Thursday, 17 February 2011

Big Catholic Buildings: Cork Lee Road

What is it about Catholicism that it managed to build spectacularly large buildings? Structures which like Ushaw College are very difficult to handle in the 21st century. But here is one which can claim to top the lot: Our Lady's Hospital, up the Lee Road, Cork.

I found it because I am listening to a Gaelic Storm CD which has a spirited rendition of "Johnny Jump Up" and if you work at "up the Lee Road" and do some googling all is explained by this building. The railway enthusiast in me is taken by The Railwaymen's Bar at Youghal elsewhere on the track. Although HQ is in Northumberland I have reached Cork in the cause of train chasing but this building eluded me. Glimpsed from a train in 2008 was a similar structure outside Enniscorthy.

Sunday, 13 February 2011

Save Chopwell Wood Sunday 13th February

A really good turn out for the second Save Chopwell Wood Day of Action. They estimated 1,200 people. On the whole good speeches. But I felt that the Blaydon MP Dave Anderson was too old Labour. Talking about pit props 40 years since the collieries went, does it connect to young folk, of whom a lot turned out? What I did not hear was a simple answer to the obvious question? If you sell the woods, who will find the cash to buy them? The feckin banks. The bastards whose greed (a lot said about greed) got the nation into the mire will be the ones who end up owning our woods and putting up the keep out signs. I felt that was a message that needed to come over very loudly.

And this coming from someone who is not a great activist! I think I have done about four/five rallies in my past. An MP lobby c1985 on behalf of the World Development Movement to Westminster. Around the same time going to the Dales Rally led by Mike Harding to protest the planned closure of the Settle & Carlisle Railway and a couple of the Durham Miners Galas when I lived in the city. Today three of us went from Prudhoe in the car, myself, Fiona and friend Sarah. So to motivate me to get out in the rain does take a broad based issue which is beyond the pale. The sale of the Foresty Commission or of the National Nature Reserves is exactly that. Why are the national museums not being told to charge before the forests are sold? Why does not English Heritage review its property portfolio and hand out some of its absolute loss makers to local trusts? At least a ruin is unlikely to be appealing to a bank. And would be better off with a local trust or the National Trust. Again and again today the same message as was heard at Hexham on Friday came over. A community trust can help the Forestry Commission as it does now at Chopwell. But force it to take over and the task is far too big and specialist. After just a few years, like the employee sell out bus companies at privatisation, the wood or the bus company will be in the hands of a few big multi nationals.

An album of photos in a Facebook album at .

Friends of Chopwell Woods own site. Their own Facebook page.

Another blog about the day is here.

Saturday, 12 February 2011

Hexham Big Society Summit 11th February 2011

My previous blog entry highlighted that I would be attending the Hexham Big Society Summit 11th February 2011. Inevitably perhaps I have to say something. It is not easy. I gave it 0930-1400 although a later timetable change saw it starting at 1000. I had to omit the afternoon sessions in the interests of child care. Maybe a rabbit was pulled from the bag, but I rather doubt it. I have no doubts about the enormous good will that was represented in the meeting. Nor in the interest; mid week I was told 100 people were coming. In the event there were 145 delegates and some stretching of the organisation thereby. Guy Opperman as MP did an excellent job in making clear that he was present as a constituency MP determined to listen and represent all views. A series of snapshot showcases of good practise were given. As many people remarked the Big Society is already well recognised in Tynedale. Huge numbers of people already give generously of their time. Community groups from Wylam, Prudhoe, Allendale, Tarset, Humshaugh, Bellingham and Hexham all came forward with heart warming tales of progress. But over it all hung the cuts and no clarity about how that might be solved. Time and again people gave chapter and verse about how the key partners volunteers needed in order to be effective are shutting up shop. The concrete tales of this were the Forestry Commission redundancies in Kielder, the Tyne Rivers Trust worried about The Environment Agency. Housing trusts and health campaigners all had actual tales of how volunteering was being adversely effected. I don't know what to say. Hours later and David Cameron was billed as doing a U turn over the Forests and then immediately Ken Clark was telling the middle classes they had seen nothing yet by way of cuts and that the economic situation of the country is calamitious. What can one say? I think the Big Society will struggle to be more than a fig leave over the pain. We will be left holding onto the Victorian author Samuel Smiles' Self Help or about the Roman Empire's retreat from Britain when it told the soldiers left here to look to themselves. A common thread for some anger was the unimpressive start that the new unitary authority has made. Northumberland Council in West Northumberland is no match for the Tynedale Council which worked geographically and actually. In a wonderful piece of sublimeal advertising which a county hack swiftly denied when he overheard me, the wallpaper for the Powerpoint projector consistently showed a "Putting People First Tynedale Council" image nearly two years after the district's abolition. Now, not far down the road, Guy Opperman is going to have to do some convincing that the existing constituency is retained despite the rough arithmetic suggesting Northumberland's present four MPs will become three? Democracy in Northumberland has not been well served of late and it is probably not surprising that a Northumbria Party has appeared.

Thursday, 10 February 2011

Of prisoners, pirates and society.

Three news items come together here. Today our MP will be voting over the prisoner vote issue. I sincerely hope his vote is cast with those who want no change. I passionately believe that those whose wrongdoing commits them to prison forfeit the democratic right. Of course as we all realise, the issue has become larger than itself. It is now about Europe and national sovereignty. I cannot think for one moment I want to be part of a union where such decisions are not left to national competence. It has become an eye opening example of the dangers of the European delusion. Hopefully the MPs will do the right thing and the government will persuade the court that this is not its affair. And if it cannot, then the jurisdiction of the court over our nation should be removed. I am not a fan of Europe, I studied Roman and Medieval History (when the Holy Roman Empire sought the same end). The nation state is the right scale for humans to work with. In our case the nation state that geography dictates is that of Britain, the British Isles. The four groups that make up Britain may of course rightfully have areas of devolution and even their own languages. But those who wish to destroy Britain are not those who have the interests of these islands as their priority. The proper appreciation of nationality comes when each of English, Welsh, Scottish and Irish value their greater whole over their individuality. Yes, this means realising that English is the lingua franca of these islands and is also our greatest gift to the world. It means appreciating all our culture whether of Chaucer, Shakespeare, Burns or Yeats.

For me an essential component of being British is its religious heritage. Which is Christian and has been since the late Roman period. Arthur is a Christian hero and myth. Our Christianity may in part have come from Rome but even at the beginning it was mediated through the great Celtic tradition. A large element of Britishness is Celticness. We were always suspicious of Rome. Even the Irish once were. We made clear our national aspirations at the reformation. I often think of the Roman Catholic church and I weep. I know Christ commissioned Peter and gave him the keys. I know also Peter denied Christ thrice. Faith is nothing if not paradox. The paradox of the incarnate deity who is crucified and rises again. The paradox of the communion whereby at His instigation bread and wine become His body and blood. This is not cannibalism, it is paradox. The Tri-Une God, the marriage vow whereby 1+1 = either 1 or 3> but never 2; these are paradoxes. And faith cannot make sense unless you understand paradox. There is much paradox in being British, not least that we are tolerant and broadminded. I wish to respect those of other faiths in our nation but they have to understand that the British spirit of fair play is formed in our faith and our temperate landscape.

These things turned us into a mercantile nation which is natural for a group of islanders. Oh,we might have been better served if Liverpool had become our shared capital not short hop from the Continent London. Recently someone put it to me in great detail that the Devil entered into Roman Catholicism at the moment of the Constantinian settlement. Not such an outlandish idea. A lot of the old pagan order must have been subsumed into the new, privately vowing to put as much corrupt sand in the mechanism as they could. So ensuring that power took precedence over grace. Creating a church which would dominate private lives, denies its ministers the succour of women, denying its members the freedom to choose what they wished for their bodies. I may sound very conservative but can also be hugely liberal. Catholic one moment, Evangelical the next. I see contraception (but not almost all abortion)as an opportunity for grace. Gay relationships, gay priests, women priests, a woman pope; none of these would alarm me. Hedonism with some rules makes sense. The renaissance took place 500 years ago and still many Catholics deny reason and yearn for "their Latin past". I believe in reason (rational Biblical (and Koranic) Criticism), science, evolution and commerce. But not in unbridled capitalism or competition. Evolution may have required competition but in humans it has created beings who can reach beyond this. Who can see Grace is of God and thereby a society can grow which is not a slave of business, mere numbers or competitive urges.

Back to the news and this theme reflects two immediate matters. I heard today that Somali pirates hold 700 hostages and 36 ships. This is an affront to civilised life. One which at any time between 1800 and 1970, it is hard to see Britain standing idly by. Our commerce is threatened and thereby our interests. With other nations a far stronger response is needed for otherwise a whole nation has been handed over to criminality. Britishness would have demanded a response that rightly crushed the Somali pirates and in our loss of national identity it would appear we have lost the will to defend shipping.

Tomorrow in Hexham I shall attend our MP's meeting about The Big Society which relates to several of these themes. A friend said to me today for Big Society read Big Chaos. Those who are being expected to shoulder the burden of provision are the same organisations lined up to face local authority cuts. I wonder when we will all realise of whatever political ilk that a civilised society costs. It is not created by saying that selfish wealth creation and the market are the supreme end of man.

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

The John Martin Festival 2011: at The Garden Station Langley

The title is The John Martin Festival 2011: at The Garden Station Langley. This is a page which will be a work in progress so keep checking back. Just got back home from a fascinating morning and the sun even came out. By 0830 I was casing the joint at Haltwhistle preparing for a Hadrian's Wall Heritage event.

At 1000 I was arriving at The Garden Station, Langley. This was to plan an event for the 2011 John Martin Festival. It is supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund. Our heading picture shows the old lead smelt mill flue in the woods. Clear as a path but actually all collapsed, imagine an arched roof covered in earth and with the arch now fallen into the flue. Some bits are intact however.

The date for your diary is Saturday 14th May from 1000 to 1600. John Martin was a painter heavily influenced by the industrial landscape and when a child growing up in Haydon Bridge, the nearby lead smelt mills at Langley would have been fully operational. Today Langley is a quiet hamlet and the evidence of its intense industrial past is cloaked in woodland. Seemingly innocent fishing lakes were once at the core of its power system. Our day will start in The Garden Station which last saw a train in 1950.

The draft timetable is:
1000-1020 Arrival and welcome.
1020-1120 A presentation by myself about Tynedale and Langley's industrial past and John Martin's industrial associations.
1120-1230 A walk to the old brickworks and Langley Dam lake.
1230-1330 Lunch available for you to purchase from The Garden Station's café.
1330-1530 A walk in the old smelt mill area seeing the remains of the flue and on up to the chimney.
1530-1600 Tea and wrap up.

Mention of wrap up: come well shod! And if the weather looks as if it might rain, make sure the waterproofs are in. The walks are not heavy grade but do require care about where to place your feet! The walk to the chimney on the moor is an ascentand is roughly a two mile round trip. The old chimney has been restored and those of you who follow my Auden interest will know that he was another artist who took inspiration from the industrial landscapes of the North Pennine dales. He certainly came to Allendale and wrote about the lead smelt mill, its flue and chimney at Allendale Town. He could have got there by train through Langley before the passenger service ceased in 1930. We can document that he visited Allendale before then (see 1924 poem Allendale).

Find out more about John Martin here.

Details about bookings will follow.

Sunday, 6 February 2011

The L&YR and the ner

This is something of a teaser requiring some railway history knowledge as well as the present day franchises: explain why thinking of the L&YR and the ner is pertinent. The capitalisation is the clue.

I placed that on my Facebook profile. This blog entry will be used to explain. L&Y stands historically for the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway. NER stood in history for either North Eastern Railway or British Railways North Eastern Region. Prior to 1923 the private companies were deadly rivals. This helped to ensure that the strong conurbations of Lancashire and Yorkshire were tied together which was a good thing but it also ensured the independence of North East England in railway matters. Today everything looks a bit different. I might suggest that it is quite appropriate to label the modern Northern Rail franchise the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway. Stand in Manchester, Liverpool or Leeds and you will see what I mean. Read up (as this blog has previously done) the investment plans for Northern. The conurbations of Lancashire and Yorkshire have triumphed through their Passenger Transport Authorities. And what of the North East. Divide and rule. One geographically small Passenger Transport Authority with only a handful of Network Rail stations but its own Metro to play with. Three weak shire counties plus the Tees Valley boroughs. No structure for a common voice in developing railway policy. And this is how the franchise to be let in 2013 for the North is being faced. A novelty for 2011 is a Tyne Wear Public Transport Users Group. Is this interested in examining the Northern franchise? Not as far as I can tell. It is more driven by the futile prospect of fighting the reletting of the East Coast franchise back into the private sector. If that francise is not relet then the whole private railway dream crumbles. Yet in effect North East England is just an island in the Northern empire. All the work of Heaton depot is isolated from other Northern operations. Setting up a North East Local Trains franchise would be relatively easy. No vast unpicking exercise. Last week the Labour Party Shadow Cabinet was on Tyneside. Did anyone mention the prospect of the new franchise. Was the question put and is anyone listening?

STOP PRESS: If the issue interests you, the Tyne Valley Line Rail Users Group is holding an open meeting 7.30pm Hexham Community Centre 17th February 2011 to discuss the new franchise.

Saturday, 5 February 2011


David Cameron's speech on "muscular liberalism" in respect of the problems thrown up by Multi-Culturalism gets my accolade. It is high time that all of us in these islands appreciated the great benefits of being British and put the pleasures of being English, Welsh, Scottish, Irish, Hindu, Sikh or Muslim into proper perspective.