Archive for the ‘Life Up North’ Category

Springtime Reaches Aldborough

Sunday, April 10th, 2016
Dere Street, now Boroughbridge Road, With A Really Wide Verge

Boroughbridge Road Near Marton-cum-Grafton

10th April: today was the first day that really felt like spring in Aldborough – bright blue sky, no wind and a little warmth that seems to have enlivened everyone.

When I went out for my Sunday cycle and run, there were definitely more people out compared to the much poorer showing for most of the winter months.  Fellow cyclists, walkers, runners and cars – even about thirty cars squashed in the lane between Upper and Lower Dunsforth from the Yorkshire Searchers, a metal detecting club.

Birds seen: black birds, crows, dunnocks, linnets, magpie, sparrows (we’ve several living in our roof), woodpigeon, wrens  and the canary-yellow of a yellowhammer; no birds of prey, but have seen recently: kestrels, a red kite and a barn owl that tracked down the road by the hedgerow until it spotted and swooped onto a mouse or shrew, then flew off.  Sometimes, there are buzzards and a sparrowhawk.  Later, Sophie and I walked in the sunshine on the levées by the Ure, carpeted in golden flowers of lesser celandine and dandelion, and watched sand martins pirouetting in the sky above the river-bank by Ellenthorpe Hall.

Flood Defences By Ellenthorpe Hall

Celandine Flowers By River Ure By Aldborough

Spring must be here, finally; next, there will be swallows, but not yet.

Everywhere, you see rabbits nibbling at the grass verges or darting across country lanes.  A few weeks ago, a roe deer scampered out from copse between the A1M and the old Great North Road (now the A168), and sometimes there’s a flash of russet as a weasel scampers from one side of the road to the other.

With the lack of wind and because it was early, the soundscape was wonderful – the birdsong joyous along the hedgerows – with only the faintest hint of cars passing.  Even the long train of Yorkshire Searchers were quiet as they were stationery at the time.  A natural chorus of: chit-it chit-it, klep-toowit, oow-oooh, tiddle-iddle-lu-wi, trrrrrrrr, and who cooks for-you ohA lapwing heard, not seen, on Lower Dunsforth Common.

At the end of the day, May Day dancers practising on the Green.

Update on 17th April: I saw a couple of pioneer swallows whilst out cycling today.  The rest should come in the next few weeks.

Autumnal Colours In North Yorkshire

Sunday, September 13th, 2015

I have always liked autumn.  The weather is cooler than summer, or at least in theory – this year’s been a washout.

But I also like harvest time and autumnal colours.  The corn is in from most fields around us, the apples are turning a russet colour and the elderberries are a deep black, hanging heavy in the hedgerows, having given us heady elder flowers at mid summer.  Brambles all dark and healthy.

Then in the garden, there is the late yellows of rudbeckia and the purples of sea hollies.

Elder berries ripening on elder hedgerow

Elder berries ripening on elder hedgerow

Apple ripening in our garden

Apple ripening in our garden

Autumnal yellows of rudbeckia petals

Autumnal yellows of rudbeckia petals

Purple colours of sea holly

Purple colours of sea holly

A Walk Along A Country Lane In North Yorkshire

Tuesday, August 11th, 2015

Last night whilst Sophie was playing tennis with our son, Jamie, I went for a walk along the River Ure with our daughter, Poppy.  It was a beautiful evening with swallows and sand martins out in abundance and only a few others around.  The river flowed sedately past while a father and son fished at one of the fishing piers.  At Boroughbridge lock, a boat was passing through.  But I had forgotten forgot my camera.

So this morning after a bike ride, I retraced some of the walk.

Why?  Because it was amazing to realise within only a couple of miles of walking, we had passed almost all the main types of crops (barley, oats and wheat), as well as cows around and about.  But we never really think about it, because it’s all we’ve ever known.  Then  along the hedgerows, the elders were forming their berries and brambles were developing.

Wheat Field

Wheat Field

Close Up of Wheat

Close Up of Wheat

Barley Field In North Yorkshire

Barley Field In North Yorkshire

Close Up Of Barley

Close Up Of Barley

Field Of Oats

Field Of Oats

Close Up Of Oats

Close Up Of Oats

Potato Field With Cows in Distance

Potato Field With Cows in Distance

Elderberries Beginning To Develop

Elderberries Beginning To Develop

Axel’s and Sophie’s quirky guide to running a small business

Thursday, May 1st, 2014

Here’s our list of things we have learnt over the last 10 years of running a small start-up and a guide to the way we do business. It’s all rather homespun and certainly will never find its way into books on how to run a successful business nor in any business school. After all, we are still a tiny business, even though we have been around longer than Facebook and Youtube. While these things might not make you rich, they help us sleep easily at night with a clear conscience and make us happy.

• Never wear a tie or suit
• Like your colleagues
• Avoid meetings
• Living is more important than making money
• Take time out to watch your kids and friends playing sport and music and acting
• Smile, laugh and cry
• Sing, however badly – and we’re really bad
• Never grow up
• Work hard – roll your sleeves up and get stuck in
• Be patient, act swiftly
• Don’t get hung up on sales or profits
• But keep a tight focus on cash-flow and balance sheets
• Don’t do budgets, except if the bank asks for one!
• Always pay your bills
• Avoid customers who are too posh to pay – this is an attitude of mind as opposed to a statement on anything else
• Never become that business or person that talks aggressively about “killing the competition”, just be different to them and do your own thing
• Never become that business or person that lies to get a call taken or to get money off
• Be compassionate – we’re all real people, with real lives
• Be honest to yourself, your colleagues, your customers, your suppliers and everyone else we’ve forgotten
• Reinvent the wheel – it can always be done better
• Break the rules
• Make mistakes
• Admit to your mistakes, understand them, then try not to do it again
• Spend your money wisely
• Spend your money morally and compassionately, doing good things that help make the world a better place
• If you’re not comfortable with it, don’t do it
• Don’t be bullied by customers and suppliers
• Best practice is just average practice with a positive spin
• Don’t trust suppliers who drive flash or expensive cars
• Don’t waste company money on flash cars
• Make teas and coffees for everyone
• Eat breakfast, lunch and tea
• Eat cake, biscuits and pies
• Listen to what everyone has to say – everyone knows more about stuff than you do
• Ask questions, however stupid
• Be fair
• What is fairness? Sharing risk and reward equitably
• Treat people how you would like to be treated
• Try and only deal with people you like
• The customer is not always right
• Never do favours for people you don’t really know, because they are never reciprocated, but bend over backwards for your friends and favourite people
• Shit really does happen
• Everything seems better after a cup of tea and cake, or a bath and a sleep
• Keep on dreaming

Roman Wall Blues

Wednesday, October 26th, 2011

Off to visit my parents this weekend for my Dad’s 75th birthday.  We live almost on top of the Roman wall outside of Corbridge.  I thought this poem that reminds you of what it must be like being a soldier away from home, whether Romans or Syrian archers back in the first few hundred years AD, or as a soldier nowadays in Afghanistan or anywhere away from home.

Roman Wall Blues

Over the heather the wet wind blows,
I’ve lice in my tunic and a cold in my nose.

The rain comes pattering out of the sky,
I’m a Wall soldier, I don’t know why.

The mist creeps over the hard grey stone,
My girl’s in Tungria; I sleep alone.

Aulus goes hanging around her place,
I don’t like his manners, I don’t like his face.

Piso’s a Christian, he worships a fish;
There’d be no kissing if he had his wish.

She gave me a ring but I diced it away;
I want my girl and I want my pay.

When I’m a veteran with only one eye
I shall do nothing but look at the sky.

W. H. Auden

The Sound of Northumberland

Sunday, October 2nd, 2011

I have been to listen and watch Kathryn Tickell twice over the last month, once in Ripon and then at the Sage with her new show, Northumbrian Voices with her band and her dad – actually her dad, Mike Tickell, also came to the show in the Holy Trinity Church, Ripon.  She is a great virtuoso player of the Northumbrian small pipes and fiddle, plus there is a togetherness as the core of the Kathryn Tickell band is herself and her brother, so like all great traditional musicians they can move the set around, play different pieces and just wing it as they needed to do in Ripon with their accordion player not there.  And like all natural musicians who are completely confident with their instruments and repertoire, they are often best when they need to tweak, change and stretch themselves rather than just play the same old routine when they would rather have a glass of beer, wine or put their feet up and read a book!

I feel she plays her best when the songs are a bit darker and bleaker, or more frenzied and manic, than those that are lighter or the jollier dances.  Perhaps she laments, quite rightly, the loss of the traditional livelihoods that have shaped the North, whether it’s the fishermen, the pitmen or farmers that scratched a tough life from these beautiful, but unforgiving, lands, to be replaced by softer jobs in tourism or banking.  Somehow, the harder times made for better music, a deeper understanding and enjoyment in our landscapes and seascapes, as well as those times of rest and the spaces and gaps we used to have in our lives that were not filled with adrenaline kicking, speed filled modern media.  No time to reflect, no pauses and no spaces, as well as a detachment for the physical world we actually live in.  Also, perhaps a loss of contrast between the genuinely hard graft and relaxing down times makes it difficult to enjoy simple pleasures.

So her Wild Hills of Whannies is bleak, windy and wet like Steel Rigg, Haughton Common or the Cheviots up by Wooler, before you get the livelier and freer bubbling and flowing of the burns after the flood through the middle of the tune.  In contrast, Billy Pigg’s version has a more joyful, playful relationship to the same countryside.  And I loved the slow, mournful lament for Stonehaugh Community Centre that morphed into a livelier jig that brought back memories of functional community halls and dances, whether country dances or more often than not cheesy disco music.  Then later she played her version of Bill Charlton’s  Fancy.  The sounds were different but the function was the same, people came together from their farms, crofts and houses and had a good crack.  In the days before MP3 players, multichannel TV and digitised everything, that was the height of fun and it kept the mischief controlled and somewhere close by.  Innocent and largely without too much real badness.

But I love their sounds as her Northumberland is still my Northumberland, although for me a river always runs through it, the Tyne, and the smell of the sea is never that far away.  So whether I was swinging on a tyre swing over the North Tyne by Chollerford or swimming in the Tyne at Bywell, or holidaying by Seahouses, or playing kick-the-can in Bell’s Valley by Fredden Hill, her sounds have that doleful, dreich feel that is the bleakness and beauty of Northumberland.  But that’s its soul, my soul, and I wouldn’t have it otherwise.  Yes, there is, and always has been, much fun to be had, but it is hard won and deserved – especially for us who bear the cross of support for the Toon – and a laugh will be deep and unrestrained, but underneath there is not too much softness, more hard rock covered in moss.

This feeling for a land shaped by the hills, rivers and sea was even more closely followed with the Northumbrian Voices show.  For example, the Song for the North Tyne by Mike Tickell specifically told of the changes wrought to the Tyne and the valleys by the building of Kielder reservoir and forest.

This was a country music show that was pure Northumbria (except for the country sounds from Hank Williams’ Your Cheatin’ Heart) and was filled with stories and sounds shaped by hills, snow and sheep.  The music and songs were played by Kathryn Tickell, Julian Sutton (melodeon), Kit Haigh (guitar), Patsy Reid (fiddle and viola), Hannah Rickard (voice and fiddle) and Mike Tickell (voice).  Then there were words transcribed from conversations during the spaces in recordings, covering stories about traditional knowledge and ways of life that have gone or almost gone; whether these are how to look after sheep or how to look after the hill farms or passing down knowledge between generations in hefted flocks on where to graze. 

Yes, life is wealthier and there is more sparkle and glamour in towns and cities, where the shopping is way better, however I do agree and feel that somehow we are culturally poorer as we loose these simple bits of knowledge that have been learnt over 100s and 1000s of years, whether it is how to shepherd the hills or fish the North Sea, and how to dance a reel especial to a particular valley.  We have destroyed our communities, we have chucked away our local culture and replaced it with global media and music that has no connection back to the land.  I worry that there will come a time when we will need to go back to the land and our hands and heads will be too soft to know what to do and unlike the Pilgrim Fathers in America there will be no-one with the local knowledge to help us.  And as Clive Aslett in The Daily Telegraph wrote – who would want to bring up their children as country bumpkins – well, me actually.

Once again, I was drawn to the melancholic that seems to fit the sound of the pipes, so the Pipes Lament and the Carrick Hornpipe that told of cold winters and changes that continue to be wrought to the land, for better or the worse.  But perhaps, it was even better to just hear and sing some of the old songs that have no time to them but plenty of spatial context – Canny Shepherd Laddies of the Hill, Duns Dings A’, Hesleyside Reel and Small Coals and Little Money.

All in all, a bunch of really great shows and something we would be really proud of if we were in the USA, but here it is just so not mainstream and we prefer the fantasies of Britains Got Talent and X Factor than a more solid and honest local music.

St Wilfrid’s Procession In Ripon (30 July 2011)

Thursday, August 11th, 2011

Today was the annual St Wilfrid Procession through Ripon.  This celebrates our city’s patron saint, St Wilfrid, who was one of the great northern saints and important people of early Northumbria.  He is very unlike the ascetic Irish (Celtic) saints that characterised the religious communities of Lindisfarne – St Aidan and St Cuthbert – preferring the lavish lifestyle of the Roman Catholic Church and brought the rule of Benedict to Northumbria and had a telling influence on the Synod of Whitby in 664, arguing for Rome over the Celtic tradition.

For Ripon, St Wilfrid provides a sense of pride, for here his relics are kept.  The procession is a fun day that allows the community an excuse to do some dressing up, drink a few pints and have a jolly church service later.  The Anglican and Roman Catholic churches join in the procession, but for most of us it is a few hours of fun during the gloom that is enveloping our world.  It reminds me that community is more important than anything else, and that our community is local not national, centred on Ripon, Harrogate and York, where the turbulence of the stockmarkets, bond markets and events in the big cities seem another world away, even if we will suffer the consequences of changes that these will all impose upon us.

Some photos will tell the story of the day (and there are more on my Flickr site):

St Wilfrid And The Wakeman Wait For The Horse

St Wilfrid And The Wakeman Wait For The Horse

Stars In Their Eyes - Red Triangle & Evolve

Stars In Their Eyes - Red Triangle & Evolve

Calendar Girls - Ripon Belles

Calendar Girls - Ripon Belles

Spare Tyres, It's The Pits! - Next Generation

Spare Tyres, It's The Pits! - Next Generation

Clown On Go Cart On North Street

Clown On Go Cart On North Street

Aldborough Agricultural Show (24 July 2011)

Tuesday, August 9th, 2011

After a couple of weeks away, we return home to glorious weather; blue skies and really hot.  Normally, we are still away this weekend, so we generally miss the local show – the Aldborough and Boroughbridge Agricultural Show – which is gentle like the North Yorkshire Show and without the crowds and hurly burly of the Great Yorkshire Show.  It is held in fields between Langthorne and Newby Hall.  It is a gentle rural affair, full of that classic English charm of craft and bakery competitions in the main tent, and the serious stuff of horse competitions and the fun of cattle, sheep and dog shows.  Then, there are the cake stands, beer stands, hog roast, WI tea rooms and bouncy castles for the children.  We went for 1 hour and returned 4 hours later, having met lots of friends and generally had a good time.

My favourite things were the shire horses, the parades of cattle and vintage tractors, all so lovingly kept chugging along.  Here are some pictures that tell the day much better than words can describe:

Shire Horse At Aldborough And Boroughbridge Agricultural Show

Shire Horse At Aldborough And Boroughbridge Agricultural Show

Parade Of Vintage Tractors

Parade Of Vintage Tractors

Stockman Snoozing By His Prize Cattle

Stockman Snoozing By His Prize Cattle

Prize Winning Fodder Beet

Prize Winning Fodder Beet

Pots Of Jam At Aldborough And Boroughbridge Show

Pots Of Jam At Aldborough And Boroughbridge Show

Prize Winning Onion Sets

Prize Winning Onion Sets

Last Walks Along Northumbrian Coast For This Year (22/23 July 2011)

Monday, August 8th, 2011
Arctic Terns Nesting On Beadnell Bay

Arctic Terns Nesting On Beadnell Bay

My mother and I walked along Beadnell Bay towards the nesting turns.  The tide was in and the light from the falling sun was gorgeous.  The shore breeze was fairly strong and the waves were beating against the shore, roiling with the power from the winds.  There was a haze on the water from the crashing waves that glowed in the dying embers of the sun.  Black headed gulls patrolled the shoreline, very so often bobbing off as a wave overtook them.  Then the noise of the terns cut through the roar of the waves as we approached the nesting area.  A warden patrolled his little kingdom.  My mum walked back over the dunes, while I watched the parent Arctic terns continuously bringing along little offerings of glistening fish for their chicks.  The industry and effort was amazing and how they find their chicks in the cacophony is unbelievable.  A group of terns chased away a heron that had got too close. 

Sun Going Down Over Beadnell Bay

Sun Going Down Over Beadnell Bay

Sunset At Beadnell Bay

Sunset At Beadnell Bay

I turned and walked back along the beach.

The next morning was really windy and the waves were violently crashing on the shore.  Sophie and I walked south to Football Hole Cove where I had wanted to swim.  The waves were far too big, concentrated into the smaller bay.  We paddled in the waves and felt the strong undercurrent trying to pull us out to sea.  We walked back along the shore, skirting round the dead seal that was giving off a strongly putrid odour. 

I felt refreshed and pleased to have rediscovered this coastline, where I spent many a happy (if cold) holiday when much, much younger.

Wet weather day in Alnwick (20 July 2011)

Saturday, August 6th, 2011

A dreich, gray day.  What to do: the girls went to Alnwick swimming pool and had a great time.  My parents went to Paxton House north of the River Tweed near Berwick.  We went to Alnwick to Alnwick Castle.

I had not been to Alnwick Castle for years and not with the current Duke of Northumberland.  It is very different with much more effort put into looking after visitors, but a bit too much like the synthetic niceness of National Trust.  Like everything remembered from childhood, it is much smaller.  Alnwick Castle is full of impressive state rooms, glistering with bling accumulated over 100s of years of wealth and power, such as the amazing library; I liked the document demanding the beheading of the 7th Earl of Northumberland for treason in the Rising of The Northern Earls in 1569 and later beatified for his adherence to his faith.  But overall the internal rooms left me flat and gave me museum feet.  I think it is that otherworldliness that is accentuated by the rope barriers that say to us “Do not cross the line; Do not touch” – this is not for the likes of you.  Interesting, a curiosity. 

Alnwick Castle On A Dreich Day

Alnwick Castle On A Dreich Day

However, from outside, I like the shape and colours of the keep, walls and towers that gel with ingrained ideas of how castles should look.  This is something much more familiar and comfortable, even if it may be have been made normal through films and documentaries rather than reality, so a sanitised history without the smells and hardships. 

Wizard Teaching Broomstick Flying

Wizard Teaching Broomstick Flying

Then there were the childrens’ activities  – broomstick flying lessons (some of Harry Potter was filmed here for example the initial lessons in the first film where Harry Potter discovers his skill in flying) and the dragon’s quest where you go through rooms of skeletons, riddles and tasks, plus mirrors to complete a letter puzzle.  This was fun.

We had lunch in the cafe.  I had a dry and indifferent falafel wrap, some tea and an indulgent caramel shortbread, Sophie sweet potato soup and Jay bacon and mozzarella ciabatta and a Mars bar.  We huddled outside under the parasols that dripped with the incessant rain as we tried to find a dry patch to chomp on our food.

It is all quite expensive, but the entry fee does for two visits, so we will return to see the gardens in less inclement weather (see below).

After this, we went back into town to Barter Books which is in the old railway station.  This is a glorious space and was really busy because of the weather.  Look up and think of its old status, imagine the passengers and trains that passed through.  If you love books as we do, this is a brilliant place, cosy and loving like a friendly library and full of all manner of books in chaotic order.  Fiction by authors long forgotten, art, religion, local history, natural history, childrens’ books etc etc.  This is living breathing space where you can smell than familiar fustiness of old books, comforting, and you can open them and touch them and buy them.  Jay bought an old Beano, a book on Torres and stats on the Olympics from 2000, and I bought a couple of volumes of Hodgson’s “History of Northumberland”, indulging my interest in our family tree and local history.  This is a place we could spend a whole day without getting tired, plus willingly spending a small fortune.  Then you can grab a bite to eat and have a drink in the old waiting rooms: the tea is good and the tray bakes to die for, where I would recommend the Malteser & rice crispie chocolate or the one with fudge, and all good value.  Finally, I love the model trains that run around the track above your head, lovingly and impishly harking back to its former state, and the mural of famous writers. 

This is my history brought to life, living & breathing, rather than the facts, figures and details of distant figures of national politics and the news, people with whom I have no connection: neither I with them, nor vice versa.

Later (23/7/2011): we came to Alnwick Castle on a warmer day to look at the water garden and walled garden.  While the kids enjoyed getting wet in the fountains, it was more municipal than inspirational – not worth a visit on its own, but just about okay if you go around the castle as well.  Overall a bit on the dear side, but very popular and interesting from an historical perspective.

Alnwick Water Garden

Alnwick Water Garden