Northumberland in Mono

This set of images were all taken within a 1.5 mile radius of our home – I know this for certain because I haven’t ventured outside this geofence since 24th March.  Hexham is a mystery to me now – the Good Wife has taken over responsibility for all socially distant shopping, mostly because I cannot be trusted to buy organic.  Any consequential savings I would spend on chocolate or similar.  Nevertheless, I am not complaining, I seem to have slipped into this secluded life all too easily.  The only thing I miss desperately is getting out on the motorcycles which, as any rider knows, is just self-isolation at speed.

Lean on me …

Always keep a-hold of nurse

Beaufront Castle Lodge …

In a big county …

The entrance to Fern Hill Farm

Five-bar Gate …

Do not disturb …

Another gate above the old kennels, Beaufront Woodhead.

The impression created by these images is of a country life continuing as usual, uninterrupted by world events. Isolating has also meant not listening to ‘news’, keeping socially distant from statistics and mortality rates but, just occasionally the bubble is burst. Peter Turnley’s images portray an entirely different, distant, monochromatic reality:

 

A dog’s life …

We have been dog-sitting these last two weeks – two golden retrievers with eyes that could melt hearts.  The younger was nine months and the elder four years – a teenager and a sensible grown-up.  Junior was into everything and was a constant source of irritation/entertainment – delete as appropriate.  Sadly, the weather was thoroughly miserable throughout their stay.  This didn’t constrain their activities, it just made life harder for the sitters – I had forgotten just how much work is involved in drying and cleaning a dog after winter runabouts and this was times two.  Needless to say, I fell for both of them but, especially junior – that said, now they have gone home, it is quite nice to have the house back and I am not missing the 7am walks:

Do not disturb …

Resting between walks

Feeding time – a serious business

Brotherly love

Bed time for the youngest

Too early one morning

Chocolate Cream Biscuits

My mother and I didn’t agree about much but, the one thing that was never a source of contention was her cooking – she was a genius.  I have never tasted better and she remains the culinary benchmark.  There was nothing flash about her repertoire, it was plain English cuisine – roasts, Yorkshire puds, Cornish pasties, liver and bacon, bread and butter pudding, treacle tart and lemon meringue pie to die for – to name but a few.  She dismissed all “foreign food” which loosely translates as anything containing garlic.

Her pièce de résistance was chocolate cream biscuits.  Time consuming and fiddly to make, they were a rare treat, consumed with dog-like enthusiasm by my sister and me as soon as they emerged from the oven.  Garrison Keillor’s aunt Myrna and her Chocolate Angel Food Cake was surely nothing by comparison.  For years we tried to extract a recipe but my mum, like all good cooks, worked intuitively in the kitchen.  Nothing was ever written down because, pressed to define precise quantities and ingredients, she would probably struggle.

And then last week, I was hovering around the reduced cakes and pastries counter in Waitrose and there I spotted an individual, over-sized,store-baked, broken bourbon biscuit.  I sneaked it into the trolley, away from the prying eyes of my trainer/dietitian.  When I eventually bit into this large confection, I could not believe it. In more than fifty years, it is the closest approximation to the original chocolate cream biscuit I have ever found.  My immediate thought was ‘I must ring my sister and tell her – go buy some immediately!’

My big sister: 1944-2019.

In an overwhelming moment, I remembered.  The good news had come too late.

 

Like a Pitcher of Water …

Troubled waters – Hexham Bridge

Anyone familiar with Golf in the Wild will know the book frequently leaves golf behind and explores a range of diverse subjects which include local history, the tyrant known as ‘my Mother’ (stolen from Jeanette Winterson’s Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit) and motor racing of the 1960s and 1970s.  It is a journey into my past played out across golf courses in wild places to the distant sound of racing engines.

The sequel, Golf in the Wild – Going Home, will be no different although racing engines have been largely replaced by the sound of mono speakers and Dansette record players.  This is an extract from Chapter 10 of the new book – I am driving south on the A9, approaching the Forth bridges:

I bought Bridge over Troubled Water on the day it was released – 26th January 1970. I must have ducked out of college, caught the train to Oxford Road, Manchester and walked down to Rare Records, 26 John Dalton Street, the shop where Ian Curtis was employed in the early seventies – the first step in his musical career.

Bridge over Troubled Water is a fine album but not the defining work of art that is Bookends. Significantly, I had reservations about the title track. The first two verses work beautifully but the third is over-produced, too dramatic and the voice of the narrator changes from gentle reassurance to brash optimism. It is not the same person. There is a reason – it is not the song Paul Simon intended. It was Roy Halee, the record producer, and Art Garfunkel who insisted on a third verse – “the first two verses could be runway material for a take-off that is waiting” – Art Garfunkel.  Reluctantly, Simon wrote the additional material, too quickly and in the studio, something he never usually did.

So, here’s the thing – from the northern side, drive over the Queensferry Crossing when there is a high wind. Keep to the 40 mph speed restriction and turn on Bridge over Troubled Water at the first exit to the old Bridge. Turn up the volume and listen intently as you cross the troubled waters. When you reach the first gantry sign on the South Queensferry side at 3 minutes 4 seconds, start fading the track out and you will hear the song as Paul Simon originally intended – a small hymn, a small masterpiece.

And the title of the post?  When the orchestral string section came back from the arranger, Ernie Freeman, for over-dubbing in the studio, this was the title assigned to the arrangement – well, that’s how much attention he was paying to the demo! – Paul Simon.

The bridge from the western side

Time it was …

… and what a time it was …

… a time of innocence

It has been a tough week, saying a last goodbye to my big sister.  The service was held in the small church at The Lee, near Great Missenden.  A lovely place but, it came as some relief to return to the peace and quiet of deepest Northumberland.  There is always hope to be found in the wild places.

And so, the night falls …

Last sunrise …

… of the decade.  Yesterday I journeyed 94 miles on the F850 GS, riding into the sullen Scottish Borders – drizzle and heavy mist over the hills, having left the Tyne Valley in bright sunshine.  This morning brought a heavy frost and removed any temptation of venturing out again.  Ice and two wheels don’t mix.

… last sunrise.

… and a heavy frost.

… just north of Kielder

Riding the bike into distant empty roads focuses the mind, clears the head and banishes dark thoughts about the year gone by – it has not been a good one.  A new decade begins, turn, turn, turn

My big sister: 1944-2019

Another Baby Austin

In my unending quest to make connections with my past, I came across this magnificent machine at Mike Barry’s Motorcycle Museum, Scaleby, near Carlisle, Cumbria.  Any time I take a ride out for a chat with Mike is never wasted:

1931 Austin 7

The attraction of this vehicle is that it was probably manufactured around the same time as the one proudly displayed by my paternal grandparents and featured in an earlier post:

Mummy Daddy and Baby

My dad will have sat in a passenger seat very similar to this although, judging by his lack of interest in all things mechanical (an industrial chemist by profession), I doubt he spent much time looking under the bonnet:

Austin 7 – the interior

Austin 7 – the engine

Mike has attached the following to the windscreen:  This car has been donated to the museum by Dougie Hargreaves from Carlisle and I will restore it when time allows.  The engine has been rebuilt and running.  I have fitted a new windscreen and the lights and brakes are now working.  I have a new clutch to fit and then it will be roadworthy!  The car is an Austin 7 – 1931 – 750cc – three speed.

Among the documentation for the car is a 1940 Ration Book for the months of August, September and October 1940.  The coupons in this book authorise the furnishing and acquisition of the number of units of motor spirit specified on the coupons subject to the conditions appearing thereon.  The issue of the Ration Book does not guarantee the holder any minimum quantity of motor spirit and the book may be cancelled at any time without notice.  Any person furnishing or acquiring motor spirit otherwise than in accordance with the conditions on which these coupons are issued will be liable to prosecution … Private Walker, take note.

And for those wondering what else can be found in this ultimate man cave, an image of just part of Mike’s private collection:

Motorcycle Museum – part of the collection