Now I have your attention, I confess it started with something much more mundane – a trip to Newbiggin by the Sea to collect a waterproof jacket and trousers from the golf club. An entirely appropriate purchase given the links were empty, the rain coming down sideways, the skies forbidding and the gulls struggling to maintain their flight plan.
We have been meaning to see the Couple for years, and so it works, public artworks attract visitors. On the bitterest of days we walked the prom and the beach to see them staring out to sea:
I must go down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life,
To the gull’s way and the whale’s way where the wind’s like a whetted knife;
And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover,
And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick’s over.
When first installed, as with most public art, opinions were divided but I would be surprised if many now object; they are part of Newbiggin’s fabric, not just the couple but locals. If I have a criticism it is that they are too inaccessible – Sean Henry‘s works are finely detailed and should be seen up close but this remains the preserve of strong swimmers and gulls.
And what came next was a desire to give the couple a permanent residence on this blog – so after nearly five years the theme has has been replaced and they have joined a number of images that randomly appear in the header – a change was long overdue.
A late addition:
The term “HyperNormalisation” is taken from Alexei Yurchak’s 2006 book Everything was Forever, Until it was No More: The Last Soviet Generation, about the paradoxes of life in the Soviet Union during the 20 years before it collapsed. A professor of anthropology at the University of California, Berkeley, he argues that everyone knew the system was failing, but as no one could imagine any alternative to the status quo, politicians and citizens were resigned to maintaining a pretence of a functioning society. Over time, this delusion became a self-fulfilling prophecy and the “fakeness” was accepted by everyone as real, an effect that Yurchak termed “HyperNormalisation” – Wiki.
Here is my small contribution to “fakeness” – it occurs to me that none of my images reflect reality. The same field in July, December and February:
The same “fakeness” is at play in this video:
It was like grasping water to think how quickly the years had passed here. They were nearly gone. It was in the nature of things and yet it brought a sense of betrayal and anger, of never having understood anything much. Instead of using the fields, he sometimes felt as if the fields had used him. Soon they would be using someone else in his place. It was unlikely to be either of his sons. He tried to imagine someone running the place after he was gone and could not. He continued walking the fields like a man trying to see.
John McGahern – Amongst Women (1990).
I last walked these fields in March 2014, how quickly the years have passed. Nothing much has changed in the land between the Wall, Hangman’s Hill and Davy’s Brig Well. On that occasion I had recently watched Pat Collins’ Silence, a remarkable, meditative film about loss, silence, history, memory and exile. In a similar moment of coincidence, today I was brought back to the words of John McGahern by this film, A Private World. I am indebted to Poetry and Environment for posting this video and reminding me of McGahern’s great art …
All we have is the precious moments, and the hours, and the days.
It is the 7th January as I write and Christmas already seems long ago. The decorations have returned to the loft and it is as though it never happened. Except, sitting in the dining room/study/my playroom (note the evolution) the evidence is there for all to see – a half built Tamiya Monster Beetle which will eventually play host to the GoPro camera and, a stack of new books. As this is part personal diary, I will use this as an excuse to list them – they reflect my passions and tastes in a way that nothing else can. I am grateful to a well-informed Santa (and friends and relations 🙂 )
- Alan Bennett’s Keeping On Keeping On – because I have read everything else he has produced;
- John Simpson’s We Chose to Speak of War and Strife – as above;
- Damon Hill’s Watching the Wheels – because his dad was a childhood hero and this most thoughtful of racing drivers promises an intriguing insight to his and his late father’s character;
- Rick Broadbent’s That Near-Death Thing – Inside the Isle of Man TT – no explanation necessary;
- Julian Ryder’s MotoGP Season Review 2016 – again, no explanation required;
- John Berger‘s Here is Where We Meet – a late convert to this man’s fine work, I have some catching up to do;
- Colm Tóibín’s Mothers and Sons – anyone who has read Golf in the Wild will know why this title resonates;
- Robert Marshall’s The Haunted Major – a comic golfing story first published in 1902. This wasn’t actually a Christmas present but, ordered in August, it didn’t arrive until January 1st, thanks to the neighbour’s offspring – bless ’em 🙂
There is a vaguely amusing story attached to this last book. A friend who looks after the feet of the Newcastle United players loaned the Haunted Major to Kevin Keegan, explaining that it was the story of a sportsman who thought himself much better than he really was – “Are you trying to tell me something!” was Keegan’s immediate response. Within a week Keegan was gone from Newcastle, along with said book. Once read I should pass it on as compensation.
The one passion not covered by the above is photography but I tend to just do it rather than read about it. These are the Blip images from the first seven days of 2017:
This is the video used for grabbing the moon rising image – more fiddling about with the GoPro in the adjacent field. Keep an eye out for the good lady feverishly cleaning the porch – Spielberg would have fired her on the spot 😀
Must stop now, I have some reading to do and a Beetle to build.
I have driven by this single track line on many occasions but until last weekend I had never stopped. This has now been rectified; the plan had been to walk from Causey Arch to East Tanfield and back but then I was distracted by Twizell. In steam, sounding and smelling glorious, I was a schoolboy again – all I lacked, apart from age reversal, was a dark blue gabardine mac (with belt), grey shorts, school cap, hand knitted jumper, Clarks sandals, long grey socks (with red striped tops) pen, paper, Ian Allan Combine and a Kodak Brownie. Sadly, I left that all behind a ‘few’ years back but, you get the impression that some of those responsible for running this railway did not – good for them!
As a one time railway enthusiast I left this first visit disgracefully long, for this is no ordinary line – this is the oldest railway in the world. This extract is from their website:
From the mid 1600 onwards waggonways and the Tyneside coal industry became linked so closely that they were known throughout the rest of Britain as ‘Tyneside Roads’. A network of lines linked collieries on both sides of the Tyne to the river.
It is no coincidence that the North East was the area where waggonways took greatest hold, because canal building was impossible due to deep valleys and steep hills. What set the rail systems of Tyneside apart from all others was its use of the flanged wheel – a key element of the modern railway as we know it.
When the Tanfield Railway – or waggonway as it was known at the time – was built in 1725, it was a revelation. Its massive engineering was unlike anything else in its era, or even since the Roman Empire. It was a triumph of engineering over nature, a clear signal that a new industrial age was upon the world, and that railways would play a massive part.
First laid down more than a quarter of a century before the first railway officially sanctioned by government, over 75 years before the first steam locomotive and a whole 100 years earlier than the Stockton and Darlington Railway, the Tanfield Railway is the world’s oldest railway. We will be the first railway to celebrate our tri-centenary in 2025.
December in old England has been mild and easy, the quiet before the storm? I am still playing golf, walking with the camera and, very occasionally, venturing out on two wheels. At heart, I am a fair-weather rider and there are plenty of reasons to keep the machines safe in the garage – ice on the roads, salt that creeps and corrodes and, not least, the wind chill factor when riding at 70mph into the face of a cold northeasterly.
Nevertheless the desire to be out eventually over-rides common sense and off I go – only ninety miles this month, better than nothing. These are some images from the month to date, including yet another timelapse sunrise across the fields. Northumberland has finally lost its autumnal glow:
Northumberland has been clinging to the wreckage of autumn these last few weeks but its all over now. Despite Black Friday, despite the ever sooner onset of Christmas and the tyranny of things, it has been a quiet few weeks in Beaufront Woodhead. It is also a time of inner conflicts. The desire to play golf set against too damp courses and uninviting weather – the solution – head for the coast. The impatient need to be out on two wheels set against slippery surfaces, biting winds and too much salt on the roads – the solution – sit tight and polish the hardware.
For now, the priority is the much delayed task of writing the follow-up to Golf in the Wild. My modest ambitions for the first version have been met – the production costs have been recovered and 800+ copies shipped. The sequel is progressing at a glacial pace – I am currently researching Loch Eriboll, just a few miles down the road from the return journey’s place of departure, Durness. Eriboll has some fascinating history, not least that in May 1945, this was the location for the surrender of thirty three U-boats, the pride of Germany’s Wolfpack. I could be stuck in these waters for weeks, but no matter, the days are short and the nights long.
In the meantime, this is Northumberland as autumn falls into winter: