It started with a kiss …

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.
John Masefield

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.

The Couple ...

The Couple ...

The Couple ...

The Couple ...

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:

Young pheasants ...

... Beaufront Woodhead

The sky is still ...The same “fakeness” is at play in this video:

Grasping water …


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).


Abandoned and silent ... Abandoned and silent ... Abandoned and silent ... Abandoned and silent ... Abandoned and silent ...

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.

Another Year

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:

... Fourstones

... at Hexham Golf Club

... Heavenfield

... Tyne Green, Hexham

... Planetrees farm, near Chollerford

... screen grab from a timelapse GoPro video at Beaufront Woodhead

... back at Green Rigg on the Scrambler.

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.

Tanfield Railway

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!

Twizell ... Twizell ... Twizell ... The Thin Controller... Twizell ... Twizell ... Twizell ...

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

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:

On high ground ... Jacob sheep ... The Allenheads Road ...Across the Tyne Valley ...Across the Tyne Valley ...Monster Dark ...Monster Dark ...Monster Dark ...

Like a fire in the sun …

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:

The view north ... Hopeful Monster ... Perfect conditions ... Messing about ...

The Water Gipsies

The Water Gipsies was my mum’s favourite film, or was it the musical – it was possibly both. Based on a 1930 novel by A. P. Herbert it was turned into a film in 1932 and a stage musical in 1955.  I have vague memories of seeing the film repeated on the BBC in the 1950s – brightly lit and over-exposed in summery monochrome, it bore little resemblance to real life on the English waterways.

I was also very familiar with the musical soundtrack as this was one of the LPs that my parents bought when my sister was given her first record player.  Other dubious parental acquisitions included Oklahoma!, South Pacific and Noel Coward at Las Vegas – no wonder the Christmas that With the Beatles arrived was like emerging from a long dark tunnel into the light.

I still remember some of the Water Gipsies tracks, ingrained like scars: Castles and Hearts and Roses, When I’m Washing Up and Clip-Clop:

Clip-clop, clip-clop goes the old grey mare
She ain’t non-stop but she gets us there
I walk with Beauty on the path
In case she slips and takes a bath.

Subterranean Homesick Blues it is not.

(NB ‘Gipsies’ is the spelling for both the book and the film – I think it should be ‘Gypsies’)

In the late sixties, desperate to escape a dictatorial regime at home, I toyed with the idea of living on a narrowboat near Ye Olde No. 3 at Dunham Massey.  Lacking the finance and any awareness of the practicalities it was an odd pipe dream which came back to me as we moored for water at the same location last week.  In practice it was 1976 before I ventured onto the waterways, the same summer and the same canal as Timothy West and Prunella Scales started their life long watery journey. In a similar fashion I have been wedded to the cut ever since, so much so that I have a mental map of the English waterways which is at least as good as my grasp of the English motorway system – oddly, I can’t seem to overlay one on top of the other despite their regular proximity.

All of this is just an excuse to reproduce a series of images from our recent lazy trip along the Trent & Mersey and Bridgewater canals, from Anderton to just south of Altrincham – all very familiar territory with not a clip-clop to be heard:

... Oakmere entering Barnton Tunnel - 572 yards with a number of kinks

… Oakmere entering Barnton Tunnel – 572 yards with a number of kinks

... entering Saltersford Tunnel

… entering Saltersford Tunnel

... approaching Preston Brook Tunnel

… approaching Preston Brook Tunnel

... on the Bridgewater Canal

… on the Bridgewater Canal

... filling up at Ye Olde No. 3 - the Bridgewater, near Dunham Massey

… filling up at Ye Olde No. 3 – the Bridgewater, near Dunham Massey


… Moore Swing Bridge, across the Manchester Ship Canal

... into Preston Brook Tunnel

… into Preston Brook Tunnel

... very clean - pristine again at Anderton Marina after the trip along the Bridgewater

… very clean – pristine again at Anderton Marina after the trip along the Bridgewater

... final day on Oakmere, back at Anderton

… final day on Oakmere, back at Anderton

Mixing up the Medicine

I’m not here, I’m back there – I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now.  It feels like a personal vindication – I am twelve again.  I shout down the stairs to my mum and dad – “I bloody told you so!” 

“We will have none of that sort of language in this house!” – it is the voice of my mother echoing down the years.  There is no need to respond.  I know when their argument has lost its foothold; they change the subject.

In response to Bob Dylan’s Nobel Prize, The Irish Times brought together the response of forty Irish authors, poets and scholars to his literary honour.  I have long been a consumer of Irish fiction, it is in my head as much as the work of Robert Zimmerman.  These reactions from The Irish Times will now provide a future guide to my consumption of Irish literature – those with a churlish or superior response will disappear from my reading wishlist.

But what of those I have already read and admire.  What, in particular, would Anne Enright have to say, would I be obliged to never open her books again.  I need not have been concerned – not only did she approve, she came up with a one-liner worthy of the man himself – “And once you “get” Dylan, you can’t get away”.

On the day his Nobel Prize was announced, Migrant in Moscow, on Blipfoto, clicked on the tag ‘BobDylan’ and a stream of ‘likes’ came pouring into my mailbox.  I had forgotten just how many times I have used his words on Blipfoto.  Many of these images have already appeared on WordPress but, I repeat them here in celebration – good on yer Bob!

Ballad of a Thin Man

You see somebody naked
And you say, “Who is that man?”
You try so hard But you don’t understand
Just what you’ll say When you get home
Because something is happening here
But you don’t know what it is Do you, Mister Jones?
Ballad of a Thin Man


Black cows in the meadow Across a broad highway Black cows in the meadow Across a broad highway Though it’s funny, honey I just don’t feel much like a Scarecrow today

Black cows in the meadow
Across a broad highway
Black cows in the meadow
Across a broad highway
Though it’s funny, honey
I just don’t feel much like a
Scarecrow today
With apologies to Black Crow Blues – Dylan

And I answer them most mysteriously “Are birds free from the chains of the skyway?”

And I answer them most mysteriously
“Are birds free from the chains of the skyway?”
Ballad in Plain D

... for playing electric violin on Desolation Row

You would not think to look at him that he was famous long ago
For playing electric violin on Desolation Row

... the bells on the crown Are being stolen by bandits I must follow the sound

Farewell Angelina, the bells on the crown
Are being stolen by bandits
I must follow the sound

... now over 50 years old

… now over 50 years old

I'm not there

I’m not there

When the jelly-faced women all sneeze.<br /> Hear the one with the moustache say Jeez, I can't find my knees.

When the jelly-face women all sneeze.
Hear the one with the moustache say Jeez,
I can’t find my knees.

Rainy Day Flowers #12 & 35 ...

Rainy Day Flowers #12 & 35 … (or Women)

And these visions of Johanna are now all that remain

And these visions of Johanna are now all that remain

You don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows. Not when you have Egger.

You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.

This wheel's on fire, rolling down the road.

This wheel’s on fire, rolling down the road.


The narrow-gauge FEVE railway meanders across Spain’s northern coast between Bilbao in the Basque Country and Ferrol in Galicia.  Narrow-gauge it may be but this is no museum piece, the rolling stock is modern and clean and the trains run to time.

Given my background, it was inevitable that we should find ourselves on the regular FEVE service between Cabezón de la Sal and Santander within just a few days of our arrival.  The single track line carves a neat track through a rural landscape, crossing open fields, hugging shady river banks and diving into rough-hewn tunnels.  Heading east, Torrelavega marks the boundary between the rural and the suburban, open country makes way for a semi-industrialised landscape as the line approaches Santander.

The line heading west from Cabezón de la Sal is even more spectacular but the services are less frequent and the day travel options more limited.  Simon Calder explains the attraction in this extract from the Independent:

Here’s the issue: railway engineers in mountainous areas like to stick to river valleys. In northern Spain, these tend to run north-south. But the line sets itself the challenge of running east-west to link some of the biggest cities (plus countless tiny villages) in northern Spain. You are reminded of this with the occasional squeal of steel on steel as the train performs twists and turns that would be implausible even on a child’s train set.

Narrow guage ...

Walking around Santander, I travel light – as ever I am carrying the Fuji X100s on a Black Rapid strap. It is unobtrusive and swings easily in and out of use. The downside is that this old-style, everyday workhorse is beginning to look a little rough around the edges. However, it is not just it’s retro looks and convenient size that appeal. Like many other Fuji enthusiasts I am convinced that the results you get from this little gem are more analogue film-like than any other camera I have used. This is a biased and entirely subjective opinion but this article adds some substance to the view – Why the Fuji Series Images are so film likeDan Bailey.

Of course, by the time my JPEGS have been processed in Photoshop and ON1, any similarity to the original image is entirely coincidental 😉  A brief walk around Santander:

On the waterfront ...

Jessica Ennis

Afternoon shadows ... Street scene ...

The priest ...

The waterfront ...