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.