally I will shoot in Acros (+Yellow filter) so I can see the tones of a mono image on the camera LCD. Then, I will normally process the RAW image, sometimes colour, sometimes mono – for once these are all straight Acros jpegs from the ‘can’ – tweaked with the Camera RAW filter in PhotoShop CC. Interestingly, it is surprising how much shadow detail can be recovered even from a jpeg. Use of the original Acros image also preserves the film grain that Fuji have worked so hard to emulate.