The Beauty of a Dream

all of the buildings, all of those cars
were once just a dream
in somebody’s head

dreaming of mercy st.
wear your inside out
dreaming of mercy

Peter Gabriel – Mercy Street (link to Iain Matthews cover)

In my frequent work trips to Bootle, Widnes and now Warrington, I feel I make more than my fair contribution to the 35 million journeys that take place annually along this stretch of the M62.  As I do so I often muse about the large luminous visage that peers down upon the traffic speeding past here on Merseyside and I’ve dreamt of the photographic opportunities that it presents.

Imagine my disbelief then, when having arrived for my first night in Warrington, I read a post from my fellow blogger Debra who posted her image of the sculpture on Vladography this week.

Expressing that disbelief to her she of course pointed out to me that there are many other angles on the subject, and so on finishing my work the following afternoon I determined to waste no more timing in unleashing my Canon upon the artwork. remarkably as I started my car, a drama called North of Riga on Radio 4 was telling the story of a mysterious stranger called the King of Winter who cuts a girl’s hair to steal her dreams.

Intentionally or not, Eoin McNamee‘s character, with his long black hair, immediately brought to mind the protagonist of Neil Gaiman‘s Sandman series.  This character Morpheus, is also known as Dream; a name shared by the tall, white voyeur atop the hill in St Helens.

Jaume Plensa‘s Dream is the North West’s answer to the Angel of North, and is equal in height, though to my mind less impressive when viewed from the roadside.  I’ve always seen the elongated head as androgynous from this aspect, but when you make the effort to climb that hill and meet her face to face she has just as much impact as her rusty cousin, in fact I found her slender beauty completely captivating.   Like the Angel, she stands on a site that was once better known for the dirty and deadly industry of mining, the faces of the men who worked here a stark contrast with the self-cleaning white concrete of the disembodied head.  Her pallor reminds me of the “engineers” of Ridley Scott‘s Prometheus, a film in which an arrogant and jealous android “reads” the dreams of a woman who is in stasis for an interstellar journey. (The film also features a large disembodied head; both in reality and as a statue!) Our fascination with dreams will continue long into the future it seems.  Funny things dreams.



The beauty of a dream is you don’t let it go,
You don’t ever let it go.

Once in a while a girl comes along
And opens your heart like a spam tin
Just how long can it take?
A bow bends, a bow breaks
And then when it’s time to return the key
She’ll flash you a smile as she slams the door
But you didn’t have to do that to me
To show me just how cruel love could be
And cruel’s a show I kinda starred in before.

Thomas Dolby – Beauty Of A Dream

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Alien encounter

In the early 1990’s I recall a certain amount of local press outcry that a short stretch of the north-east coastline was being used as a location for shooting a major Hollywood film.  A strange reaction you might think, since film locations are often celebrated as tourist attractions.

The film was Alien³, for me the weakest story in the Aliens vs Ellen Ripley canon – creating an alien style whippet* (or should that be a whippet style alien) was plumbing the depths, but this wasn’t the reason for the hubbub.  After all, at the time it was assumed that this was going to continue the box office success of its predecessors, though it lacked the directorial might of a Ridley Scott (who was born in this region) or a James Cameron.  No, the reason for the outrage was that Blast Beach at Dawdon was to chosen because it was so polluted that it was felt it looked other-worldly.  The sands there were blackened by the colliery spoils that had been dumped into the sea for a century at nearby Blackhall (appropriate place name!) and other collieries of the Durham coalfield.

The extent of the pollution (which can be seen taking place at the denouement of another celluloid vision, Get Carter) was such that damage to the ecosystem extended offshore for four miles.

Two decades later and a huge clean up operation has tackled a 12 mile stretch of the coastline to regenerate the damaged landscape during which over 2 million tonnes of coal were removed.  It has been a huge effort, but one still dwarfed by the forces of nature that work the local coastlines.  Coastal erosion is commonplace, requiring the National Trust to fence off long stretches of otherwise beautiful cliff-top here in South Tyneside to protect walkers from succumbing to the crumbling cliffs and emerging blow-holes.

So when the combined might of wind and wave are felt it is no surprise that the beautiful beaches of Whitburn and Seaburn are often coated in seaweed torn from its littoral moorings, but this week we have that combined with a heavy layer of black coal dust, though we are a dozen or so miles north of the former dumping grounds.

The rains today have been so heavy that the beaches and cliff-tops have been largely deserted. Bad news for me as a photographer, good news for the man tasked with clearing the sands of the marine debris.  The gardens must be welcoming it too.

Anyway, for most of the day my portraiture prospects were looking as grim as the skies above, but persistence paid off, and another natural force brought a surprise to our coastline.  Standing at Minchella’s ice-cream kiosk were an attractive couple called Stuart and Julie, and when asked if either would be my subject for the day both agreed.  It turns out that Julie originates from here, but they now live in Portsmouth.

Toney Minchella’s recipe must be pretty special to get customers from 350 miles away!

*Thinking about it, perhaps the whippet was an attempt to curry favour with the locals of East Durham, who in my experience love this breed!