Lighthouse

A trip down memory lane. We were looking for somewhere different to visit. Had to be quiet. Had to be different. A couple of hours later we had arrived at the coast.

To the South Gare at Redcar on the north east English coast. The memories flooded back. I was born in Redcar, my childhood was spent here. I didn’t leave until I was 18. Not been back since, until now.

Redcar is surrounded. The North Sea on one side, chemical and steel works in the other direction. The South Gare is a couple of miles north of the town. It’s the southern breakwater of the River Tees. It’s one of those places where industry and nature have fused together. As a kid this was a magical place. I would walk here along the beach from the town most weekends. My old Dad would drive us here. So many memories.

Dad somehow getting me inside the lighthouse and convincing the keeper to let me sound the foghorn. Wow that was seriously loud.

Watching the anglers stand precariously on the edge of the sea walls as waves crashed in.

When Dad was too ill to walk too far, he would drive here and sit in the car watching the ships come and go.

Braving the storms to see the waves crash over the top of the lighthouse.

Coming here in the late 70s to see the blast furnace built. It was Europes second largest one. It looked like something from a Dr Who episode. Almost unreal.

Watching the steam escape from the rocks and surrounding ground when the blast furnace was in operation. Like a man made volcanic steam vent.

Taking Benji, our mad Beagel onto the beach at Redcar for a walk. Letting him off the lead and he bolted down the beach. Two miles later I finally caught up with him next to the lighthouse. Having a much needed constitutional….

Bunking off school to come here to watch massive new oil rigs getting transported out to the oil fields.

Seeing weather battered fishermen go into the little green huts always wondering what on earth was inside the wooden structures.

Searching for winkles on the rocks at low tied.

So many memories. I rapidly bored the pants off Hawklad retelling these and many more tales. Much was the same but some changes. Where did that wind farm come from.

But there is a sadness. The area is looking so run down. The Steel Works closed down with all its jobs. My father worked here. Many of my school friends got jobs here. All gone. So the Furnace is a ghost shell to a bygone era. It’s been a part of the local landscape for decades. It became part of how the town looked. It was the heartbeat of the town. And now it’s been decided that it is to be knocked down. Work has started. Those in charge say its disappearance will be a symbol of hope. Replaced with newer, better things. If only that was true. There won’t be any money. The people round here don’t matter to those in charge. I’m not the only one who feels that way. So it’s demolition is not universally welcome. Yes some see it as an eyesore. But others see the furnace as part of the towns heritage. A visible reminder of nearly 200 years of iron and steel production in this area. Steel which was used around the world including in the Sydney Harbour Bridge. So it’s destruction is seen by many here as cultural and economic vandalism. Akin to many uncomfortable truths. Get rid of the image then you can forget about the problem without addressing it. Just like how we move the homeless on from outside the Theatre or the exclusive Restaurant. Once moved you can conveniently forget about the poverty again, all for the price of a coffee and a pat on the back. The person is still homeless just this time out of sight.

So on this Sunday afternoon, one gnarly muppet took one too many photos. As many as I could featuring the blast furnace. Because when we come here again, it will be gone and the landscape here will have changed forever.

Change

Bempton, North Yorkshire

Now that is a view.

Friday was the first real test of our new approach to the School at Home project.

This year it’s truly about the needs and wishes of Hawklad. That’s what drives us, not just tying to regimentally stick to a school timetable. If work is sent for Hawklad then it will be completed but to our timescales. If the school was more dedicated to providing regular work, at regular times and that work was consistently marked, then we might be more inclined to stick to the school times. But after 20 months school just hasn’t worked that way. It’s been very hit and miss. That’s how it’s going to be for as long as Hawklad is unable to learn in a classroom. So here goes…..

A Friday morning appointment 30 miles from home. Previously as soon the appointment was over we would belt back home to try a d catch up with any lesson work issued. Too often the rushed return was wasted as no work waiting.

Not this time….

No rushing back for school. Rather a relaxing detour to the coast. A bit of bird spotting. A walk. Fresh sea air. We returned back home a few hours later, then the weekend could start. Hawklad can catch up with any school work missed during this week’s quiet moments.

Yes that definitely works better.

Birds at dawn

Another early start. This time a seriously early one. A perfect insomniac storm. 3am. Hawklad has woken and can’t sleep. I have not been to bed yet and sleep feels a million miles away.

Hawklad wonders if we can see the dawn brake. On the coast.

So a few moments later and after I had sampled the meanest of espressos, we are driving. Driving past badgers, foxes and owls. Before 4am we arrive at RSPB Bempton Cliffs. It’s still pitch black and we have the site to ourselves. It’s such an eerie feeling walking in the complete absence of light and sound. Even to early for the thousands of seabirds perched precariously on the cliffs. No wind and even the sea was strangely becalmed.

In perfect time to watch dawn brake. No thoughts of an Albatross who was apparently out at sea. Who needs one bird when you get to watch all this unfold.

The dark was a challenge to my iPhone camera but it gave it a go.

By 7am a few people had started to arrive, mainly here to take up prime spots and wait. Hoping on catching sight of one particular bird. They had no idea what they had just missed. The deafening sound of seabirds hides the peace that existed just 2 hours ago.

We were back in the car and driving a few minutes later. The site had lost its appeal to Hawklad. Even a handful of strangers proving too much for him. But he had got to see a spectacular show first hand. Just the two of us so without his anxieties. He slept during the ride home.

Yes it was a ridiculously early start. Yes I went more than 24 hours without sleep. But it was worth it for those couple of hours when Hawklad felt that he had the world to himself. I suspect it won’t be the last time we do this. Yes there will be time for trips out to build those social bridges but those come with anxieties. We all need these times and places of sanctuary. Hawklad does. Yes even a worn down parent needs them.

Smaller birds

Another dawn start by the Yorkshire coast. No albatross this morning but so worth the 3.30am alarm call.

Birdwatching and an attempt to re-establish social bridges.

It’s the perfect time for Hawklad to do a bit of bird spotting. You have the site largely to yourself. The sound of the sea and thousands of birds is very soothing. It’s a good way for him to focus on something different. Something which distracts him from those daily anxieties. He can feel at one with nature.

Then the occasional early morning birdwatcher turned up. It’s a big site so they kept their distance. For a couple of hours no one came within 100 yards of us. Maybe I’m scaring them off – early morning starts do nothing for my granite like features. Definitely a face for radio. As more birders took up position Hawklad became less relaxed. More anxious glances over the shoulder. Making sure no one is approaching.

By 8am more people are turning up. Still maybe no more than a few dozen in total. Too many for Hawklad so we leave and head back home. Giving people wide berths on paths. Picking the least busy route through a slowly filling up car park. Getting back to the car then using had wash for several minutes. Carefully rinsing the mouth out with mouthwash.

This still feels like a million miles from venturing back into shops and enclosed spaces. So far away from crowds. A return to school is potentially just a month away. The first step has to be feeling comfortable with crowds and strangers outside. Only then can the ficus shift to inside matters.

Another step forward but I’m not sure how much more of those social bridges were built.

The Yorkshire Albatross

The Yorkshire coast at just after 5am.

Steep cliffs filled with a wide range of gulls, gannets and sea birds. It’s a special place at any time of the year. Don’t forget your thermal underwear if you are coming …..

But today eyes, binoculars and telescopes are aimed at one spot near that distant sea arch. There sits an Albatross. That rarest of Southern Hemisphere wonders has made its way north. And with impeccable taste has made a temporary home in Yorkshire. Hope Albert (his new name) has brought his woolly hat and jumpers.

This was our second attempt to see Albert. We left the house at 4am more in hope than expectation. This time we were in luck. Through the lens we could see Albert perched on the cliff face. For an hour we watched the new Yorkshire Star. Then in seconds he was out to sea. A brief glimpse of an Albatross flying. Towering over the other birds.

If Albert stays long enough then we will try again. This time hoping for a longer sight of him flying. even maybe a chance to get a photograph.

It was also another step for Hawklad. Another encounter with strangers. All very friendly strangers. He kept his distance but managed to stay. Another step in the right direction all thanks to an Albatross. Who would have thought of that one.

Islands

Three years since I last stood here. Lindisfarne, a tidal island off the Northumberland coast of North Eastern England . Otherwise known as Holy Island. A place with a rich religious heritage dating back to 635AD.

It’s such a beautiful and evocative place. We would regularly visit here as a couple, as a small family and now as a family of two.

Saint Aidan came from Iona to found a monastery here. Iona is a small island of the western coast of Scotland. He must have liked wind and rain. Shall we say both islands are a tad exposed.

It’s a place I’ve always wanted to move to. Cut off from mainland for large parts of the day. Feels like you are surrounded by the vast open water on all sides. No escape from the unique feel and smell of the sea. A great place to think and breathe.

Not great for the waste. I would live off Fish and Chips…..

I’m talking about this as my mind wandered today. Hawklad is getting older. Won’t be many years before he is 18. Where did that time go. If he’s Independent then MAYBE I will need to find a new place to live. He’s always talked about never moving. So it might be be packing the bags. How knows maybe the bags will head here.

But it’s such a feeling. Such a big step. The thought of potentially starting again

Cricket

Daffodils still going strong here.

A few years back before parenting happened I played for a little village cricket team. They had a lovely tree lined cricket ground. Sadly the land was sold and they had to move. They moved to some land set on a sea cliff, right next to the edge. After every storm one side of the pitch shrunk by an inch or so. Washed out to sea. It was usually really cold. Not a tree in sight. On the other side of the pitch was a water treatment facility. Get a wind from the West and the smell brought tears to your eyes.

The actually pitch wasn’t exactly flat more like a mountain range….. And every April at the start of the season the outfield was covered in Daffodils.

It seemed that all our fears about the move were justified.

The cricket team was allowed to use the field by the local landowner for free. The two rules he insisted on was that he got a game for the team and as he liked Daffodils, we weren’t allowed to cut them back even if they started growing on the pitch. So yes we played around them. Made the game different. Took a lot of getting used to. But soon we got used to the change. And actually it was FUN. To the point that when the daffodils died back, we missed them. The game didn’t seem as good. Yes it was cold but the view over the sea was stunning. Even the Water Treatment Centre worked out great. They started sponsoring the team and soon we started getting brand new gear.

That’s the thing, change doesn’t have to be bad thing. Often change works out just fine and in fact can improve life. Improve it in ways you just can’t visualise before it happens.

Yes we can do this.

Sea

I was born by the Sea. Brought up by the sea. When I’ve been struggling in life I have often headed towards the Sea to breathe. A brilliant place to head to as a parent. Some of my best times have been by the Sea.

Even when I moved inland I would frequently find a way back for a few precious hours. Then life happened. A Pandemic changed everything. It must be over 18 months since my last trip to the Sea now. My longest time away.

So when life changes again AND IT WILL – guess where I’m heading.

With one hand

August 2018

It’s been too long since I stood by the sea. Far too long. For someone born in a small north eastern seaside town, that’s tough. Genuinely don’t know when it will happen again. My gut feel is not in 2020. Our Government of Fools has now start reversing it’s rushed reopening plans. Yesterday it was perfectly safe to visit cinemas without a mask. Today you MUST wear a mask for your favourite movie. Yet kids and teachers are still expected to go mask free in classrooms. Last Friday we were being told to support the holiday industry and travel as it was safe. Just days later that all changed and more countries are being urgently added to the quarantine list with thousands of tourists now already out there. Even though those countries have much lower rates of deaths and infections than the UK.

Tougher lockdown regimes are being reintroduced into some areas with significantly rising infection rates . One such area is uncomfortable close to us. That is doing nothing for Hawklads anxiety levels. And now his garden consultation with his new health worker is in doubt. Such visits are now under review again. Somedays it feels like it’s one step forward and then one back. That’s at a time when his obsessive hand washing and fear of touching surfaces continues to mount.

But there is always hope and is it really one step forward, one step back…

When I first started climbing I hated having to retrace steps. One step forward, one step back seemed such a waste. A failure. Something to be avoided at all costs. But over time I learnt wiser ways. Things like climbing in things like pink compression tops and tight blue leggings is really not cool at all. Things like collecting rain water from rocky pools to drink might be a life saver but it doesn’t taste as nice as a can of coke stuffed into my climbing pack. Things like it’s not a great team building idea to lead a pitch when you have spilt asunder your tight blue leggings. I also learned that retracing steps is often a good thing. The times a few moments of retreat and sideways steps actually leads to a much easier and safe climbing way forward.

So yes things are tough and that garden visit would be useful but…..

The word BUT sounds to negative, maybe however is better.

However we do at least have access to the service still. That’s a huge bonus. The garden visit would bring stress currently, so if it doesn’t happen then it’s one less thing for Hawklad to worry about. It also encourages us both to try new things, see if we can find our own way through this maze. There will be things we haven’t tried. Maybe potential help has been there all the time and we just haven’t looked hard enough for it. Too much relying on someone else to find it for us. Maybe the only solution for Hawklad is to bunker down for a few more months until those clever vaccine people find something that works. So maybe retracing some steps is the best way forward.

There is always hope and yes I still have a pair of tight blue leggings…..

Honesty

Sometimes it’s best to check the facts behind what someone tells you. Often it’s what they don’t tell you that is the key thing….

So this week we have had utter governmental incompetence. First they proclaim that having the second highest death toll in the world represented a great achievement. Then they pronounced that it was time to celebrate as the lockdown was ending. Two days later that message suddenly changed to the lockdown is staying in place. Then Sunday night the PM announced that those who can’t work from home should start to go back to work the next day but don’t use public transport. Within hours that became best wait till Wednesday.

It’s absolute chaos. The lockdown stays in place in Scotland and Wales but not England. In those countries the message is Stay HOME. In England it’s changed to Stay ALERT. How do you stay alert to something you can’t see. You can now see your parents and family but they can’t agree on where, when and how. Already this morning, the rule on how many elderly parents you can now visit has changed 4 times….. We currently have incomprehensible madness. You can go to work and see work colleagues but you can only meet up with one member of your family. You can drive to destinations but they won’t tell you what your allowed to do when you arrive – are you even allowed out of the car? They talk about using the R number (the effective virus reproduction number) as the decider of policy. Yet they can’t measure it. In other countries they give a definite number. Here it’s always given as a range somewhere between 0.5 (in your dreams…) and something well over 1 (more likely). If we only test a few people then how are we supposed to work the number out. People with mild conditions are told to stay at home but are not tested.

So much waffle and misinformation. Clearly it’s what they are desperately trying to avoid telling us that is the key. Strangely that’s the stuff which will also show what a catastrophic cockup our PM has made of this crisis. Can we please have some some real honesty.

So in the spirit of Honesty, I will come clean with you. I’ve not been telling you all the facts. I’ve hidden something from you. SORRY. I’ve been talking about my swimming analogy. Grief and life feeling like I’m swimming towards an ever receding islands. That better stay as something in my mind and not actually happen. As I CAN’T SWIM….

Aa a kid we only had two swimming options. One was to swim in the Sea. That’s the North Sea. It’s better known as the OMG how cold is that Sea. Also in my day the local Steel, Chemical and Nuclear Plants would dump far too much into the icy waters. Big signs on the beach would warn against eating shell fish. If that wasn’t bad enough, you would get signs next to the poison signs warning Do not swim due to dangerous currents. So not a great place to learn to swim.

The only other swimming option was the town’s swimming pool. A very old swimming pool. Obviously built before they had invented the words – Heating or Hygiene. My new School would do weekly swimming lessons there. That was my big chance. Sadly that chance evaporated. The first lesson was curtailed when one of the older boys thought it would be funny to have a wee in the pool. The second lesson was only a few minutes old when part of the Pool’s glass roof started to fall down. Again we were evacuated. The pool didn’t reopen while I was at school. So that’s my excuse – I can’t swim.

See it’s easy to be open…..