A Christmas Carolyn

Sometime ago I was talking to Carolyn, an old friend and colleague, about the challenges of spending Christmas Day on your own and the consequent trepidation that I was feeling.  As you would expect from such an experienced coach and counsellor, she wasn’t going to let me get away with that for long, and we ended the call with me having made her two promises.  (How does she do that?)

The first was that I would get out and about with my camera and vicariously experience other people’s pleasure; seeing kids out and about with new toys and bicycles.  The second was that I should do whatever it took to enjoy the full Christmas experience at home, so should stock up with food, drink, films and the TV schedule and keep myself occupied accordingly.

Appropriately enough on a day when the rules of time and space have been rewritten,  I seemed to get my timings wrong for the first element.  I didn’t get up too soon, or rather, once I’d texted the one person I know would be at work at 7.30 today, I went back to bed and did resurface too soon.  I had a leisurely breakfast, showered and dressed, prepared some food for later and only then did I pick up the MKIII and head for Durham.  It was 10.05 when I arrived and even though I then undertook another of the day’s text conversations it was still way too early for signs of life in the city.  I wasn’t quite alone, there were the odd couple strolling here and there, an occasional elderly churchgoer, and of course some Chinese students taking pictures of each other.

These aside the roads, streets and alleyways were largely devoid of life,

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the Palace Green similarly deserted,

and even the great edifice of worship itself stood silent with not a carol or chorister to be heard, APW_5703_4_5 and while the Wear was in spate from recent rains, it flowed silently and unbroken by oar or hull.

APW_5718 As I left the city to prepare my lunch, the nature of my timing error became apparent as a steady stream of vehicles developed, all bound for the Cathedral.  I’m guessing that the morning communion service was at 11.00.  Still I was not downcast.  The clear skies and fresh air had done the trick, and I even had time for a sneaky selfie in a barber shop window.  Given the time of year I should have photoshopped a large red “E” to the right.APW_5713

I had no problem with the second part of Carolyn’s advice however! APW_5731

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The Art of Ships in Steel and Stone

Having grown up in Sunderland I don’t associate it with appreciation of the arts.  Over the years the council, seemingly seeking to vie with Gateshead, has invested in a number of projects that have failed to inspire.  Most recently the Roker Pier Gates, fashioned from stainless steel, began to oxidize, a large sculpture representing the bridges over the Wear became something for kids to climb and vandals to paint before conversion into a flower bed, and most notoriously of all Alison Wilding‘s piece “Ambit” attracted ridicule when it’s outline “collapsed” with the movement of the tide.

The town has traditionally been more artisan than artistic, its workforce divided between mines and shipyards.  The latter dominated the wear for over 600 years, and at its peak Sunderland was producing one in every three ships built in the UK.

There are some gems to be found however, one of which is St Andrew’s at Roker.  I grew up knowing that this church was “The Cathedral of the Arts and Craft Movement” without really appreciating its significance, yet it features tapestry and carpets by William Morris, a font cover by Mousey Thompson, and a foundation stone carved by Eric Gill amongst its treasures.  Most significantly of all the building itself, designed by Edward Prior, is in the shape of an upturned long-ship, its pillars replicating row-locks and it’s roof the ribs of the boat.

I’m not a churchgoer so am unmoved by the decline of organised religion in the country, but it saddens me that St Andrews now struggles to maintain its riches, along with many other historic buildings I’m sure.  Perhaps we should be seeking to maintain this work of stone, rather than dubious works of steel.

On a brighter note I did find some culture in the vicinity.  Down by the shore I spotted a guy strumming an acoustic guitar and David became my portrait for today.  He’s a student at the university and along with his friends Arvin and Peter (from Toronto) they have a band called Koocheh (کوچه) a Farsi word meaning “streets”.  They write and perform in Persian.So it seems we do have some culture in Sunderland… or should that be Koocheh in Sunderland?