24 September 2016

Willowgarth

Entrance to Willowgarth on Thursday
Willowgarth is a lovely name. It makes one think of Mother Nature - perhaps a stroll by a leafy riverside or through a sunlit bower in a verdant wood. But Willowgarth was in fact the name given to a secondary school on the edge of Grimethorpe - a collection of functional concrete blocks that for fifty years served children of secondary school age from the pit villages of Brierley and Grimethorpe itself. The name was misleading.

Of course lots of things happen within the precincts of any secondary school. There are tears and laughter, comings and goings, sports days and concerts. Examinations to sit and lesson changeover bells that ring endlessly - defining the passing days. Children grow up in their secondary schools. They make friends and enemies as well as memories as their teachers grow old or depart via the promotional ladder.

The two secondary schools that I attended in East Yorkshire are still standing. I could easily go back there to stroll around the corridors of my youth but for former Willowgarth High School students that would now be impossible. The entire school was razed to the ground in 2012. All that's left is a driveway, a pile of rubble and a pair of rusting goalposts.

I felt rather sad to observe the desolate scene through security fencing on Thursday afternoon. I thought of all the interactions that must have happened at Willowgarth through the years. It must have been a tough place to teach in. All those children from mining families. All that poverty. But I think there would have been a lot of fun too.

Back home scouring the internet, I found the following Willowgarth pictures that speak evocatively of a lost school and perhaps of a lost world too...

My own picture - at the top of this post was taken from this
entrance to the school premises,  I was standing next to that
old blue pit wheel - now partly  hidden behind a security fence.

23 September 2016

Grimethorpe

Backs of houses. High Street, Grimethorpe
When international visitors to Great Britain flick through their glossy brochures and travel guides they will not find Grimethorpe in South Yorkshire. Oh yes, Stratford-upon-Avon, York, London, chocolate box lid villages and maybe even Blackpool but not Grimethorpe.

The village has an unfortunate name that speaks of grimy industry but in fact its roots are in Norse settlement of the eighth and ninth centuries. It was a farming settlement (thorpe) under the rule of Grim, Grimer or Grimey. And it remained a small agricultural hamlet through the centuries until vast reserves of coal were discovered underground in the middle of the nineteenth century.

Dilapidated Grimethorpe Hall - built in 1670
Soon Grimethorpe grew. It had not one but two collieries and before  very long workers flooded in to occupy rows of tiny miners' cottages that had been thrown up by landowners and coal magnates.Britain's appetite for coal was voracious and Grimethorpe was at the front line of the coal industry's effort to satisfy that hunger. It was, after all, on the back of coal that our Industrial Revolution and The British Empire were built.

Following Thatcher's spiteful war upon the coal industry in the nineteen eighties, coal mining in Grimethorpe ceased in 1993. The village became a neglected, decaying and rather pointless place. Its heart had been ripped out.

Officially, it became the most long-term deprived community in Great Britain. In 1994, the European Union's study of deprivation named Grimethorpe as the poorest village in the country and amongst the poorest in Europe. Levels of crime and drug abuse were chronically high. Unemployment was above 50% for much of the 1990s and a large proportion of the older male population were disabled, having suffered injuries in the coal mines.
Memorial to Grimethorpe coal miners killed in colliery accidents
Nowadays, the place is changing. Many of the old mining cottages have gone and there are modern estates where affordable new houses have been built. Road access to the village is much better than it was through the twentieth century and there are new businesses nearby. In fact, if a passing visitor didn't know what had happened in the past, he or she could be forgiven for not recognising that this was once the epicentre of the Yorkshire coalfield. There is little evidence left behind -  of what once was.

"Yorkshire Pudding" sent its star reporter to Grimethorpe yesterday to bring you the photographs that accompany this post. But some photo opportunities were missed. The queue at the "White City" fish and chip shop. Albanian car washers where the petrol station used to be, a tattooed man walking a muscular pit bull terrier, obese middle aged women stopping to chat in their mobility scooters, empty cans of "Carling" lager scattered around a park bench. The poverty has not gone.

Oh, and I forgot to mention that in spite of the heavy knocks the village has received, Grimethorpe is still home to the finest brass band in the world - The Grimethorpe Colliery Band. Listen to them here and visit their website here. In all that ugliness beauty blossomed.
Grimethorpe Working Men's Club
The semi-derelict sports ground
Millennium Obelisk in Grimethorpe Park

22 September 2016

Adrian

Adrian is safe and sound. He is the wily fellow who manages a blog called "Adrian's Images". One or two of us were getting worried about him because he hasn't blogged since August 15th and normally he posts something of interest every day or two..

However, it appears that the reason for his absence is mundane. Staying on a farm near Auchtermuchty in Fife, he had been reliant upon his hosts' broadband supplier in order to connect  to the worldwide web. This summer they changed providers and in the process Adrian has temporarily lost his connection. Thanks to Detective G. Edwards of Eagleton Notes Constabulary for unearthing this information. Fife police have now called off their manhunt, including the dive team who had been meticulously dredging The Firth of Tay.

A former skjpper aboard merchant ships, Adrian lives in a camper van with his two West Highland terriers - Molly and Alf. He is passionate about nature and photography. Many of his posts demonstrate these twin passions in which he has developed  a great deal of technical expertise. Though he is approaching the age of seventy, he maintains a refreshing inquisitiveness about the world around him. 

I am confident that Adrian will be blogging again  before too long. There are many more mushrooms, flies, beetles and butterflies left  to capture with his various cameras and many more muddy puddles for Molly and Alf to splash through. If you have never visited Adrian's blog before, please go here and have a good root round.

21 September 2016

Dream

Good art makes my heart skip a beat. It reminds me of what is best in humanity and lifts my spirits. I guess that the majority of people reading this post will feel exactly the same.

Last week, I shared some  pictures from our little trip to Lancashire. One of them was of an amazing sculpture near St Helens. It is called "Dream" and it was created by the Spanish artist Jaume Plensa.

It sits on top of a wooded hill that was once the site of Lancashire's most productive coal mine - Sutton Manor. When the colliery closed and land reclamation was advancing, former miners and the local council decided they would like to sponsor a significant art installation. They gained support from The Arts Council and Channel 4 and before too long they hooked up with Plensa whose work is known around the world. 

Often such sites will attract predictable  memorials to coal mining but at Sutton Manor the sponsors wanted something different - a symbol of hope perhaps, something beautiful that would send out a positive message to all who came to see it. Plensa was inspired by the project and later said, ""When I first came to the site I immediately thought something coming out of the earth was needed. I decided to do a head of a nine-year-old girl which is representing this idea of the future."

Completed in 2009, the elongated head stands sixty six feet (20 metres) tall and is estimated to weigh over five hundred tons. Its construction cost £1,9 million but personally I think it was worth every penny.

When we got up there, there was at first nobody else around. Just the serene dolomite and concrete head gazing hopefully southwards over the M62 motorway towards the Cheshire plains and the hills of Wales. As we left a family appeared from a different path, as you can see in the picture below. They are standing on the plinth.

Perhaps "Dream" says what you want her to say. But to me she says there's hope, something beyond the everyday if we only dare to dream. Hamlet's words come to mind:-
"To die, to sleep - 
To sleep, perchance to dream - ay, there's the rub,
For in this sleep of death what dreams may come..."

20 September 2016

Singalong

Let's have a song. Dogwood Rose performed it last weekend. Turn up your sound. It's by Stephin Merritt of American indie band Magnetic Fields but here it is performed by the old Genesis frontman -  Peter Gabriel:-

The book of love is long and boring 
No one can lift the damn thing 
It's full of charts and facts and figures 
And instructions for dancing 
But I, I love it when you read to me 
And you, you can read me anything 

The book of love has music in it 
In fact that's where music comes from 
Some of it is just transcendental 
Some of it is just really dumb 
But I, I love it when you sing to me 
And you, you can sing me anything

The book of love is long and boring 
And written very long ago 
It's full of flowers and heart-shaped boxes 
And things we're all too young to know 
But I, I love it when you give me things 
And you, you ought to give me wedding rings 
I, I love it when you give me things 
And you, you ought to give me wedding rings.

19 September 2016

Intolerance

Picture this. August in France, 1998,  and we are basking on a quiet beach on the Atlantic coastal island of Noirmoutier. Behind the beach there's a rambling walled property. We can see turrets and chimney stacks.

In the middle of that hot afternoon, the gate to the old seaside property opens and out comes a giggling gaggle of Catholic nuns. There are seven or eight of them all dressed in their black religious garb complete with white coifs and black veils to cover their heads. 

Still giggling girlishly they proceed to the water's edge, raising their dark robes to paddle in the sea. They are having fun which is a little surprising as being a nun or a monk usually smacks of seriousness, self-sacrifice and large dollops of misery. Such is the power of religion.

But the thing is this. Gendarmes did not appear on the beach to arrest these nuns. After all, their beach attire was little different from the prudish Muslim "burkini" that has proven to be a source of  great controversy on French beaches this summer.

Just the other day a young Australian Muslim called Zeynab Alshelh was driven off from a beach on The French Riviera for wearing a burkini. Apparently, other beachgoers, probably dressed in pornographic thongs and skimpy bikinis, had vehemently objected to her chosen beachwear.

I have no doubt whatsoever that if Zeynab had been dressed as a Catholic nun - like those giggling young women on the Noirmoutier beach - her presence would have raised no objections at all. Ironically, the selective  intolerance being shown in France can only fuel Muslim extremism. Besides, to avoid the possibility of skin cancer, it is surely wise to cover both head and body on a sunny beach.

18 September 2016

Squirrels

Damned Thing!
America gave us chewing gum, nylon stockings, Heinz 57 varieties and The Trump International Golf Links near Aberdeen. They also arranged a plague of American grey squirrels, These arboreal rodents have spread throughout the island of Britain, driving away our unfortunate native red squirrels.

It is estimated that there are now over 2.5 million grey squirrels and perhaps only 140,000 red squirrels that manage to survive in just a few strongholds. In 1875 there were no grey squirrels at all but then the owner of a Cheshire country estate introduced a pair of greys as exotic curiosities.

The rest is history as they say. Growing up in East Yorkshire, I do not remember ever seeing a grey squirrel in our village.  Nowadays they are more or less everywhere. We see grey squirrels in our parks and gardens, squashed in our roads or raiding our bird tables. Thanks America!

A week ago, Shirley and I visited the coastal pine forest at Formby on the Lancashire coast. I knew there was a red squirrel sanctuary there so we visited it, hardly expecting to see any native squirrels but to our surprise and delight there were plenty.
This greedy squirrel was called Steve
They were scurrying hither and thither, leaping between trees and generally doing all that they could to avoid being successfully photographed. If I had had more time to spare, I would have simply focused on an old log or something and waited patiently for a squirrel to appear. Following the little blighters around with my lens was like playing some kind of crazy video game - "Hunt The Squirrel".

An occasional visitor to this humble blog is Ian from "Shooting Parrots". He is a huge fan of the red squirrel. During his grammar school days, in the forbidding  suburbs of Manchester, he was even nicknamed "Tufty" by the other boys and his favourite Beatrix Potter book was of course "Squirrel Nutkin". Specially for Ian, and for Red Squirrel in Red Deer - Alberta, this post is accompanied by the best red squirrel pictures I managed to snap at Formby - but as my old Mathematics teacher used to say on school reports - "Could do better".
Gotcha! But not sharp enough