Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Season's Greetings

Winding down towards the end of the year. Battlefield is covered by snow again – if the first fall ever melted, and there are no signs whatsoever of re-development of the old paint factory site (and possible absorption of the larger part of the open space into a themed play area for 2,500 students!) happening any time soon. But now is not the time for such thoughts ...

Wishing you and yours peace, prosperity, and happiness in 2011.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

One for Teri

Doyen blogger (it's not enough of a title – "flanneur" is better) Teri Tynes whose "Walking off the Big Apple" is a complete, peerless, gem, likes my snow pictures. Well, courtsey of artist friend Judith Anne Tomlinson here is one for Teri:

Waterfall, Jesmond Dene December 2010 
© Judith Anne Tomlinson 2010

Jesmond Dene last week. 'Dene' is a word here describing a narrow valley running back from the euphonmous River Tyne as it passes through Newcastle. 'Tyne', confusingly, was an Anglo-Saxon word meaning river. (River River?) The Dene at Jesmond is a large Public Park and subject to recent restoration work. More on that some other time, but, suffice to say it is one of the better legacies of billionaire arms salesman Lord Armstrong, one of those self made Victorian magnates that inspired a thousand novels, and now televison series, on the rags to riches theme.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Snow on snow

Snow has the power to transform even mundane scenes with its fragile beauty; even more than sunshine. Three days last week it snowed and these images show the result. There are more, including captions on battlefieldthebeautiful's web photograph galleries on Flickr.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Ugly Beauty

A timely reminder that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. As the old saying (well, Noah Cross in 'Chinatown' [1974] anyway) goes:

"Politicians, ugly buildings, and whores all get respectable if they last long enough."

Follow the link to the B.B.C. and see what you think.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

A Rainy Day in Theatreland

The Journal Tyne Theatre Westgate Road

Some years ago – it might be longer than I wish to recall – the idea came to Sir John Hall to re-invigorate what was by that date a very run down part of the inner west part of Newcastle city centre. Despite neglect and after a wave of seediness had passed over it, there remained a kind of beauty here. In an area roughly defined by the line of the Westgate Road (itself following the course of Hadrian's Wall) and the Scotswood Road to the south was a group of fine old buildings centred on the then Stoll Theatre. Sir John's idea was simple. Using the name 'Theatre Village' to change perceptions and enhance development prospects for a run down part of town. Some people had already been at work, however; North British Housing had taken on part of Grainger Street West (designed by John Dobson 1787-1865) and built what were ground breaking apartment flats. In the 70s this must have represented the first significant inward investment in the district for many, many, years.

Somehow the 'Theatre Village' scheme ran out of steam. Perhaps Sir John's interests went off in other directions (for a time Sir John owned Newcastle United Football Club, and so on). But it is an idea which still has got 'legs' in my view. Essential to the success, as such, of this initiative has been cultural investment (yet again!). Apart from the Journal Tyne Theatre and the Tyne and Wear Museums Service Discovery Museum, there is Dance City, an independent organisation devoted to all forms of dance, housed in a prominent position in a new fashionably retro-chic building. Around these have grown various housing developments, compact office buildings and Sir Terry Farrell's 'International Centre for Life', rapidly a centre of renown in the world of human biology.

The area presents even on a rainy day something of the unique attraction of a big city, and an old one at that. Lanes zig-zag across or behind the busy streets. Businesses mix themselves together, promiscuously. New buildings come on one suddenly, turning a corner. Older ones are restored with a face lift. History waits patiently to be recognised.

Pink Lane looking north west

SLIDESHOW: Descriptions for slides are to be found on this sites flickr feed.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Rivals or fellow sufferers?

A string of dull days; a faint bruising of the thick cloud cover by the unseen sun is enough to excite hope.

To complement my post on the Haymarket Metro Station's award of second place in a national competition to find Britian's worse buildings I add this. The grass is not always greener on the other side ...

Having paid a recent visit to John O'Groats the disappointment factor I can say is acute. The people however, are, like sufferers everywhere, cheerful and welcoming. Neighbouring Wick and Thurso are positively cosmopolitan and the Thurso Museum is a delight.

Serious competition? Swan (Lake) House

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Second Prize

The promised photographs of the Metro at Haymarket which recently 'won' a second prize in a competition aimed at finding some of Britain's worst new buildings. I can only say I think it might have been worse still.

Here are some views of the surrounding buildings, including Newcastle University's new student services block which neatly removes the ill-fated Northern Stage Company theatre (onetime 'University Theatre'), from public view entirely.

The area is notable for three fine war memorials; the South African (Boer) War 1899-1902 on the tall column prominent in several photographs and those to the First and Second World Wars next to St Thomas' church.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Common Ground

Originally posted on 1st August 2009. Edited.

On my recent walk around the Lower Ouseburn Valley I came across what was to me a surprising, if welcome, endorsement of a major theme that lies behind this blog's 'reason to exist'. It comes from a good source – Jack Common. (See top right in photograph above.)

Jack Common (1903–1968) was born and spent his early life in Heaton, a district of Newcastle’s east end which neighbours the Lower Ouseburn. Common’s father worked at the large railway workshops at Chillingham Road. Common only slowly became a writer and found his subject in his own life and working class community, a more unusual creative approach at that time – 1930s – than perhaps would be thought today. He is nearly always described as ‘a working class writer’. There were few outlets for this kind of material then; but one magazine, The Adelphi run by John Middleton Murray (1889–1957) gave Common a start on the literary road. Through his work on The Adelphi, Common met and befriended a tall ex-colonial policeman and Old Etonian, Eric Blair, afterwards to become better known as ‘George Orwell’.

At first they did not hit it off. Common recalled their first meeting, having read Orwell’s essays about living as a tramp and so on and was evidently disappointed.

"Manners showed through. A sheep in wolf's clothing, I thought, taking in his height and stance, accent and cool built-in superiority, the public school presence".

Orwell, however, was genuinely taken with Common’s writing and said so. Jack Common was never a celebrated writer but is a 'name' to a certain generation and those familiar with Orwell. Perhaps his best remembered book is Kiddar's Luck. Kiddar is a Tyneside word for a young lad.

What caught my eye was a quote taken from a later book Common wrote about his own city, placed on one of the information panels put up around the Valley. This one stands right beside the Ouseburn as it emerges from the culvert on its way to the River Tyne. For me what Common wrote still resonates today –

"Deep in the fattest part of the united heads (of the City Fathers), they had a vision of a flat Newcastle, street after street and house after house in the continuous level adjacency which is the hallmark of the industrial metropolis.

They planned to start a rubbish-dump on the valley floor which in two or three centuries would grow to be a broad platform uniting East and Central Newcastle in one unbroken slum, Newcastle upon Dump".

Jack Common, from The Ampersand (1954).

Harsh words, but justified. I congratulate the brave soul who had them placed there. What would have Common made of the wave of ‘improvements’ about to be unleashed upon the city in the years closely following his death? Few British cities avoided the actions of ‘city fathers’ in those days and almost all have lived to regret them. Yet, as one thinks all too frequently, have any lessons been learned?

Jack Common

Links for Jack Common:

Leaves on an overgrown path

Autumn is a time for nostalgia. I needed to walk home via the 'denes' – Jesmond Dene, under going a renovation costing 6 million GBP (I doubt we will see spending like that on public spaces for a while) and Armstrong Park, Heaton Park and Ouseburn Dene Road. Just any old excuse to see the signs of the year winding down.

Roads and pathways strewn with conkers, bright and shiny, once capable of inducing a near paroxysm of joy in this old man's youth. Do children collect them now? Cars run them over and produce the mash of creamy paste which recall why they are here at all; introduced by the Romans to provide a feed for animals and perhaps humans? I like to think that the Romans also played Conkers.

In the woodlands the 'pinking' calls of Nuthatches high in the tree tops and by the river a song from one of the resident Dippers. A man spoke to me about the Kingfishers and Dippers with a pride which made him visably taller. The sky clouded over and rain fell.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Short Cuts

Ouseburn Farm, focus of a recent royal visit.

Some brief notes on recent news and some links to worthwhile material to those interested in Battlefield, Ouseburn and the city.

First, a recent visit from H.R.H. The Prince Charles.

I am not always in step with Prince Charles but I respect him rather more than some. The Ouseburn and nearby Newcastle Quayside are both testaments to important ideas in urban life and re-generation which the Prince has supported with constancy.

In the 70s the Newcastle Quayside was being lined up for demolition. One scheme envisaged the area re-built as a series of giant 'cornflake' packet office blocks.

It was Amber Associates, founded in the 60s by a far sighted group of film makers and photo journalists' who based themselves in old premises under the massive Tyne Bridge, in what was then the very unfashionable Quayside, that stepped in and by elegant and timely intervention made a telling point. I believe Amber are chiefly to thank that this fine architectural heritage and community avoided the wrecking ball.

This survival enabled Live Theatre to open in old premises off the Quayside. Today it has grown into a major venue. 'Live' has been responsible for bringing on some now well known talent and productions, including 'transfers' to the London West End and now New York's Broadway. Following on from a recent expansion of its building, 'Live' has now found life rather less rosy.

Just how a café, however good – and the '21' management are good, – will help the 'Live' and the area I do not know. I do however, see others who have shouldered a lot of creative effort in Newcastle  left now out in the cold.

Monday, August 30, 2010

The "Venice of the North"

A photographic essay on Newcastle's 'flagship' endeavour of the T. Dan Smith era, the Swan House complex and Central Motorway completed in the 60s.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Curse of the Paint Factory?

NO START HAS YET BEEN MADE on the accommodation blocks which were to be a keystone of the re-development of the former paint factory site next to Battlefield (a.k.a. City Stadium). Up Shieldfield Lane the huge new block, not part of the original scheme as presented to the public, is being completed, ready one expects for the new university term in the autumn. Just around the corner another large site on New Bridge Street is roaring ahead.

Why no progress? Surely, the time to begin work has slipped?

If any one has any information I'd welcome it. Treated in confidence.

My own guess is the University has had second thoughts connected to drastic changes in funding: The election of the Cameron Coalition government in May has lead to immediate changes for higher education funding with the official stance now firmly one of cuts to reduce the public borrowing deficit. Institutions are now required to live within tightly drawn boundaries specially recruitment of students.

A major plank in the 'business model' for the universities in the 00s was recruitment from overseas, in particular China. The rapid growth of the Chinese economy and the national demand for graduates there would be met by U.K. universities, who expended much energy on promoting their courses in China. Overseas students also bring in more money. It looked like a winner.

Gold rushes are always for the short term. This particular bubble may now be deflated if not burst. China must also be expecting returning graduates and post-graduates to be earning their keep and centres of higher education within China may now be able to offer as much if not more to their own students as a result of 'knowledge transfer'.

Meanwhile, the paint factory has grown into a fine wilderness of flora and fauna. So far in the last ten years or so three schemes to build over this site have come to nothing. Is this the fourth?

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Dropped by the shops

Not lost it's appeal: Grainger Market.

I decided some months ago I would expand my thoughts about planning in my home city of Newcastle upon Tyne beyond 'Battlefield'. This post will form the first on a few subjects I have been mulling over for a while; years in fact...

One of the gems of Newcastle is the locally famous Grainger Market, a large Victorian covered market of stand alone premises built by the great partnership of John Dobson (architect of Tyneside Classical) and property tycoon, Richard Grainger.

Some few years back there was an ambitious plan to revitalise the Grainger Market. It would be 'thinned out' and refurbished. Many businesses were cleared away and a 'performance area' created. Many 'stalls' (actually lock up shops) were moth-balled and a display was placed inside one which set out the plan in an exhibition which included an artist's impression of what the newly revitalised premises would be like. I remember the straw hats.

In this future the shop staff were all going to wear themed clothing and straw boaters. Many of the suppliers of the market's staple products, especially meat and vegetables, but not just them, would receive notice. In their places would come boutiques – enterprises supplying more exciting products, such as 'designer' foods and gifts, craft shops and 'bespoke' goods.

The local news and media were recruited and, with evident laziness, re-cycled precisely the same phrases when discussing the scheme. Grainger Market was "old and dated" (and not in a good way) and the shopper's were all a bit thin on top and increasingly, on the ground. This last part was pure fiction. Not for the first time nor perhaps the last, a picture of shoddiness was produced in the hope of furthering a Council backed scheme.

Someone – I read it on a Green Party leaflet (I am not a member of the Greens) – once said that, from looking at what they do, one would have to conclude that Newcastle City Council hates Newcastle. There is a lot in that jibe.

Inside the Market shops were closed and cleared away, a performance area (pacé London's Covent Garden) was created and stood largely empty for months; some (good I have to admit) refurbishment work was undertaken on shop frontages – but then the money ran out. The bands of tourists failed to materialise and the entertainments for yuppies sipping caffechino's didn't take off. Today the performance area is gradually being re-populated not by young people in business suits drinking diet this and that in their feeding schedule, but the same old dears like myself hobbling to have a tea and cake or beans on toast laden with cut price meat and veg.

The Grainger Market re-branding was in truth a hollow scheme*. There are no great numbers of people here  which make Covent Garden tick; in any case, when in London I avoid the place (though once I did stroll about late at night with friends when the ground was strewn with flowers and the night was full of the sound of a busy market, not yet tourist fly trap). Once again the ambitions of such schemes begins and ends in delusional ideas about what is 'good' for Newcastle which always turns out to be what do corporate investor's want? Well, not an old and dingy to some covered market which might not be a good draw for the money people. Down market was not going to work for them. So Grainger Market was history in more ways than one.

Come forward a few years and "old and worn out" Grainger Market thrives. Walking through – if you visit it is slap in the centre of town – you will see all sorts and conditions of people, including the occasional young person in business suit; people for whom the idea of shopping is not to run up debts but find bargains and talk to a human being like themselves, not a functionary of a corporate empire coached to repeat platitudes hatched in a skyscraper three and half thousand miles away.

Meanwhile, the trendy shops which were to be the future have gone. Just outside Grainger Market is a woeful sight; a street of shut up shops. The coffee isn't flowing, the designer shoes have walked and the 'lifestyle' is distinctly empty.

* It may have had an entirely different intention in any case. Rumours of a Council sell-off were circulating at the time.

Note: Images have been electronically altered to protect the privacy of subjects. All photos BtB.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

City shocker: "jelly mould-like"

Recently I posted about the plans for ‘Science City’. This scheme, long in the planning, seeks to turn the huge former Scottish & Newcastle brewery site just to the west of the city centre into a mixed teaching, research and accommodation area for Newcastle University and perhaps more offices.

The Cameron Coalition government intent on retrenchment is cutting back on government funding and the project, according to this report from The Evening Chronicle, may be ‘on hold’, if not scuppered. Extract from the article below.

Will Science City survive?

FUNDING for a flagship regeneration project could be lost as a result of the cuts.
Council chiefs fear the decision to axe regional development agency One North East will mean the £8m the organisation pledged for the Science Central scheme will no longer be paid.
And the Chronicle can reveal incoming leader Coun David Faulkner has written to business secretary Vince Cable to urge him to safeguard the project.
Science Central is being developed on the site of the former Tyne brewery, which was bought by the council, One North East and Newcastle University, and will host the city’s green energy research centre, in the hope it can underpin a new era of hi-tech jobs.
One North East had given approval in principle to invest in the project but after the Government announced it is phasing-out RDAs, there are concerns both the funding could be axed and the site itself could be sold.
A decision on which schemes will still receive cash from One North East will be made next month. Meanwhile Coun Faulkner has written to Mr Cable to emphasise the importance of Science Central, which comes on the back of his visit to the region, during which city leaders discussed with him the future of assets owned by the RDA.
The letter says: “I understand of course the need for central Government to secure good value from those assets. But it is important to distinguish passive assets from those that are an integral part of local regeneration and business development schemes.
“Newcastle’s most significant example is the Science City projects: a three-way partnership between Newcastle University, the council and RDA to bring technology businesses to the heart of the city. In this case a transfer of the RDA’s interest into a bilateral partnership of the university and council is a logical means of moving forward with a vital scheme for our city.”
Newcastle City Council’s new director of policy, strategy and communications Andrew Little said: “There is an understandable need for Government to manage-out the assets the RDA owns but what we are saying is that Science Central is different to many other assets because it is part of economic regeneration.”

Source: Evening Chron. Online 16.08.10

"Science City" Photo BFTB

Meanwhile ... The national press have identified a prize winner for a recent architectural addition to the city’s skyline. Read to the bottom of the piece. I promise a photograph soon.

Source: Carbuncle Cup 2010 The Independent 13.08.10.

Saturday, July 31, 2010


Much consternation over news of impending cuts in arts spending in the north east. The local press has details here.

Sadly, these cuts are to fall on organisations which have grown up under an enlightened view of the role of cultural activities in creating a setting for other ventures and investments. The Lower Ouseburn is a case in point. Following decades of dereliction and neglect – so-much-so few locals even realised where it was – the Lower Ouseburn attracted attention from artists and performers looking for an affordable base. It was ever thus; or, at least, since the turn of the century. Staithes on the Yorkshire coast, one of the most attractive fishing villages in the U.K. and a tourist magnet, was far from anything of the sort when Laura Knight went to live there. In her autobiography Knight describes a decrepit village terrorised by angry and suspicious drunks and incipient domestic violence. She and husband Harold were all but driven out. Similarly, other places now deemed idyllic were poverty traps which appealed to artists simply because they were cheap and no one else wanted to live in them.

Fast forward to the later twentieth century and suddenly the coffee bar and guitar culture takes off; Juliette Gréco makes the shapeless black sweater and 'Cleopatra' eye shadow de riguer and in no time everyone under thirty is dressing down like art students. Huge abandoned lofts in Lower Manhattan are taken over by the New York school culminating in Andy Warhol's (in)famous factory on Union Square near Greenwich Village.

Juliette Gréco - post war café lifestyle personified
Not long after artist film maker Derek Jarman joined with others to take space in old Thames side warehouses the property sharks saw the potential of 'loft living'. These early moves eventually led to the re-development of the huge and derelicit London Docks.

Unlikely entrepreneur: Derek Jarman (1942-94)

London Docks warehouses in the last century.
Abandoned by the 60s, these became studios and 
workshops until property developers moved in
and the creatives were moved out

Back in the States, artists and galleries moved on from 'The Village'. 'Tribeca' ('The TRIangle BElow CAnal street') was the once the home of meat packing amongst other operations and about as charmless as the industry it once supported. Quickly in the late 90s and early 00s it was a very 'hot' place to be and attracted widespread interest from artist's and 'culture vulture's' looking for cheaper rents. Actor Robert Di Nero was a seminal figure in this re-birth, helping to inaugurate the now internationally known Tribeca Film Festival amongst other ventures.

Tribeca, Manhattan, New York

The Tribeca Film Festival. A new and now very 
influential film festival based in what was the 
former meat packing district of Tribeca

It was unfortunate to say the least that these facts were lost on the chief executive of a government quango I met at a gathering in Newcastle to discuss urban renewal on Tyneside a few years ago. When asked by me to comment on the contribution of the arts to urban renewal this well fed friend of Tony & Gordon gave me an abrupt dismissal. He turned away and began a much more agreeable conversation with a like-minded and suited figure from the world of corporate investment. Shops and offices not artists was the order of his day.

I will be covering the astonishing decline of the 'shops & offices' sector soon, but in short there are rows of closed posh retail outlets in the city matched only by unoccupied offices, some brand new.

I hold to my own view that the art's are not a career except for administrator's and a very, very, few practitioners. Most artist's and performer's subsidise themselves and some have found ways to practice without receiving much if anything from the arts gravy train. This is actually very much in accord with history; the idea of being a paid artist would have struck many a household name as pipe dreaming. But as long as there are a few who feel it's their 'right' to receive financial support the money men in suits will make the rules.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Going, going

Gateshead's multi-storey car park is being demolished. The B.B.C. web site has a short (1 minute 18 seconds) video of the demolition together with interviews here.

Myself, I have to agree with architect Owen Luder who says on the tape "In ten years they will wonder why they knocked it down".

There is a post on this site devoted to the Gateshead multi-storey, famous for it's part in the seminal British gangster movie "Get Carter", here.

The Gateshead multi-storey car park will be replaced by a large Tesco super store. The video also features a short clip of Gateshead Councillor Mick Henry speaking on camera. Cllr. Henry is the brains behind such dazzling local initiatives as 'The Angel of the North' sculpture by Anthony Gormley and the Baltic Contemporary Art Gallery and the vast Sage concert hall along Gateshead's formerly run down quayside. In contrast over on the north bank of the Tyne, Newcastle's own forays into culture in recent decades have been disasterous. Twinning with 'poor relation' Gateshead has helped disguise this fact. The centre of Gateshead was largely destroyed in the construction of huge traffic interchanges in the 60s. From there it could only be up.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

"Summertime – and the something is something ..."

Up early – very! But what a delight it is on days like this. The street was quiet and the shadows long. A cool breeze blew when I looked outside. We have had some humid weather; much rain and warm nights.

Over on the 'Battlefield' the grass is newly mown. The Council's grass cutting teams are based conveniently nearby; little electric driven mowers, very agile and so noisy the drivers wear ear protectors. Wonder how they get on in traffic? Everything looked clean and green and so ..., well, verdant is the word.

Lush. A weed bed left uncut attracts numerous butterflies.

Lots of students have left town. The open space is almost deserted. A runner here, a dog walker there and a stroller like myself. From some angles one might be far from the city. Yet my anxiety over the strong possibility of loss and transformation of this precious space won't go away. But it is here now, all around me.

I said it before but ... We are under a mile from busy roads, a city and a mainline railway is feet away.

The children are outside in playtime, playground unseen behind a wall of vegetation, almost a school in the woods.

New accommodation block for Northumbria University.

I take a photograph of the nearly complete student housing block on Shieldfield. No sign of the larger development yet. Problems, I wonder? Universities are facing a tough time financially. The last two attempts to develop the old paint factory site foundered on questions of financial viability; over-supply of office space, then a collapse in the housing market followed one after the other. Student housing seemed a saviour two years ago. But today? Much student accommodation has been built in other places and a scheme on nearby New Bridge Street is proceeding quickly towards completion later this year. Maybe someone has had cold feet about the paint factory scheme? When will we learn? If Newcastle keeps up its fine old tradition, not until it's too late to do anything about it.

Cobbles. Once part of a back lane behind terraced homes demolished 
to make way for a new primary (junior) school nearby.

Here I met one of the nice people who work for Recyke y'Bike beside Byker rail bridge. He was road testing a handsome racing green tourer put back together with care. Their's is a work shop to behold; two railway arch 'caverns' filled with bikes of all descriptions waiting for another careful owner. We stand in the sunshine talking and enjoy the morning. That's what it is for.

Hidden highway. The mainline from London to Edinburgh, Scotland, 
runs alongside (left) the old back lane (beyond the bollards).

UPDATE 24th July

Link to Newcastle Journal article on Recyke y'Byke.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010


The weather today has been superb – the summer we are so frequently promised has arrived.

Moving around with unaccustomed freedom without a coat or jacket, my wallet tucked into a shirt pocket, taking in the sparkling views as I plied my way back and forth across the city, exchanging words with disappointed football fans ("there'll be a revolution") and greeting an old friend off soon to Africa. Making my rounds, doing chores ... But in weather such as this it's a pleasure.

I looped back towards home carrying shopping just as parents fetched tiny children from nursery school, pushchairs rattling as they passed under the railway bridge in deep shade. School is out so boys on thick wheeled bicycles appeared. Students in shorts earnestly discussing something hurried by. The trees, so recently bare, hung low down under the weight of their own foliage, holding to themselves deep pools of darkness. Then I heard it.

Somewhere ahead high up in a tree beside the railway a bird was calling. Not the beautiful run of trills and pauses of a true 'song bird', more a persistent call sign. It might be saying "pick me up, pick me up" – indeed probably is if one thinks about why birds sing at all. What drew me towards it in the grove of trees which is so much more than a single specimen, more a self enclosed world, was the possibility it might be a Chiff chaff ...

The Chiff chaff is a migrant bird about the size of a sparrow but less bulky, sleek and has a slender bill. It spends the summer here in the north and in the autumn flies south to Africa for the winter months. A bird which weighs less than a few coins and is of a size to fit into a cigarette packet flies thousands of miles.  It took centuries for people to believe that fact.

Where was it? I entered into the wood. At once one is plunged into a world of softness, contrasts and fleeting light. I could see the sky, bluer than even outside and the pattern of leaves against it far above. I craned my head back. It was hardly enough; I had to bend my back as well. The sound was coming from somewhere overhead. By turning on the spot I could try to find the direction, narrow the search.

There is in my book, no certain way to distinguish the call of the Chiff chaff from that of the native Great Tit than by sight. Other people with better hearing can 'pick' them. I cannot. At least, I don't trust myself to do so.

This was beginning to hurt. Dizziness crept in. I inched forward hoping no one would come along the path and see me like this ... Then it moved and I saw a shape against a branch. I moved and lost it. Had it flown off? The song restarted. It was ignoring this animal far below thankfully.  I located it again, lost it again trying to get into a better position. Then I thought I saw a dark head. So it was a Great Tit. But hang on, in that case where was the yellow breast with its highly visible central black marking? I edged forward. My neck and head were getting uncomfortable and I was in danger of falling over. Then I was there, right under the perch and watched as the bird preened and straightened up and sang its brief ring tone call. A Chiff chaff!

By the Ouseburn Community Centre the parents, dad's displaying tattoos were supervising a children's play time, people walked purposefully off along the pathway towards the city centre and a couple of sunbathers took proud possession of the City Stadium. All's well with world, Financial crises come and go. Somethings are still free.

The Chiff chaff.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Where there's muck ...

Oh, dear ...

An artist's impression of the proposed 'Science City'.
Sunshine courtsey of global warming.

Another master plan for what little remains of this historic and, at times and places, beautiful city. Get the 'full' (sic) story here.
I note that one voice remains to be convinced:

"Nick Kemp, who leads Newcastle Council’s regeneration scrutiny panel, welcomed the overall “positive” move, but argued that clarity was needed over some of the developments. 
He questioned the “obsession” with plans for a conference convention centre on Gateshead Quays, saying he had seen “no response still as to what other options were considered since the location is an accessibility nightmare and the infrastructure required will add massively to the cost”. – The Journal Ibid.

I do not see a glittering career ahead for Mr Kemp, somehow. He had better learn to toe the line and quick.

Schemes like this (and there are many, with all the U.K. regions involved in a pitiless battle to make themselves attractive to scarce 'inward investment') make money for professionals – consultants, building conglomerates and planners. Less frequently they pay for themselves and leave something useful behind. Too frequently, they do not. Newcastle is currently awash with three decades worth of unlet office blocks, some brand new.

The announcement in the Journal casually throws in this gem:

" [The scheme] will prioritise efforts to build new business premises on either side of the River Tyne, set up a new home for the cultural sector in the Ouseburn, ..." 

'New' will amuse many. The Smazz Jazz organisation has been putting on national quality performers at the Cluny venue over the years. Recently the Arts Council North turned them down for a measly sum of money. When I last looked, Cluny, set up by arts activist's and paid for chiefly with their own time and money, was in the Lower Ouseburn . The Waygood Affair is a saga in itself – I will not say much except that it does not sit well with these soothing words of a pay off for the arts in these ambitious schemes; surely, people are getting wise to the use of the arts as a fig leaf for rapacious developers? Artist led organisations must be waking up the realities of jumping into bed with developers whose main task is to attract corporate investors? "He who pays the piper" is another saying which still has life in it.

Meanwhile, another round of gimcrack building is being planned as we sleep.

It will all end in tears ...

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

"Dear Sir ..."

Tipped off about an article in today's Newcastle Journal I could not resist writing them a letter. Had to be by e-mail.

I wrote as follows:

"Oh, dear. Arts bosses don't think the arts contribution to the success of the north east's drive to re-make itself in a post-industrial world has been sufficiently acknowledged? Been there, done that.

At a swanky conference held some years ago in the hallowed halls of St James Park, I met with the 're-buff direct' when I gently (or so I thought) pointed out this fact to a V.I.P. with friends in the then government. "How interesting" I said, "that it is artist's whose enterprise has lead the way in inner city re-generation".

This was not what the V.I.P. wanted to hear at all. Having just made a presentation that emphasised the need to lure the corporate names of the British High Street to open yet more factory scale retail outlets on Tyneside, the last thing he wanted to learn was the scruffy and unwashed also had a role in economics. I was treated along with the rest of the table to a tale about an exhibition put on in the city of some whacky Teuton who had sliced up his own guilt-ridden body and photographed the results for public delectation. That was art as far as he was concerned. And me shot down, if not put in my place. He had taxpayers money. Lots and lots of it and he wasn't at all interested in the arts.

It is also a trifle late in the day for the Newcastle city fathers (sic) to wring out their hearts over  the benefits of tourism and culture. Their lasting contribution to both has been acres of ferro concrete, inner urban motor ways and a remarkable 100 per cent record in planning re-development: Everything they have touched is dross. Newcastle has the least good modern architecture of any major city in the U.K. for its size and has demolished plenty of splendid buildings in the pursuit of "progress" a word it might have almost single handedly emptied of significance. The irony is, had they done nothing it would actually have been less damaging to the cities prospects in the 21st century."

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Bloomin' luverly

A welcome heat wave brought out crowds last weekend, coinciding for many students with the end of term and the run up to summer.

Since I am a man of a 'certain age' I think it inappropriate to photograph hordes of semi-undressed young people (and certainly never children), so you'll have to summon up the picture of groups lazing about all over the "threatening"* green sward for yourselves!

To help you I have uploaded a recent set of images to this blog's flickr feed.

*As described to me in person by a PR representative working on behalf of developers Metnor Group plc, at a public presentation of Metnor and Northumbria University's plans to build over the open space.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Late in the day

The rain stopped and the sun broke through scattered clouds; weather more like a traditional April day than one in May. I grabbed my camera and hurried down to Battlefield where I hoped I would get some photographs before the cold winds stripped the blossom from the trees.

The rain had freshened up the new green foliage and the slanting evening sun did the rest.

Here it is –"threatening" (©Metnor plc) Battlefield, "in need of landscaping".

'Scene of the crime'. (See previous post.) No Siamese, no Magpies, all quiet.


Ash in 'flower', and, finally, but no means last this year, leaf.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Siamese, if you please!

A clacking so like the old (very old!) football rattles I used to hear as a child, long before footballers were paid more than Prime Ministers' and rattles were confiscated at the grounds as dangerous weapons. The noise around the clump of trees was coming from a pair of Magpies ironically; ironically, since rattles were first developed in farming areas to scare away birds from crops.

This pair - devilish handsome, but so disliked by the 'fashionable intelligence' – were kicking up quite a symphony. The clump of trees lies just on the edge of Battlefield next to a busy road, yet it increasingly resembles the entrance to a country lane. Who ever had the foresight to plant trees here should live to see this, I thought. A act of faith indeed. Now the trees are large enough for Magpies to build in their branches. And for an unwelcome 'guest' to poke about in also.

I spotted the reason for the commotion high above me, a lithe, creamy coloured creature with an Egyptian profile, but named after a place much, much further east. Siamese, if you please! The combination of sound and colour were exotic. Just above the intruder I could make out a rudimentary nest. Magpies, in common with other members of their tribe, the crows, are clever animals. They build superbly and, unusually, constructing from sticks a large domed nest with, as it were, a 'front door'. I doubt this pair had anything as yet, except eggs perhaps, and I think their feline visitor would not be interested in those.

As I watched (but did not interfere) the cat spun and twisted easily from branch to branch as it approached the problem of descent, languid and unhurried.

I did not wait to see it drop, gracefully I imagine, to the ground.

Leaden skies made me leave my camera at home. Pity, since the blossom is out all around and beginning to fall. All too briefly, the froth of pink, white and cream will be gone. Meanwhile, the trees are thriving and the views across Battlefield are framed in bright fresh foliage. Even the laggardly ash trees are in leaf now.

Magpie Pica pica (

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Blooming time

Frustratingly I cannot seem to master the technique of posting slideshows to this blog. I won't bore you with an account of the trials and misdirected energy. Patience and some kindly (young) person will assist in due course, no doubt.

A patch of fine weather (today is damp and cooler again) got me out of doors with my camera. No axe to grind here. Just enjoy! Please do go and look at the blog's flickr photostream for more examples of the simple delights of being alive!