One week till tweed time


Many of you will know of, or be followers of, Vicki’s Bicycles in Newcastle blog.  Vicki has organised (in conjunction with Newcastle Cycleways Movement) a Tweed Ride for Sunday, 28 July.


Can’t be bothered following the link? Well, a tweed ride is just an excuse to drag out your vintage bicycle, don your favourite deer-stalker hat and cape, and bicycle around the place looking sage and, well, tweedy. Here’s my steed, partially renovated (new bearings and cables, but derailleurs still out of synch) sporting a set of lairy bar grips.


I must admit I’ve neglected the old horse of late, preferring The Wife’s mountain bike. It’s sad, but once you’ve got used to fat tyres for kerb jumping and swanky disc brakes that actually work, it’s very hard to go back the old ways.

But back I shall go. See you Sunday!

Plus ça change


After a few weeks away in sunny England I’d expected the drain to look more different when I got back. It looked almost exactly the same as I’d left it at the end of June, though a bit danker and slimier than usual as the sun hasn’t been warm enough to dry a crust on the sludge, and where the litter backs up against any blockage in the beck an unsightly brown froth had developed. Yuk.


Since doing the marine debris workshop, hosted by OCCI, I’ve found it impossible to stop classifying rubbish. Or, at least, trying to classify rubbish. Under which category do I count a home-made cricket ball formed from rolled-up gaffer tape? The Y-shaped plugger part of a thong (minus sole)? The 100 metre-long tape from a video cassette? Bigger objects, such as gym shoes, are easy.


Someone’s been collecting balls, so I haven’t classified them or recycled them. I usually take the soccer balls, hand balls and suchlike  to Hamilton North Public School but not I the tennis balls as they’re prone to gathering a horrible layer of grime around their fuzzy outers. Jambo is unimpressed by them too as their roll, when thrown along the concrete creek bed, is far too dull and predictable; he prefers the jittery unpredictability of a rubbery hand ball. Picky little bugger!


As an aside, there’s a Facebook page about the OCCI clean up held at the end of last month. I was staggered to read that we pulled out “410 straws & confection sticks; 168 bottle lids/tops; 231 plastic food wraps; 145 pieces of hard plastic; 249 soft plastic remnants; 257 foam remnants; 36 foil wrappers & 20 rubber balloons or toys. In total we collected 30.2kg litter from 2 5m stretch in 50 mins!” Holy smoke.

One littery item that’s common in the drain is cigarette packets. I can’t wait for plain-wrapping legislation; I hate seeing these images!


I came across a relative rarity: an aluminium cigar tube. It didn’t have the nasty pictures of dying cancer sufferers on it but it did have a somewhat ambiguous message.


Cigar smoking is not a safe alternative to what? I’d say that it would be a pretty safe alternative to using a needle  found in a public toilet to inject heroin into my eyeball, or having unprotected anal sex in a Thai brothel. But, hey, that’s just me.

The camelia bush down the nightsoil lane has shed blossoms all winter. I do love the contrasting mulch of perfect new blossoms next to the squishy, dead brown ones of yesterday, last week, last month. The kind of thing I’d expect to see in the background of some seventeenth-century Dutch master’s portrait of a successful trader to remind him that death is waiting round the corner.


And on that happy note, I’ll bid you adieu!

Where it all began


I’m visiting family in England and, as always happens when I’m back here I find myself tramping the same highways and byways that I tramped as a kid.

When I’m in Newcastle I call the water channel that runs down the centre of the Styx Creek “the beck”. It’s a northern word of, I think, Norse origin. This, below, is the very first beck I ever played in, got wet in, made dams in: it is the proto-beck against which all other becks are measured. It has a name, Blea Beck, though I never knew that until I was well into my teens and I saw it marked on an Ordnance Survey map. To me it was just “the beck”.


I crossed the beck every day, then scrambled up this  path behind Harry Barker’s squawky, stinky chook sheds, on my way to the school at the top of the hill. God knows what sort of state I must have been in when I arrived.


If you look at the first picture of the beck you can see a dark patch that my iPhone hasn’t been able to focus on properly. Here’s that patch but close up. It’s where the beck’s been boxed in or channelised at some point in the distant past, and so you could say that this is my first ever drain.


One afternoon, in about 1971, me and a friend set off into the dark maw with a torch and wellies that were quickly swamped by the deepest parts of the beck. Sections of the roof were collapsed and it was very exciting (read stupidly dangerous). The first inklings of my desire to sneak around watery places, to go to places I shouldn’t!

The beck leads into the Duddon Estuary. The house where I grew up – where my dad still lives, where I’m sitting as I type this – overlooks the estuary. The low hill in the background is Black Combe and its profile is embedded in my DNA. Many, many hours were spent following Blea Beck down through dales (rows of fields marked out in furlongs) to this estuary, hours of playing in the brackish water where the beck met the tide.


This day, Black Combe had a covering of cloud. Which is a not uncommon event, I have to say.


But it’s gorgeous, whatever the weather.


It’s where it all began for me.

Stocktake clearance


Everything must go! Well, not quite. Mostly  I write, using photos to illustrate what I’m thinking about. But blogging has changed that process a bit and I often have photos that I’ve taken on my phone that end up influencing what I write about. It’s not always an immediate process and I often have pictures that sit around on my desktop for a while before they inspire a post. It can be the case that a theme emerges over time: I take a picture of a certain type of graffiti and over a few weeks I see it again and again; a type of litter starts to appear, or disappear; a view emerges, or a change in a view takes place.

But some photos just sit there, in the folder on my desktop called “Holding pen”. Well, it’s time to clear it out.

To start off, here’s a little fish being eaten by ants. Probably dropped by a heron. I often find dead fish or dead creatures but, after finding this little fishy, I didn’t find anything for ages. So there it sat, on its own, in the holding pen. Out it goes!


This was almost emerging into a post about fag packets of the past, and being able to buy Woodbines and No. 6 and Silk Cut individually at the shop near my high school, but the it just didn’t happen. This happens quite often now I think about it.


Frangipani blossoms brown and decay so quickly that I was surprised to find this one in almost perfect condition a long way away from the nearest frangipani tree.


This green plastic tube with Europcar written on it appeared one morning. And then another half dozen  straight after. From whence? And for what purpose do they exist? I do not know.


This building at the TAFE has “Block O” on the front, which kind of begs a post of some kind. And yet …


I would never have believed that Rock Star energy (+ guava) was available in a can. I’ve looked in shops and never seen Rock Star energy (+ guava). Am I looking in the wrong shops? Or am I simply not made of rock star material?


This one was going to be called “Seven girls”.


I was coming home from a friend’s 50th birthday. I was wearing a tuxedo, it was 3.10 am, I took a short cut down the creek and I came across this wheelchair underneath the Griffiths Road bridge. Where to begin? It was so rich in possibilities that I think I froze.


It was still there the next morning, when I went to check. But then, not long after the farmers’ market, it disappeared. Was it a farmer’s wheelchair? Did a farmer take it? Sell it?


Ah, dead pigeon squabs. So many. Nature is so fecund.


There’s a big new gas tank in the ELGAS site. You can see it here, peeping over the fence. Now, maybe it’s just me but I couldn’t help but think of …


Keith Flint of the Prodigy!