Sam Sam was a dirty old man
Washed his face in a frying pan
Cleaned his teeth with an engine wheel
Died from a toothache in his heel
This is the poem/song (I never heard it sung) that my grandfather taught me. If I concentrate hard, I can hear his voice reciting through a cloud of Three Nuns pipe tobacco which he would rub in his stained scarred hands. Even when gone, they talk to us.
A walk to Old Haydon Church earlier in the month gave voice to strangers. Muriel Sobo’s article in the April/May edition of The Northumbrian reveals that this hidden church was the original place of worship for the parish of Haydon and dates from around 1190. Used until the 1790s, ‘a new church was then built nearer the bridge crossing the Tyne, as the population had concentrated there and a market was established. Parts of the old church were demolished and some stones used in the new building’. I guess this explains its stunted appearance.
The broken headstone leaning against the end wall speaks of the Reed family tragedies:
Ann his daughter Died Sep. 28th 1772 in infancy.
William his son Died Jan. 20th 1775 in infancy.
Mary and Ann his twin daughters Died June 5th 1781 in infancy.
Ralph his son Died Feb. 8th 1790 aged 11 years.
John his son Died Oct 28th 1790 aged 10 years.
Elizabeth his daughter Died July 26th 1794 aged 16 years.
The hard times of old England.
(the same edition of The Northumbrian also contains the review of a certain book 😉 ).
It was only recently that I became aware of the connection between Philip Larkin and Haydon Bridge, the next town along the Tyne, west of Hexham. For some reason I take some delight in his shared knowledge of the area. Since the by-pass was built a few years back, the town has returned to the pace of life which Larkin would have remembered. The second set of patio doors, overlooking the Tyne, is the back of 1A Ratcliffe Road:
Writer Philip Larkin and Monica Jones, his companion of 40 years, shared this secret love nest from 1961 to 1984.
“I thought your little house seemed … distinguished and exciting and beautiful … it looks splendid, and it can never be ordinary with the Tyne going by outside … a great English river drifting under your window, brown and muscled with currents!”
Philip Larkin April 1962
On this bright, frosty, December day, the Tyne was anything but brown and muscled – a sleeping giant. This is almost, but not quite, the view from the back of 1A Ratcliffe Road:
According to Wiki: “One of his better-known later poems Show Saturday is dedicated to the 1973 Bellingham Show, which they attended. They also went to the tar barrel ceremony in Allendale, and dined at Blanchland. It was a record of Tommy Armstrong’s Trimdon Grange Explosion which Larkin heard at the cottage that prompted him to write his own late poem The Explosion.”
“I am always trying to ‘preserve’ things by getting other people to read what I have written, and feel what I felt.” – Philip Larkin: Letters to Monica
Like many of us.
If you stare into a coal fire long enough it is possible to see other fiery worlds, huge chasms, the burning hearts of volcanoes, The Destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (John Martin, 1852). The same principle applies to rock pools, they are landscapes in miniature; stare long enough and there are great lakes, mountain ranges and inaccessible peaks. As my Dad would say – “son, you are as daft as a brush“:
Incidentally, John Martin was born in Haydon Bridge near Hexham, Northumberland, there is even a John Martin Trail which does nothing to explain his apocalyptic visions – it certainly was not the local climate. Perhaps he stared into the fire too much.