London Day Three

Define happiness? You’ll be pleased to hear that I’m not going to irk you all with my view of our current state, all holiday cum red wine induced nirvana. We are the last folk who should be defining happiness, because our current context plumps us smack in the middle of the happiness bubble and we would have to work very hard not to be content. It’s not a fair question.

Yesterday we met up with Elaine, one of C’s first girls and a maths student of mine. We have, for some unknown reason, kept in touch with her (and her us) since she left the school six years ago. She is a professional clarinetist who, through shear endeavour, confidence and tenacity is making a success in a business designed to make a couple millionaires and the remainder church mice. She has that warmth of personality and bubbliness that, combined with a steely determination, has opened doors for her and she now performs with some top ensembles and has a range of teaching jobs. She’s settled with a man (another musician) and they seem to live a full life. Without sounding too patronising, we are v proud of her and with the sun forgetting itself and beaming like mid-August we had a great picnic on Blackheath. We were there three hours, something in Stage 2 I would never have imagined doing…after an hour I would have wanted to be up and on. It was one of many defining moments on the journey we are now travelling and so good to catch up with someone we are v found of.

Elaine...picnic city

Elaine…picnic city

Sorry, back onto the question of defining happiness. Blackheath is v English middle-class, a bit like Clifton in Bristol. High on a hill overlooking the city, the green is surrounded by imposing mansions and the small town centre full of chic shops and bespoke coffee houses. It’s all Sunday morning papers whilst the roast cooks, if you get my drift. We left Blackheath looking for a few bits for our supper with Lucy (we had four hours to fill) and so cycled into Lewisham. Lewisham sits just off the heath and the cycle ride took us no time at all; one second we were in Blackheath, the next Lewisham. But the cultural change was as significant as a six hour flight to Freetown. The town centre is much bigger with a wide main street providing a home for a bustling market. The sounds and smells all had a strong multicultural twang, and the colours vibrant and strong. We weren’t the only white people in the market, but we were as outnumbered as if we had been in Freetown (C’s been twice and me a number of times – another story). Initially conspicuous and uncomfortable with our expensive bikes and hi-viz jackets, we very quickly settled in and relaxed; just as we had done in Freetown on previous occasions.

And why? Why did we feel unthreatened? I don’t know exactly, except there was a contented buzz in Lewisham high street. There was energy, almost a family feel. There was laughter and smiles. There was banter. There was happiness. Just on top of the hill in Blackheath there’s money – lot’s of it – all Bentleys and plush three-bedroom flats. But there’s no community feel. People are too busy and too up themselves to banter, barter, chatter and laugh. There’s too much middle-class stuffiness, and too much ambition. There’s one tight road junction just opposite the railway station where I waited whilst C went to the bank – the drivers here were impatient, unkind and stressed.

So we may not be the best people to define happiness because our disposition places us in the middle of something which we can only see out of. But I can tell you that in big chunks of stuff, the people of Lewisham seem a damn sight more happy than the people of Blackheath. And that just shouldn’t be so.

one view from the Greenwich Observatory

We cycled back out of Lewisham and down the quite fabulous route through Greenwich Park, stopping at the Observatory where I had no choice but to get my camera out. We came off the hill down to the Thames to twiddle away a few hours before we were due at Lucy’s. We sat down right on the Thames in front of the old Naval College which now houses Trinity Music College with a

Alice by the Thames

Alice by the Thames

subliminal feel that we might bump into someone we knew (I’d already had a chance meeting with a former student in Barclays in Blackheath earlier in the day). Lo and behold one of C’s girls, Alice, popped up and the pair of them spent over an hour chewing the fat. When it all got a bit too girl-centric I popped along to gawp at the Cutty Sark, which was looking perfect in the late afternoon sun.

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We cycled to Charlton and met up with Lucy and her boyfriend Laurence. She’s one of C’s ex-Deputies and has just finished her masters at Trinity. C cooked (always the mother) and we caught up with the news. Laurence’s, who we didn’t know, dad now lives and works in Georgia having married a Russian lady when they both ran a casino is Moscow. His anecdotes about Georgian life, Moscow under Putin and his visits to see dad added to my knowledge of things I didn’t know – they’re off there for New Year to go skiing. Best of luck to them!

We got back to Doris at about ten and slipped straight into late evening mode. It had been another full, but great day.

Having had a Wells day yesterday, today we’ve got an Army day. Coffee in Canary Wharf with my old adjutant, Alex, who now works for Barclays. And supper with Peter and Karen in their flat just down from Westminster. I think today we’ll take the train! You go and have yourself a good Tuesday.

London Day Two

It was a straight forward itinerary: train from Abbeywood to Charing Cross, a short walk to Great Russell Street to C’s cousin’s (Eva) house, church, lunch, walk to the Tower of London to see the poppies and then London Bridge train back to Abbeywood. Reading that seems to make it a fullish day, but in the end we squeezed the life out of Sunday – wrung it dry.

Eva lives just opposite the British Museum

Eva lives just opposite the British Museum

Eva lives with her two children directly across from the British Museum. It is a lovely spot: central without being centric; bustling without being busy. Charing Cross to her house was a calm walk, too early to be inundated with tourists, but late enough to catch the incredibly complex peeling of St Martin in the Fields bells – so called because originally it lay between Westminster and the City, in a field. You would never believe it. We came with a couple of backpacks of washing (bless Eva) and C quickly got to work with loading whilst Eva prepared a roast rice chicken dish with more garlic than Buffy got through in six episodes. We made her local church, the recently renovated St George’s of Bloomsbury, in good time (it’s a five minute walk away) and I spent the next hour contemplating the purpose of religion, which I get, against its need for associated dogma, process and icons. The three of us took up this discussion over a delicious lunch (don’t come near me until next

Eva

Eva

Christmas) with Eva standing firm on the need for something like the church to offer ‘tradition’ to many people who, unlike us – her Dad was also in the Army – have had it ingrained. I take her point, but I remained unconvinced that Jesus would have really seen the need for sung prayers, incense distributed willy-nilly, fancy uniform, bibles kissed and responses quoted verbatim, all in his name. None of us disagreed with each other, we just never came to a consensus.

I wish I'd been allowed to read books in church...

I wish I’d been allowed to read books in church…Eva’s two

As well as covering the usual ‘catch up’ topics, Eva had managed to recover some v old family albums from her mother. These were both charming and hilarious, the books protecting many photos of soldiers with big moustaches

marvellous

marvellous

purposefully maintaining our Victorian conquests as far east as India and south as South Africa. C’s (and Eva’s) Grandfather and Great Grandfather were among those posing for the camera. After Georgina’s passing out on Friday that now makes it five generations of us near related lot taking the Queen (or King’s) shilling. Fabulous.

We left her about fourish and walked the three miles to the Tower of London to look into the moat and see the ceramic poppies sewn there to commemorate the centenary of the start of World War One.

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They hope to have nearly 900,000 poppies in place by Armistice Day in November. One poppy for each British and Commonwealth soldier killed in the Great War. They must be close to the total already as they are everywhere. It is a moving sight, but also a piece of genius by the person who had the big idea and the designer who has helped pull it off. The poppies fall from two tower windows and the resultant spillage is a clear blood red against a vibrant green turf – we were lucky to see it against an oblique afternoon sun. I took scores of pictures, and, as words don’t really add much I’ll just throw out a couple:

But that was not all. The walk from Eva’s took us through the City with its array of new, comically misshaped, ridiculously named mini-skyscrapers, turning what was once just the lonesome NatWest Tower into a mini-manhatten. St Pauls looked resplendent with it’s white stone, dark shadowy pillars, copper green dome and gold trimming, also enhanced by a falling September sun. On the

walkie talkie…

other side of the river the Shard, so big it is part of every panorama, hid the sun for as a long as it could, but popping out from behind the building it was as photogenic as Cheryl Cole. Standing on Tower Bridge the whole place looked new, clean, sharp and exciting. I did a lot of London in my late teens when I was a newly commissioned Army Officer strutting my stuff about town – with a youthful arrogance that I disdain now. It was a grubby city, dark and unwelcoming. Today’s mix of old and new has been executed brilliantly and with the river providing the artery between the three hubs: Westminster to the City and onto Canary Wharf, and with the inbetween bits either tastefully new, or gracefully renovated, it has to be one of the very best cities in the world. I couldn’t stop taking photographs…

St Paul’s, the Gherkin and the Cheese Grater

walkie talkie

walkie talkie

ancient and modern

the shard

[there’s discussion between the two of us as to the benefit of my editing…we’re, as yet, unconvinced.]

We got back pretty exhausted and resorted to beans on toast for supper – it was easy and allowed us to recover, prepare some stuff for today and reflect on a full but rewarding day.

Today we meet up with two of C’s old girls (Elaine and Katherine) on Blackheath for a picnic and then we’re going to Lucy’s (one of C’s ex- deputies), taking the makings of supper with us. Cycling again…we’re going to need a holiday.

London Day One

London never ceases to surprise. I was listening to a R4 programme the other day and a chap wrote off London as too up itself, too expensive and no longer catering for the ordinary folk. Sure we didn’t hit the centre yesterday, but our East End cycle ride was a treasure of sites and sounds. Everything we encountered, other than a cup of coffee, was free. So yah, boo sucks to you R4 this time.

We were due to meet Heidi at her place (with boyfriend Oren – hope I have spelt that right) in Bethnall Green for lunch. The weather was overcast to the extent that everything had that damp feel, but bikes it was yesterday. We aimed to cross the Thames at Woolwich and then head through Canary Wharf to the Regent Canal, turn north and pop out at Bethnal Green. All in time for lunch!

I knew it would be quite a cycle, but when we got back late in the afternoon it was thirty-one miles all told and we knew we had been on a bike ride. But, as well as meeting up with Heidi and Oren, we did see and do some stuff.

Woolwich - surprisingly not Anthony Gormley

Woolwich – surprisingly not Anthony Gormley

First they have revamped Woolwich since the Royal Artillery move out of the barracks some years back. It’s all v posh and as we approached the Thames we stumbled across what we thought was another Anthony Gormley. The group of rusting steel men were straight out of Gormley’s pallet, but having checked when we got back they are by a chap called Peter Burke. The group is called ‘the assembly’ but I have to say it’s all v Dr Who; all zombie and intense – certainly enough to scare small children and most dogs.

no cycling please

no cycling please

Next we took the Woolwich pedestrian tunnel under the Thames. We actually cycled past the red-brick rotunda that is the entrance to the tunnel. We only found it because an Indian (blithely guessing at ethnicity, sorry) jogger stopped and asked me what was I looking for? I told him, and with the generosity of ten men he said ‘follow me’ and jogged us round to the building, walks in with us and gave us some history about the tunnel as well as the ferry which runs above it. I’m not quite sure where that sort of helpfulness comes from, but if he continues in that vein he’ll be doing St Peter’s job for him when he gets there. I hope he remembers me when it’s my turn – “I’m the idiot who couldn’t find the entrance to the Woolwich tunnel”. It does seem odd to have a small tunnel for a few foot passengers so far out of town. Why here? Anyhow it was perfect for us, though, and whilst there were clear signs stating ‘no cycling’, everyone else was, so we broke fourteen by-laws and pedalled through.

not so pleasurable now...

not so pleasurable now…

Westward bound we came across the entrance to the ominously named ‘London Pleasure Gardens’ which, now deserted, had lost a lot more than their pleasure from where I took the photo. I also managed to snap a different shot of the

no longer a white elephant

no longer a white elephant

Dome – sorry to bore you pictorially, but I am loving the snapping. It seems a long time ago when everyone (that is everyone) was having a go at Tony Blair for, what was then described as, the white elephant of the millennium. And yet today it stands absolutely an icon of East London and now a huge draw for musicians and groups. Well done him and his team. I love it and, if you’re on the South Bank you can cycle all the way round it. Talking of cycling, Boris Bikes have proven to be an integral part of London life. We saw scores of people of them pedalling away…

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We stopped for a coffee at the Prospect of Whitby pub, reportedly the oldest riverside pub in London. Not many years ago it was geographically in the thick of the British newsprint business at Wapping. When, after a struggle with the unions, Wapping was closed down the Prospect survived and it is now surrounded by well-to-do flats and houses. Coffee wasn’t cheap, but I guess rates are pricey. But it was good to visit part of the London establishment.

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The Prospect

We made it to Heidi’s just about on time and it was great to meet up with her again and be introduced to her boyfriend, Oren. They have a lovely flat and, in Heidi’s own words, we were presented with a grown-up lunch. She’s in fine form and now training to be an RE teacher. Apparently C and I are part of the genesis of that, which was nice of her to say. Oren, an English/Israeli, came to England once he turned twenty and now runs an internet focused company –

Heidi and us

Heidi and us

improving access to businesses from search engines. He’s a well travelled man, and, as he was telling us an anecdote about a trip to India to attend a ‘catching rainbows’ festival, I was abruptly reminded that whilst we might think our attempt at Stage 3 is ‘alternative’ we really don’t even know how to spell the word. Must try harder in this department!

On the route back we decided to take the Woolwich ferry which is free. We were amused by a couple of Nigerian men, all dressed in West African finery, who were on a visit to London and taking photos of everything. I suggested I take a photo of the pair of them on the ferry, which they loved…..during which one of the men took a photo of me taking a photo of them. Bless. I did manage to get this photo of the Thames Barrier.

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Home via a dog-leg into Thamesmead to forage at Morrisons. Back at the site we were all being entertained by a local Caribbean party with music designed to bypass your ears and thump its way into your soul. Thankfully for the ageing population of the campsite, they turned the volume down before midnight.

Off to see Eva today for church and then lunch. She lives opposite the British Museum. I think we’ll take the train.

Till later.

A great day

What a day. Perfect. First the good people of Scotland voted to stay in the Union. For us this is great news. Recently we have spent a good slab of time in Scotland and love it. It is, even with the the proliferation of midges (clearly Scotland is not a signatory of the MPRT – or Midge Proliferation Reduction Treaty), a super country, ideally suited for motorhomes with spectacular vistas, deep lochs, rugged mountains and wonderful, if slightly chilly, beaches. The people match the scenery. It really works for us and, as a Brit, I do feel that it is also part of my land – where I can live – not as a foreigner. I don’t have the accent and I always wear pants under the things that keep my legs warm, but I also don’t speak Geordie nor Scouse. But I would hope that the good people of Newcastle and Liverpool would welcome me as a fellow countryman.

I also prefer unity to division. Whatever the question. Sure, I wouldn’t stand in the way of an irreconcilable marriage, but this nationalistic, jingoistic drive for independence, to break a workable relationship that has been centuries in the cementing, is self-centred and driven by forces that are emotional rather than rational. Yes we need to revisit the UK as a federation and, in doing so, answer the West Lothian question in a way which, doubtless, will show the Scots that separation would have been a costly choice. But, once we get that balance right, we are all so much stronger as a unified nation – all of us – rather than three or four pathetic countries trying to hold their own among a swathe of Western European states that are forged in history and have always looked to the Brits for independent leadership, true democracy, political pragmatism and common sense.

So I couldn’t be more delighted; the only downside is that we have to keep Ken Bruce. I shall say no more on the subject. (Hurrah I hear the three of you cry.)

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Second. I think we all shed a tear when Georgina’s troop marched on for her imagepassing out parade. I have done a lot of parades, both on the square and standing on the dais, but I have never been to a recruit passing out. The band was from the Scots Gurads (v good and v posh) and when they struck up and marched on with the three troops following, the large crowd of families and friends cheered and cheered. I’ve never been to a parade where folk have cheered – it was fab. And it went on from there. Yes there were times when the stands were quiet, but mostly they were clapping to the music or cheering. It was so uplifting and to see Georgina (short arse and so in the middle of the troop) complete a tough twelve weeks was an exceptionally proud moment.

Private Ladley

Private Ladley

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And it was interesting afterwards. We all hung about outside the central recreational area whilst the recruits (now soldiers) put their rifles back into the armouries and then the Sergeants marched them round to join us.  The reaction from almost everyone was “we’re so proud of you….”. Now, I’ve not been to many ‘end of apprentice’ drinks parties, but the I’m sure the emotion percolating from this particular one was stronger than any other. It was palpable and heartwarming. One young recruit took the opportinity to ask for the hand of his girlfriend in marriage. He actually, in his dress uniform,

C, Georgina and sister Grace

C, Georgina and sister Grace

went down on one knee in front of the large crowd, and, thankfully, got a yes for an answer. It was all very moving. Mum and Dad were there, Dad with his medals. And you will all be very pleased that I wore trousers and put a tie on. Lots of photos of the day and certainly of no interest to anyone other than family (none of whom read this rubbish!), so sorry about that.

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The Ladleys

We left Pirbright just after lunch and arrived at Abbeywood Caravan Club site late afternoon. There are only three campsites that service London in any meaningful way – our litmus test is whether you can cycle into the centre from them. Abbeywood is our fave, it’s just east of Greenwich and whilst a good ten mile cycle into town, it has its own train station in an emergency. We have some things planned over the next couple of days: a couple of C’s girls, supper with Peter and Karen, Sunday lunch with C’s cousin and an evening with an ex-deputy of hers. It’s good to be here although this morning a cloak of mist and light rain has descended and everything outside is as damp as a fish’s bladder.

But I feel a cycle ride on the cards today.

Have a great weekend.

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Well done Scotlandshire!

This photo is a day late, but I thought I’d include it as it’s quite fun…(taken from the Church Cottage CL we stayed at the other night):

I can see you...

I can see you…

A mish-mash of stuff today. I have to say I am buoyed by the fact that some other idiot friend of mine is looking to do the same thing that we’re doing, but in a boat. I’ve also lined C and I up if Nick ever thinks about taking a boat across the Atlantic – that’s on my bucket list. Not sure C has the right legs for it (actually I’m not sure I have) but I’m willing to give it a try.

We meandered slowly to a CL in Wokingham, an archer’s arrow flight to Pirbright for Goergina’s passing off today. For those unmilitary of you, all soldiers do a centralised and common basic training and then go off to do their specialised training. Georgina has just finished her basic training to join the Logistics Corps and (not sure when) moves onto Leaconsfield to do her driver training. She’s a bi-athlete, and not a tall one. How she’ll measure up to some of the gi-huge trucks the Army have remains to be seen; they’ll probably have to provide her with cushions. I don’t want to go on about how proud we are of her (she was given a Lance Corporal’s stripe during training), but her mum, Tracey, died four years ago and that tragic event in part of the fabric of why we’re doing what we’re doing now. You have to live for the now. So well done Georgina – you are a star.

finding smart clothes...

finding smart clothes…

To get us in the mood, whilst doing some really important admin (finding and then ironing a jacket for me to wear tomorrow – shall I, or shan’t I wear shorts?) there was shouting and gun fire punctuating the noise of aircraft taking off from Heathrow from the woods next to the CL. I looked at the map and remembered that we were close to an Army training area we used to use when I was at Sandhurst. Good for them. Back onto the jacket. We have a good slab of winter, skiing and a very few smart clothes which cannot live inside the van; if they did one of us would
...ironing smart clothes

…ironing smart clothes

have to run along behind. The small top box and some of the cages in the garage are packed full with some of this stuff – which we have vacuum packed using those seal and suk bags – do you know what I mean? Anyhow we found the jacket in one such bag, unsealed it and C spent an age trying to iron out the creases. But I think I’m ready now for the big parade.

Final bit of news. I have a QR code. This photo shows the QR link to the blog. (You need a QR reader on your smart phone or tablet to make use of it). I’m hoping to do some subtle advertising to increase readership (I love the three of you…, but would welcome more). I’m working on some business card type thing, maybe some postcards using some of the photos I have taken and a bumper sticker. In all of this I assumed a QR code would be groovy? Give it a go – I hope it works.

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Last night we finished off with another self-designed pasta dish and salad. We will toss anything into a pan with onions and either tomatoes or cream and see what happens. Can’t remember what it was last night. We both went for a run round a local lake and watched a couple of episodes of the WW. We are people of routine.

After today we have five nights in a London campsite where, among other things, we’re meeting up with some of C’s girls (students from when she was a Houseparent). Then off to Brindisi for the big fat Italian wedding with our mates Richard and Caroline. That’ll be fun!

our latest back garden - someone else's

our latest back garden – someone else’s

But today is Georgina’s day (and that of the v good people of Scotlandshire, well done them; we’re both really delighted). I’ll take some photos.

Nick and Chris

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The caves that I sort of remember C talking about were in fact a set of rocks;

big rocks

big rocks

Brimham Rocks. Just down the road from the CL the National Trust owns a couple of acres scattered with huge balancing stones created years ago by millstone grit washing away layers of softer rock when they were young and impressionable. They’re fascinating in a Fred Flinstone sort of way, a maze of rocks upon rocks creating shapes and forms that let your imagination run riot; a monkey here, a whale there. In the autumny overcast skies with a very gentle mist the whole place was atmospheric, almost a bit spooky. The claim that you could see sixty miles from the top and ‘York Minster is over there’ was lost on us as we strained to find the NT teashop.

I can’t see for miles and miles…

spooky crow

Next a leisurely drive to Nick and Chris’ with a secondary aim of foraging for a few bits and pieces and getting some fuel. Of note (but not a particularly interesting one) Doris is still returning over 32mpg, and whilst the seasons change quicker than I am currently driving, we have been up and down a lot of hills. So 32 mpg is good in my book. Still, she won’t run on vapour so refuel we must.

After an abortive attempt to stop in Knaresborough (pretty town, narrow streets, market day, packed with people and nowhere to park) we made it to Wetherby. We wandered about a bit, couldn’t find a post office to ensure that our changes of address on Doris’ ownership document and C’s driving license got the correct postage to make it to Swansea (we plied them both with second class stamps) and helped ourselves to coffee in Morrisons. And here’s a strange thing. We tried to piece together our Scottish trip: where had we stayed, in what order and what had we done. It was only two and a half weeks, but for the life of us we couldn’t stick it all together. I remember places we’ve parked (fisherman here) for different reasons than C (view there), so that doesn’t help. But such is the whirl of what we’re doing, and I suppose the fact that we’re not concentrating on it as much as we would do our usual trip to Scotland, it was an impossible jigsaw to piece together. Good news is – we have the blog. And I have also annotated a paper map that we could thumb through if we must.

Nick and Chris next, although the motorway planners did their best to put us off. We aimed to stop at the Ferrybridge Services on the A1(M)/M62 juntion. So I followed their lead until the point the M62 split. All of a sudden there was no sign. Now I could have stopped and scratched my head, or wound down the window and asked someone. But that might been problematic on a major motorway junction. So I headed west towards Manchester and found nothing. Anyhow we stopped to eat some lunch just off the motorway we weren’t meant to be on….grrrrr…. and then turned ourselves around and found Nick and Chris’ in time for a cup of tea.

Nick and Chris

Nick and Chris

Nick and I are remarkably similar. We met when we were sixteen when we both attended the Army Sixth Form College together. We both followed similar career paths in the Army (he was a signaller and I was an infanteer). He met Chris because she was my next door neighbour, we’re both Godparents of some of each other’s children and, bizarrely, we both decided we’d had enough of the Army at the same time – I met him in the Ministry of Defence on a spring day and told him I’d resigned and why. He was having exactly the same thoughts, and left soon after. They’ve made their home in Lincolnshire and he has had a v successful second career in the Fire Service. Anyhow, we’ve not seen each other for five or six years and, lo and behold, he’s now thinking of doing what we’re doing, but in a yacht round the Med! Great minds, hey?

It was great to catch up with them – like us (another coincidence) they’ve had a complicated last couple of years with family – but being together was one of those ‘like nothing had changed’ things with discussions quickly focusing on how we must meet up sometime, somewhere soon. The Merchant Navy theme (well it’s not really a theme, more of a previous mention here a couple of times) re-emerged with the eldest son, Tom, on course to become an officer in the merchant navy. We got talking about marine traffic.com and how mum and dad could track his ship. He’s with a company that runs those huge container ships. Apparently they’re more likely to break in half on the top of two waves, than roll over with their top-heavy containers falling off. That’s comforting then… It was really great to see them again.

sleeping at a jaunty angle

sleeping at a jaunty angle

Heading further south today with the aim to be a stone’s throw from Pirbright and Georgina’s passing out tomorrow. Good luck to my brother on his last day with his current employer, and good luck to Georgina with her drill!

I’ll keep you up to date.

Angel of the North

I’d have liked to have been a fly on the wall at the first meeting between Anthony Gormley and the Director of Parks and Museums at Gateshead City Council.

“So Tony, you don’t mind if I call you Tony, do you?”
“Eh, well, ermm, whatever.”
“Good. So Tony, what did you have in mind for the Gateway to Gateshead thing we spoke of on the phone?”
“I was thinking, maybe a sculpture.”
“Good, good. We like sculptures here in Gateshead. Good. Fantastic. Tell me more.”
“Probably a big one, made out of steel. Just off the A1, you know, to welcome people to the North. Could be called the Gateway to the North?”
“Good, great. I was thinking more Gateshead centric, but I see where you’re coming from.”
“I’d see the sculpture as, I dunno, perhaps an angel?”
“Angel? Yes, we like angels. Good, good, Fantastic. Awesome. Why an angel?”
“Well, you know, we all like angels and we don’t really know what they look like – we need to be reminded of them, d’you think?”
“Yes, yes, that’s good. Great. Fantastic. I can see it now. A big steel angel welcoming people to Gateshead. ‘Turn right here.’ Great. Fabulous. An angel. Wow. With wings?”
“Yea, why not. An angle with wings. Big one. Made out of steel”
“Great. Fab. Love it. An angel with wings all made out of steel. Awesome. Wings. I can picture it. All those feathers. Fab.”
“Ehh, maybe not feathers.”
“Not feathers? How do you mean?”
“I was thinking more like a bloke with wings that come from a Lancaster Bomber. You know. Big one. Made out of steel. Welcome to the North.”

Pause….

“So more like a chap pretending to be an airplane, rather than an angel per se?”
“Yeah. Sort of.”
“Mmmm. I need to take this back to the board….”

imageWe popped into Moffat and stopped for a very fine breakfast at ‘The Rumblin’ Tum’ and then, at a v sedate pace, trusted Gazza to get us to the Angel of the North. For some reason only known to him he took us to the centre of a housing estate in Gateshead. It was close, but not so close that we could actually see Anthony Gormley’s quite fabulous Angel of the North. A quick look at a paper map, turn round and we parked up.

It is very special, if much smaller than we were expecting. It’s two-thirds the height of the Kelpies (of which there are two and their footprint is much bigger again; in comparison they are massive) but, when you get close that becomes irrelevant. Gormley clearly has a thing about rusting steel men – connect here Another Place to our trip to ‘Another Place’, his marvellous scattered sculpture of scores of life-size steel men rusting away into the Irish Sea at Crosby. imageThe Angel looks like the very same man (those at Crosby are self-portraits) but with wings which, whilst clearly inspired by a World War Two strategic bomber, take a striking sculpture and turn it into something very special indeed. They are disproportionately large, but don’t overbalance the thing. It’s somehow beautifully in proportion. The idea of not clothing it with a skin, but displaying the skeleton, is also genius. It’s tactile, whilst being untouchable. Don’t just drive past it and gawp, get up close and feel it. It must be done.

We had a simple lunch and then set Gazza to take us to a CL in West Yorkshire in the village of Wath. Well, obviously not on top form, he asked me to turn off the A1(M) at a junction that didn’t exist. I have the sound turned off, which is probably a good thing otherwise he would have been petulant about me not careering off left through a crash barrier, heading down the verge and onto an overgrown slip road, long abandoned since this part of the dual carriageway was upgraded to a motorway. Two mistakes in a day? Happy that the Satnav algorithms were messing me about, rather than a cruise missile hurtling its way to some ISIS command post in northern Iraq, Gazza sorted himself out, brushed himself down and took us off at the next junction – which did exist.

The CL at Church Cottage (£5 no electric) is lovely, but made more so with the arrival of the sun which, apparently, has been given an extension to its run at the English Theatre for at least another week. We got our chairs out, did some admin; I polished Doris and C aired the bedclothes. We both went for a run and whilst I was oiling some stuff, she popped out on her bike and reaped the local blackberry harvest. All the time the sun shone like it was July. Supper was sausage au curly pasta and salad, and with the BBC now talking to us we listened to the penultimate chapter of some 1930s spy thriller on BBC 4Extra. You know the sort, all plums and silver spoons, and ‘terribly sorry’, but still with lots of murder and mayhem. The fact that we had missed the preceding ten chapters didn’t seem to matter much.

Church Cottage CL

Church Cottage CL

C has a plan to go and see some caves or something today before we get to Nick and Chris’ in Lincolnshire for tonight. Once we’ve been there I’ll let you know what it was.

a small piece of the CL's wall

a small piece of the CL’s wall