Forces of Nature

With just half an hour to spare between appointments today I wasn’t sure what I might inspire me to write.

Arriving at Roker’s Cat & Dog Steps my eye was caught by some pooling water, gathered in depressions sculpted by movements of the passing tides.  The sand around them, swept into ripples by the same motion, resembled fingerprints, left to identify the pool’s creator.Nearby are cannonball rocks; the concretionary limestone formations unique to this stretch of coast.  Found nowhere else in the world, they were enough to attract the interest of Adam Sedgwick in the 19th Century, one of the founders of modern geological science.Around the base of the rocks are the fine strata, left in the sand by evaporating rock pools that have been activated by the wind into sculpting these lines.  Elsewhere the same wind is powerful enough to guarantee the return of kite surfers to the shore, pulling their lines horizontally  to dip their canopies into the salt water.

I decide to head in their direction to find a portrait, but the conditions are proving so popular that the roadside parking is already taken by seal-skinned surfers readying their gear.

I press on north to Whitburn where I find myself beset by rats attracted by Minchella’s ice cream kiosk.

I should clarify; this is not a rodent attack.  The RATS are a group of lady walkers; the Rambling and Tea-shop Society, a group of friends who meet on a regular basis to walk anywhere in the region.  I’m in the process of photographing one of them (Joan) when the others arrive to ask me which publication I’m working for!  Two of their number have an interest in photography I discover, one of them being my subject!  I hope I’ve done her justice.And then, just as quickly as they appeared, the RATS move on.

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Look what the sea washed up…

I’ve lived by the sea for the last couple of decades, although I’ve always been within a couple of miles of the coast.  One of the things that I love about the location is the way in which the seascape is forever changing.  I’ve long believed that the short stretch of shoreline could produce something new to photograph everyday.  (Rest assured I’ve shot enough images there that I’m no longer sufficiently obsessed to start another project365!)

When I say that the shoreline could produce something new everyday this is no exaggeration.  Anyone familiar with changing shorelines will know that the sea is constantly depositing gifts along the high water mark.

Stormy seas such as those we have experienced lately will wrench seaweed from its anchorage and leave the sands strewn with slippery strands of fragrant brown kelp.  Small stones and pebbles are always part of the shoreline debris, but large rocks can also be thrown up by more potent waves.

Then there are the man-made deposits.  Fragments of brick are common, planks of driftwood, fragments of fishing nets and garish marine ropes are all unsurprising finds, along with the inevitable litter; plastics bottles and sweet wrappings are common.

Thankfully the shoreline hazards of my youth are no longer found.  Beaches are no place to find broken glass, and rockpools afloat with used condoms?  No thank you.

The combination of cold, wind and rain meant  that whilst there was plenty of material for the passing beachcomber, there were very few about to spot such exotica as this:

The one person I did meet on the sands was Sheila, but with so little of her exposed to the elements I didn’t feel she quite met the requirements for today’s portrait, which is a shame since she was so co-operative.

Perhaps there were other factors at play in keeping people off the beach.  One of the side effects of organic matter like weed and algae being liquidised into the seawater is that it creates a detergent like effect.  Combine this with winds to whip it into a foam and you get spume.  This is a relatively minor amount – in extreme cases it has reached a metre high on beaches elsewhere on the globe, but it can be hazardous if it contains contaminated storm drain overflows or algal blooms.

To be fair it’s easily avoided, but another trap was in store today.  Normally  the sand above high water is soft and dry, but firmer footing is found on the sea-washed stretches where the sand is more compacted.  I was surprised then that when I reached this section today I began to sink further into the sand, which was more mud-like than expected.  There must have been so much rain of late, that combined with the receding seawater there was too much to easily drain away, leaving the shoreline akin to thick soup.

No wonder the place was deserted, but I still wanted more of a portrait.  Well, every cloud has a silver lining, and for the first time in a while there wasn’t a queue of hungry customers at the window of any of the fish and chip suppliers.  As I arrived at Minchella’s (probably the best) I found three members of staff passing the time with little hope of custom.  One of them made a break for cover, but Claire and Heather remained to be photographed.  I knew I had a semi-prepared meal at home. but the smell of chips took a lot of willpower to resist.  They’re still on my mind now!

Rivista trimestrale*

Three months into my Project 365 and it seems a good time to take stock, so last night I looked back on all of my experiences to date.

What surprised me was that considering that the majority of the pictures have been taken in the North East, how many nations have been represented in my portraits so far.  There are at least 14 countries apart from the UK that have supplied one of my subjects (it’s possible that some of those I’ve assumed to be Anglo Saxons have a more exotic origin, but unless there’s an accent to give them away I haven’t tended to ask.

I don’t consider us the most cosmopolitan of regions yet I have representatives from Europe, Asia, Australasia, and North America.  Must go out and find some South Americans!  What is perhaps surprising is that amongst the Europeans I have met there has not been an Italian thus far.

Italians have made themselves at home in the UK for nearly two thousand years, thanks to the Roman invasion ordered by Claudius in AD43, the migration of Italian bankers in the middle ages, and then when the Napoleonic wars ravaged the agriculture of Northern Italy another wave came to these shores in search of a better living.  This last group almost exclusively established food businesses, and so “Britalians” became known for their ice cream parlours, coffee bars and restaurants.

Of course when I refer to them as Italians I do so to identify their geographic origin, since Italy as a nation was not formed until the middle of the 19th Century when the various regions that had built up around the mediaeval city states were unified in 1861.

My experiences of Italians when I grew up were of Italians in the food trade, the Notariannis and Minchellas provided the sea front ice cream cones of my youth, and slightly further afield I encountered Rianis and Di Mambros in Houghton le Spring where my father’s business was located, and Valente in Seaham where he was born.

Whether my love of Italian food goes back to these fondly remembered days, or the travels my family and I have made in that beautiful country I cannot say, but it says a lot when my birthday yesterday was marked with everything I need to make the perfect cappuccino or espresso and a rather nice bottle of grappa!

The lack of Italian representation is therefore all the more surprising.  I was in Gabriele’s, provider of great pizza since my teens and local institution celebrating last night (but didn’t take Nevio’s picture as I was off duty!), to my mind the best restaurant in the Sunderland and South Tyneside area is Romano’s in Cleadon, and our regular walks along the coast take us past the door of Little Italy, so no excuse!  My blog has even been read in Italy, which makes this omission all the more inexcusable.

Time to put that right, so off I went to Gabby’s again.  I could have added Portugal to my list of countries with some of the other staff, but it was the real Italian that I was after and sure enough he was there by the bar and happy to pose.  Second bite of the ciliegio!

*Quarterly review