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Archive for the tag “Berwick Parks Project”

Sweet music & community places & spaces – the perfect antidote to politics and politicians

Ne’er cast a clout til May is out. Electioneering mud-slinging has already ensured that May is knee-deep in more than clouts. But, hurrah! Today marks the end of the scrabble for our votes – although the shirt-tugging and hair-pulling will doubtless live on. For me voting is a bit like making a Pavlova. I always go through the same process but the end result isn’t always what I’d hoped for. That’s why, amidst all the endless politicking in Berwick, it’s nice to turn to other more productive topics.

Pavlovas are unpredictable beasties

Pavlovas like politics are unpredictable beasties

Just before I do, I should recap (for those who’ve been lurking under a duvet for a couple of years) that the upturned dander of the politicos amongst us is largely due to the fiercely contested nature of the Berwick-upon-Tweed seat. Lib Dem Sir Alan Beith has been warming it for the last 42 years since the then Tory incumbent Lord Lambton resigned after a scandal that would probably have enhanced his profile if he’d been a French MP. With Sir Alan’s retirement, the Tories are desperate to plump up the cushions of power for their own pert posteriors. And so the game of election musical chairs has been particularly discordant. Happy days.

Sweet music was abundant at the Maltings’ 25th birthday celebration. Local talent shone in ‘Here Come the Girls’, directed by the indefatigable Wendy Payn. My personal highlight? The boys’ take on the Ronson/Mars classic ‘Uptown Funk’, closely followed by Katie Hindmarsh’s rendition of Hairspray’s  ‘I know where I’ve been’. Fast-forward a couple of weekends and the Guildhall rang to the soaring notes of Northumbrian Kist, confected by Maltings Chief Exec Matthew Rooke. The deftly muscular National Youth Orchestra of Scotland, energetically helmed by Chris George, sailed through a true treasure chest of a programme sparkling with local references and talent. Mezzo soprano Tamsin Davidson and baritone Alan Rowland were perfect foils in Rooke’s tapestry of traditional tunes. Alison Coates pinpointed the twinkly naughtiness of ‘Wor Geordie’s Lost ‘Is Penker’. In Agustin Fernandez’s stunning ‘Arreglos Bolivianos’ the strings momentarily sounded like Bolivian pipes – incredible; whilst Alice Burn (sometime protégée of Fernandez’s partner, Kathryn Tickell) gave us no-holes-barred Northumbrian Pipes; Rooke’s ‘An a Craw Can Sing Anaw’ was a light-handed smile-inducing homage to Vaughan Williams’ ‘Lark Ascending’ and a perfect showcase for Sam Lord and her bass clarinet (or crow).

Northumbrian Kist was fab – look out for more classical music from The Maltings including 2015’s Berwick Festival Opera with shows in June, August & September.

If you missed the Maltings’ celebrations, the free Party on the Parade (Berwick Rotary Club and Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research) on 24th May has rapidly become a town tradition. It’s a great bash and another opportunity to tap your toes to local talent.

The public spaces of Berwick are looking absolutely cracking. Kate Morison and her team of volunteers have managed to turn Castle Vale Park, Coronation Park and surrounding spaces into delicious areas for frolics, picnics, or simply to be. And, when mindless vandals attacked one of the handsome new shelters, local tradesmen stepped in and made them good: that’s community. Kate’s laid on a programme of events in the parks, from photography workshops to the wildly successful Easter egg hunt, from family sessions to get you up close and personal with pondlife and heritage to live dance and a dawn chorus walk. Alternatively (or as well!) head seaward to the crow’s nest atop the Coastwatch Tower by Magdalene Fields Golf Course. Volunteers have made this a place of beauty and information. The vertiginous stair will give you an adrenalin rush and the views will make your heart soar (open at weekends).

An example of community and what volunteers can achieve. Berwick's Coastwatch Tower.

An example of community and what volunteers can achieve. Berwick’s Coastwatch Tower.

The refurbed lily pond and shelter near Berwick Station

The refurbed lily pond and shelter near Berwick Station

Here’s a thought. Whatever the result today, let’s lock the politicians in a padded room where they can clout each other to the end of time – we could call it the House of Commons. The rest of us can get on with engaging in the community day-by-day and appreciating our tip-top corner of Northumberland.

The perfect room for politicians to clout each other.

A version of this article was published in the Berwick Advertiser on 7th May 2015

The birds, the bees… and a spot of Tai Chi

Is it just me or is there more nature happening this year? More bees, more birds and, yes, more reproduction. I’m having a bit of a love-in with nature at the moment. And, as so often happens during such spells of intense awareness and appreciation, serendipitous encounters contrive to enhance the glow.

At a friend’s house, I happened upon a book by the writer and broadcaster Richard Mabey, “The Perfumier and the Stinkhorn”. The friend was good enough to lend it to me. It turned out to be a library book – which could have been complicated. Thanks to Berwick Library for keeping things simple: our library’s a fabulous resource, please love it and use it. Mabey’s essays are a thoughtful exploration of the harmonies between science and romanticism through nature’s lens and an excellent counterpoint to the idea that science and romanticism must always be at loggerheads.

Richard Mabey’s inspirational book

Having hens at the bottom of our garden means regular sorties to deliver scraps, check for eggs, deal with poo, massage Vaseline into scaly legs and, most recently, a broody hen that stands no chance of raising a brood. This is how we know the crows talk about us. Like the vultures in “Jungle Book” they telegraph along the treetops: “Caw! Here they come! Caw! They’ve got leftover porridge. Caw!” It wouldn’t surprise me to find them wearing bibs and holding knives and forks by the time we reach the hens.

“It wouldn’t surprise me to find the crows wearing bibs and holding knives and forks.”

Bees interpret scent cues across substantial distances, passing on the gen to other bees. According to Mabey lead free petrol residues react with odour molecules messing with the bees’ ability to interpret scent, which may be a factor in their decline. Happily, our raspberry canes have been mesmerisingly and slightly terrifyingly alive with bees this year. For the last four years, The Husband has been building a structure to protect the raspberry canes from birds. Four years! “It needs done!” I cried, avoiding eye contact and shoving him into the humming cauldron. And, hey presto! the berry protection strategy is complete. No bees or husbands were harmed during implementation, the bees pass freely, the birds are largely kept at bay, and I will eventually get to grips with the intricate hook and eye system.

Despite berry deprivation, our garden birds are bursting with natural fulsomeness – families of blue tits, starlings, dunnocks, sparrows, great tits, blackbirds and wrens are all making a go of it just outside our window.

Friends recently guided us on a scenic circuit in the Cheviots – somewhere I really haven’t spent enough time. Mabey describes a moment when, listening to the nightingale’s song, it was as if, “the bird was in my head, and it was me that was singing.” “Yeah right.” I thought. Until the Cheviot walk, that is. Our ramble rolled through scrub and heather where the birdsong was genuinely tumultuous. The skylarks were particularly abundant, dropping like leafy musical notes to their nests. And, yes, the refrain wasn’t only outside, it was somehow also inside me as I walked. Shelley, in To a Skylark says, “Pourest thy full heart/In profuse strains of unpremeditated art.” And there’s the rub. Counter to what Shelley says, nature – birds singing, bees pollenating, animals reproducing – isn’t an accident. All that ‘art’ has a ferocious purpose – attracting, repelling, sounding the alarm, and ultimately being.

The Cheviots: A fabulous place to wander with friends.

The Cheviots: A fabulous place to wander with friends.

I’ve been popping along to Castle Vale Park Viewpoint in Berwick on a Wednesday morning for an hour of free Tai Chi (every week til the end of August 2014). It’s part of park manager Kate Morison’s drive to ensure the newly refurbed park spaces are used for positive purposes. High above the Tweed making its way to the sea, the flowing movements of Tai Chi seem particularly apt. As we shift and sway, nature gets on with doing its stuff around us. No more or less than usual – just noticed more by me.

The view we enjoy whilst doing Tai Chi and, coincidentally and extraordinarily, the one I enjoyed with Colin Firth when he visited Berwick on a recce for the film The Railway Man.

The view we enjoy whilst doing Tai Chi and, coincidentally and extraordinarily, the one I enjoyed with Colin Firth when he visited Berwick on a recce for the film The Railway Man.


(A version of this post first appeared in The Berwick Advertiser in July 2014)


Take me outside into the green garden – but not one I have to look after!

If an Englishman’s home is his castle, then his garden is probably his tapestry or trophy room. And it’s the season to apply some spit and polish before show time. Tangles of shrubs and seed spikes left as overwinter shelter for insects, food for birds, and because November was a bit too busy to get out into the garden, have morphed into a straggly organic car crash. The moment has come to don the gardening gloves.

“Gardening is a ‘good thing’ and chimes nicely with a style of living which engages with the here-and-now”

Gardening is, of course, about embracing and responding to seasons. This is a ‘good thing’ and chimes nicely with a style of living which engages with the here-and-now rather than what can be had whenever you fancy it, whatever the cost. But gardening is like housework. No sooner have you dusted from top to bottom than it’s time to start all over again (insert ‘weeded’, ‘mowed’ or ‘pruned’ for ‘dusted’). Plus maintaining a garden is not always totally rewarding. My ambition to eat my own sprouts on Christmas Day was fulfilled in 2013 – with micro sprouts. My beetroot were hardly better and my leeks have spring-onion envy. I look at the allotments around Berwick with respect – I long for my garden to be packed with gorgeous produce, I long to be the sort of person who loves to toil the soil. But I am a reluctant gardener.

My uneasy relationship with gardening is not so unusual. New builds often don’t have much garden – not just because contractors want to squeeze as much infrastructure into a site as possible, but also because many of us simply don’t want the faff of looking after even a postage stamp of open space. Life’s too busy. Or perhaps we’re too nervous – we don’t know how to garden anymore. The times I’ve enjoyed gardening most have been when working alongside someone more knowledgeable than me – company and confidence rolled up in one.

My own garden in May - there's a lot to be done  if it's going to look like that this year!

My own garden in May – there’s a lot to be done if it’s going to look like that this year!

Step up the public open space. I can’t tell you how excited I am about all the work going on in Berwick: from Castle Vale and Coroner’s Park by the station, to the lily pond and refurbed route to the river from Tweed Street, to the cutting back and tidying beside and beneath Meg’s Mount. It’s an initiative spearheaded through County Council’s Strategic Parks project. Berwick’s slice of the pie (just shy of a million quid) is largely funded by a Lottery grant.

What a view! Coronation Park in Berwick-upon-Tweed all ready for planting at the end of March 2014.  (photo

Kate Morison, manager of the parks project, traces the decline of these fondly remembered areas to funding cuts. And now, the regular zoom-through of the County green squad to cut grass and hack shrubs simply can’t match up to the heyday when there were two permanent park keepers in Berwick. Kate was born and bred in Berwick and is pleased to be back. She has high hopes for the parks – decent signage, programmes of events, people whiling away happy moments waiting for trains or simply enjoying the breathtaking views. The more these marvellous places are used, the more vibrant they’ll be – and stay. If you’ve not admired the shiny pin kerbs, or the nascent rockeries, the tidied shelter areas and the gorgeous new steps, get to it!

A band of willing volunteers is essential to the long-term maintenance of the rejuvenated spaces. Kate’s wired into all the right networks (including CARA – Castlegate Residents Association – who’ve been hands-on since the beginning). And it won’t be long before these eager public-spirited gardeners can get down to it – the contractors set sail at the end of the month. If you’re interested, contact Kate through the Council offices on Quayside.

Meanwhile, if you’re keen and confident and would like a bit of gardening practice, I can offer a garden in desperate need of tlc, some companionship, and a half decent cup of tea!

A version of this article was published in the Berwick Advertiser

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