Sunday, 28 June 2009

90 - Part III

Did I mention some public art along this track?

I had to sit down on the bench across from it to take the picture properly - honest!

I read about these huts a little while back, but was still amazed to see them. Beach huts are apparently quite common around the south of Britain from what I've read in women's magazines. I gather they were very popular back in the 'old' days -- 40s and 50s maybe?, I dunno, anyhow, like so many other things they went out of fashion and now they are back in. They looked quite intriguing as I trotted past, all fully occupied, too.

Beyond Blyth beach is the Port of Blyth. I actually accompanied a former environmental health officer on a ship visit years ago. I mainly remember that it was a Japanese built ship with lovely wood, but very low ceilings and the captain was a very tall Norwegian.

I've always admired the Ridley Park Hotel as a lovely building, but I don't have any use for 'live Sky sports' at any time.

Ridley Park is a good sized green area and it is always beautifully kept. On this day it wasn't in best bloom, but there were lots of signs that it soon would be.

My turn around point was a little brick building at the end of the road, the office of a former colleague, a really nice man. I believe he too is now retired and this building has a different purpose now. It used to be the office of the port health officer whose job it was to make sure no dogs came ashore (keeping Britain rabies-free), none of the crew had the plague, etc. I only visited the office a couple of times, but I always thought it was perfect the way John had a big room and a big desk, just beside the sea and the park.

Best of all, his office had a bed and bowl for his dog, who came to work with him every day. I can't think of a better work environment and I always envied him being able to have his dog at the office!

Saturday, 27 June 2009

I'm Getting a Reputation!

When I went to the sewing group a few weeks ago, Dorothy (one of my favourites) handed me a wad of fabric. In it were several blocks of coloured lace and other lovely light weight fabrics.

She told me Margaret’s sister had given it to her and said, “Give this to the lass who makes things out of scraps."

I love it!

Friday, 26 June 2009

90 - Part II

I've long admired these houses, completely unlike most of the brick houses around this area -- they look like they belong somewhere overlooking a beach. I love that they are 3 stories tall and have a balcony on the front and deck on the back. The Blyth Valley planners were quite forward thinking in permitting this style of house.

If you looked at the course route on the first "90" post, you may have noticed that much of it was off the road. That is because of this path, created through the dunes by Blyth Valley council. The dunes are a nature reserve and the path is used

for walking/running and cycling by loads of people. There are children's parks, toilet facilities and public art scattered along the path, as well as trails leading down to the beach and signs explaning why the dunes are protected (I didn't stop and read any; they aren't very legible anyhow, salt water doing what it does).

I've never much liked this path before, having done a couple of races and been frustrated by the

multiple hills and curves. I have never appreciated the dunes either, just lumpy bunches of really coarse grass. I changed my mind on this run.

You're just never going to believe me, are you, when I tell you how lousy the weather is over here?

Thursday, 25 June 2009


From Trevelyan’s English Social History
(We're still only in Chaucer’s England -- 1340-1400 -- loads more good stuff to come!!)

The growth of the cloth trade was destined to go on for generations to come, creating new classes in town and country, adding to the luxury of the manor-house and relieving the poverty of the cottage, altering the methods and increasing the rewards of agriculture, supplying our ships with their cargoes, spreading our commerce first over all Europe and then over all the world, dictating the policy of our statesmen and providing the programmes of our parties, causing alliances, treaties, and wars.

The cloth trade held its place as incomparably the most important English industry, till the far distant day when coal was wedded to iron. For centuries it occupied men’s daily thoughts in town and village, second only to agriculture; our literature and common speech acquired many phrases and metaphors borrowed from the manufacture of cloth –

‘thread of discourse’,

‘spin a yarn’,

'unravel a mystery’,

‘web of life’,



‘tease’ –

while all unmarried women were put down as ‘spinsters’.

Wednesday, 24 June 2009


This is from a couple of weeks ago now, but just because my running has slacked off with Bill being ill for a week, doesn't mean the pictures aren't still worth sharing. I've not had a long run on a Friday for a while, but I will again, I will...

I'd meant to get out earlier in the day, given that Hazel was bringing lunch at 1 and I wanted to be showered and changed. But it was pouring rain and I kept putting it off. I checked the weather and it was at least going to be 'scattered showers' instead of 'pi**ing down', so I decided to procrastinate and I was so glad I did.

Hazel asked as she was leaving if I was still going for a long run. I told her if Bill got home and I hadn't done it, I'd never hear the last of it. So, about 4 pm I finally pushed myself out the door and headed up to Seaton Delaval, or maybe it's Seaton Sluice, just in between the two. I started where I turned around the last Friday, just at the south end of Collywell Bay Road.

Seaton Sluice is a man made outlet to the sea, created to facilitate the shipment of coal (what else?). The village itself, like most of this area, has a long history. This area is part of Blyth Valley local authority, not North Tyneside where we live. For reasons I've never completely understood, Blyth isn't considered a great area, probably to do with industrial past and current levels of social deprivation, but I have to say I think Blyth Valley council could teach North Tyneside a thing or two. There is a lot around this area that is way cool and I saw plenty of places where I'd be more than happy to find myself living.

It was absolutely gorgeous and I thoroughly enjoyed the run. It didn't seem as long as the first time I ran it, which took me 90 minutes, even though with stopping to take pictures I was actually out for another 17.

I saw a man running the other direction when I set out and again when I turned around ... a long time later. As we crossed paths the second time, I had to smile when he gasped, "Must be mad at this age!"

Sunday, 21 June 2009

The Longest Day

So, today is the longest day. I wonder if you notice it like we do here? If the whole sunrise - sunset thing bores you, imagine having a go at this. Looks like fun, but I expect it's hard work!

Friday, 19 June 2009

Books from the Public Library

It crossed my mind the other day that I'd not said what books I chose to trade for. The ones I picked up (and possible resale price) were:

By the Light of my Fathers, Alice Walker (£0.81)
Autobiography of Benvenuto Cellini (£1.50)
Picture of Dorian Grey, Oscar Wilde (£0.83)
20th Century Characters, Duncan Fallowell (£3.40)
I didn't see Naomi's Room, Jonathan Aycliffe, but I'm going to look again. It might re-sell for as much as £4.54.

If these actually sell at these prices, I can see me trawling the charity shops soon!

Thursday, 18 June 2009

What Stays Done?

We’re slightly 1950’s around here with Bill working all over the place and me staying at home and – it’s only fair – shouldering most of the housework. Bill will no doubt crease himself laughing at this last statement, perhaps I should modify it to ‘housework I deem most necessary on a daily basis.’

I never have given that much thought before to how cyclical, or should I say circular, housework is. You know, dishes go from cupboard to table to sink to cupboard; clothes go from closet to body to hamper to washer to dryer to ironing board to closet; bring stuff into the house, put stuff in the trash. In my I Love Lucy moments when trying to be ‘a better housekeeper’ I’ve felt more like a dog chasing its tail.

Never mind the circles, there are endless lists of things that have to be done over and over again, collect dust, weed & water gardens, put gas in car, cook food. I don’t actually mind the last as it does involve some creativity and I have a lot of choice about how easy or hard it is. I don’t bother much with the first, as it looks just as good after you dust regardless of the interval since the last dust removal. Bill generally gets around to the Hoovering before I do.

All this has made me look at my 20 pages of things to do and look at what will actually stay done when I've done it. There’s not much:

Setting up automatic bill paying / saving
Throwing things away or selling them
Scanning photos and putting keepers (family and friends, not scenery) in albums
Building my family tree on

So, now I have the moral high ground for not [insert housekeeping task] – I’m working on achieving the more lasting objectives - right?

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Sheets of Class

Bill has always preferred to have his bed sheets ironed, something it never occurred to me to do when I lived in the US. However, since he has demonstrated willingness to do this and other parts of ironing over the years, I have gone along with it and ironed sheets (pillow cases, duvet covers, linen tea towels...).

Recently, he saw something on TV that discussed differences between the classes here in England, a subject of considerable interest, I can tell you. On the programme it indicated that ironing in sheets was ‘so working class’. He has since declared that sheets need not – indeed, should not – be ironed.

I wonder what else we might convince him was ‘working class’?

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

Next to the Longest Day

Bill had to go to Birmingham for work and was up at 5:10 am to make his 6:20 train. He'll get home about 9:30 tonight. Oh, I so don’t miss this!

Today I need to go to the bank to open a new account (v. boring) and to a funeral at noon. One of the sewing group ladies lost her husband to lung cancer after at least 6-8 months of treatment and all its repercussions. Why anyone still smokes these days is beyond me.

Still, the really longest day of the year is yet to come: soon, but yet to come.

Monday, 15 June 2009

Losing the Plot

Bill, I'm pleased to report, appears to be much improved. He went to work this morning and even volunteered to cook dinner last night. He seemed quite perky yesterday evening. I was as well, but come the night time I could not sleep. It wasn't hot, but I'm thinking the humidity was uncomfortably high. In any case, at 12:45 am I gave up and turned on the computer, re-entering the dark world of genealogy that has possessed my brain almost exclusively this past week. I finally escaped at 3:46 am when I noticed the night sky wasn't dark anymore.

There is a lot going on in my family tree just now; I'm finding loads of interesting stuff and the Coal County Genealogical Society sent me a package of papers that I'm still pulling information from. My cousin, Sharon in Perth is my partner in crime. We feed each other back and forth and she seems to be a periodic night owl like myself. I've not checked, but given the time difference and adding in contributions from Sandra in California, I expect we keep the family tree busy nearly 24 hours a day!

These people - 95% of them named Patrick, Margaret or Bernard -- live in the back of my mind a good deal of the time. In fact, I keep thinking about writing a story -- a novel even -- about these family members. I'm not a writer of fiction, it feels like lying to me, but take my great grandmother, Sarah. We have her basic details like birth in Scotland, death in Oklahoma, marriage, places of residence and family members from most of the Censuses. Add to that the births of her children and grand children, the where abouts of her siblings in Scotland and Australia and the welfare of her parents back in Scotland, which will all have occupied her mind even more than she does mine just now. One could put down a pretty busy outline with just those facts. Fill in a bit of back ground political and social history, some details about the life of miners and their families, and then comes what I think is the hard part: coming up with a plot and developing the characters.

I think it's highly unlikely I'll be writing any novels. The fact is, I keep losing the plot in my own life and my own character is still greatly in need of development.

Saturday, 13 June 2009

Poaching Poetry

More from English Social History

I gather the really big thing about Chaucer -- and even more about Shakespeare -- was that they wrote in English, not Latin, not French, but in a common language of the land, something there had not been before. I never was much into Chaucer, mainly cause I couldn't understand a word of the Canterbury Tales. Much like when we were assigned a Shakespeare play to study, I dutifully read it, then waited the next day for the teacher to tell me what I'd read. Still, I could appreciate this poem, particularly after understanding that it was not meant to rhyme, but to be alliterative. Trevelyan uses it to demonstrate that just because country folk were surrounded by the country every day, they could still appreciate the beauty.

In the monethe of Maye when mirthes bene fele,
And the sesone of somere when softe bene the wedres,
Als I went to the wodde my werdes to dreghe,
In-to the schawes my-selfe a schotte me to gete
At ane hert or ane hynde, happen as it myghte:
And as Dryghtyn the day droue from the heuen,
Als I habade one a banke be a bryme syde,
There the gryse was grene growen with floures -
The primrose, the pervynke, and the piliole the riche -
The dewe appon dayses donkede full faire,
Burgons and blossoms and braunches full swete,
And the mery mystes full myldely gane falle:
The cukkowe, the cowschote, kene were they bothen,
And the thrustills full throly threpen in the bankes,
And iche foule in that frythe faynere than other
That the derke was done and the daye lightenede:
Hertys and hyndes one hillys thay gouen,
The foxe and the filmarte thay flede to the erthe,
The hare hurkles by hawes, and harde thedir dryves,
And ferkes faste to hir fourme and fatills hir to sitt
And he statayde and stelkett and starede full brode,
Bot at the laste he loutted doun and laugt till his mete
And I hallede to the hokes and the herte smote,
And happened that I hitt hym be-hynde the lefte sholdire
Dede as a dorenayle was he fallen.

Now you know what it's like to sit on the Metro surrounded by young Geordies nattering away, except there are no swear words in this poem. There is a popular road race around here where the former organiser used to write the entry form in Geordie. I could just about figure it out by reading it out loud, or at least read it with my lip moving. If I run across a copy -- and I'm sure I've kept a few -- I'll share them. And now, the translation of the above, which I think does a superlative job of appreciating nature. I really does sound olde England-y:

In May, when there are many things to enjoy, and in the summer season when airs are soft, I went to the wood to take my luck, and in among the shaws to get a shot at hart or hind, as it should happen. And, as the Lord drove the day thorugh the heavens, I stayed on a bank beside a brook where the grass was green and starred with flowers - primroses, periwinkles, and the rich pennyroyal. The dew dappled the daisies most beautifully, and also the buds, blossoms, and branches, while around me the soft mists began to fall. Both the cuckoo and pigeon were singing loudly, and the throstles in the banksides eagerly poured out their songs, and every bird in the wood seemed more delighted than his neighbour that darkness was done and the daylight returned. Harts and hinds betake themselves to the hills; the fox and polecat seek their earths; the hare squats by the hedges, hurries and hastens theither in her forme and prepares to lurk there. The hart paused, went on cautiously, sharing here and there, but at last he bent down and began on his feed. Then I hauled to the hook [ie the trigger of the cross-bow] and smote the hart. It so happened that I hit him behind the left soulder...he had fallen down, dead as a door nail.

So, 'Dead as a Door Nail' has been with us since the mid-1300's.... whatever that means.

Friday, 12 June 2009

When Your 61-Year-Old Won't Mind

Well, it's not that he doesn't 'mind', rather that he's out of sorts and doesn't want any food that's offerred, but wants...something. I first came up with crackers and 7-Up (they call it lemonade over here), but no. Macaroni & cheese? No. He settled on milk and, later, fruit yoghurt.

He's had tummy troubles since Monday morning (4:20 am to be precise). He made it to work Tuesday for a few hours. He's been living on milk and yoghurt all week, with the occasional banana.

I was dead on my feet Tuesday and Wednesday, but managed to stay up late enough Wednesday night watching old movies that I was so tired, nothing would wake me. Thursday he finally gave in and decided crackers and 7-Up/lemonade might actually be a good idea, so I went to the store and bought some, also some cheese and soft ice cream; and 4 (yes, 4) boxes of anti-diarrhoeal tablets.

After no nights sleep for either of us -- his stomach growls so loud it wakes me up -- he finally gave in and rang the doctor. Who, miracle worker that she is, told him to keep taking his over-the-counter meds and if he's still sick Monday, call her again. He'll be dead by Monday, because I'll have killed him by then.

Poor guy, he really has been poorly and I just haven't known what to do for him. But I did. Mom always gave me crackers and 7-Up for an upset stomach and it's worked a treat for him.

Just call me Florence bloody Nightingale-not.

Thursday, 11 June 2009

Tynemouth Lodge Hotel

I've seen this ad a couple of times but recently clipped it to remind myself to tell you about it. We used to go to the Tynemouth Lodge more often that we do now. I can't actually tell you when we were last there - a couple of years maybe. It's not that long a walk, but visiting pubs is not a high priority somehow. When we did go, we often ran into people we knew there. The owner, Hugh, was always very pleasant as well and it was nice to be recognised when we came in.

His ad tells you all the reasons it's the best pub in the area:

18th Century Free House, trading as a public bar since the reign of George II

NO music
NO televisions
NO hot food
NO wi-fi
NO pub games
NO short measures

I've no experience of the last, to my knowledge, but all the other items on the list constitute the most annoying things -- other than children's play areas and kids running in and out where they aren't actually allowed -- I've encountered in pubs over the years. The Tynemouth Lodge is a place you can go and talk to people; except that it does such a 'roaring' business you end up yelling to make yourself heard. I think that's one of the main reasons we quit going -- he was just too successful!

It's still a way cool place, and his blog shows some great historical pictures of the place. He's also got some great ideas for the government regarding finance.

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

Beamish - Part V

One of the more 'fun' -- OK, maybe it's a grim sort of 'fun' things I saw at the museum was this little canary cage.

In addition to methane, coal workings were also known to release stythe gas, mainly carbon dioxide. Two hazards of building a house near coal mines are having this gas leak into your house and suffocate you; another is for the whole thing to cave in, which is why part of every house purchase includes a search of coal mining records for the area.

Anyhow, the sign next to the canary cage indicates the birds were worked pretty hard as well:

Cage - a cage used by rescue workers for canaries or other small birds. A small bird would be overcome by gas faster than a man. If the bird fell off the perch the men would leave the area. If they left fast enough the bird would come around and could be used again.

No doubt the animal rights people would have something to say about that these days.

I took away any number of other ideas from our visit to Beamish.

Despite awful working conditions and poor pay, many coal miners say they loved working at the pit because of the sprit of brotherhood this hard work created. Marra is a word to describe a man in your team at the coalface. It grew to mean all the men in the pit, and it is still used today to describe a good friend.

Away from the coal mine, in the rows of terraced houses built by the coal industry for their workers, the coal industry created close communities where people helped each other out.

Sounds like another one of those silver linings to me.

Beamish - Part IV

Yeah, we need to do some more about Beamish, not least because I still have a million and one pictures to share. Also, I confess to being fascinated by the whole coal mining thing, which apparently started seriously over here as early as the mid-1500's when wood started becoming scarce in England. I can't promise not to keep coming back to this subject as I learn more and more!

One thing that struck me as soon as I saw it was the row of garden gates:

You see these often in this area, only without the gates and without the houses, but the sections of brick wall remain and it was good to see what the houses might have looked like. The cottages had good sized gardens and, from what I read in the museum, the miners were keen growers of vegetables. Mind, this scenario is in 1913, pegged as the best of times for miners in this area. This was the year with the highest production and miners were, after all, paid by the tonnage they produced from the mines.

There were several cottages but it wasn't until later that I read they were meant to show differing circumstances for Methodist (tee-total with 9 children, I gather) and Catholic households (not tee-total and with 12 children) as well as for one where the head of the household had been killed but his widow and family still had use of the cottage (that one wasn't available to view on this occasion).

I gather the family keeping the cottage was a later development and fairly local. You would think that for men to be willing to risk their lives they would need to know their families would still have a home. However, from what I've read, this wasn't the case in the late 1800's, at least not in Oklahoma.

I noticed some of the beds tended to have drapery, probably needed to increase at least a sense of privacy, and they had patchwork quilts, though this is largely an American craft, or at least the more detailed and ornate patterns are American.

"Crazy quilting" was more in fashion over here, as shown by this tea cozy. I've tried it and it's not as easy at it sounded.

Another form of craft I noticed were "proddy" or "proggy" mats, which apparently everyone made until about 5 minutes before I came over. I'm not a fan of them anyhow, I think the designs one

can do are too crude. Nevertheless, they were very useful and thrifty and I can't help but approve! Mom used to make hooked rugs ('hooky mats' over here, saved for 'best') and I still have several of hers in the loft.

Liz, from the sewing group, had just been describing her mother's chenille tablecloth and I couldn't imagine it. I was thinking of a fabric made with short bits of fiber drawn through cloth in a design and made into a -- usually white -- bedspread, sometimes a housecoat. I thought it would be an awfully bumpy tablecloth! So I was pleased to see what she'd been talking about, right down to the fringed edging.

I was also pleased to see a clothes dryer just like the one in my kitchen! We have a modern one in the garage but it is very rarely used.

These were genuine coal stoves, with ovens. They were an advance on the communal oven that preceded them, but were eventually replaced as they were too small to meet the needs of the

families. That whole idea of meeting the families' needs was another huge contrast with what I read about the conditions in Scotland.

This shows a back alley and they look pretty much the same today in the older houses a street or two away from mine, except that there are brick walls on both sides, of course.

The green doors on top are where the coal went in to it's out building. The black door near the ground was where the 'night soil' came out of the out house. The brick walls are increasingly being made over to accomodate garage sized doors -- for a garage or just for parking in the back yard.

Toilet facilities included a bowl and pitcher of water, and for night time, the 'gazzunda' (as in goes under the bed), specimens of which could be purchased at Tynemouth Fleamarket a few years ago. I thought it would make a great punch bowl or soup tureen, but Bill said no one would eat from it.

He had a good laugh before explaining to me what it was! In my defense, the one I saw was much more ornate, with a lid, and looked like a piece of china, which I suppose strictly speaking it was.

During the day one could use the out house

or have a bath in front of the kitchen fire of an evening.

The other cottages had stairs (with or without a rug to indicate financial status I suppose) to the single large room above the two below. This is where all the children slept.

We decided that if a widow took in a boarder she would pretty much have to join the children upstairs; well, one assumes that's how it worked, respectability being the watchword of the times.

In any case, I overheard it said that the front room (which included the parents' bedroom) was 'for best' and the kitchen was where everyone sat as a rule (my Grandmother didn't make that up by herself).

Then we have the laundry room. I don't know if this got moved into the kitchen in winter time or not; I don't know where everything else in the kitchen went to.

All in all, I thought the miners' quality of life in 1913 was pretty reasonable given the standard of the day for most people anyhow over here. (I gather most people my age remember their childhood in a house without indoor plumbing, something I still can't get my head around, but it will be to do with the age of the housing stock).

Saturday, 6 June 2009

Foods by Season - June

Back when I was still working in Newcastle city centre, I often took my lunch break at the Literary and Philosophical Library around the corner from my office in Milburn House. I promise to show you pictures of these amazing places soon, but for now I want to talk about the books that drew me to the library.

They were the ones about homemaking, cooking and gardening in the 1930s and 40s. They have wonderful books about all sorts of cottage crafts, how to knit your own underwear (no joke - sounds itchy, doesn't it?), specific gardening advice by species.

One of the books I enjoyed talked about foods in season

and I took copious notes from which I developed an Excel spreadsheet of foods by month; I've added to it as I found other sources. I always take notes from this spread sheet before going food shopping.

Mind, some of these foods I've never heard of, never seen, wouldn't know what to do with them if I found them. But that's part of the fun of reading old books in foreign places!

So, here is what my sources have listed as being in season in June:

aubergine (AKA eggplant)
carrots (at their best)
summer squashes (AKA, marrow, courgettes, zucchini)
lettuce (at its best)
medlars (I've never seen one in a store)
peaches (I've yet to find a fresh peach in England that didn't taste like cardboard; I stick to canned peaches over here and pig out when I'm in the US)
pineapple (obviously this book isn't about locally grown foods, but you do see small pineapples in the store; I buy cans and avoid getting stabbed with the pointy bits)
raspberries, tayberries, loganberries, etc.
turnips (at their best)
bream (Hint: this starts the list of fish and game)
crab (hard to find 'naked' crab meat sometimes and I don't care for 'dressed')
eel (yes, I have seen eels for sale, but never tasted one; they are known to be high in fat and therefore dioxins; that's my excuse and I'm sticking to it)
grey mullet (apparently no relation to red)
lobster (at its best; however highly overrated for the price, in my opinion)
prawns (big shrimp)
red mullet
salmon (most plentiful)
whitebait (think deep fried minnows; not bad, but it was just for the experience)

I know I'm easily pleased, but I love some of those fish names!

Of course, this information about seasonality applies to the UK and perhaps parts of Europe. Seasonal foods elsewhere may be different, particularly in the southern hemisphere!

Friday, 5 June 2009

As Common as Muck

How do I manage to spend hours upon hours on the Internet? Curiosity, mainly.

I start with trying to share information I have with you, then stop to check that it's up to date, then find something else interesting, and so on and so forth.

I was looking up some information about a food called 'dory'. Turns out it's actually, unbelieveably, A Fish Called John Dory (which was very nearly the title of this post). Then I went to see when this fish is available and it turns out pretty much all year round. This made me wonder why we don't have a saying, "Common as John Dory" and in trying to figure out what people say "It's as common as ... " (I need some help here, I've lost my American...)

Turns out what they say over here is "Common as Muck" (and there is a movie with that title about bin men).

Sounds grubby to me.

Thursday, 4 June 2009


It was a glorious day at the start of the run: the sun was shining, there was a moderate breeze,

the tide was full in and the sea was full of amazing colours.

And then the camera quit working. I thought it was the batteries, but turns out the card was full -- of picture from Prague. And on my return journey those clouds let loose.

Running along the clifftops with horizontal rain stinging your face is not great. On the other hand, the satisfaction that follows completing a long run is worth the minor hardships.

Last Sunday when the weather was completely un-North-of-England-like (sunny, 76 F, whispery breeze), Bill and I took a drive/walk and some pictures along the same way I had run.

The tide was out and so it was a different scene althogether. Even more surreal to me were jams of traffic along the coast, the masses

of people out on the beaches and sidewalks in various state of undress. I was driving and so couldn't take pictures, and perhaps this is for the best, really.

The end of my run was just beyond this wonderful pub, the Delaval Arms, which sits at the top of a hill overlooking the country on two sides and the sea on a third.

We took a slightly different way back to the car, not doubling back on the cliffs, but taking the public foot path past the viewing area of a nature reserve.

This heron might have been posing for his photo, he was so still, but he was actually waiting to catch a fish.

There have been many times I thought that my runs were a good walk spoiled (how Bob describes the game called golf), but next Friday, I shall continue my way north up the coast to Blyth...

By Hook and By Crook

From Trevelyan's Social History of England:

On some manors the heaths and woods had shrunk to small proportions before the encroachments of the ‘assart’ farms [Private farmland formed by the clearance of part of a wood, common, or forest] enclosed for agriculture. In others, particularly in west and north, the waste [uncultivated land] was essential to the life of many families. Lonely squatters, with or without leave, built their huts and fed their beasts on some outlying bit of land. And every lawful villager required timber from the trees on the waste, to build his cottage, to warm his hearth and cook his food, to make his carts, ploughs, farm tools, and household furniture. The rights of the customary tenants different from manor to manor, but often they had the privilege of cutting wood for building and carpentry, and of taking sticks for fuel by ‘hook and crook’, that is by pulling branches from standing trees.

Useful knowledge to have when one's mangetout plants need some branches for support and one happens to have a walking cane in the cupboard under the stairs and a copper beach tree in the front garden...

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

Beamish - Part III

Emerging from the drift mine, we drifted over to the lamp cabin. Picking up and leaving off one's lamp was a part of the miner's work routine. Think about sitting in the complete dark without even one's lamp and it's not hard to understand why they made such a big deal about them. Even more than that, proper maintenance and handling of lamps was critical to safety. The more or less simultaneous invention of various improvements on the acetylene lamp brought about the safety lamp, a major life-saving development.

When we entered the lamp cabin the guy behind the counter was patiently explaining about the locking mechanism on the bottom of the safety lamp. Apparently the men weren't to be trusted to keep the lamps shut, so it was locked before they took it away down the mine. The locking mechanism is a small pin that can only be removed and replaced using a large magnet. We all listened for the 'click'.

Then he talked about how mines produce methane, which is explosive and that methane gas coming into contact with the open flames of the acetylene lamp was very bad news. A guy named Davy came up with the idea of putting a very fine metal mesh around the flame, which apparently was sufficient to protect the flame from gas; only problem was that it also prevented light from coming out. Then Stephenson (of the steam locomotive fame) came up with putting a glass barrel around the flame, and moving the mesh up a bit, still protecting the flame but permitting illumination.

A third guy, a Frenchman named Marsaut added the 'bonnet' -- the solid metal part you see -- which fitted over the mesh portion and allowed intake air, but still prevented combustion, and added the locking mechanism. The lamps are often referred to as 'Davy' lamps, but their proper name is just 'safety lamp', as all these contributions went into making it was it is today - or back in that day, I mean.

He went on to list all the inspection protocol and cleaning methods, using a machine against the wall. The rotating brush he used to clean the part of the lamp reminded me of the machine I used to wash glasses behind the bar at Pizza Hut...that would have been a ridiculous 30-something years ago... Back to lamps.

He told us of the Burns disaster, a mining accident in the West Stanley colliery that claimed the lives of 168 men and boys, ages 12 to 70, back in 1909. It was thought to have been due to the opening of a lamp and the resulting methane explosion.

One of the first things I shared with my cousin in Australia, Sharon, were the notes I took back in 1990 from a book in the Oklahoma Historical Library about the history of mining in Oklahoma. I thought it was pretty exotic stuff, in part because they talked about 'unions' -- not a word I heard used much when I was growing up. Even 20 years ago, my imagination was caught up by the description of a terrible mining accident in Krebs, Oklahoma, in 1892, in which 96 men were killed and another 200 crippled. This disaster resulted in the US Government appointing an Inspector of Mines.

I typed up those scribbled notes and sent them to Sharon. She reported back that I had a great uncle who was one of the 96 men killed in that accident. So, I paid attention when the lamp cabin guy was talking about safety in mines.