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Berwick, North Northumberland: Food-Travel-Culture-Community

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Walking through the pain, the rain – and anything else on the path

We enjoy loads of beautiful views on our training walks – but the scene on the ground isn’t always so lovely

Did I mention I’m doing the Edinburgh MoonWalk? On the night of June 9th, five days before the Olympic Torch passes through Berwick, I shall be pounding the streets of Edinburgh, wearing a decorated bra and a determined expression. The good news is that I won’t be alone. I shall be in the company of thousands of similarly clad women (and plenty of men too).

Many, like Paxton Friend, will have had breast cancer, or be undergoing treatment even as they walk.  According to Cancer Research UK 1 in 8 women will be affected, and it’s growing faster in Scotland than anywhere. Reports (World Health Organisation) show that many breast cancers could be prevented by reducing alcohol, change of diet, exercise and, most importantly, keeping a healthy weight. For many, the MoonWalk is the first step to a lifestyle change. It will be an emotional and exhilarating night. After all the training and blether we’ll actually be doing it – walking 26 miles. Fast.  The atmosphere will be brilliant –embodying Walk the Walk’s motto: raise money, raise awareness, get fit and have fun! And, yes, we’ve set up a fundraising page – do give if you can. Thanks!

London Daughter, two former school friends and me before our one and only team walk so far

I was prompted to do the London MoonWalk eight years ago after my mum had breast cancer. Staggering over the line, London Daughter declared, ‘I shall never do that again!’ I’m chuffed she and her two former school friends are joining me. But virtual training is tough. So I advertised myself on Facebook asking the people of Berwick to train with me. One response was all I needed – and that’s what I got. Step up Paxton Friend.  Our four or five-mile walks have become 12 miles; 15-minute miles, 12-14-minute miles. We’ve invested in ‘technical’ footwear to support our high insteps and rolling gaits. When family chat lulls, we do body checks: ‘Have you got that achy thing in your toes?’ ‘No, but my shins are throbbing and one of my glutes is pulling.’ Training makes you hyper aware of every little ache and pain.

It also makes you hyper aware of your environment – the terrain you’re walking on, and the scenery that whizzes by. The Husband insists I’ve lost the ability to simply walk and enjoy my surroundings. He’s right that I even treat putting the bin out as a training expedition. However, my powers of observation are alive and kicking.

Living around Berwick it’s hard not to be aware of litter hotspots such as the Nile Delta of cans down the bank above the Tweed, beneath Meg’s Mount.  Others are less obvious but equally unpleasant. There’s a lovely circular walk along the Tweed via New Road and back along the other bank from the picnic site at East Ord. It’s blighted by the stream of detritus you have to pick your way through beside the A1. Do people think litter evaporates when thrown from a moving vehicle?

Nile Delta of beer cans above the Tweed in the heart of Berwick

The other day, at a well-known fast-food outlet on the outskirts of Berwick, the car in front received their goodies through the window. Moments later, wrappers flew out. Did they realise what they were doing? Do they know that councils spend thousands of pounds of our (and their) money clearing litter? If ‘dine and dump’ were an Olympic sport – we’d be in the running for a medal.

Sight for sore eyes – litter along Goody Patchy, the disused zig-zag railway track above Tweedmouth down to Dock Road

When I was a gal, my mum would reduce us to tears if a scrap of sweetie paper so much as fluttered from our tiny, chilly fingers. At school ‘litterbugs’ were thoughtless creatures worthy of contempt. Whilst Paxton Friend and I are engaged with a campaign that enables a whole cross-section of society to choose to do something positive for themselves and for others, it’s kind of ironic that, each time we go out, we are faced with the evidence of people choosing to do something that has a negative impact on everyone.

(A version of this article was first published in The Berwick Advertiser on 3 May 2012)

Facebook fancy or real life?

“My name is Jackie and I’m a social network addict”. A few days ago I found myself aimlessly Facebook–stalking London Daughter’s ex–boyfriend. So, it’s a fair cop, and I need to get a grip or get to Social Networks Anonymous.

When we left London and moved to Berwick just over a year ago, I signed up to Facebook as a way of staying in touch with London Friends. In fact many London Friends have washed up on the shores of the Tweed at some point or other during the past year which has been brilliant. But that hasn’t stopped my daily need to check out what’s going on in everybody’s parallel cyber world. That’s the world of status posts, photos, YouTube clips of ‘Charlie bit my finger’, homemade videos of family members doing voiceovers to Justin Bieber songs, and discovering that Niece Number One’s ex–boyfriend is off to Zambia…

Previously I’d avoided Facebook like the plague. I felt I saw enough of scantily dressed young people using interesting language constructions without having to look at them on my computer. But now I’ve started, I just can’t stop. And I’ve been surprised at how many people around my age are as active as I am in letting the world know what they’re up to, where they’re doing it, and who they’re doing it with.

On Facebook you gather friends and frivolous information like children pick up nits. In fact, on a recent flying visit to London for a friend’s 50th, my tireless social networking had pretty much negated the need for smalltalk.

And there’s the rub. Relationships are built on spending time together and having meaningful conversations as well as playful ones. I notice that I’m beginning to know more about the real lives of Berwick Friends than I am about those of London Friends. We may exchange flippant comments on Facebook but we also grab a coffee at Café Curio or a glass of wine at The Maltings Bar. We discuss our parents, our children, our anxieties and frustrations. It’s the chunky real deal of life as well as the bite–sized snippets.

The 10–Year–Old longs a little less for her best friend in London as her daily ups and downs with Berwick friends preoccupy her more. Even The Husband has found time to hook up with a few northern Silvery Haired Old Gentlemen and mumble about property prices and shooting pheasants over a pint at The Barrels.

Of course, the more we relinquish London commitments, the more we engage in Berwick projects. The Husband’s now on the board of the Berwick Film and Media Arts Festival, The 10–Year–Old looks set to appear in Berwick Operatic Society’s Annie next March. And, rather startlingly, I seem to be in a play at The Maltings in December – We Happy Few – see you in the bar afterwards?

We Happy Few

Oh, but it’s scary! The truth is that for the last year we have kept our house in London. London Daughter has been living there with three other Twenty Somethings (seemed like a good idea at the time!) – it’s been our boarding house on London visits. Once it’s sold, we will be at the mercy of London Friends. Soon my Facebook status will read, ‘Can anyone put The Husband, 10–Year–Old and Little Old Me up for a few days?’ Will a stony cyber silence greet my plea?

And, without the London security blanket, will we still love Berwick as much? Will that mad impulse that made us buy a house here on a post–holiday whim still seem like the product of adventurous spirits or the outworking of borderline insanity?

It’s one thing pontificating about all the issues and ideas that strike one when one is a newcomer to a place; but quite another really living with them and really engaging with them. So here’s to Berwick – more than just a Facebook Friend…I hope.

A version of this article was first published in the Berwick Advertiser on 1st December 2011

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