Tuesday, 31 May 2011

55 Today

This is my birthday party in 1960. The stringy-haired blonde kid is me. The grown up lady is my Aunt Rita. She would have been just shy of 16 there. The little boy on my right (your left) is Tommy, from across the street. My first crush. Isn't he cute?

Never mind. My current crush, with a remarkably similar hair cut - you know, Bill - is taking me to dinner tonight. We're going to Avanti.

I've searched and searched for any words of wisdom I might share about turning 55, but I don't have any.   All that comes to mind is that getting older beats the alternative and I'm still having a great life.  

I'm crossing my fingers that this statement will hold true for most of my remaining days. 

Sunday, 29 May 2011

More of York

So what else is there to see and do in York? Well, there is Betty's. Bill ordered the ‘house tea’(I learned something new there) and toasted teacakes.Jerry said just what I’ve always thought –English tea cakes are exactly like American hamburger buns except they have raisins in. They seemed so familiar I found myself reassuring them that toasted teacakes are a very traditional British food.

Barry (at the York Minster) had told us about the soldiers' names scratched in the glass at Betty's.

We found them downstairs near the loos.

Then we had to go see the Shambles.
It’s an old street in York that used to be lined with Butcher’s hooks; the hooks are still visible in places.

It’s all very pricey tourist tat now, aimed at Richamericans.That’s not too foolish, when you think about it.If you have the money to travel abroad, you can’t be too poor, can you?

The main appeal of the Shambles is that the tops of the houses seem to almost come together at the top and the cobbled street makes you think you're in the 14th century.

The trapezoid shape of this window reminds me of some of my cheaper handkerchiefs.

Saturday, 28 May 2011

York Minster - III

The arches of the York Minster don’t all line up owing to them having measured wrong and being about six feet out; also they changed their minds a bit here and there. We were asked to notice that there were seven statues on one side of the (I would call it entrance to, but they refer to it as the screen) the Choir (pardon me, that's Quire at York Minster), but eight on the other. You only think you speak English, see.

This unbalance was one of the results of the mismeasurement. Fortunately there were 15 kings to date, from William to Henry VI, so they could cover themselves after all.

Jan noticed one was wearing a skirt. Barry said it was Stephen and he reckoned it was commentary of the fact that Stephen fought for the throne for years and years – against a woman, Empress Matilda. (Reference Ellis Peter’s mysteries involving Brother Cadfael, if you like that period).

York Minster is referred to as the "heart" of York; see the heart shape at the top of this window?

The choir quire is all 19th century replicate following on from an arsonist’s work in the mid 1800s.

We were told about the saint  William FitzHerbert and the bridge:  it collapsed under the weight of all the people who gathered to see him when he came to York, but no one was killed; that's how they knew he was destined for sainthood). This window tells his life story.

We were asked to notice the shape of the arches in this part of the church; very Moorish they are.

Much of the work on this part of the church was just following the time of the Crusades and architects brought back ideas based on what they saw in the holy lands. 

Each of those five lancets is over 16 metres (~48 feet) tall.
This window, made from grey Grisaille glass, has been nicknamed the Five Sisters, by the author Charles Dickens when he wrote about it in his book Nicholas Nickleby. It's not one I've read but I may look out for it now.

I well remember the story about this cardboard replica of the East facing window. It tells the story of the whole Bible, which is pretty daunting. The cost was £46, plus another £10 that the master artist negotiated to receive as a bonus for finishing it in three years. I think Barry said it had over 10,000 pieces of glass in it.

The cardboard is there because the actual window is undergoing renovation. The cost of that renovation is £23 million. I think they should just buy another one for £56, don't you?

This is a box for a processional gown, from about 1290.

The iron band work is similar to that found on the door to the Chapter House. If the box that holds it is this ornamental, one can only begin to imagine what the gown itself, folded up inside, would have looked like.

I don’t remember who this indolent looking man was.

He was a member of the clergy and he wanted this memorial sculpture done. The sculptors again had quite a bit of voice about things. See that decoration on the wall just above his feet? It’s a pea pod. If you didn’t pay your sculptor his fee, that peapod would be depicted as shut (like your pocketbook, I suppose) and all the viewers of your memorial throughout time would know you hadn’t paid your bill.

This guy paid up; the peapod is open.

The Minster has had several architectural crises, one of which was a lightening strike in 1984 – act of God. One of the windows that was damaged was the Rose window: it symbolizes the end of the War of the Roses.

In rebuilding this part of the roof, they decided to survey school children to find out what was on their mind and get a bit of contemporary art involved. The three things I remember of all that Barry showed us was a starved African child (this was about the time of the Bob Geldorf Band Aid concert, remember that?).

Also children were thinking about space exploration and worried about the extinction of whales.

Lest you be worried about the spiritual aspect being lost, there were two loudspeaker announcements whilst we were there – one every hour. We were led in prayers. Barry said it was to remind people that the Minster is after all a church – it gets a bit rowdy there sometimes – and to keep everyone a bit more respectful and quiet. Fine by me. 

The sound of the prayers and the accompanying bell tolling the hour both echoing through the vast and beautiful space is one of the best memories I will take away from this visit to the York Minster.

Friday, 27 May 2011

York Minster - II

The knights who gathered at York under Edward I (1239-1307) and Edward II (1284-1327) were descendants of the men who came across in 1066 with William the Conqueror, a Norman (from France). The shields of these knights are found high on the inner walls of the cathedral.

The purpose of York in the Edwards’ time was to deal with the Scots (reference Braveheart). At this point Barry asked if there were any Scots in the audience. He had previously asked if there was anyone from abroad and Jan and Jerry identified themselves as from Oklahoma, whereby Barry said he understood they wouldn’t know any history prior to 1600, which I thought rather cheeky, but never mind.

The wealthy knights contributed towards the building of the York Minster, a process that took 250 years and I gather they changed their minds a lot during that time. I was going to ask what happened at the York Minster during the time of Henry VIII, but he got around to that part.

The Quire

Minster, by the way, comes from the Latin word for monastery –monasterium. You only have a minster if you have a bishop (or perhaps it's the other way around; the administrative structure of the Anglican church is beyond me). However, I can tell you that the Archbishop of York is an interesting character (you saw the Archbishop of Canterbury on TV last month and he was pretty interesting as well).

Of course, the York Minster was a Catholic church when it was built and they seem to have just finished when Henry VIII decided he wanted to divorce Catherine of Aragon and marry Anne Boleyn. According to Barry, some of the church officials went along with the idea, but of course the Pope didn’t and neither did the abbots, who lived in abbeys, and this is why there are none save ‘ruined abbeys’ in England; I've not checked on this fact, but it sounds about right.

The King had his way, of course, but apparently liked churches and didn’t mess them up too much. However, after his death, his 12 year old son Edward came to the throne and with probably loads of advisers telling him silly ideas, they went around and beheaded any image of Mary or other saints. There are a number of wooden statues that could join the ‘headless hunt’ (reference Harry Potter), as well as several stone ones, like this.

Then we went into the Chapter House. It was something of a meeting room of the ruling men of the church. There are 270 or so of these funny little heads carved into the canopy over the wooden seats around the seven-sided room.

The masons and glaziers were itinerant workers who moved from place to place to work. They had a lot of artistic freedom and so could make their opinions known. Now I’d have sworn I took a photo of Queen Eleanor (formerly) of Castile, but apparently not. I did manage to dig around and find this head for you. It reminds me of something out of Alice in Wonderland: the stonemason depicted her crown being pried off by a bat.

Barry told us she and Edward I, new English husband (Castile being in Spain), showed up to a meeting at the Chapter House and the great unwashed public had gathered to see the new Queen. Apparently she wasn’t accustomed to being ogled – her subjects had to lie face down in her presence back home – and some of their comments were ‘ribauld’ was Barry’s word. She put on a ‘haughty manner’ and made herself rather unpopular. Hence the head in her memory. I wondered about the 269 other stories in the room, but of course there wasn’t time -- or strength! -- to hear them all.

Bill noticed that other volunteer guides told different stories about different windows and such, so one could hear quite a few lectures before getting bored of the York Minster. Nice to know if we find ourselves in York again, which is not unlikely; it’s only an hour south of us on the train.

The Merchant's Wife

There was a very small plaque, maybe 5x10 inches – and I agree with Barry that it is a far too small memorial – to Thomas Fairfax, who saved York Minster during the Civil War. You may or may not remember that the Stuart King, Charles I (1600-1649) was involved in a civil war with parliament, led by Oliver Cromwell. Charles I was beheaded over that argument and royalty had to learn to think a bit different to their previous ‘Devine Right of Kings’ though it was a slow lesson for them.

Cromwell’s lot were Puritans who hated ornamentation and would certainly have smashed and destroyed the York Minster had they reached it. We owed our very nice morning to Fairfax who prevented this in some way, though he fought on the side of the Roundheads.   It sounds as though he was a man of principle who thought for himself; even Charles trusted him as honourable, though he fought for the opposing side.

Thursday, 26 May 2011

York Minster - I

So, here we are at the famous York Minster.   You can go there yourself and have a virtual tour, if you like.  It's a pretty amazing place.  The virtual tour shows it as empty, which is even more amazing.  When we were there if was full of chairs and people everywhere.  It's meant to hold about 2,000 people, but it can cope with 3,500 at a squeeze.  Bill and I have each been here a number of times, but never taken the free guided tour, so this time we hung around to wait for the next available tour guide.  Ours was a volunteer named Barry.

We learned about stained glass windows:  the long narrow parts are lancets; each square bit that makes up the lancet is called a light.  The round-ish bits at the top are called roundels.  

This particular window was made in 1310; remade in 1789 – the leading that holds the glass only lasts about 150 years; and repositioned in 1950.  That is to say, the windows of the York Minster were removed and placed in mines and vaults for protection during WWII and were only replaced into the church in 1950.  Those dates are in the lower right corner.   

Looking at the ceiling of the Central Tower
Barry said he wouldn't tell us the story of every window - he didn't know the story of every one - but one thing that was interesting to me was that they generally tell a story:  you read it from the left to the right, starting with the bottom light and reading across each row until the story ends at the very top.  The story might be the life of a saint or the whole Bible or in one case the glazier chose a cartoon to amuse the people waiting in a queue for absolution or to buy an indulgence or something.  What amazed me was that if Barry said look there and you’ll see X, I could actually see X, something I wouldn’t have predicted.  The optometrist must have done a good job with my prescription; that, and I am fairly familiar with English history and some of the religious stories and artifacts. 

In the Quire

This is the 5th York Minster; the first was a simple wooden structure built in 627.  They don’t know much about the first two  but they know quite a bit about the 3rd and 4th.  York was originally built by the Romans, but Barry said Christianity didn't fare so well under the Vikings.  Monasteries at places like Lindisfarne kept the spark of Christianity burning in the British Isles and under Norman rule the church thrived again.

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Meeting Up in York!

I don’t do much with Facebook – my email and my blog get all my time and effort – but I am grateful to FB for putting me in touch with various old friends.  Jan and I worked together in Oklahoma City for many years but we lost touch when I left for Utah.  She contacted me a few weeks ago via Facebook as she and her husband Jerry were coming over to Britain for a vacation.  I confess to having had mixed feelings about this.  There are any number of people who have come across, practically demanded that I travel to London and be their tour guide and then disappeared as though they never knew me.  My fault, I suppose, for being too accomodating.  However, I'd been really fond of Jan and thought it was at least worth a go.  Between Bill's and my other commitments and their itinerary, York looked like the best place to meet up and so we did.

I love the train stations on the NE railway line.  I think of them as Victorian industrial cathedrals; I'm sure that's not an original thought.  We met up at Bootham Bar on the basis that it was midway between their B&B and the train station; also Bill reckon it afforded a shelter from any rain. 

Jan hasn’t changed much at all and we spotted each other immediately.  I introduced Bill and then let him and Jerry sort themselves out – Jan and I had 20 years to catch up on!  Not that we did of course, but by the time we were inside the Yorkminster, Bill said I was talking ‘Okie’ again.  I never recognise it, but I’m sure he’s right; I’m just susceptible that way.

We only spent the day there, walking with a few tea breaks.  I think we managed to show them the essential sights and of course I'll be sharing those with you.  We might have squeezed in another museum or two, but we weren't sure what would really interest them, we just enjoyed talking with them a lot and also, they needed to save their strength for London.

Jerry was brave enough to rent a car and drive for most of this trip, something I certainly wouldn't have recommended, but I'm sure it was memorable for them and figuring out public transport can be daunting - not to mention having to carry your luggage everywhere.  They had good things to say about nearly every B&B they used, all but one having been recommended by Rick Steves, so I thought I'd pass that tip along.  Funny enough, some of the B&B people don't seem to know who Rick Steves is, which I found interesting; do they ever wonder why their business has suddenly picked up?

Anyhow, we had a great day out with Jan and Jerry and are looking forward to keeping in touch in future.

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Goal - Get Carter

Following on from yesterday’s post about the joys of reading a book set in a place you know, I thought I’d tell you about the film, GOAL, starring Kuno Becker and Anna Friel.  Never heard of it?  Me, neither.  A friend in the running club, Terry, kindly gave me this DVD to watch, though he warned me it wasn’t a great film. He said it was a story of a young American boy (actually, he's an illegal alien in LA) who is good at ‘soccer’ and who manages to come over to England and secure a position with Newcastle United Football Club (NUFC).  Terry was right that it has great views of Newcastle, the stadium, Long Sands beach at Tynemouth and the sea front houses at Cullercoats. He also said it portrayed Geordies as crazy about NUFC; I can attest that this is an entirely accurate portrait.

I was happy enough watching it up to the point where the bad guy came along…I’m so soft I had to turn it off cause I knew it was going to upset me. I don’t get much time for watching videos, as I prefer to do it when it won’t disturb Bill. I expect the chance of getting him to watch this with me is about as good as Newcastle’s chances for winning the FA Cup this year (don't ask me what FA stands for...I'm not a footie fan).

I might have a slightly better chance (but don't hold your breath) of getting him to watch the film Get Carter, with Michael Caine.   I may have seen this once quite a while ago, but I don't remember it, so it wouldn't hurt to dust off the video we taped off the TV.  Just mention this film in the pub with a bunch of Geordies around and you'll get them reminiscing about all the places in Newcastle and Gateshead that were captured in that film and are now torn down.  A big 'favourite' is an old multi-storey car park which was apparently pretty hideous but, perhaps because of the film?, somehow isn't missed exactly, but always gets a nostalgic mention.  They aren't alone, apparently (I wonder if this is a good idea for Bill's Christmas prezzie?).  The locals around here will enjoy seeing this man's labour of love, chasing up the locations in the film.  Even I enjoyed looking at it.

Never heard of the movie Get Carter? I hadn’t either, but Michael Caine is big over here with men of a certain age. I’ve watched a few of his films and all his characters strike me as much of a muchness…sort of like John Wayne always playing himself…but – perhaps now I’m of a certain age - ‘e grows on you, ‘e does.

Saturday, 21 May 2011

Kingdom by the Sea

Remember me telling you about discovering the author, Robert Westall, who is from this area of the world?  Well I just finished another of his books, Kingdom by the Sea.  It is set during WWII and it's about a young boy whose family home is bombed.  He's the only one to make it into the shelter in time.  Fearing that he'll be sent to live with a crochety old auntie, he runs away.

He spends his first night alone on the beach at Prior's Haven.  He sleeps under an over-turned dinghy.  He is discovered and befriended by a young dog whose tag indicates he comes from a house on a street that has been entirely decimated.  They hide from the German bombers and shelter in the alcovers along the North Pier.  You've seen those.

Priors Haven beach

Together, they make their way up the coast, meeting various other people who either help or hinder them.  They make it all the way up to Berwick-upon-Tweed, on the border with Scotland, before their journey ends.  I won't say more, just in case you decide to read the book, but it was a delight to read  because I knew all those places fairly well.

Priors Haven is now all cluttered up with the Rowing Club and the Sailing Club, but of course it wasn’t always.  It was very easy to picture the opening scenes of the book as it might have looked. 

I don't remember reading a book before that I was so familiar with the setting.  The closest I ever came was The Outsiders, written by S.E. Hinton, a high school girl, about the gangs in her Tulsa high school.  It was a big hit with most of us in Oklahoma and I read my copy to bits, but I wasn't at all familiar with Tulsa, then or now.

If you get a chance to read this or other Westall books, I’d highly recommend them… Happy to supply pictures of local landmarks!

Have you ever read a book set in a place you knew well? 

Friday, 20 May 2011

May in Retrospect, or 3 Years: 3 Words

Gosh, I nearly forgot to do a review post for May and that would have been a shame, if I do say so myself.

A vintage year (month?) if there ever will be one.  In which I began telling about and showing you my

Obsession with Frugality
Family in Manchester
Love of Words
Ignorance of Gardening
Fun with Photography
Sharing Traditional Recipes
Experiencing a Ceilidh
Grandma's Covered Hangers
Cycling with Men (well, it's 3 words)
Home Hair Cut

Another very good year (Can you tell the WI meeting last night was a wine tasting session?) in which I told you about the

First of May
Shower Bill Built
Scenic Coastal Run
Historic Mariners' Home
Dalry, Ayrshire, Scotland
English Social History

When I learned how to make use of watching the telly, amongst other things, including:

Khayyam and FitzGerald
French and Food 
Teddy Bears' Picnic
Beautiful Red Kitchen!
Crisp or Crumble?
Sage and Shipley

That was fun!

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Year of Style - May

The theme for May is ‘sensuality’.  Personally, I'd say it was still a bit too chilly around here to be entirely in touch with one's senses, but then again, it looks lovely outside - through the window, anyhow.

Some of Frederic’s ideas I liked best for May were

Take a week’s vacation from watching television. Listen to music or read instead. This pretty much describes our lifestyle 12 months of the year!

Resolve to foreswear black until September – except in the evening. Easier said that done, but one of the reasons I’ve tried to assign other colours to the months, to get out of the black habit (no pun intended…).

Refrain from fidgeting. Learn to keep your hands still when you aren’t not doing anything. Better advice for me would probably be: Refrain from not doing anything: learn to keep your hands busy.

Overcome your self consciousness once and for all. Think of others, and soon you’ll forget to think about yourself. Brilliant advice.  Very Eleanor Roosevelt-ish.

The most valuable of arts is the art of living. Cicero.  Don't know much about Cicero, but he had lots of insight; also a lot to say about old age.

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Shearling Lamb

Have I mentioned that Bill has re-joined the Long Distance Walkers Association?  Given he would go off and do it anyhow, it did make sense to hook up with like-minded folks and have a bit of socialising now and again.  In addition to long walks they sometimes have meetings in pubs and he liked that idea, too.  Only he came home the other night with a big lump of lamb (a shoulder, actually), something I’ve never cooked.

He did know this was a possibility, given they would be addressed by someone about flexi-grazing, a form of nature conservation.  Apparently most lambs raised for food are born in spring.  They are one of the sights to see around here, but photos don’t do them justice.  You have to see them move.  They look so ridiculous the way they bounce around, as if on springs, one can’t help but laugh.  Cute or not, they get the ax at 14 weeks and are traditionally served with mint sauce, or so they say.  I’ve eaten lamb a number of times but never had mint sauce.  Then again, I’ve eaten beef quite a few times and never had chutney with it.  It’s a British thing that’s never grabbed my taste buds.

Anyhow, as Bill reported back, there is another batch of lambs born in September.  They are called shearling lambs and farmers don’t want them because they have to be fed over winter and they aren’t economically viable.  So they are given away.  This reminds me of one of my first trips to the Yorkshire Dales with Bill.  I remarked that all the sheep seemed to have been dabbed or sprayed with some colour of paint:  red, blue, green…  It was too consistent to have been accident or vandals.  He explained  it had to do with their breeding programme; the colour on the ewe indicated which ram she’d mated with and they could note which produced good outcomes.  He referred there after to the ‘sexy sheep’ which gave me one of my first insights into his quirky sense of humour.  [Apparently this is paint is called raddle.] But back to the shearlings.

Apparently farmers don’t like these shearling lambs so much  they give them away to the flexi-graze people who find places for the lambs to live and graze until they are two years old, when they get the ax and are sold for meat.  One doesn’t become mutton until 4 years of age.  (I’m sure there is a corollary for explaining ‘mutton dressed as lamb’.  Perhaps if one is twice as old as one’s 20 year old daughter one should tread cautiously?)  To my knowledge I’ve never eaten mutton, never even seen it for sale, not that I looked.  I’m not a tremendous fan of lamb to start with, but Bill’s story was still quite interesting and I’m certainly not going to waste an £8 lump of meat just because it’s not a t-bone steak. 

Anyhow, it turns out these shearling lambs – also Highland cows and Exmoor ponies, all hearty breeds that can over-winter outdoors without much help – are very useful to nature reserves and the like.  I remember when we had our last Foot and Mouth outbreak (don’t get me started on how idiotic British policy makers were about it – in every bloody state department) when there was concern that the wholesale slaughter of so much livestock would alter the overall appearance of Britain’s countryside.  All those lovely green patchwork fields outlined with stone walls or hedgerows aren’t maintained with Flymo’s or John Deere’s, but by cattle and sheep.

The flexi-graze people have found a way to be the go-between, as I understand it, between farmers who don’t want sheep and nature reserves who need some but it’s not their main business, they just need the grass controlled.  Areas of special scientific interest, nature reserves,  need a way to manage the grasslands to stop the spread of things like heather, stock, birch trees, etc that would encroach on grasslands being managed for the purpose of encouraging wild flowers, insects or birds.  Britain has plenty of woodland and wetland but not so much grassland.  Unmanaged grass will kill off wild flowers (perhaps dandelions aren’t of interest to conservationists).  Unmanaged grassland grows trees, something my renters in Oklahoma City haven’t always understood…

Just as British men love to talk about maps and routes and know every post box and tree branch landmark there is, apparently conservation grazers feel the same about their animals.  Bill must have mentioned we will be helping to marshal a marathon on Druridge Bay this month (I shall definitely take my camera), as the speaker warned us about the Exmoor pony they have placed there. 

He’s very affable and affectionate and will be your best friend if you feed him, unless you stop before he’s ready to stop, in which case he’ll kick you, so don’t start.  I don’t offer food to animals anyhow, not liking the idea of putting my fingers in proximity to teeth or beaks, but it’s good to be warned.

Another gem of info shared over a pint was that some clever chap invented some really good medicine for treating animals for blow fly.  I’ll let you google that if you wish but read Thornbirds - or about any other bodice ripper set in Australia - and you’ll know more about blow fly than you care to.  Anyhow this great invention was a tablet which resulted in long slow release of the insecticide and obviated the need for frequent external treatment.  Only the poison remained in the faeces, which in a nature reserve is useful for encouraging insects, which lay their larvae in such places, and it wasn’t specific only to blow fly, so it wasn’t such a clever thing for the conservationists.  Tricky business, that, eh? 

I just wonder whether Bill bought the lamb shoulder before or after the blow fly story.  Never mind, thankfully least he passed up the half a lamb for £65, good price though it no doubt was.

So, what would you do with a shoulder of lamb?

Sunday, 15 May 2011

Knott Flats

I vaguely remember knowing where some of the ‘social housing’ was in Oklahoma City, in the north east part of town. I once visited a friend from work there and it was pretty grim. Did we call them tenements? Projects? It’s too long ago to recall the name we used. Vanessa didn’t recommend living there – she had some horrific stories - but it was affordable and her mother was there to help look after her son.

The 'beach' at North Shields

Social housing here in England varies a lot, though I’m no more well versed about it here and now than I was there and then. I gather it’s ‘means tested’ but strangely enough one can ‘inherit’ a council house tenancy and some council estates are fairly pleasant. I gather the main thing that makes or breaks a council estate is not so much the architecture as the inhabitants. There are some pretty tough cookies living on public money around here.  Some vulnerable people who would easily qualify for a flat would prefer to live rough on the streets rather than deal with the harder characters and, but for the climate here, I’m not sure I wouldn’t be amongst them.

Sunday Fish & Chips at the 'beach'

Unless of course they offered me a flat with a south-west facing balcony and a view of the river and the sea. I figure the tenants at Knotts Flats in Tynemouth are pretty well behaved folks. I met a woman who lived there once, through another friend, and she remarked that loads of people who usually didn’t bother with her became her new best friends just before the Tall Ships race.  (They came to Newcastle in 2005 when I was still working in the city centre; I'll have to dig out those photos for you some time.)

Knott Flats

The land for Knott Flats was given to the Council for social housing by a gentleman named Sir James Knott with the proviso that it could only be used for social housing. I’m not sure what would happen to the ownership of the land if the Council decided to change it’s use, but I reckon that hill has to be worth a pretty penny.  They have some great views from their windows.

We’ve been on the waiting list for an allotment garden now for about 3-4 years and George, the allotments liaison officer – our neighbour – told us today number 88 is available and there’s ‘only’ about 50 names in front of us. One can only imagine what sort of waiting list there might be for Knott Flats…

Friday, 13 May 2011

The Fish Quay

This post was sitting all ready for you Friday morning, but Blogger crashed and this post disappeared into the resulting hole.  Fingers crossed this one will not suffer the same fate.

As I mentioned way back when we started, fishing is what established North Shields, but that industry has gone flatter than a  flatfish (more about those in another post).  When I first moved to the area, the warehouses were all abandoned, their windows shattered. There has been some renovation occurring and Irvin’s is the new ‘in’ restaurant, with warehouse flats on offer just above.

Renovation aside, there are three main aspects of the Fish Quay, at the bottom of the cliff I’ve been showing you the past few days. I think of them as ‘hooked’ ‘cooked’ and ‘raw’. The ‘hooked’ bit is where the fishing ships dock. I’ve rarely seen that actually happen, as I said the fishing industry is pretty scarce even around here. That said, the other day Bill pointed out a fishing boat coming in past the piers with a colony of seagulls following it. He reckoned they were cleaning the fish as they came into dock. Naturally, I didn't have my camera to capture the sight. 

There are still some of the best fish & chip restaurants to be found (the ‘cooked’ part) where you can get a piece of cod that hangs off both sides of a plate and more incredibly delicious chips (French fries are a completely different species – whatever you call them now) than one really should even consider consuming, for about £5.   We buy fish and chips maybe once a year and we may soon have to have our serving for 2011 my mouth is watering so.

Strangely enough there has been an influx of a local chain of Italian restaurants-  three of them so far -  but still, I think, with a fish theme: they have crammed as many tables in as physically possible and hired only skinny waiters; as a one-time customer I felt like a sardine in a tin.

The 'raw' part is even more interesting to me. I haven’t had much to do with a whole raw fish since I was very young. Mom and Daddy liked to go fishing on the pier at Lake Hefner and I remember a picnic basket with fried chicken and beer, playing in the minnow bucket, keeping away from the large live catfish in someone’s bathtub, my Dad teaching me to scale and gut sunfish on the back porch and walking around the back yard munching the fins off a freshly fried sunfish.

I associate fresh fish with a happy childhood, can you tell?

Maybe this is why I was so fascinated by the fish shops in Italy last summer, particularly Genoa. 

I took loads of photos there, in part because I thought they were wonderful, but also because some of it was pretty gross. 

Moscardinos are baby octopuses.   

In Genoa there were not only fishmongers in the village arcades,

but also down on the marina near the movie prop boat we explored.  

(And have finally found an excuse to show them to you!) 

Bill says this monster is a monkfish.

It seems obvious that almost any coastal town will have fishing / seafood as part of its culture, but for whatever reason - because it's not cheap even here, it's largely foreign and some of it is pretty disgusting if you didn't grow up with it, and apparently even if you did - it's not something I've had much contact with in the fifteen years I've lived here.   Oh, and another reason?  Bill keeps pointing out to me that fishy business takes place early in the day and that's just not my prime time.

So, imagine my pleasure when we rounded the corner and found that Taylor's is now open on Sundays and that they have a special:  £1 for 1 lb of selected fish (varies daily:  lemon sole, plaice, mackerel, hake, squid, witch, herring, gurnard). 

They, too, had an impressive range of fish on display, obviously something all fishmongers are trained to do. 

I felt like I was having a 'cultural experience' just about (but fortunately not really) at the bottom of my street!   We both decided that we were just going to have to figure out a way to do some shopping here.  So you can look forward to hearing more about our fish adventures, I'm sure.  I might even learn what is a gurnard’ or a ‘witch’…