Thursday, 30 October 2008

983 - Suburban Anarchy

There are some great anarchist projects in Newcastle. I'm not pushing the anarchist programme in a heavily politicised way, but I do find the resonances between anarchy and the hunter-gatherer worldview exciting and stimulating. I'd describe myself as a soft anarchist: institutions work, but there are other ways of doing things.

The Star and Shadow cinema is the bees knees. Entirely run by volunteers, it demonstrates that for imagination and spirit, leaderless organisations can knock the horsebrass off their corporate stable-mates.

It's not just a cinema, it's also used for gigs and art exhibitions, discussion forums and the burgeoning Newcastle green movement. E and I attend the monthly Storytelling, offered by A Bit Crack, whenever we can. E pulls the beers, fulfilling a lifetime's ambition to work in a pub. If you find a place that fulfills your lifetime ambitions, you stick with it, don't you?

So the Star and Shadow is brilliant, brilliant, and it blazes a light. But it is urban, and has surely been given a chance to thrive, in part, because its core resources, people, are plentiful. My other favourite project (I've lots of 'other favourite projects'), a community called The Simple Way, throbs at the heart of downtown Philly.

My question is, what happens when soft anarchy goes suburban? Does it require a critical mass of people to succeed? In small towns, dormitory towns, where identity dissolves, and architecture does not aspire to any form of greatness, towns which point elsewhere to see their values defined, and do not make room for revolution, is 'leaderlessness' disarmed of its power to change?

I say, in hope, no. It has the added strength of unexpectedness. Soft anarchy is powerful in suburbia. A post in a day or so to explain more.

Tuesday, 28 October 2008

984 - Knowing Whitley

Following on from yesterday's post, I read this in Hugh Brody's book, 'The Other Side of Eden', which is about hunter-gatherers and farmers.

Material well-being depends on knowing, rather than changing, the environment.

I think what I am trying to do is to know Whitley. Which is a community in transition. Know the culture of it, but also its roots as a small fishing village on a bleak coast, between the great monasteries at Lindisfarne and Jarrow, and up from the priory at Tynemouth; bearing the infrastructure of its late nineteenth, mid twentieth century kiss-me-quick blossoming; fighting shy of the anonymity that a future as a dormitory town would bring.

When the blossom falls, the fruit swells.
When the fruit falls, the seed takes root.
When the tree falls, its daughter rises.

Monday, 27 October 2008

985 - Face Value

Sylvester's Ballroom, one of the derelict buildings along Whitley's seafront. I've been thinking about my second post, no. 999. I said in it:

Whitley Bay is for the living. Whitley Bay is, as it always has been, alive.

But Sylvester's doesn't look very alive.

So I'm thinking about how you look at things. What I'm thinking is this. You can look at something face on, and it is what it is, right now. Sylvester's is a boarded-up shell.

Or you can look at it sideways. From a vantage point in the past, say, Sylvester's is an Ozymandias, warning of future collapse, whilst from the future, it points back to an Eden. But these are scarcely more alive.

There's another way to look. It's not really looking: it's more not looking. The life flows out through the cracks, as you shift your viewpoint back, face on and forward, but as soon as you stop moving, you cease to see it. In other words, as long as you are alive and moving, it is alive. When you die, it dies.

Sylvester's is each viewpoint: a swing-band panoramic swirl-room; shell-suited chav-suite; far-from-sweet hereafter. But also a tea-dance when you wanted a Time Warp; a Millenium, not a millstone round the neck.

And face value? Now? Whatever you want. It's whatever it is, and whatever you want it to be.

Sunday, 26 October 2008

986 - Transition Town?

Not so idly thinking, could Whitley Bay become a Transition Town?

What would it take? In the words of

It all starts off when a small collection of motivated individuals within a community come together with a shared concern: how can our community respond to the challenges, and opportunities, of Peak Oil and Climate Change?

They begin by forming an initiating group and then adopt the Transition Model (explained
here at length, and in bits here and here) with the intention of engaging a significant proportion of the people in their community to kick off a Transition Initiative.

A Transition Initiative is a community (lots of examples here) working together to look Peak Oil and Climate Change squarely in the eye and address this BIG question:

"for all those aspects of life that this community needs in order to sustain itself and thrive, how do we significantly increase resilience (to mitigate the effects of Peak Oil) and drastically reduce carbon emissions (to mitigate the effects of Climate Change)?"

Some facts and figures about the towns that have already committed to this project:

  • There are 101 already - 65 in England, 5 in Scotland, 6 in Wales, 1 in Northern Ireland, 1 in Ireland.
  • Other countries where you'll find transition towns include Australia, Italy, Japan, New Zealand and the USA.
  • UK towns include: Totnes, Brighton and Hove, Nottingham, West Kirby, York, Chepstow, Dunbar and Tynedale. All sizes, locations and local backgrounds. Loads more information on their websites.
  • These are bottom-up initiatives - they don't happen unless local people, like you and me, start them.

Anyone out there want to join me? I'm going to start asking questions...

Thursday, 23 October 2008

987 - Dave

I was taking the photos of the Dome when a bike pulled up beside me. It took me a moment to recognise Dave - I hadn't seen him for several months. Dave's bike has a bell on it with a worn sticker - "I love bikes". He was wearing a beat-up jacket and cap against the cold. He'd also been eyeing up the Dome.

For a year, 2005-06, I attended Whitley Bay's Baptist Church, where I felt happiest on the edge, near the back. Dave regularly sat near the back. In protestant churches, especially, this seems to be the creative norm - one reason why I find the conversations around emerging church forms, where creativity is often more actively celebrated, so interesting.

Dave is an artist, teacher and long-term Tyneside Coaster. He also has two blogs, one a great mix of commentary on his painting and photography - artist and teacher in dialogue; the other a collection of pictures alone.

He's far too self-critical! There are many fine, fine pictures of North Tyneside and Newcastle. He teaches locally. Some of the most interesting posts are about his collaborations with class-members.

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

988 - On the Five-Legged Space Rabbit

...who leapt down to Earth like a splash of luminous paint just beyond the Boardwalk Cafe on the promenade, and is preserved as a jpeg here.

The point being that His Five-Leggedness is starting to leap about in my head. I reckon there are a few adventures to be had. I reckon Whitley Bay has not heard the last of him. At the very least, he's wonderfully scrawlable.

There are one or two other characters hanging around the more imaginal corners of Whitley. Sloth Man hangs under the occasional Security Camera, waiting for crimes to occur beneath his shaggy bulk, whereupon he'll slip his grip and thwart, with the help of gravity, the muggings and Attempts at World Domination underneath.

And Wind Boy, a blast of innocence from a golden age, Ariel to Sloth Man's Caliban, with a touch of Fotherington-Thomas threatening to break through.

Maybe I'm being unkind to Wind Boy. I made up Wind Boy when I was seven or eight. At the foot of the track past our old allotment there was a tip, bound up with brambles, mattress frames, and bicycle wheels. The kind of place you can walk across without touching solid ground, and only minimal scratches. I climbed a tree there which swayed in the wind, and pretended I was Wind Boy. I suspect he has the kind of Teflon naivety that adult cruelty cannot touch.

If they've started to turn up now, and I suspect, in my sketchbook, they'll take some shape, perhaps Whitley's in for a Gotham City makeover.

Monday, 20 October 2008

989 - "You're a twonk, son!"

Witnessed an arrest last night: the man increasingly erratic; hands on a policeman; tripped and flung; arms and legs folded backwards like a cheap shirt packed in cellophane. Then subdued by what I hope was a carefully moderated blast of insults in one ear.

"We're a democracy -"
"Too late for that, son!"

Too late? Too soon?

Sunday, 19 October 2008

990 - Icing for Whitley

Whitley Bay has an ice rink. It is built like an aeroplane hangar. I've never been inside. It's a kind of rite of passage in and out of tweendom - like the stretched limo party-ride from St Mary's Lighthouse to Newcastle's Millenium Bridge. It's also home to the Whitley Warriors, who, Wikipedia says, were big in ice hockey in the 1980s and early '90s. They ice for Whitley still.

As I left the Metro at lunchtime I was called back by a trio of students. They wanted to walk to the ice rink, and had journeyed all the way from Sunderland to do so. Actually they'd travelled even further - one from New England, USA, the other two from Dortmund, Germany. They were argumentatively amazed at each other for attempting the journey on a day when the Metro system was snarled up, and frankly a little pissed that there was another twenty-five minutes' walk to go.

We passed our house and I gave them a smart old A to Z, and waved our dog-eared new one at them to say, hey, it's okay, we've another - which, thinking about it, may not have convinced them too much - and they went their way.

My gran on my mother's side grew up in Chile. We treasure lots of stories from them. As my gran grew older she suffered Alzheimer's, but could still remember a pair of penguins she kept as pets, briefly, when very young. There is a photo of them, by a brook, on the family's land. They didn't last long in the Santiago heat. Two sailors had brought them as gifts for the family all the way from the Antarctic. The story goes that Gran's family, and other colonial townsfolk, had put Shackleton's exploration party up as they passed south on one of their journeys, and again on the way back.

So after today I figure we're not so different from the heroes of the past after all. The fascination of ice; great explorations; reciprocity. Isn't it great the way history repeats itself, mostly? Except in smaller doses, of course.

Another organisation that ices for Whitley is the Cake Dec Centre, around the corner from us. In case you're peckish.

Sunday, 12 October 2008

994 - Kind Hearts and Coronets

A fortnight ago I described the frame structure around the Spanish City Dome as a coronet. A low fence of scaffolding surrounded it, with a platform amid the poles.

Yesterday the coronet had grown into a birdcage, encasing the Dome from bottom to the pinnacle on top. Photos, on the next sunny day from now, will follow.

It's not a simple birdcage, either. There are three tiers, platformed, a man-height apart. Then a layer of golden gantries, spun more refinely, over the bow of the dome. And finally, the pinnacle, which itself looks like a lopsided crown, is boxed in more scaffolding. The Dome looks like a vastly obese, concretely regal budgerigar. The kind that Alec Guiness, or perhaps Alastair Sims, might play.

Further along the coast, abandoned buildings are being boarded up and whitewashed. The latest, like the outline of a Playschool House ("these are the windows: one, two, three, four,"), invites someone with a steady hand to doodle curtains and a vase of flowers, a TV and perhaps Mummy and Daddy on it (the house, not the TV).

Monday, 6 October 2008

995 - A Toolkit

Late this afternoon, on the beach, I picked up a piece of polished sea-glass. It's from the base of a bottle, dark green and pitted to give a sheen of white, like crushed sugar, over the surface.

Found glass is part of my toolkit. The functional object shattered, then made smooth and more beautiful by the action of sea and sand. It reminds me of me, and when I'm feeling mordant gives me hope for Whitley. Two years ago I made fourteen figures out of wire, twisting the wire around pieces of found glass and leaving them throughout the town.

I left one on a perch above Whitley Bay Metro Station, sat above the flow of people into and out of the town, where it remained until work began on the front of the building and a steel and glass canopy, to the original station blueprint, was fixed into place. Someone took down the wire and glass figure, but maybe it wasn't needed any more...

My toolkit is a bit unorthodox: poetry and theology; photography and random acts of kindness; eye contact and walks about town; hard science, soft anarchy, and storytelling.

Mostly storytelling.

Sunday, 5 October 2008

996 - Seagull Blessing

And fly low
Fighting high
The hard wave
And low sky

For a line
That is truly
Your line -
Fly truly
My love,

And the sky
And high wave
And the path
Of the wind
Be your wing
And your eye.

And fly low
Fighting high
The hard wave
And low sky

For a line
That is truly
Your line -
Fly truly,
My love.

Saturday, 4 October 2008

997 - Charity Dash

From Age Concern to St Oswald's Hospice to the Sally Army to RSPCA to Mind and Scope and back to Age Concern and on to Red Cross and Barnardoes, skipping PDSA and Relate (hit them earlier), to trawl for new shirts.

Bagged one: a white, heavy cotton, steel buttoned, all-weather Timberland. Time to embrace my inner lumberjack.

Briefly tempted by: half a dozen multi-coloured Next shirts, a writing desk like a rostrum with drawers set down one side, a green-tiled kitchen table, a wooden horse, a flank of cushion covers, a large cake in the steaming, people-filled coffee shop (no. 129) on Park View.

So many people inside, escaping the rain, that the only way to fit them and the pastries into the same premises must have been to have fitted the pastries into the people like so many petrushka dolls.

Inspect my straw-slender torso. The cafe bulging like the blouse of a bactrian on the back of a dromedary. I'd not fit. My act of charity to stay outside, I'm telling Emma. I'd have broken the camel's back. Take a bit of pleasure in my off-centre halo.

But the cakes I missed...

Friday, 3 October 2008

998 - Ice and a Slice

Peter, fixing the skirting boards, told me that Paul, the glass-master down the road, turned down his chance to invest in a double-glazing franchise, to carry on working in stained glass.

Paul's studio has a showroom and a workshop, both of which you can look into from the road. It's a long white building, stretching the angle of the timbers tudoring the first floor flat, like a giddy moment at Whitley Bay Ice Rink.

In the showroom, to set perhaps above a front-door, a couple of mid-life Harleys are frozen in stained glass. Side-on view: if they'd not pulled up sharp they'd have shattered through it, though perhaps the forward momentum is still there, to carry them on if the magic of the glass ever breaks before its form does.

In the workroom next door, on a dusty benchtop, a circle has been cut in a circle of clear glass: it rests, surrounded by a small congregation of orange.

I passed the glass-master's shop on a sea-walk back from Cullercoats. The waves had swelled up, as if the sea was taking a breath, and another, and another, without letting go of the first. And on top of this in-swell, fresh waves rolled. You could lose something deep in something so deep.

Whitley Bay is a town on the edge. Clubbers party hard and drunkenly on the way to the seafront. Inland, the glass-master catches a moment in a pane that a gem-blade can slice, and we need him, for the deeps around us forget they have surfaces easily.

Thursday, 2 October 2008

999 - Welcome to the Whitley Bayou

Whitley, east of Newcastle. Mistaken for Whitby once too often - a local dead man, be-coffined, by train, bypassed Whitley's funereal welcoming committee, and continued south to Whitby, whereupon Whitley decided to append the word 'Bay' to its name, and thus surnamed, grew recognised and big.

It's a one time tourist destination, with a Scottish fortnight once a year when the factories closed, and thousands upon thousands spilling into the town and pleasure parks, onto the beach, and up to the lighthouse. A playhouse. A Spanish City, with pleasure dome, coronetted at present by scaffolding (it's set for a repaint).

You can still buy Whitley Bay rock at the newsagents on the high street, or a cup of tea and an outsized muffin at the Rendezvous Cafe, halfway along the beach to the nature reserve and caravan park. But the town is deep in transition. It's no Xanadu, or not an obvious one, anymore.

This is not a bleak blog. It's not about scrabbling to find a new name for Whitley Bay. It could be about uncovering an old one. Names have meaning. Meanings last. Meanings last longer, and stay truer, than the names we give them.

Whitley Bay has a thousand meanings, and I want this blog to uncover and document them. By recording them I want to celebrate them, to show that I believe in them. The Whitley Bay thousand (the 'thousand' is arbitrary) could be a thousand people, working secretly and in public, to reimagine the town. Or it could be a thousand actions, or prayers, or events, or angels, whatever you understand them to be. These are my thousand: you'll know of a thousand more.

This blog is not about worrying whether a dead man stops in Whitley Bay, because Whitley Bay is for the living. Whitley Bay is, as it always has been, alive.

Wednesday, 1 October 2008

1000... from Whitley Bay.
333 a year.
Last post [sic] on 30th September 2011.
Counting down -
And starting