Monday, September 27, 2010

Week Thirty-Nine: End of the line

On a walk around Cookham I love the lines, shapes and patterns, made by the Chiltern flint in the buildings, brick alleyways, light through trees, ploughed fields, reeds in water, and red kites and vapour trails criss-crossing the sky.

In Pinner, we stayed with friends Jen and John and admired their conservatory and their local shop, which apparently stocks all you could possibly want.

On our last day in Blighty, we went for another walk along my beloved River Thames. It's a great way to bookend our visit.


Sunday, September 19, 2010

Week Thirty-Eight: Rest and Recreation

Scarey Sis has been looking after me and I have been doing some work on the computer, downloading photos and getting my hair cut. I am turning 40 and don't want to be one of those old women with long hair. I have been supervised in these activities by Wrinkles - possibly the world's largest cat.

Mid-week entertainment is a trip to Middlesborough Football club to see them take on the mighty Burnley. Recession and depression have hit Middlesborough hard and it is reflected in the attendance which is patchy at best. The Burnley boys sing, 'They're here; they're there; they're every-f*%^ing-where: empty seats, empty seats.'

The first half of the game left much to be desired. Him Outdoors wasn't holding out much hope. Things were maginally improved in the second half and Burnley scored ('We're winning away; we're winning away - how shit must you be? We're winning away'). They then sat back to try and defend the lead rather than pressing on to get another, although we all knew that one goal wasn't enough. Him Outdoors said, 'And you think watching Liverpool is hard work' and there are similarities - maybe not in quality, but definitely in frustration.

And so it proved. Middlesborough scored and the 'crowd' woke up to sing - Burnley fans countered 'We forgot that you were here'. There were four minutes of added time and, in nightmare or fairytale fashion, depending on your persuasion, Middlesborough scored again from a free kick in the 94th minute.

A jog along the Cleveland Way brought rain, views of Roseberry Topping and fantastic toaties, gingerbread latte (ye really, it's delicious) and lemon cake in Glebe Cottage Cafe.

I love coastal cillages like Staithes, where the houses seem to tumble down the cobbled streets towards the sea , which dominates everything. The cliffs are home to nests of swifts; the Lifeboat people have pride of place in the harbour; piles of lobster pots on the wharf make picturesque groupings, while boldly-coloured floats balloon from a moored boat like a fisherman's themed party. A lone fisherman catches herring on the pier while his dog races back and forth barking at breaking waves.

The bright houses not only make fantastic photographs, but serve a practical purpose. Families named their cottages after their boats, and even painted their houses the same three colours as the owners' 'cobles'. This was to aiod the identification of wreckage after the not infrequent disasters along this treacherous coastline.

Two hundred years ago, in the early 1800s, Staithes was the largest fishing port on the east coast, north of the Wash. James Cook arrived as an apprentice here aged 16, and he worked for William Sanderson, a local merchant and grocer who had a shop on the quayside - it was his first taste of the sea and clearly proved to be an influential one.

Tiny alleyways connect the streets and some (including Dog Loup - reputedly the narrowest street in Yorkshire) force you to turn sideways and inch crab-like along them.

The weather is what is euphemistically termed variable. We hide in a pub during a shower, feasting on scampi and chips. Painters and photographers emerge in the new light and replicate the fresh shadows and cleansed lanes. This has long been a destination for artists and the Staithes Group (1894-1909) had a big influence on British art, believing in working outside 'with wind on their faces and salt on their tongues'. We potter around an art gallery admiring the work of many local artists including Laura Knight (one of the group's founders) and more recent painters.

We have dinner with Joe and Sue - friends of Scarey and Timmy and (I hope) ours. Earlier Him Outdoors went mountain biking with a group including Joe and Timmy - he predicted he would be okay going up hills where strength was required, but when things became more technical, he would be lying in a ditch with his wheels in the air. Apparently he was right.

I miss my train in Northallerton but the bonus is that I get to spend a couple of hourse with Numpty Clayton who takes us back to his house (all stone and heavy timbers surrounded by ploughed fields) in his pistachio green van.

In London I catch up with old friends and make new ones - Ali, Cousin Rachael and Psycho Phil. I last saw the latter in Wellington so it feels weird to meet her here in London where she lives now and, oddly, where it feels as though she is visiting me rather than the other way around. We play on the installation of Thomas Haetherwick's spinning seats and pose outside The Anchor on the South Bank before she pedals off home on a Boris bike.