Meat and potato pie from Edgelands

My good friend Steve has let me borrow a book that he thought might suit me. “Edgelands” by poets Paul Farley and Michael Symmons Roberts. I’m not much into poetry but this book is prose. Not quite sure how one writes a book with someone else but they seem to have managed it seamlessly. I’ve really enjoyed it and what shows how good it was that it sent me off in other directions to look for things I knew little about. Including the authors.

If, like me you like to see broken down old sheds, and find beauty in broken down buildings and barns then this is worth a read. It’s an appreciation of the broken bike that finds itself in an unusual place, and how there’s an untold story behind it. Of places where no one really chooses to go. Waste ground and old industrial sites. It took me back to my childhood in the industrial North West, when it was industrial. Walking past a small boat on the Gloucester to Sharpness canal the other day I got a whiff of coal burning and that took me back in an instant, rather like this book.Burning coal: not something one comes across these days. Recent lock down has involved exercise locally and walks to the airport and it’s environs. Here are indeed edgelands. Plenty of broken down sheds, as well as park homes which also count but are generally in very good and tidy order, well cared for and inhabited mainly by elderly people with little means. I’ve spent walking holidays getting more excited by a broken down Volvo truck than the view over the Mediterranean. Discovering a broken down East German Trabant in an olive field in Sardinia was a real highlight for me. So you can see where I’m coming from and these two poets find as much poetry in the subject as I do.

I was also asked this week what my favourite food was when I was a child, and how I got to school. That took me back too. I went to school in what seemed to be a Hilman Minx Police Van, or what they called a ‘shooting brake’ in those days. It was big enough to accommodate a few unbelted 5 and 6 year olds to go to the Barber Bridge Methodists School a mere 5 miles away. We all behaved ourselves as we thought we were being driven by a policeman, but he was probably just a uniformed civilian officer or cadet from the police training school where my father and the other kid’s fathers used to spend their time teaching new recruits the finer points of policing. So I went to and from school in a police car. It’s only struck me now how odd that is.

My father was promoted and the family moved from what was a rural farmland location to the very centre of the then coal industry on the edge of Wigan. He was back at the sharp end. It was there that one night he had to get my Mum to cut off his tie after a shift where a friendly customer had got hold of each end and pulled them in a gesture of defiance. He claims to have introduced the clip on tie to the Lancashire Force as a result. It was in this area and at this time that pubs closed at 10-30pm and anyone on the streets after 11.30 considered a little dodgy. The local pub had a notice in the window “Clara at the Organ” every night. Clara played to the customers and they all knew that if she stopped then two policemen had just walked in to check for underage drinkers. Everyone seemed to be happy with the arrangement.

The new family house was a semi detached set on what might be described as perfect Edgelands. Scrubby ground outside our modest garden picket fence, broken down cars, disused railway embankments and a view of slag heaps. And coal everywhere. We were in a triangle of railway lines with smoke in every direction. It left sooty spots on my mother’s washing. We could see the huge Heinz Bean factory from out scrubby back garden. Apparently my mother cried for 3 weeks when we moved in, but cried for another 3 weeks when we moved again some years later, as she loved the people there so much. My brother and I moved from playing in open fields and streams in the countryside to running around these Edgelands dry and dusty wastelands surrounding the Rag and Bone yard that faced my mother’s kitchen window. This could so easily have been the model for Steptoe and Son, except there was no son, just Arthur and his wife: Destiny. Not her real name but she was keen on attending funerals in the area, she did n’t seem to need an invite. I recall her coming to the kitchen window asking my mother what she ‘were cuking’. “Pastry” Replied my mother. ” I like doing that too” said Destiny ” Gets me nails clean”.

Here I walked to my new school along the streets of Lower Ince, calling at my friend Tom’s house on the way where there was usually time for a quick piece of hot toast done on the banked up coal fire that glowed like a forge in his tiny living room. His dad was a miner so they made sure they used their coal allowance. Central Heating was what you got from porridge.

Each time my father was promoted, he and the family moved. He was promoted a lot. Each time we moved Aunty Winnie made a pie. A meat and potato pie. She’d bring it round to the ‘new’ house and complain about her corset or her feet as she walked up to the front door with large pie in hand. I have no idea how she made it, but these days it might be described as a heady mix of potato chunks and carrot suffused in a dark sauce with delicate chunks of beef topped with a golden crust of home made shortcrust pastry, best consumed with a side of pickled red cabbage: sublime. Edgeland’s best.

If you feel like a trip to the Edgelands you’ll find this a fascinating book and you may discover more about yourself, just like I did.

“Edgelands” Journeys into England’s True Wilderness by Paul Farley and Michael Symmons Roberts published by Vintage

Ripped poster on the Bristol Road, Gloucester. An area very like the North West of England.
Truck going nowhere, behind me a fine view of the Mediterranean.
East End of London, where Edgelands is getting gentrified.
Edgeland in Gloucester, some years ago. This is now no more, I think there’s a large Sainsbury Store here
East German Trabant in an olive grove in Sardinia.
My own view of Edgelands from 1991. That’s the closed down corner shop near the flyover and the new one in the Supermarket.

Spring loaded.

Robin burning into song, skylarks and others in the background

Choosing the right place and time to go out for a walk seems to be more important these days than before we were locked in with the key seemingly chucked away somewhere. In this country you can be lucky with the weather and the further north you go the luckier you can be, or not. For instance, if it rains in the Lake District there are days when you can’t see more than a few feet in front of you and you might as well be walking around the old sewage farm close to where you live. At present we have to walk locally and we are very lucky to have some fine locations almost on the doorstep, though I have to admit to some ‘location fatigue’ in relation to walking to the local airport and back.

One of my favourite saunters is to the Red Lion on the banks of the River Severn. Sadly the pub is closed at present, so no promise of a beer. The walk takes you with a lot off ‘up’ to get the heart rate moving, to the top of a hill overlooking a large slab of Gloucestershire, and from there over as far as Wales with the Malvern Hills on the right looking like a large beached whale or two on the horizon. Whales and Wales.

My walking friend: Robin, and I were lucky enough to choose this route on a day last week when the sun shone on us. It was worth every second. Stopping for a tea break before we’d hardly started at the top of the hill was a wise move. After all who wants lukewarm tea and a damp backside down by the river. I’d taken myself a jam sandwich, Robin was in a class slightly higher than me with his fancy hot cross bun, but his looked like he’d sat on it. We’d set off at the start off the afternoon as we stood admiring the 360 degree view all around we mused that we’d made the right decision. Why walk when you can stand and stare with the bonus of a snack. As we stood there, the skies changed constantly and the sun came out gradually. It was quiet with no road noise and just the sound of skylarks starting to get in tune for Spring. A good spot for a song.

Walking down the other side of the hill and down some green lane we both thought that Spring was about to burst forth. It was altogether a super walk. It has almost everything, a hill, a view, tree clumps, water, more water, ponds, bird life, woods, river views, and on the day we were there a lovely early evening light.

I don’t normally post more than one image or two but this walk was worth a few and certainly worth Robin’s rendition. At the time I thought it was quiet in the background, and that he was only competing with the birds, but you can hear a helicopter which disturbed the peace a little later.

Hope you enjoy the post, the tune and the pictures.

End of the walk, looking down the Severn towards Gloucester, it’s round the bend, in both respects!

“I don’t need a watch, I tell the time from the crap TV programmes I’m watching.”.

Same old, same old.

TV is a massive hole that needs to be filled every day. Something the local council have really given up on around here, and probably everywhere. Before the ‘C’ word arrived was no better. Suspension testing holes in the roads were rife.

When we lived in Gloucester the road men used to come by occasionally with a teaspoon of tarmac and add another patch to the already patchy road. It had the look of a grey quilt which had been sewn together over the years, when one big road refurb would have solved the lot. My neighbour used to keep a tin of spray paint for when the surveyors came out to indicate which holes to fill, and when they’d gone, he’d survey it a little more and circle some extra holes. It worked and the men came and filled both the official holes in the road as well as the unofficial. A couple of heavy lorries later it generally all popped out.

So telly is like a lot of these holes in the road. Always needing to be filled, generally not very good and occasionally when some big production is sanctioned: something worthwhile.

In lockdown we’ve probably all been watching too much. Talking to a friend today she said she always knew these days what time it was, by the constant crap on the telly. Nice turn of phrase, I thought.

We were talking about her website which I put together. We use a company that I’ve used for years, I’m what’s called a ‘heritage’ customer, their disruption, not mine. But lately we’ve had problems. Their sites worked using Adobe Flash, and that has been ‘retired’. Sadly the company did not seem ready for it and now nothing works. It has the look and feel of a company in terminal decline. A website company where the customers can’t edit their own websites.

I’m saddened by it, especially as I’ve been recommending them for years. But they’ve just not been mending the holes in the roads, and the result is a bit of a car crash.

Here’s a random picture.

TV Repairman

Plottage: the answer to a bad day?

In the present scheme of things small things that go ‘wrong’ might be considered to be trifling, and they are. I have this odd theory that things going wrong come in 3s. Once those three things have passed you can move along and get on with the day and hope that something productive might emerge.

Those that follow me here, and thanks if you do, will know that I’m a cartoonist and that makes me an artist. Over lockdown I have done a lot of landscapes, experimenting with media and different ways to make marks on paper. I’ve enjoyed doing them and I had every intention of putting them up on Artfinder for sale. That’s the originals of course, not prints.

So I thought it might be a good idea to log in to Artfinder to get my shop there up to date with the very latest in my oevre. That word, along with juxtaposition, being the sort of word that artists use. So there I go logging into art finder, only to find out that they’ve chucked me out. I’ve been curated! I’ve only sold a couple of drawings through it so they have hardly made me redundant, I was already redundant. That aside I was more than a bit miffed. Artists and Cartoonists or the mixture of the two as I might be described, have to get used to rejection, but it still makes it no more pleasant when you are rejected. Language was of the blue variety for a short while until a cup of tea calmed me.

I checked to see if my friend Ros had been curated too, and thank goodness she had n’t. But then she does better on it than I do. Take a look here.

If you feel like checking out her website then take a look here. Here lands my next of three things to go ‘wrong’. I put together Ros’s website for her through Moonfruit. I’ve been with them for years and at the outset I was almost evangelical on how good they were. Great customer relations and a good easy site to construct. They built it all on Adobe Flash. Now Adobe Flash as been retired and it’s thrown them into a whole lot of trouble.

Long story short: I am now unable to edit anything on her site and on the other ones I have with them. Customer support has been as been useless.

So that was two of my allowed things to go wrong, I needed the third to turn this all around and get on. Then here it comes over the hill. ‘Over the hill’ might be the operative words here. I was idly looking on google search and searched for myself, hoping to feel relevant. Plenty on there about me, all written by me! Then further down the page I come across an item on eBay. One of my original drawings for sale at a Buy it Now price of £13 pounds! Is someone likely to get a bargain? No they most certainly are not. It was a pile of doo doo and should have been binned back in the 70s when I did it.

Time to go away and feel sorry for myself? No, certainly not. Someone had gone to the trouble of keeping that awful drawing for 40 plus years, I should feel better about myself. I’d reached problem number 3 and I could get on with things again

A trip to the plot was the best possible balm to a relatively bad day. An hour down there would be enough to make it all look much better.

Home fires burning…

This is the canal from Gloucester, the UK’s biggest inland port, to Sharpness at the mouth of the River Severn. I found this on a trawl through old images and it reminded me that I used to take a walk out on Christmas Day camera in hand and I recall well that this particular day was bright, cold and crips and there were very few people around. It was Christmas Day 2009.

This view overlooks the warehouses that would originally have been the timber yards that in their day would have been bustling with men unloading timber from Scandinavia. Some which would have gone to the nearby match factory, which is still intact, though a little run down these days. Matchmaking is one of those industries that many might be glad to see the back of. Working in foul conditions and with dangerous chemicals many of the poor girls working there would later suffer from Phossy Jaw, which deformed their faces and was a result of handling phosphorous for the matches.

There’s still at least one timber yard on the canal: Nick’s Timber. There may be more that I’m not aware of. But the timber no longer comes in on ships up the canal. It probably comes via another port and then by road.

The area makes for an interesting walk from Gloucester Docks, and like the ships, you can eventually get to Sharpness, but it’s a long way, so do it in bits. Sharpness Docks at the other end is also an interesting place to look around and has the feel of somewhere trapped in the 1950s.

The picture below is more recent, taken about a week ago, on a cold day. The inhabitants of Sheena Mackay were no doubt toasty in their ship’s lounge. This is in the marina at Sharpness where there are quite a few inhabited barges and boats, and quite a few more uninhabited. The whiff of burning coal as we walked past one of the barges took me back to my youth in Lancashire with chimney’s blowing out those evocative sulphurous fumes of the home fire burning, no doubt lit by a match from the Moreland’s Factory down the road here in Gloucester.