Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Featherstone Castle and POW camp.

H1 woke me up at 5am this morning as he plodded round the house... and I haven't been able to get back to sleep. Tick tock time passes so slowly in the middle of the night. (That reminds me- The Northern Goldsmith's put up two gold public clocks in Newcastle with naked ladies on top of the clock- she is crudely named locally as 'Fanny on the tick')!

So in the wee, small hours I have read some of my book 'The Tenderness of Wolves' by Stef Penney and been trying to register to recycle things for a charity- aaagh! this computer needs sorting out- it is so slow chuntering away endlessly.

Newcastle and Northumberland Society arranged a picnic at Featherstone Castle near Haltwhistle where elderly, eccentric? and delightful John Clark is struggling to keep Featherstone Castle alive and healthy against all the odds of finance,crumbling walls,listed building regulations etc.Mr Clark gave us Northumbian fare of fruit cake and cheese while taking the first half of our group round the farms/pele towers.

Our strawberries and wine celebration was nothing compared to the wedding which was to follow us; all had to come in bright colours- all with a dash of red- clothes, flowers, facepaints (the painter was busy doing Scottish red lions and Star Wars red & black faces!); the flowers had been driven in from Amsterdam , but then the 250 guests were from all over the world. Everyone had to bring an item of food- with 2 chefs among the guests. The bar and group equipment was being set up; I have never seen as many flowers and in every kind of container amid tealights and garlands. Jugglers, unicyclists, theatre groups and such a sense of gaiety; red splashed campers and dormitory dwellers spilled out to greet the sun and bride and groom.

Even more sobering and derelict buildings on the Haugh were those of Featherstone Prisoner of War camp. It shared a beautiful location with the Castle in the bend of the river Tyne and had been inhabited 1944-1948 by German officers- many of whom have been back to visit; I remember hearing a lecture on this and other POW camps at the Miners' Institute/Lit and Phil. It was well loved by its inhabitants who were very well treated by the locals ; the artist in residence had done sketches of German officers reading their English and German newspapers brought in specially for the 'campers'. Education and reconciliation had been pushed for by the camp translator, who had even brought in lecturers from Newcastle University so a number of men went back to Germany with degrees after the war finished!

Our City Guide the following day on 'Kings and Keelmen' was a mine of information. We walked from All Saints Church via the City Walls on City Road, the Keelmen's Hospital and back to The Soup kitchen for the poor/Joicey Musem (or prior to those it had seen an Augustinian 12th century friary which had been disbanded when Henry VIII had reformed in 1539? and taken the land as his -the King's manor- & which we in Newcastle now still call Manors).

The Keelmen were a special group of blue bonneted (hat)/jacketed men who rowed coal in small boats from the staithes down the undredged river to the colliers waiting off the Tyne's mouth ready to transport coal all over especially to London. They are the only group of poor folk who collected the money to set up their own hospital (almshouse). They lived in the Sandgate area of Newcastle; thus the Novocastrian folksong ' As I came to Sandgate' (Weel may yer keel row)

The City Guided Walks season ticket gifted to us by the offspring has been the best present! I love that almost as much as I love my bus pass! You can get a taste of some of the tours/buildings during Heritage Week in September when visits are free.

Monday, 26 July 2010

'The rain it raineth every day......'

Yep! St Swithin has seen to it that it has rained every day so far...whether it be during the night, very warm air temperature, or last Thursday very cold with a ground frost in Scotland, blue sky or dark and overcast. Thus the water hungry pumpkins are growing

and the Ladies walked in the Ponteland /Darras hall area and got wet. This weather has probably helped Newcastle Council garden department who have decorated the city with tubs, cascades, hanging baskets resplendent in bloom.

In particular,floral displays adorn every entry point to the city eg the Haymarket and the Central Station. Clicking on my photos will enlarge them and make them clearer too- though the photographer is not exactly Lord Snowdon standard!

Flowers beautify every attraction eg museums, cathedrals, statues (I love Cardinal Basil Hume and his statue on the outline of Holy Island outside St Mary's Cathedral- I also love Queen Victoria outside St Nicholas' Cathedral even if she is built on a mass grave of cholera victims!)

Talking of the Queen Vic- how much has the pub of that name in Gosforth improved? We called in again with friends (before a Chinese meal) to find many of the ladies who'd been at Ladies Day at the Races, had staggered up the Great North Road on majestic heels and were now fluttering fascinators and bling all over the bar; this year was the first year Gosforth Park Ladies Day has been sold out. Earlier in the week seven of us walked four miles from Corbridge and five tottered the four miles back from Riding Mill's Wellington while two hopped on the bus!!! Had 'Jesus Christ Superstar' at Whitley Bay Playhouse that night not been so good , I think I would have slept through the performance with warm exhaustion.

It's no good- I am flagging; I have been so busy all my attempts to blog have failed and now I cannot keep my eyes open.... 'to sleep , perchance to dream.....'

'Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow creeps on zzzzzzzzzzz'

Sunday, 18 July 2010

The Farne Islands

A glass in the hand is worth two in the bottle... just in the interests of tidying up the half full (life is never half empty through the bottom of a glass) wine bottles in the fridge so I am slurping while blogging.

I am also celebrating a family event- the engagement of D2 and M- Smashing news!

I could also say I am celebrating retirements as we were at a triple celebration at Gosforth Park Marriott (£35 each!!! a great night but food & loud, poor tracks choice disco was not worth that) and another more sedate, just as nice, at the Grand Hotel, Tynemouth. Just as well my department were kind to me (was a suitcase a hint?!!) & D1,D2 and D3 and their friends gave us a (big) bit of a 'do' because my employers did nothing, their gift was not to be looked in the mouth but was little compared to the 4 celebrants this week.... and my employers have fleeced me with 'equated hours' underpaying me all those years.

A group of us walked in sunshine in 'Lord Armstrong's Garden'(Jesmond Dene) with a city guide; however on St. Swithin's Day ie July 14th it stotted down from the heavens.... the legend is - if it rains on St Swithin's Day then it will rain for 40 days; it has been trying and achieving a little drizzle at some point each day but not a deluge at all.

On Tuesday we joined D2 and M. at Seahouses and went to the Farne Islands; I include some helpful suggestions; consider carefully which boat to make the trip out on......eg we tripped out on the 'Golden Gate'; the commentary was good but the boat was uncomfortably crammed, the vision of seals and birds was really poor(fenders too high plus erect, babyless pushchairs filled with coolboxes on the raised, mid section.

Compare prices of tickets at all the booths on the pier; we were told by expassengers that Billy Shiel's boat did virtually no commentary; we think Inner Farne is more interesting than Staple Island (and has toilets- primitive with buckets you may have to swish into the loos but needs must when the devil drives); when we got to the chapel there was a notice claiming there was a service on so 'No entry'- at £6 National Trust landing fee on top of the pricey boat fare- done without permission and disappointing for other visitors !! Nesting season is more May and June - by July lots of (but not all) birds have flown; take a hat to protect your head from pecking, winged parents

Lewis' fish & chips are £7+ in the cafe & chips were not as good as Waterline on the Fish Quay (North Shields). M may have JUST beaten me at Pitch and Putt but H1 captured the tenpin bowling prize (having experienced golf disaster).

Inspiration choir at the Sage was once again worthy of applause especially the tenor section !! The soloists (except M) and emsembles were not so worthy of admiration - and children in the audience were noisy ,disturbing and parentally illprepared! I shall not go to the matinee again.... ooh! but the signer is fantastic

Sunday, 11 July 2010


Del Shannon, Roy Orbison and I have made 35 pots of (strawberry, gooseberry and rhubarb&ginger) jam today; I was sweating cobs to a rolling boil! it is so overcast but close- so humid the washing didn't dry till tonight; evening...the best part of the day....then the sky blackened and we had a little rain though in parts of the county it poured during last night.

N.Northumberland (Rothbury) has been televised all week as a wanted man had taken refuge there after shooting 3 people & killing one of them. He ended up shooting himself according to the media but I have mixed feelings about this incident.

It has been a strange week; a cuppa with my bilingual friend M...a meal at Zizzis before an brilliant visit to Moorbank Botanical Gardens with Northumberland and Newcastle Society- on Claremont Rd- and you would never know it was there. D3 and I had a cityguided walk of Whickham which was really enlightening- what a lovely town centre with all sorts of elegant buildings tucked away. We also ate Indian at Aroma with E&J.

Our house has the most unmanicured lawns on the block- our unkempt, deliberately untreated, grass buzzes with bees on clover. The pots are full of flowers like fragrant nemesia and hostas from M., my strawberries from H.are soooo sweet & full of flavour.

The borders are radiant with Rose of Sharon and loosestrife; the perfume patch drifts the scent of roses across the patio. Mmmm! I love summer and not having to struggle into layers of clothes. The wild sweet peas are dying back- I wonder if P. came to dig some out as I suggested.

I finished 'The Bookseller of Kabul' and moved onto 'Man and Boy' but I intend to Bookcross my Bookseller- anyone want it? My heart went out to the women particularly Leila; it is an easy book to read which takes you right into the heart of Afghan life- Westerners should read this book to taste a culture so different from ours. Education is the answer but both genders will find change difficult.

Thursday, 8 July 2010


Where has it all come from? I casually got on the scales this morning and almost had a heart attack! (Just as well I backed E. for her massive walk in 30hrs in support of Heart Research). I have put on 9 pounds. After all that exercise a-digging last week? I walk everywhere...I run around like a frenzied polecat doing odd jobs of housework.... I garden (even yesterday I did a little deadheading of roses as I tested out the still pudding fingers)....I eat mainly white meat & loads more veg than most people.....I don't drink alcohol(well rarely)(well occasionally)(well sometimes)(well I am not supposed to)(not a lot)... my heavy wedding ring is off cos I can't get it on the sausage fingers... What has caused the weight to gallop up?

Could it be the vivid pink nailpolish on my toenails weighing me down? the lathering of tanning lotion on my milkbottle legs? I just had a cuppa with M. yesterday no scone or cake so..... ah! muscle weighs heavier than fat so I am musclebound after the Vindolanda experience? I am away to cut my nails and go to the loo.....

Monday, 5 July 2010


I have fingers like sausages... swollen, aching, electrically zapped with pins and needles.... have I got carpal tunnel syndrome? My trowel hands (I had to swop to my left as my right hand ended up too sore to use all the time) are killing me even several days after finishing our Roman dig.

We began at Vindolanda (again) in a multinational team; our task was to continue to expose the main road through the fort; 3 on the road, me on the possible drain (Yes I know I sink to a low level!)and H1 was to continue to expose the barrack wall (probably the centurion's dwelling). We had to deturf

then dig out the root/plough zone then start trowelling to get down to any finds in the soil. 6 weeks of hot weather meant the soil was brick hard- after 3 days- pass us the Nurofen for the aching wrists, shoulders, hands..... and pass us the pickaxe! We must be the only archaeologists who managed to lose a Roman wall and road rather than find anything. NOWT!

So our team was broken up and H1 and I got a small room in mid fort. We removed last winter's layer of deposits, photo (see photo above) taken by supervisor Alex and Director Andy then we removed flagstones and started to drop the floor level to the next layer. Please tell me why Romans are so blinking efficient that they have to put a layer of blue/grey clay under flags to prevent any movement of floor surface..... aaagh! solid,heavy,sticky clay & not a thing in it to find except my gammy fingers wrapped in gardening gloves stuffed with folded facecloths to cushion the delicate fingers from trowel.... to no avail.But we dropped the floor level down as can be seen from the second picture of that room (see below).

The redeeming features were a great team (to drink and eat with in the Once Brewed), travelling daily along dogrose and elderflower encrusted Northumbrian lanes and the occasional Magnum and cup of builders' tea to rehydrate in the beating heat. I didn't feel this unfit last year- age?

We have eaten beautiful strawberries grown by 'yours truly'.I am going to pick the mange tout for tomorrow's tea (all 6 of them!) D3's pumpkin plants are like Triffids. June is a month of roses- I am one!

We called in on our 'rainbow' friends J&K on our way to stay with D. in her beautiful barn conversion. We crossed the bridge to Wales ,visited Tintern Abbey and wished I. a happy 70th birthday. A meal in Littleton's 16th century pub and Wii extended the fun. J. came to play boardgames on our return- he never got to the Hoppings at all.

Thursday, 1 July 2010


I am too tired to wordprocess tonight having been 'digging' all week.

The borders are filled with flowers- geum, a variety of geraniums and a shrub which the bees love- it has limegreen leaves, white highly scented flowers and it hums constantly! A hedgehog wandered across the lawn late the other evening.

Which reminds me.... travelling along the A69 a few days ago we saw blue lights ahead of us... a police car was parked on the tongue of chevrons where a slip road entered the main highway and beside the car was a bedraggled owl; we checked the following morning and with no feathers or squashed bird we can only presume the police's benevolence paid off and WOL was rescued or pulled itself together & got off the road safely. Well done Mr Plod!

We have had so much sun that earlier this week the water butt was only 6inches off the bottom; however we had rain during one night and the butt filled up again. Just as well as the birds are splashing considerable amounts of water out of the birdbath as they thrash around in it. I have red strawberries in my pocketed pot- and my rhubarb has appeared under the acer- I thought it had disappeared after planting , never to be seen again. The potatoes are in flower as are the trails of pumpkin from the Belfast sink. I have mange tout too.

H1 is in 7th heaven with the World Cup and Wimbledon- even if England are out of the former. I would have got rid of Rooney as he was carried and did nothing except pass the ball to the opposition the few times he managed to get it.

I have had a lovely birthday eating with family one night and with friends the following night. Oooh! I got lovely pressies including 2 nemesia adorning the patio, a book on climate change (or scientific dispute of it) and a house for solitary bees- YAY!!

Can I go to bed now?