Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The first day of Spring

A chance led me to take a stroll along the Ouseburn on Sunday last, the first day of Spring. A prospective outing to the wilds of Northumberland could not go ahead as planned.

The Sun shone between puffed up clouds and though the air was sharp, the pull towards the outdoors was too great to resist. I strolled down hill to the little untidy Ouseburn.

At first nothing caught my eye that pleased it. Too many discarded packets and foil wrappers, even a length – fifteen feet (5 metres in new money) – of coiled wire 'rope', bursting out of its orange plastic binding. Then I came across several small trees which had been sawn down, some of the debris left straggling along the bank. Council? Unlikely. I caught a whiff of wood smoke from a nearby workshop stroke garage and a sight of a wood pile and signs of 'bodging' activity. A freelance 'Woodlander' no doubt. Here ash trees grow as weeds so not long term harm. But it would not do for us all to be involved.

After re-crossing the stream, following rain running slightly milky, I saw a Dipper hopping from rock to rock and then, suddenly and with great confidence, plunge into the flow. I have often seen these endearing birds on rocky streams in remoter spots, usually in the uplands. Never once have I been able to watch them as I was here actually underwater. A silvery blur as it (both sexes are alike) pushed against the flow walking, not swimming on the bottom seeking invertebrates, especially the larvae of the Caddis Fly, the Dippers principal foodstuff I believe.

I walked on. The road here is 'shared' with motor traffic, despite having a sylvan character. At a recent meeting of residents and allotment holders it was suggested that 'gates' be erected at either junction of this twisty route along the eastern bank of the Ouseburn; brilliant idea. It might make motorists think they are on a park road, a little visual 'conceit' which might perhaps slow them down. Your correspondent's idea was simpler: Insert bumps.

Despite the chance of being run down, if not over, plenty of people were walking past; the road cuts alongside Armstrong and Heaton Parks and has a few pedestrian routes, short cuts into Heaton, a district popular with students in digs.

I found a way down to the water side and prowled about alone beside the stream searching for signs of Spring. Wild garlic –
Allium – poked through in places. Then I met two young (everyone is young now to me) people who asked me what I had seen. It quickly transpired that they knew a lot more than I did about the wildlife to be found not more than five hundred yards from my own front door! It's great that people take an interest and share information like this, since I myself am wary of 'organisations'. In my experience theirs is the realm of privileged information and inner cliques. I prefer my own counsel.

Allium ursinum, 'wild garlic'.

Dogs in the water splashed and barked. One a bull terrier, the other an indeterminate breed. Both 'bouncy'. The owners were a group of lads. Or, so I thought. One detached himself from the water sports and came over to speak to me. A stocky bloke in his fifties. "Have you seen the Kingfishers?" Note definite article. I had not. "They flew over the field behind you." Helpful, if a bit embarrassing; I was the one with the binoculars. I have seen Kingfishers do this 'short cut' flying in other places. Less glued to following the course of a water way, unlike Dippers, for example.

A Grey Wagtail.

However, I watch two pairs of Grey Wagtails squabbling over 'turf'. Waterside birds, these handsome summer residents are not grey. If anything they are as blue as a bruise with a dash of beautiful yellow. Most English bird names are silly or plain misleading. Will the wagtails stay and breed? I do not know; sometimes these birds move on and it is early days yet. Something to come back and check on.

A pair of Mistle Thrushes, huge pale and watchful in a tree above me. These most garrulous of birds become Trappists when anyone gets close to their nest. Early birds indeed, called the 'storm cock' since they begin to sing before other birds get warmed up after winter, even, as I have heard them, singing their plain song in sleet and snow showers.

† Battlefieldthebeautiful is not responsible for the content of external internet links.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Another decade, another Master Plan

Few cities can have suffered more at the hands of their supposed stewards than the city of Newcastle. The argument is not, as one miffed correspondent wrote to the local newspaper after a interview with yours truly, (I paraphrase) that "some people seem to wish to preserve any old pile of stones", more what comes after said pile of stones have departed in the back of a lorry.

Newcastle City Council's relentlessly up-beat City Life* (well, they do have a colour photograph of dog's mess in this issue) announces on page 21 that it is wheeling out a new 'One Core Strategy' for the twin cities (sic) Gateshead and Newcastle. It's not that one is nervous, simply resigned. The photographs are hand picked and significantly do not dwell on Gateshead, a town which is either a masterpiece of the road makers art or a film set in waiting for a movie on life in the old East Germany. Prominent is a photograph (top in the reproduction above) of the Northumbria University's design and business schools building at Manor's, the one building put up in the city in recent decades to warrant serious attention for it's architectural pretensions. I like it at any rate. It made a staggering difference to what one noted critic correctly described as the "worst view in Newcastle". He might have had a touch more ambition in geographical terms but was otherwise on the money.

Co-incidentally, a fine new book has been published on the 'twins' – A Pevsner Series guide to Newcastle and Gateshead by Grace McCombie†. McCombie finds more over which to rejoice than Pevsner: Of Gateshead he once wrote “No one would choose to investigate the sights of Gateshead for fun”. That was before it was converted into a series of complex traffic islands. The book is an heroic attempt to shake people wake from a fifty year sleep even if, as I do suspect, they will come round to realise the losses – of buildings and opportunities to re-build – have been dire. But more of that another time.

In keeping with a new year's resolution to branch out, the Battlefield is going to be extended. I will be writing about some of the urban spaces and buildings which are familar to my everyday life as well as keeping a sharp eye open for more developments closer to home.

Here's a reminder.

* March to April 2010.

Newcastle and Gateshead: Pevsner City Guide (Pevsner Architectural Guides)
Yale University Press
ISBN: 0300126646
EAN: 9780300126648

Content of external links are not the responsibility of