Friday, December 6, 2013

The rush to gush

City Life, the propaganda sheet of Newcastle City Council has come through my letterbox. Like the last one I read – last year? – this is an exemplar of telling the plebs what is good for them.

Newcastle, I was once told long ago, is a city ruled by three forces: Newcastle University, Newcastle United Football Club (NUFC) and Newcastle & Scottish Breweries. Together they got what they wanted. By an almost invisible process plans were made and 'sprung' fully fledged on the punters. Something like this still goes on.

Today these schemes are 'rolled out'. Local media play their part. The infamous attempt to turn Leazes Park (Common Land!) into a subsidiary of Newcastle United Football Club (then owned by Sir John 'MetroCentre' Hall) was planned in stealth and great detail away from the Council offices and appeared overnight with a great splash in the press and a bandwagon primed to recite the words of a script as if this were not the North East, but North Korea.

Other examples of this practise come to mind. Grainger Market was written off (using exactly the same phrases intriguingly) by the Council, Newcastle Evening Chronicle and B.B.C. North East. Grainger Market survives in part due to the fact that the economy would not support the 're-vitalisation' (it ran out of cash) and the rather obvious fact that Grainger Market was not, after all, Covent Garden. Newcastle City Council reminds me of a remark ascribed to Bertolt Brecht when East Germany's 'leadership' felt the populace had let them down: Perhaps the City Council ought to elect a different constituency.

Reading City Life is a bore. It's what they don't tell you that grates. The tone of uplift would make a motivational charlatan blush.

Having manipulated it's 'Awae the Lads' (NUFC's loyal fans) credentials with complete cynicism, Scottish & Newcastle Breweries sold themselves overnight to a multinational who promptly took the brand names and closed the plant down. Hence this:

The large exposed area in the image above is the old brewery site, currently being open cast mined to remove coal before building in ernest begins; excepting it might not. It seems the scheme is being cut back. Nothing has been said but by simply comparing previous statements and plans with what is spoken of now, the differences are obvious. Ambition has a nasty way of colliding with reality like that. So, now there will be some gaps. Parkland may be the answer. Temporary open spaces planted up with flower beds and shrubs. It seems a long way from the fanfare of high tech hyperbole that covered over the loss of an emblematic north east brand and many jobs with it.

Personally, I would welcome this revision. The views over Newcastle from this vantage point are the best I have ever seen short of being in an aircraft. Let's face it, the architecture planned for this dramatic site, a once in a century opportunity to create something worthy of a great historic city, was always going to loose out compared to a tree.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Dereliction. Why is that bad, exactly?

I am being a bit contentious (again). There is just something that I find in the run down and less favoured places that attracts me. Neat, orderly and hygienic has its place: It's called suburbia. One of the attractions of neglect is that there was, after all, something which to neglect.

I wandered about Shieldfield, adjacent to my 'Battlefield' the other day and tried to make some sense of what is happening; the variety of spaces, types of buildings and that remarkable effect, how one kind of new building suddenly, unexpectedly sets one looking again at another, familiar and yet completely transformed by this new association.

Behind Shieldfield next to the, as yet still unredeveloped, old paint factory site, something remarkable is happening. The newly built student 'halls of residence' (as they are not called nowadays) has brought something to the area that threatens to make it one of the most interesting in the city. It vies, it grows and contradicts. What was once derelict and marginalised has been given new life – because to one with a trained and unprejudiced eye, it was always there.

Ernest's Bistro Café thrives; small businesses (vintage furniture, a gym, furniture maker, and a trade supplies outlet) are being jostled by a new music venue. The Biscuit Factory building, old and magnificent is a feature; wonderfully, this is now a place to be and exist. What was simply once a 'threatening' area indeed, is now teetering on becoming 'somewhere'.

A new identity or a resurrected one?

Shieldfield November 2013

Monday, November 11, 2013

Remembrance Sunday 2013

Sunday 10th November was sunny. The sky was a cloudless blue, cold and high and the sun shone at an intimidating angle through the trees.

I went for a walk along Ouseburn and up into Heaton Park. People came and went, young and old, some cycling or running. Somethings are still free. We will remember them.

Heaton Park 10.11.13

Monday, November 4, 2013

One for Christmas Reading

I know it is bit early (though the shops are full of Christmas items despite there being still green leaves on the trees) but some exciting news this weekend from The Observer. A new book on architectural critic and contrarian writer Ian Nairn is published and a programme on BBC Television Four in the offing.

Nairn will just not go away.

Ian Nairn 1930-83

A devoted if small number of admirers have never quite let his memory fade after he he died in 1983 just short of  the young age of 53 (from alcoholism); thereafter he turned up infrequently in short tributes or asides in other people's broadcasts.

Nairn's grasp of the importance of the built environment and the curse of modern 'planning' could be wilful but always large and wholehearted. He taught me as a teenager half a century ago reading his pieces (in The Observer), to look, to note and appreciate what was there, existing and real, the accumulation of buildings, artefacts, roofs and pavements that makes a place a place; the then often unappreciated and neglected, carriers of stories we should and must (for his was a moral concern at its core) attend to, letting it inform our lives, and by so doing give significance to the meaning of living.

Please read The Observer's Rowan Moore review of Nairn's life and influence here (off site link).

Friday, October 11, 2013

Battlefield at the end of Summer

The schools went back; then the migrant birds left to go south for the winter and students arrived back all over the city. So it is the end of the summer. 2013 was a fine one – at the finish. Trees and shrubs reflect this in prodigious amounts of berries and fruits produced. Slowly some of the trees are being to change colour and more and more leaves find their way to the ground.

I am stunned to see how much the year has added in growth all round Battlefield (the name I have given this plot of green space). Trees particularly have grown well.

The old paint factory site lingers on as waste ground. Meanwhile two new blocks have sprung up on Portland Road when once we were promised offices, offices the city patently did not need. Another mini-supermarket has opened its doors locally, hoping to capture the increasing student market share. The economic prosperity of this fair city, like some others around the U.K., is now 'down to them'; the cash injection must be tens of millions annually, bigger than ship building was on the Tyne in the past glory days, so I was told. What though, if the bubble also bursts? No one is thinking of that, or, if they are, they are keeping it to themselves.

Newcastle is now something of a big building site, with more projects underway than for some time past. The area in front of John Dobson's iconic Central Station is having another town planners fantasy frontage cum facelift, the third I can recall in my forty years living in this city. This one has one of those 'Kiss of Death' names attached to it: 'Central Gateway' (possibly, 'The Central Gateway').

But my thoughts on this building boom can wait another posting to come; meanwhile here are some photographs. (Off site link.)

End of Summer

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Teri Tynes: An appreciation

I came across 'Walking off the Big Apple' by complete chance, as one does on the internet, some years ago searching for something else. From then on it was a delight to turn away from 'wars and the rumours of wars' to read something gracious, enthusiastic, informed and spiritually generous once in a while. The site was run (single handedly at that) by Teri Tynes, a New Yorker from Texas.

Subtitled 'A strollers guide to New York City', Tynes recorded her walks around Manhattan Island (and occasionally beyond), illustrated with her own superb photographs, the sheer delight city life could bring to the observant and curious mind. However, 'All life is here' wouldn't be true of 'Walking ...'. Tynes left out the soiled and gruesome to elevate her gaze just so far, far enough. Of smart restaurants and snob pleasures there were few mentions, if only to highlight the self imposed chasm that separates those whose money insulates them from experience. Her aspiration was to re-invent the 19th century flanneur, the ironic, knowledgeable and essentially sympathetic wanderer, able to delight in all the inconsequential details of modern urban life; for most of us on this planet now, this is life. She succeeded.

Her energy was prodigious; the site developed and grew in scope; the Internet add-ons (that defeat me) she had a plenty; slideshows and maps, calendars of forthcoming art exhibitions and film reviews (Tynes is an accomplished film critic); historical detail and observations on architecture and eating out; all this combined to provide a user's guide to New York City like nothing else I have seen, since it was essentially the unique product of a single mind, a particularly fine one. She even found time to encourage your humble servant.

Earlier this year the steady steam of postings declined and then halted. Now Ms Tynes has issued a post on the site to announce her retirement. Many followers have added their thoughts to her comments thread, thanking her, regretting the passing of what was, for many, an essential recreational delight. The news came with evident sadness. Reflecting on this news afterwards, I was reminded of some lines by Keith Douglas (1920-44) –

the specimens, the lilies of ambition
still spring in their climate, still unpicked:
but time, time is all I lacked
to find them, as the great collectors before me.

But she had found much, shared much. Tynes' achievement is and remains wonderful, an exemplar. My own sadness is eased by the knowledge that much of what she wrote and photographed will remain up on the Internet. Who knows someone might produce a e-book of her postings. One thing is for certain, Teri Tyne's achievement will not be soon matched nor forgot.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Ouseburn 2013: Part the Second

Ouseburn July 2013 Part II

After a pause, I'll continue ...

Actually, my computer died and I had to bury it and get another. So I will hasten to conclude this two parter with as few words of delay as possible.

From this point of my walk I might as well been in a great forest. Huge trees above me on the bank to my right stretched branches out overhead, creating deep shade on what was the end of another brilliant day in this Summer of 2013. The second slide in the show is of a Trifid-like Giant Hogweed lingering menacingly in the shade, taken from a safe distance. One to keep an eye on ...

My walk took me along the road past the allotments ranged over a flat land adjacent to the burn; the road can be busy and sometimes very unsafe because of the lack of a proper footpath and some blind bends. It serves the emergency services well, apparently, and that has meant little can be done to divert or slow traffic down. Thankfully, the majority of vehicles using this route are driven with consideration for other road users, though, evenso, I would have liked to have seen some 'rumble strips' – raised speed bumps of a kind – just as a precautionary warning. Not that we are going to get them. Nor the other brilliant idea put forward at a public meeting by a woman who suggested decorative gates as a visual signal that this was a special road.

It is still special for all that.

My walk ended by going up onto the flyover that carries traffic through Cradlewell onwards to the junction with the Coast Road. When this flyover was built back in the last years of the past century people (young, fit people) climbed into trees to stop felling operations and to protest the intrusion of a new dual carriageway road through this idyllic dene. They were hauled out of their perches by bailiffs recruited from the climbing fraternity. But the point was made and more time and trouble spent on landscaping and some architectural details than might have once been the case. (I still feel the portico entrances to the short tunnel linking the flyover to the Cradlewell could have been more sensitively designed and built). A benefit of the flyover has been to make the dene below so much quieter and safer to walk. One local ecologist spoke of his delight in seeing fewer dead creatures, killed by traffic, that were a sad feature of the old road.

What we have now is a true 'green lung' and animals and birds can thrive here in peace as I hope these photographs show. But the price of this enjoyment is vigilance.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Ouseburn 2013

A spell of belting good weather got me out with my camera one evening late last month. Another long planned walk along the Ouseburn up stream from the culvert at Sandyford to the Coast Road flyover just before Jesmond Dene Park.

The first part in photographic terms is posted here –

Ouseburn July 2013 Part I

As I began my 'tour' I ran into two local 'good old boys' who consented to have their photograph taken for this blog. I'm glad I stopped to chat. I learned a lot.

They had seen both Kingfishers and Dippers this year, as recently as a few days before. Sadly they reported that one young Kingfisher, obviously from a nest nearby, had come to grief by flying into a window pane. However, the fact that these 'exotics' still use the river (I myself have not been so lucky to see them this year) is good news indeed.

One of my new found friends showed me where, as a child, he had climbed across an old iron bridge over the Ouseburn (now replaced by a stone one) and how, if one looked carefully, the site of an old 19th century grinding mill could be found in the woods ... I'll save that story for another post.

The Woodlanders.

I was amazed (as many friends have been) by the extravagance of the foliage and flowers now following our 'start stop start' Spring. Parts of the Ouseburn gorge look like a jungle and only shafts of sunlight filter down to sparkle on the thin flow of water that the Ouseburn can manage after weeks of sunshine. Many woodland birds are still calling high in the treetops above. My two new pals told me a heron, a young one they thought, had clumsily landed in the burn only to be chivvied by the resident crow's, none too pleased to see it arrive in their patch. A heron would look like a Pterodactyl in such a confined space...

The birds I could hear were Chaffinches, Chiff Chaffs, Wrens and perhaps a Wood or Garden Warbler – a clear, liquid, lovely song. It is as if having despaired of the cold static days in May they have extended their breeding season to cash in on these extended, hot, days of High Summer.

I have noticed before how easily one looses any sense of being within a few hundred yards of a crowded, busy city, down here besides the Ouseburn. Huge plants have sprung up; spreading leaves of umbelliferas like oversized rhubarb packed alongside the stream. I spotted a Giant Hogweed poised and slightly menacing in the shade of a grove. Every part of this plant is bad news to touch; it's sap is stinging and burns human skin, requiring a visit to the hospital. It might easily have been the inspiration of a science fiction writer.

Despite the heat of another hot day making itself felt even under these massive trees along Ouseburn 'Road' (no where wide enough for all the vehicles that come along; happily, most behave impeccably and slow for other road users), cyclists were out in force and the scent of barbecues was on the breeze.

To be continued.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Amor by Derlon

Amor ... Love.

That I got fairly quickly. I even tumbled after a while to the subject in hand; Adam and Eve and the Fall from the Garden of Eden. However, this is no lamentation when applied to a fine mural that's gone on to a specially created site next to the Byker Bridges.

By good fortune I met the artist when strolling about with my camera. Try as I might I could not grasp the pronunciation of his name, spoken softly in Portuguese. I have no Portuguese and 'Derlon' had little English. I wonder if he thought this heat was normal?

The next time I wandered down the mural was completed and signed. I take the artist's name from his signature.

Sunshine, days of it and the wonderful sense of the transformation of space that art brings.

What's wrong about that exactly?

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Portland Road Revisited

This is turning out to be the kind of summer we all felt we would never see again. It may only last a week but while it lasts it's welcome.

Oxford ragwort Senecio squalidus

Much has happened around the piece of open space I call 'Battlefield' this past year. Another vast new Hall of Residence has reached the point where we can see it almost in it's finished form. Whatever my reservations (and I have some) these have altered the perception of this part of Portland Road.

A photographic album of a stroll in the sunshine (external link) –

Builders Metnor were specialists in warehouse construction; they were the proposed builders for seven large blocks to be constructed over the site of the former paint factory and their public relations advisers held a public preview of the plans for local residents, attended by a befuddled Anton in the early stages of influenza. I did not appreciate having 'Battlefield' open space described to me by a P.R. man present as "threatening". Our meeting did not get off to a happy start. In fairness, the two completed blocks are not as bad as I once feared. True, they may not look quite so trendy after a few years wear and tear, but overall I think they have added rather than detracted from what was here previously.

Something I (and many more before me) have noted is the way a new building articulates the other, pre-existing buildings around it. This effect can sometimes be profound. On one hand one has the design of the new building and that may or may not be successful; yet, on the other, there is also the visual impact the building has upon it's neighbours. The most striking example I have ever seen of this effect is Daniel Libeskind's extension to the Royal Toronto Museum, Toronto. A fairly lacklustre street was transformed by Libeskind's inspired intervention. A case of two plus two makes five if ever I saw one.

As I strolled up the street past the pioneering and very successful Biscuit Factory Arts building, I came across a mural being painted on newly erected panels across the front of an old abandoned premises expressly for the purpose. I met the artist also, taking a break from his efforts in the shelter of a wall. This encounter will be a separate post to follow. I hope it demonstrates the effectiveness of engaging with the arts in stimulating regeneration, a fact sadly lost on many in positions of influence if not direct power.

Biscuit Factory Arts

Newcastle is a city under going transformation. Several large bilding projects are underway. (Tell that to motorists caught up around the Central Station!) In Shieldfield another site is being developed where a gravel company previously had works over looking the Byker road and rail bridges. The site always looked ripe for re-development.

Work on the paint factory site (which is where I came in) seems permanently to have stalled. Difficulties with the sites historic pollution by heavy metals and the collapse of the overseas student bubble, seems to have put paid to the latest of three schemes to develop this site since I took note. Battlefield itself looks better than ever.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Untimely cuts

Well, it is a period of austerity ...

Last year a large scale tree planting was attempted around Sandyford's streets to add to existing trees and place some where none have been seen for a while. Unfortunately, many never 'struck' and quickly faded away, despite some help from me.

I heard a racket last week; a harsh, grasping, note breaking the silence. The next day I saw a team of two Council employees with a pick up towing a chipping machine. The dead saplings were being removed by chain saw. I suppose we won't be seeing any replacements for a while in this era of cuts.

We'll just have to look after the remaining trees.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

A walk to the Post Office

Our local Post Office has closed. A brief resurrection and then finally, nothing doing. Now, we have a bus ride to use the 'national treasure' we seem to have so carelessly let slip away.

I chose to walk to Byker.

UPDATE 28th May 2013.

The older and easier way to share photographs is either gone for good (or bad!) or I am not sufficiently bright to work out how to attach the newer one. So I am using a reliable off site programme.

Walk to the Post Office Pt 1

Goldspink Lane winds suddenly downhill and stops just before the narrow gorge of the Ouseburn. The tower block peeping above the trees opposite is in Heaton. This gorge winds through the city; from Jesmond Dene to the north, beside Armstrong Park and Heaton Park then through the Victorian era constructed culvert to the Lower Ousburn and thence, the River Tyne. On a pleasant Spring day it seems a nicer, healthy alternative to waiting for a bus.

As I walk I try to notice what Ian Nairn might have commented on in those Observer newspaper articles I read half a century ago and which formed the basis for my own enthusiasm for the urban scene.

The contrasts are great. Since we find these familiar we are perhaps too ready to think these ordinary. But to my eye there are always surprises, contradictions and provocations to thought.

For example, here are four images all taken on the same day on a walk of about a mile.

The woods beside the Ouseburn 

The old Ouseburn 'road'. This would have been 
used by carts going down to the Tyne

Today garages and 'lock-ups', were such as these built for horses?

Nearly there: Old and new on Shields Road

These seem to me to reflect an important aspect of living; the complexity and varied character of the environment, brought about through happenstance, over centuries, not the instant, fleeting and deterministic. This unplanned 'collage' of natural, ruderal and by-passed living styles is for me attractive, even compulsive. It gives a texture to life as nothing planned can.

Maybe the training planners receive is to blame; the all or nothing approach of town halls everywhere.

Monday, May 6, 2013

At last, the beginning is here

It seemed it would never arrive, Spring that is.

Even the ordinary is, for a week or so, made extraordinary

Weeks of cold winds made it seem buds had been freeze framed on their branches and stopped mid way for good. However, the sun has battered down the wind or increased its temperature just enough.

Battlefield in Spring time looks lovely, even if delayed.

Friday, April 5, 2013

In Camera

It has hardly been conducive weather to take photographs. Grey overcast.

Now a very cold wind blows and the sun shines. I've been neglecting my duties. But not my thoughts.

Council men out today clearing away a fallen cherry on the Battlefield, a favourite one which always came out in small white blossom early despite the season. No more. Even in it's final hours it went into the back of a lorry piece by glorious piece, as if a Japanese stage set were being transported not for chipping, but a display of heavenly beauty elsewhere.

I have been on a long journey, past grim concrete motorways, old red brick Victorian piles being transformed into new premises by men in orange overalls and bright white safety hats overlooked by a steepling crane. Lines of new cars arranged with pride outside showrooms where no one comes and goes.

A fashionable business park built over the site where another Japanese connection to this city was made; capital ships for the emergent Imperial Japanese fleet. Then on past newly restored and revamped (revamped! So much better than mere makeover) tower blocks speeding up along a dual carriage way guarded at its terminal roundabouts by a Challenger tank.

Sweeping up to the shores of the Tyne, here a reach – a perfect word for a sweeping bend of a river – and then over a dyke filled with reeds on into another Business Park, this one as still and formally chic as an Italian film set; Antonioni I should say. Detached, alienated. No one walks here so why comes the bus?

Then a Pottery kiln and scraps of fields, no small pied ponies on view today. A tremendous tumbled down wooden barn, partly see through, filled with splintered cars one above the other like a sculpture by John Chamberlain.

The rising valley landscape pushes in on the road that now swings and dips little better than the dirt cart track it once was connecting villages along the Tyne Valley to the west. A newly planted woodland, all thin and straight trunks; crossing and re-crossing an old rail track bed, today a dog walker's and cyclist resource posted with arty signs fashioned as if from old rails. Pigeon lofts, not at all lofty here, and a tiny stables compete with two skewbald ponies, tended not by the well groomed and well heeled,  but youths with hair stained red or blue and rings through their faces.

A steep climb along new built town houses, a riposte to our city council's desire to build out over the Green Belt; if here why not ...?

Neat 1950s council semis, all painted stucco, white or cream, with attractive dun coloured roof tiles, raked at a positively Dutch angle. Graced by mature trees and available street parking, estates such as we do not build any longer. Why is that exactly?

I get off my bus stiffly and walk out into the cold blast of air rushing down from the Arctic, less than two thousand miles away. It feels less.

Monday, March 11, 2013

To and fro

The weather has yo-yo'ed between Winter and Spring, and now, back to Winter again.

These photographs were taken at the end of January on a tour around the district but would serve today just as easily. More snow is threatening.

Work has now ceased on the re-furbishment of the East Coast Mainline Bridge at Byker, a Grade II* Listed structure for it's significance to railway history. A fine job they made of it too. Well done to all those who carried out this heavy and exacting task. The bridge was open to rail traffic continuously during the period of the works.

I shall cover the work being undertaken presently to restore the site alongside the bridge in due course – weather permitting.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

First you see it ...

Last week it was this ...

Followed by this ...

Spring. Unpredictable.

But the Byker railway bridge is ready, emerging from its wrapping after fifteen months or so hibernation.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Sufficient unto itself

The snow has gone, mostly; a few dull scraps here and there and saucepan lids of stubborn ice like stranded jelly fish. But mostly now, gone.

When the 'flower boxes' in the street outside here were smothered by the Council with 2011's chipped re-cycled Christmas trees for a mulch – it's too soon yet for 2012's crop, – there was something in the mixture. Amazingly, during the cold weather leading up to New Year this happened:

A fungi associated with pines or firs sprang up in some profusion in two adjacent brick built boxes. Few mushrooms are deadly, but evenso, one doesn't like to risk it. Besides, they look so good just as they are, a sign of resistance to conformity, a small spontaneous gesture that not everything is done by committee or the result of an 'initiative' foisted on an indifferent populace.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Climate science

One of the largest post 1945 building projects of its kind in this fair city – excluding shopping malls and motorways – is underway. Or is it? Rumours of various kinds surround 'Science City': It's going ahead; it isn't; the site will be a park; money will be available; we're broke and no money will be available. It depends who one listens to and how much of it is wishful thinking, if not downright misinformation.

The site was previously occupied by Scottish & Newcastle Breweries, spread across the western flank of the high ground that steeply inclines towards the Tyne gorge below. Scottish & Newcastle in their day were part of a triumvirate of 'interests' that seemingly had special rights over the city. The other parts of the axis were Newcastle United Football Club and Newcastle University. Anything they wanted they got. The general feeling among the city's ruling circle was Scottish & Newcastle were somehow the soul of Newcastle, embedded in the city's history, part of it's fabric and wedded to it's identity... They were, as they say, 'Canny'. Until the director's got an offer they couldn't refuse and sold up to a multi-national who promptly closed the operation down. Today, for all I know or care, the famous Newcastle Brown Ale is brewed in Poland ...

But just supposing the rumours are correct and money isn't there to throw at University vanity projects? A park then? With views over the city like these, that might be a distinct gain.

The spire of St Mary's Catholic church, designed by AWN Pugin (1812-52), points skyward above a snow covered spoil heap.

Coal is being extracted from the near surface before any works are undertaken. Close by, to the north, was a deep coal mine, closed in 1944.

St James Park football stadium. A controversial 'scheme' to grant the then chairman of Newcastle United F.C., property magnate Sir John Hall, the right to develop neighbouring Leazes Park was enthusiastically agreed by Newcastle City Council, ably supported by the Freeman of the City and local media. It failed largely due to angry local protests and the little matter of obtaining a Parliamentary Bill – Leazes Park is Common Land.

The tower of the cathedral church of St Nicholas, right centre and slightly further to the right , the bulbous outline of the roof of The Sage, Gateshead on the other side of the unseen Tyne and the curved steel work of the famous Tyne Bridge built in the 30s.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

The Forbes List

First it was headlines on ending funding to arts organisations. Now the gloomy news reported in today's Guardian that Newcastle will not – perhaps – be able even to support the basic needs of vulnerable people following central government cuts, has given free rein to the curtain-twitchers eager to install misery and prejudice as the guiding cultural outlook for all.

The comments thread on this piece say much about how little influence the arts have had on shaping opinion and the widespread ignorance on the role the arts play in social and economic life – is there a difference?

Read for yourself,

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Keith Crombie 1938 - 2012

I was told about Keith's death only a hour or so ago and I am amazed how much it affects me. One of the rudest people I ever knew, I was somehow compelled to forgive him his transgressions. I did not ever want to become a Jazz Café regular; I enjoyed the arty parties we organised and meeting regulars, musicians, enthusiasts and waif and strays.

The atmosphere in the increasing shambolic Café was utterly unique and on my last visit just before last Christmas, even among the towering heaps now of second hand books and DVD's gathered weekly from charity shops ('thrift' U.S.), I realised why: It was a theatre. I watched twenty minutes of a black and white British film Keith projected onto a wall for me, for once not a war movie: "Make Mine Mink" from the 50s – our era, so to speak. It seems entirely appropriate for something shared on our last meeting this side of Eternity.

Keith phoned me often, usually to vent ire at the shameful results of planning in the city, that and the lack of interest in those (himself obviously) who had been pioneers of the cultural vanguard. Somehow it wasn't absurd; it was of course, but, inside the theatre that was the Café, one dispensed with realities. My heart will be there always I think.

Love and Goodnight dear Keith,


A Facebook tributes page together with many fine photgraphs can be found here.