Stanhope Common

On Friday I rode down to Darlington.  At this time of year, getting any bike out over any distance is a bonus.  Nearly all 97 miles of tarmac were filthy, the low sun shone permanently in my eyes riding south and it took nearly two hours to clean the bike when I got home.  It was all worth it.  Having taken the quick route when outward bound, on return I took the scenic roads through Wolsingham, Frosterley, Stanhope and Blanchland.  Riding across Stanhope Common, I was treated to these wonderful sights.  All taken within a few minutes of each other, the light was changing fast.  A few miles further on, I descended into the mist and damp of a very foggy afternoon – the price was worth paying:

Towards Burn Hope

A very muddy GS

Moon central with Sandyford quarry building in the distance

Towards Blanchland

More of the same

Le Macabre

The jukebox had an appropriate playlist: Chopin’s Funeral March, Drac’s Back by Billy DeMarco & Count Dracula, Monster Mash by Bobby “Boris” Pickett and the Crypt-Kickers, but we always played Cat Stevens’ – Lady D’Arbanville:

Your lips feel like winter
Your skin has turned to white

Le Macabre Coffee House was at the western end of Meard Street, near the junction with Wardour Street, in London’s Soho.  Just around the corner was Hammer House, home to the horror film specialists, Hammer Films.

“You could always tell you were in Meard Street, because ladies’ legs tended to dangle out of the windows. With vocal commentary”Russell Davies.  In 1970 they had either moved on or I was unaware – in those far-off  days, there was only the one girl in my universe.

The interior was witch-dark, the tables were in the shape of coffins, the ashtrays were Bakelite skulls and skeletons adorned the walls.  It was a delight to a pair of teenagers with an unhealthy interest in Dennis Wheatley – The Devil Rides Out, To the Devil a Daughter, The Satanist – they were nothing if not obvious. I guess we were early goth. 

I don’t remember the quality of the coffee, but Starbucks would do well to emulate the atmosphere. 

She lived in Sydenham and I worked in Manchester.  Until I contrived to move south, I travelled between the two, often hitch-hiking.  Setting off early evening meant the motorway slip roads were less populated with like-minded travellers.  There was an etiquette loosely based on first come first served, although lone girls and couples were more likely to be singled out by the eagle-eyed driver.  The late departure meant arrival into London in the early hours – breakfast was free milk from the doorstep and heat from the Euston Station concourse, until moved on. Police searches were common but never threatening – my limited baggage space might include some freshly laundered underwear, sent south by my girlfriend’s mother.  No great deal except when searched – it seemed to amuse the constabulary.  No officer, they are not mine – do they look as though they would fit?Each to his own, laddie.

The lack of sleep lent those long weekends a dream-like quality.  Le Macabre was the perfect place to maintain a chimerical state of mind.

(This post inspired by a tweet from Rob Baker – author of two excellent books about London: Beautiful Idiots and Brilliant Lunatics and High Buildings, Low Morals)

More about …

… the weather.  On Monday night we had the first serious snow of winter – unannounced, it took us sufficiently by surprise that the Good Wife had to abandon her car and walk home, about a mile up the hill to Beaufront Woodhead.  The car was retrieved the following day, but the snow and and ice hung around for another couple of days.  Later in the week, the BBC/Met Office website was finally issuing Yellow Weather Warnings for severe snow in the northeast.  In the event, nothing arrived.  The same website contains hourly forecasts for the following fourteen days – generally speaking, they turn out to be nonsense.  Why the pretence – rant over – have a happy week, everyone, regardless of the weather.

Monday afternoon

Tuesday morning – the same scene – a world changed

Hexham golf course – closed – Wednesday

Thursday morning – firebird heading for warmer climes

Friday morning – fire in the woods

Christmas week …

The weather has been bleak. Our James, Louise and Little Evie arrived Monday and within 12 hours we had all gone down with a stomach bug – on the plus side, they got to stay another day. James is the our youngest boy of three and the the first produce a grandchild. For various reasons, it seems unlikely that the others will follow suit. So, on this branch of the family tree, it seems likely the Down name will die out. My dad would have been disappointed – no longer a name to go down in history.

It is a surname people struggle with – when speaking it, particularly on the phone, I have a habit of saying “Down, D, O, W, N” – it’s short enough and helps reduce the number of misheard interpretations – they are many. Even people we have known for years will add an ‘e’ or an ‘s’ or both – Downe, Downs, Downes are the common variations. Oddly, the Good Wife, who inherited the name, gets more irritated by this than me.

Enough rambling – I trust everyone is having and will continue to have a great Christmas. Like I said, the weather has been bleak and this is reflected in the external images from the past seven days:

Sunday 19th December – The fog on the Tyne moved up the side of the valley.

Monday 20th December – Someone is looking sheepish

Tuesday 21st December – Little Evie and her two front teeth venture north

Wednesday 22nd December – More thoughtful than sheepish

Thursday 23rd December – More or less recovered from the stomach bug

Friday 24th December – the CCM Spitfire Blackout – another recent addition to the garage.

Saturday 25th December – A Christmas day walk to Beaufront Hill Head.

Yet another …

… week gone by.  After a dull and dreary weekend, the sun finally appeared late Sunday and from then on, the week mostly took a turn for the better.  Monday was cold, particularly across the moors, but fine enough to get the Scrambler out.  Tuesday felt a little like Christmas as I drove to Allendale Brewery to collect a hamper and crates of beer.  Bright skies and frost appeared on most mornings such that the camera has spent a lot of time pointing at the sky.  Thursday was even good enough to take the GS north, across filthy roads to Otterburn and then on single tracks to Sundaysight, Greenhaugh and Bellingham.  Nothing is quite as good as being alone on two wheels in wild, empty places.

Sunday 12th December – the sun finally made an appearance, late in the afternoon

Monday 13th December – On the Scrambler to Stanhope and Wolsingham. Still some snow on high ground and colder than expected, but grand to be out again. No low winter sun, which is good thing on the bike.

Tuesday 14th December – To the brewery at Allendale to collect Christmas presents. So much better than depending on a courier who might, or might not, deliver to the right address.

Wednesday 15th December – Sheep migrating north in a golden, morning light.

Thursday 16th December – traffic jam near Sundaysight.

On the same day, on high ground between Greenhaugh and Bellingham, looking towards Sundaysight. The GS is filthy thanks to the lorries emerging from Divethill Quarry on the B6342.

Friday 17th December – Egger from Oakwood, on a cold December morning.

Saturday 18th December – a hard frost on a bright December morning. Flying high on the left is Turkish Airlines, Boeing 787-9 from Istanbul to San Francisco.

On the same day – a different treatment of the same scene.

Another week gone by …

I don’t know how long I will keep this up, but there is an improved chance now that I once again have access to the classic editor.  For this I must thank https://babsjeheron.wordpress.com/ who pointed me in the direction of Katherine Wikoff’s post on this subject.  Many thanks to both.

In the manner of Garrison Keillor, it has been a quiet week at Beaufront Woodhead.  Snow fell heavily last Saturday night such that Sunday dawned bright and very white.  Most had melted by Sunday night. Monday remained bright but cold and then the dismal weather set in for three days.  Astonishingly on Friday, my first round of golf since November 11th was played up the coast, at Warkworth, under clear blue skies.  Normal service was resumed on Saturday.  Yes, the English are obsessed by weather.

This is the collection of images posted daily on Blipfoto:

Sunday 5th December – A bright Sunday morning – the first snow of winter

Monday 6th December – Sunburst over Hexham on Monday evening

Tuesday 7th December – A dismal day outside I started playing around with Adobe Photoshop Camera. You see al this before you press the shutter on the smartphone.

Wednesday 8th December – On another thoroughly miserable day, our near neighbours in their very damp woolly jumpers.

Thursday 9th December – Out for Christmas lunch with friends, this is another smartphone + Photoshop Camera image using a reflections preset.

Friday 10th December – The Miracle that was the trip to Warkworth Golf Club.  The view from the edge of the 5th fairway.

Saturday 11th December – normal service is resumed – a very bleak day.

In other news, I finished another proof read of Golf in the Wild – Going Home – the third in as many weeks. It’s a slow process but worth the effort – I am still hopeful for publication before the end of January.

The Week Gone By

I don’t post on WordPress like I used to. One of the main reasons is the distraction of daily posts on Blipfoto combined with a constant desire to be out on two wheels or playing golf. The latter two become much less time consuming over the winter months, but still I don’t post as often as I might. The sequel to Golf in the Wild also occupies much time as does being honorary treasurer of Allendale Golf Club and continuing to maintain about a half dozen WordPress based websites. And therein lies the rub.

All of the other sites are hosted on an ISP with locally supported and maintained versions of WordPress with access to the classic editor whereas, on wordpress.com, I am obliged to use the thoroughly awful block editor. The irony is that I am now paying for this service since I exceeded the free storage quota. I really should use it more and to that end, I will try repeating what appears on Blipfoto plus maybe a few extra images. Possibly, I will grow to like this editor, but I doubt it.

Sunday 28th November: Seeing red – Storm Arwen meant this was our second full day without electricity
Monday 29th November and still no electricity – the view across the fields at Beaufront Woodhead.
Tuesday 30th November – Frank Williams, a hero since my teenage years, died on 28th November. Seen here on the right with Ron Tauranac at the 1972 British GP, Brands Hatch. Power returned late afternoon.
Wednesday 1st December – Egger the wood treatment plant at Hexham which helps to keep the town prosperous and happy – recently rated the happiest place to live in the UK. I would agree, although they never asked me.
Thursday 2nd December – local cattle, pigging it down at Sloppy Joe’s on a cold December morning.
Friday 3rd December – I am more Ghia than Gaia, more Clarkson than Lovelock.
Saturday 4th December – Hamish and Dougie Wheelbirks Parlour
Another from Wheelbirks – either Hamish or Dougie – I don’t know which is which.

A Feeling for Snow

New Year’s Day was dull and grey.  The next we awoke to a world changed.  Overnight snow is the joy of winter.  By some standards, it was a modest covering but sufficient to raise me from my lockdown position in front of several PC screens.  If we must have winter, if I am unable to ride a motorcycle, if I cannot swing a golf club, then let’s at least have it pretty.

It is around this time of year I get itchy feet and plot escapes north, always by rail – Inverness, Wick, Kyle of Lochalsh and Bodø/Lofoten have been my destinations over successive years, although only the latter yielded the white stuff.  This year, inevitably, I am going nowhere – locked up, locked down, call it what you will, I am told we are in Tier 4.  News channels can speculate, offer opinions, call in experts, exhort, criticise and alarm – just don’t assume I am listening.  I am out of reach and much the happier:

Crossing the Birkey Burn

Between Beaufront and Acomb

Hexham and Egger from Salmons Well Farm

Egger from north of Oakwood

The sheep get up and make their many tracks
And bear a load of snow upon their backs
John Clare – Sheep in Winter

The Victorian postbox at Sandhoe

Today I walked down the street I use to wander
Yeah, shook my head and made myself a bet
There was all these things that I don’t think I remember
Hey, how lucky can one man get.

The Third Policeman

So much for New Year resolutions.  I had planned to post on WordPress every week, no great ambition considering I post on Blipfoto every day.  What got in the way – ‘events, dear boy, events’ as Harold MacMillan allegedly once said.  It’s a disappointment, not a capital crime; one for the thought police rather than the boys in blue but, it does feed a guilty conscience.  This, and a fear of authority were instilled from an early age and they persist.

In the early 1950s, the family home was still wired with pre-war round pin plugs – differently rated plugs were different sizes.  A 5 amp plug was physically different to a 15 amp plug, and they required different sockets.  The Electrolux ZA30 vacuum cleaner was fitted with a bakelite 15 amp plug conforming to BS 546. Like many family homes, the house was not converted to square pin, BS 1363, until the early 1960s, even though the British Standard was first published in 1947.

There were a number of safety features associated with BS 1363, not least the shuttered socket which prevents a child pushing a nail into one of the holes and making a live connection.  I remember no inclination to do so.  The round pins were unsafe in other ways, not directly associated with BS 546 – their bakelite construction was prone to break, revealing deadly live wires.

One innocent summer’s morning I was accused – ‘You have broken the vacuum cleaner plug Robin! – half is missing – where is it – you could have electrocuted me!’  Mother was in full exaggerated flow.  ‘Where is it, just tell me! ‘ My denials went unheeded and then, as if by magic, the broken part appeared on the staircase.  More accusations, more threats – just admit it or I am calling the police!  I was young enough to believe this a possibility.  The imagined policeman arriving at the door was not a man in blue but plain clothes CID in a brown mac.  Neither Sergeant Pluck nor Policeman MacCruiskeen, this third policeman was cobbled in my head from TV characters, none of them sympathetic. ‘Just admit it and nothing more will be done’. And so, I did.  A stinging smack, I was sent to bed for the day, no TV and only toast for tea.

This was a valuable lesson.  I learned that the truth will not always save you.  I learned that under duress, anyone can be persuaded to say anything.  I learned that grown-ups were fallible, not always to be trusted.

I was completely innocent – so innocent, I never made the obvious accusation – my sister did it!  Big sister kept quiet throughout and who could blame her given the onslaught I received.  The magical appearance on the staircase was probably an attempt to pacify except it only made things worse.

In the many days pre-school, time eased along with the tortoise whereas now, it runs with the hare. This was the longest day. It was a pattern repeated and repeated down the years.

Hell goes round and round. In shape it is circular, and by nature it is interminable, repetitive, and nearly unbearable.  Flann O’Brien

At sea – back row left to right – Aunt Bet and Mum. Front row – me, big sister and cousin Brian.

Two more …

… recent rides out on the BMW GS.  In the first, a brief journey to Derwent Reservoir in County Durham where, like most places at the moment, the place was teeming with visitors. This included one very adventurous young boy who was running along the dam edge in pursuit of his friend on a bike.  He survived …

Everyone agreed, it was a miracle indeed that the boy survived …

Gone fishin’

Open Water

A few days later I headed west to Anthorn, the home of the Pips:

The airfield was built in February 1918 as a Fleet Air Arm (FAA) airfield. It was abandoned after World War I ended, however the RAF reinstated the airfield at the beginning of World War II as an emergency landing ground for nearby RAF Silloth.

The site was taken over by the Royal Navy in December 1942, and renamed as RNAS Anthorn. It was commissioned in September 1944 as ‘HMS Nuthatch’. The airfield served as No.1 ARDU (Aircraft Receipt and Dispatch Unit), a unit that accepts aircraft from their manufacturers and prepares them for operational use. The last official flight took off from the airfield in November 1957. It was then put on Care and Maintenance, before it closed down in March 1958.

In 1961 the site was chosen to become a NATO VLF transmitting site for communicating with submarines. One of its main functions is to transmit Greenwich Mean Time to the rest of the world. This time signal is heard as ‘pips’ on the radio and is used by everything from train companies to speed cameras. The aerial masts can be seen from miles around, especially at night with their distinctive red lights.

Text from the Solway Military Trail website.

Anthorn – home of the Pips

I dream of wires

The result of all these two-wheeled miles is that I am now just 4 miles short of achieving the 2020 #ride5000miles target. There was a time, earlier in the year, when this seemed a very unlikely objective.