For many outside the North East, Roker Park refers to the former home of Sunderland football club, the ground being replaced by The Stadium of Light after 100 years of service in 1997. There are houses now standing in its place.
There is however another, and older Roker Park; a recreation park that pre-dates the football ground by almost 20 years. The park centres around a ravine that was once the course of the River Wear. In my youth it was a place of adventure, cycling back and forth across the rickety wooden ravine bridge that was closed for many years due to safety concerns!
Taking samples from small ponds to look at under a Christmas microscope, playing tennis very badly, and watching steam trains circuit the miniature rail track. Wikipedia claims the track was built in the 70’s yet I’m sure I can recall sitting astride the small carriages for a circuit or two when smaller. Perhaps that was at some other track that I have mentally conflated with Roker over the intervening years.
However there is one memory that always springs to mind first. The boating lake. Once a favourite haunt of small boys with radio controlled speedboats or elegant yachts, it is not afloat with seagulls, though it did enjoy something of a renaissance during the 1990’s when Sunderland tried to rival Blackpool with its annual illuminations. The “floating” tap pouring continuously into the lake was a favourite for many.
But for me it was about a small yacht, a vessel that I had only been allowed to sail under paternal supervision until one Saturday when my mother uncharacteristically decided to accompany me. I was a little afraid of leaning over the wall to give the boat its initial impetus, but was assured that there was nothing to worry about.
I lowered the yacht onto the water by its mast and then crouched at the lakeside, reached for the stern and gave a push. I’m not sure how far she sailed, because at that point my vision became blurred and green as I somersaulted over the small perimeter wall into the waters!
I think I must have relived the experience today, for as I toured the park I stopped to photograph some men on the bowling green and took a portrait of Ron. He enquired whether I had recorded him swearing when at his last shot, but I reassured him that I was only shooting stills.
There was more swearing to come when I processed the image and realised I had his eyes out of focus, bizarrely keeping his ears sharp instead. I must have still had water in my eyes. (Sorry Ron – I’ll get it right next time!)