Friday 9 August 2013

The Desolate North East

Greetings to all my readers from the desolate, remote and uninhabited North East of England. The description of the area as uninhabited came as a particular shock to those of us who live here. Yes, our home region was described thus last week by Lord Howell, who is none other than the father-in-law of our esteemed Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne. The noble lord felt that it would be terrible to ruin the beautiful rural environments of Southern England by extracting shale gas there ('fracking'), but that there were areas of the country where nobody would be disturbed by this, notably the North-East. The headline in the Newcastle Journal next day was simply: "What on earth is he talking about?"

The photo above is a memento of a period in the 1970s when the powers that be in the South got the same idea about there being nobody much in Northumberland to be bothered by having unpleasant industrial processes dumped on them. At that time it was the waste products of nuclear power stations. They wanted to bury radioactive waste in the Cheviot hills. Needless to say this went down like a lead-lined balloon with the locals and there was a very active campaign of opposition, which incidentally provided my earliest exposure to the experience of political protest. Of course if we had accepted the expansion of the nuclear power station programme in the 1970s we might not have needed the large scale development of wind turbines which are getting local folk so worked up now - but then they're not proposing to put nearly as many of them in the Home Counties either.

The interesting thing about the form of words used by Lord Howell is their clear implication that sparsely populated areas of the South are rural, beautiful and unspoilt, while sparsely populated areas of the North are remote, desolate and uninhabited. Apparently his imagination will not stretch far enough to embrace the concept that the remote landscapes of Northumberland might be worth preserving in their unspoilt beauty as well. This has, sadly,confirmed all our stereotypes about the narrow life experience of those running the country. It has probably also made a good few people living here at the far end of North East England wish that the border could be moved just a few miles south and free us from being ruled by the likes of the Howells and the Osbornes once and for all.

Sunday 4 August 2013

Tweedmouth Feast 2013

I'm very late posting about this year's Salmon Queen crowning (due to the internet problems mentioned in my previous post) but better late than never. It took place on Thursday 18th July during the period of glorious weather we've been enjoying this summer.

Here is the moment when Queen Annie was formally invested with the crown and robes. She made a charming acceptance speech to the effect that she has lived in Tweedmouth all her life and it is an honour and a privilege to be chosen as Salmon Queen.

My fellow blogger Jim Herbert was chairing the Tweedmouth Feast committee this year. Here he is welcoming us to the festivities. Jim's blog, Timelines, is linked to in my sidebar. He knows an awful lot about historic buildings.

After the crowning the new queen and her attendants always lay a wreath at the war memorial adjacent to the riverside park where the festivities are held. It is in some respects an incongruous ritual but one very expressive of genuine folk culture (as opposed to the kind dreamed up by quangos and tourism boards).

As I watched the teenage party process away from the memorial in the dazzling evening sun, I reflected that their generation is growing up to think it normal to be at war.

Saturday 3 August 2013

Summer on the Historic Bank of the Tweed

This is a fun picture, isn't it?  These upcycled old shoes are in the courtyard of the youth hostel near my home. The young staff there are very hard working and full of enthusiasm. I am sitting in their cafe as I write this, using their broadband network. My home one was recently disconnected (don't ask), which is why you haven't heard much from me for a few weeks. Now I feel so much at home in here that I'm wondering if it's worth getting reconnected in my real home.  Check this hostel out, come and stay here on the quayside in beautiful Berwick!

This lovely planter full of lavender is a rare example of something really beautiful being provided by the council. It's in the Tweedmouth street known as Parliament Close, a quiet and pleasant group of houses that look nothing like the location of a major historical event. A small plaque on a wall records that this land on the flat south bank of the river Tweed was the location for what we would now call a summit meeting between England and Scotland, to hammer out the position of the disputed border once and for all. They settled for making the river the border. It's moved slightly north since then.