Thursday, 16 November 2017

Fiddler's Green

I want to talk to you about this man, here -

Thank you John Wraith and Gillian Blamire for these beautiful photographs.

I grew up with the North Sea to the east of me and the River Tyne to the south. North Shields Fish Quay was where my grandfather used to go in the early decades of the twentieth century to buy fish fresh from the boats. It was also where his sister famously hit him across the face with a haddock. There were always bright little boats, and wooden crates piled with shining fish and ice. There were screaming gulls, men in oilskins, and, after the middle of the morning, the smell of disinfectant when everything had been scrubbed down.

Fishing is one of the most dangerous occupations going, and the harshest. Imagine ice in the marrow of your bones and your hands too cold to feel, sleet spray in your face with teeth that bite to your heart, and the unrelenting, muscle-wrenching graft. The ganzies (sweaters) those men were had to be knitted with the thickest wool on the thinnest needles, an almost impossible task, to make them as dense and warm as possible. The other thing about the ganzies is that the different fishing villages had their own designs. if a man was lost at sea and washed up on the coast, the locals could find out where he came from by the design on his sweater. Tough as hawsers, those men.

It happens rarely these days, but it happens, that a boat comes back without a full crew. Every fishing town and village has its stories about fishermen lost at sea.

A year or two back, some inspired people in North shields and thereabouts decided that there should be a memorial to the fishermen lost at sea, a tribute to them and a focus point for those whose men never came home. This year, Fiddler's Green was unveiled. 'Fiddlers Green', they say, is the place where fishermen go when they die, a kind of fishermen's heaven.

So here he is, sitting on the Fish Quay be the Tune with his boots, his ganzy, his cap, and a ciggie in his mouth. His face is weathered. He is part of our story.

Friday, 3 November 2017

Now the dark nights are here

You can tell the clocks have gone back. Assorted monsters, ghouls and things with white faces turned up on the doorstep on Tuesday night. Yesterday I was in Newcastle, where my friend Mary and I got together to see Northern Ballet dance their beautiful, lyrical Little Mermaid. Walking back to the bus station, we tried hard not to look at Christmas trees. Yes, it's November, Halloween is over, so the shop windows are full of Christmas trees and sparkly things. We looked ahead of us, walking briskly, talking about the ballet with its lovely underwater scenes and the little red seahorse. No, we are not looking at Christmas yet. We are sort of thinking about it, as in what our children will be doing and what presents to give, but that's the secret workings of Christmas. Not the shop window.

The changing of the clocks seems to have made dear old Ambridge kick off. Sit up and take notice, it's time for The Archers. Lately, I could take or leave it. Kate's daughter is turning into mini-Kate (there's a surprise) and they deserve each other. There is a battle for a place on the Council, young Emma up against Mr Boring, who is being bullied into it by his wife. Roy is pretty boring, too, as he hovers nervously round Lexie. Pip is getting back together with useless Toby. Lilian, the seventy-year old gin-soaked man eater, was happy with her new chap and they were planning their wedding when Sleazy Matt turned up again. Matt is Lilian's previous. He is also a nasty manipulative piece of work, but hey, they had some good times before he took all her money and scarpered to South America, didn't they? He has tried to win her back and came so close to succeeding that the nation held its breath.

NB Meetings and social events start at 7.30 sharp. Waiting to hear the end of The Archers is no good reason for being late, unless you tell us all what happened. Will she, won't she?

Anyway, to cut a long story short, when everybody who is anybody was at the Jolly Old Hunt Ball, Matt wandered drunkenly across the road and got knocked down by a car that didn't stop. He is recovering, Lilian is always at his bedside, and there is much speculation on who was behind the wheel. If I were a betting woman I'd put a tenner on the ghost of Grace Archer or young Freddie out of his head on magic mushrooms. But Matt should have taken more care. This is Ambridge. Soapland. It's dangerous out there.

Grace Archer died in a fire, Polly Perks in a car crash. Mark Hebden? Also a car. Both those sisters were widowed young. Pat and Tony's son John died when a tractor fell on him, Nigel famously fell off the roof (and it's never been so much fun since). Put on your high vis jackets, everyone, and your stab vests. And no climbing on roofs. This is Ambridge.

Monday, 16 October 2017


Have I ever posted about football before? Probably not, because I'm not that bothered about it unless Newcastle are playing. But The Magpies are in the news tonight, and this time it's not because we've been beaten. (Drew with Southampton away at the weekend, if you'd like to know.)

I never knew a thing about football except that you have to kick the ball into that net thing at the end. Preferably the right net thing at the right end, or they call it an own goal, which isn't fair because it's an accident, or even a gaccident. I always thought it would be more sensible to give them a ball each, then they wouldn't have to fight over the same one. But when I had two growing sons I learned very quickly. They were happy to explain things to their ignorant-but-willing-to-learn mum, and I learned phrases like 'strike partner', 'top corner' 'THAT WAS A PENALTY', and 'couldn't hit a cow's bum with a tennis racket'. I could enjoy watching football with two enthusiastic sons. Hamilton Bear got absolutely passionate about it. The boys were here this weekend and he was in seventh heaven, watching Match of The Day with them.

The news tonight is that the present owner of the club, Mike Ashley, is selling it. Mr Ashley - how can I put this? - has not been universally popular with the fans. He has not endeared himself to the crowds at St James's Park. He does not, shall we say, enhance the quality of conversation at the Leazes End. There is now much speculation about who will own Newcastle United next, and whether it'll be all sorted this year, and what effect it will have.

What is called for here is for the club to be bought by a loyal black and white syndicate. I suspect the buy out team is already gathering in a Tynemouth pub -

'Money doesn't grow on trees, so let's get fund-raising. Pass the hat around. Get some lottery tickets. We can have a quiz night, and a raffle, definitely a raffle. Who'll give a raffle prize? Bill?'

'You can raffle me Granda. He makes a grand garden gnome.'

'I'll hire out the bairn for bird scaring. And we'll have a Christmas Fair.'

'Tracey, get knitting. You can sell little cuddly black and white teddy bears for a fiver a kick. Linda! Linda! You can do the cake stall. Chocolate cupcakes, scones, brownies, lemon drizzle, never mind as long as it's all black and white. We'll have a Kevin Keegan lookalike competition and we'll get Rafa Benitez to be Father Christmas. How much do we need to make? About 200 million? Nee bother. We'll make that much just by raffling Bill's Granda.'

Wednesday, 4 October 2017


Yes, I'm still here. Sorry. Family stuff, work stuff, garden stuff, church stuff, going on holiday, going to sleep. All of that. But I'm still here, and I hope you are too. The tree in the garden keeps dropping apples on us and I caught sight of a certain squirrel with a basket on her arm.

You might remember that Mum died in May and the following day my sister was in a terrible road accident. Well, my sister's care was excellent, she is a tough lady, she was well prayed for, and she is now getting about on crutches. She, thank God, is still here. This week we met to put Mum's ashes in the soft dark earth.

There were just five of us there, her two daughters, two sons-in-law, and the vicar. We gathered in the Garden of Remembrance outside the church by the sea where she was married. From then on she attended week by week until dementia and frailty crept up on her. She ran the Mothers' Union for a while, and a playgroup, she baked, dished up and washed up as church ladies do, she befriended, encouraged, and generally did what needed doing. For a while she and her friend did the cleaning of a little upstairs chapel while listening to the organist practising. Our cat was a church cat. (A church kitten, in fact. The curate adopted a stray which promptly had babies. His landlady didn't mind the cat but she wasn't taking on the whole family, so the kittens needed homes. Ours proved to be an Alpha Female. She'd follow us to church and be carried out by a fully robed acolyte.)

I digress. This is about Mum, and she would not be pleased at being upstaged by the cat. Now that dementia Mum has died I have much clearer memories of the way she was in her best days, practical, welcoming, funny, down to earth. She loved having a houseful of friends, especially young people. There was always cake in the tins and a sewing or knitting project on the go. We argued a lot, I raged at her in my teenage years. Mums can cope with that.

We met on a bright, windy afternoon. Mum would have said it 'blew the cobwebs away'. The sky and the sea were bright blue beyond the green as we settled her into the earth and remembered her tucking us into bed. It was her day.

For her and for those of us here, there is the Celtic Blessing. There are various versions of this about and I can't trace the origin, but it comes from the Celtic Christian tradition. I think I first heard of it via the Iona Community.

Deep Peace of the Running Wave to you
Deap Peace of the Flowing Air to you
Deep Peace of the Quiet Earth to you
Deep Peace of the Shining Stars to you
Deep Peace of the Son of Peace to you.

Thursday, 7 September 2017


For the first time since I can't remember when, I have a whole day at home. The end of August took us to Greenbelt Festival, which you'll find here

and it was like this -

and this


and Hamilton was such a Greenbelt Bear

It's about faith, arts, and justice. The sun poured down on us through beautiful music, incisive and inspiring talks, performances, crafts and worship. Lucy Grace gave a moving and funny one woman show about her hunt for Lucy Barfield, C S Lewis's goddaughter to whom he dedicated The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe. Katherine Welby-Roberts talked with great clarity, humour and honesty about mental health problems. The Nine Beats Collective, who take the Beatitudes as their principle for life, did compelling real life stories and loud music. John Bell of the Iona Community talked about Brexit and Trump, and absolutely nailed it.

My head was still spinning when we came home and Daughter, Daughter's Chap and Frodo came to stay, then LOS and Lady Sunshine arrived. Much hugging, splashing and blowing of bubbles. Then there were some very busy days to do with church stuff. And now I'm back at the computer, with the air outside turning autumnal, the apple tree heavy, and blackberries in the garden. Time for a change of pace, and to process all that I learned and experienced at Greenbelt so that I carry it into the new season.

Thursday, 17 August 2017


On Sunday afternoon I was in puppy heaven. We visited a ruined castle on the Welsh Borders and found that it was a magnet for families with young children and dogs, all of them impressively well behaved. I met so many puppies! The kids were delightful too, but PUPPIES!!!! A teeny beagle and a teenier Yorkie running around like an animated toothbrush. A St Bernard with a coat so thick and soft you could have lost a small child in there. Some sort of poodle cross looking for things to bark at. I'm very much looking forward to meeting somebody's new spaniel puppy soon.

All these, apart from the poodle thing, were pedigrees. I'm not. I'm a mongrel. I like mongrels. They tend to be tough. I have a friend who can trace her family back to ancient Norsemen via Alfred the Great. There was some serious nobility in her family, but, as she says, the nobles didn't get there by being nice.

Various people have climbed into the branches of my family tree. They either fell out or got dive bombed by puffins. We know that the Scottish branch goes back to a place near Glasgow where there were so many McAllisters it becomes impossible to find out which one was which. Grandma's lot were Londoners/South Coast and somebody reckoned that they were descended from the Bourbon kings, but to be honest the Bourbon kings weren't that particular and I suspect a lot of us are descended from them. As for Mum's family, it seems that for generations they wandered around England to wherever the work was. However, I have reddish hair, pale skin and blue eyes, so that means I have real ancient Pictish ancestors. They're just mixed up with a lot of other things, bits of Saxon, Viking, Norman, and, for all I know, refugees from anywhere in Europe that was going into meltdown.

None of us, or very few, are pedigrees. In the UK, unless all sides of your family have occupied the same few Celtic counties for hundreds of years, you're a mongrel. In the States, unless you're pure Native American, you are descended from immigrants.

Whatever you believe your race to be, we are all mongrels.

Tuesday, 8 August 2017


Dear Sunshine

If we have said or done anything to upset you this August, we in the north of England are truly sorry. We didn't mean it. We love you very much. And we miss you. We've hardly seen you for weeks and weeks. Please come back. We promise you ice cream and sun cream, t-shirts and tea in the garden, beaches and peaches. We will wear shades and drink Pimms in your honour. If you want water fights, you can have them. Pour into our gardens shine through our windows, and stay as long as you like.

Last week Tony and I read the weather forecast and went to Harlow Carr anyway. All those gardens! As well as the walks, the borders, the ponds and the stream there are plenty of places to take shelter - little wooden sheds, the exhibition, the funny little alpine house and the summer house. It didn't matter that the rain starting pelting down soon after we got there because we were in Betty's, ho-ho, having lunch. By the time we'd finished the 'I really really shouldn't' and swigged the coffee, the sky was clear.

We'd wandered the woodland and had a pleasant chat with the moorhens when the rain began again and bucketed down for twenty minutes while we took shelter. Then the sun came out and we walked up between the flower borders. Raindrops shone on leaves, lay on petals, and hung on to the delicate grasses. Sunshine made them sparkle. We walked through fields of diamonds.

The next day brought another kind of diamond. I attended a Quiet Garden Retreat Day. A local lady, kind, wise and experienced in spirituality, opened her home and garden for retreatants. She gave us some thoughts and readings to be going on with and let us read, draw, pray, meditate, and enjoy the garden. I made friends with a cat. I thought about treasure. I came away with more diamonds.