Monday, 27 September 2010

My Sixtieth

Yes, my big birthday is almost upon me. I'm not sixty until October 16th but I have decided that since it matters so much and the government in its wisdom isn't giving me my pension or the joyful things related to it I am going to celebrate HUGELY.
My first celebration for my birthday happened last Friday with my CAMEO friends.  We started out at the coffee shop, Brambles, at the Shincliffe Garden Centre which is where we always go and then went into Durham to have a wonderful lunch at Hide.

 If you don't know it it's in Saddler Street on the way up to the cathedral on the left and it does excellent coffee - I sometimes go in there and write, they have comfy sofas, loooonnng lunches, they don't seem to mind how long you linger, I've had tea in there and lots of red wine in the evening and I can recommend the lamb for dinner. I went there with a friend before going to an organ recital at the cathedral in August. they had them every Wednesday. Too late now, you missed them. Next year.
There is a Hide at Yarm and I think others too. And I was told it was something to do with the original one being a place where they tanned leather or something in the old days.  Whatever.
Mary and me.  We have known each other for forty nine years. She was sixty last month.
This is Joan one the left and Helen on the right and me in the middle with my lighted candles in apples. Yes, and on cupcakes too and a card.
The staff in Brambles know us very well and they put up with the singing as I blew out the candles and made a wish. No, I'm not telling you and it had nothing to do with Brad Pitt either which is unusual.
Mary insisted on having photographs in the car park, me holding my lavender plant, the smell was wonderful. It was freezing - this is Durham and it is almost October ( yippee, my favourite month ) and being a hardy lass from the fells I had no coat and was frozzzzeen!!

Twelve Days of Christmas - Trisha Ashley

I knew about Trisha Ashley before I met her and we are agreed that we should have met well before we did because we had been living quite close by one another for some years.  I went down to see my agent in London and she thrust in front of my face a wonderful new novel. Even then I don't think I realized that Trish was living just up the road from me.

She hails from Lancashire, you wouldn't know it when you meet her however as she is what we call in Durham 'git posh' when she speaks but you can tell by all that determination and sheer grit that she is a northerner through and through.
 I was born in a little pit village up on the tops called Tow Law. Trish ended up living just outside Tow Law for several years. No wonder she did lots of writing, there isn't a great deal else to do except that she was working at the time - I mean a proper job.  We finally met when she telephoned me - I think our agent gave her my number or something, we can't really remember now and I went and had coffee with her. Her house had a long back garden which gave way to the stupendous sight of the Durham fells. Later she moved to Lanchester where I was living and we used to meet very often. After that she moved to Wales.  Yes, I know. How could anybody?  Granted, Wales is okay and has decent beaches but really !
Like all true writers Trish has always written.  She wanted to be a writer and painter from being a small child.  You don't really become these things, you are, it just takes the world a while to catch up with you. She had a poem published in the local paper when she was eleven. Her poetry is very good but poetry takes a a great deal of time and energy and there is very little sale for it i.e. no money in it. She wrote two children's books when she was eighteen which were not accepted for publication and then she wrote a couple of regencies which were published by Robert Hale. She later wrote another wonderful regency which you should all read, it's very funny, Lord Raven's Revenge.

Trish moved on to satire. The book that she produced was shortlisted for the Constable Trophy for a first unpublished novel. She met Diane Pearson at a day conference and sent her the first person book because Diane was complaining about all the badly written first person books she had to read. She was very impressed with Trish's novel and sent it on to our agent who told her that it should be a romantic comedy. It became her first published novel, Good Husband Material and I am proud to say that I was there when the agent rang with the news that it had been accepted by Piatkus books. We were sitting, I think in the garden, at her house up on the fells.

While Trisha lived in Lanchester her marriage broke up and I got breast cancer. I tried to help her and she went to the RVI in Newcastle with me and was there when they told me I was ill. You don't get much better friends than that so I was gutted when she went home. Wales and Lancashire together are home to Trish, she remembers all the wonderful holidays she had in North Wales when she was a little kid.
The above picture was taken a couple of weeks ago when she was shortlisted for The Golden Poll which was conducted to find the best romantic novel of the last fifty years.  She has twice been shortlisted for the Melissa Nathan Award.  This award, named after the writer, is also the Melissa Nathan Foundation which was set up to help people, especially children and each year the award is given for the best romantic novel.
Trish now has on her mantelpiece in Wales two prism shaped crystal awards and a glass star.
Twelve Days of Christmas is Trish's fourteenth novel and is set to take the world by storm this autumn and winter.
Trish is a credit to talent, perseverance and sheer bloody mindedness.  She does not doubt herself. Like the rest of us she has been through a good deal in her life and there she is, drinking champagne ( she doesn't like anything else, be warned if you're paying! ) and showing the rest of the world how success is done.
And from Wales too, if you will.


Tuesday, 14 September 2010

The Silver Band - Music in the Dale

I rushed up to Stanhope last Saturday to stand in the pouring rain to watch Stanhope Silver Band march through the main street up to the showground for Stanhope Show.  My Uncle Willie, my mother's only brother, used to play in the band and I can remember my mother saying that my grandma couldn't bear the noise he made when he was learning to play - I think it was the cornet. She made him go off down the fields to practise, down by the River Wear below the farmhouse with the cattle gathered around him, listening intently.

When I was a little kid my fearsome Auntie Janet ( other side of the family, one of my father's three sisters and heroine of my book, Silver Street ) took me to an outdoor brass band concert. I sat on a rug for one of the longest most tedious afternoons of my life.  As an adult I have learned to love all music though I do dislike the growing trend of very young musicians who, though they might have a decent voice or play an instrument, unleash on audiences their own material.

Whatevcer makes them think they are composers? It's like an actress writing a play. Of course it happens, brilliant song writers do emerge but the majority of sensibly modest musicians start off by using other people's material. I long for a folk singer who is not grinding out the limits of his small experience when there are wonderful Border, Tyneside, Northumbrian and Scottish songs, written by experts and loved by many people that have endured for centuries or are we going the same way as art and we don't know whether we're seeing/reading or listening to the Emperor with his bottom showing?
The home of the band

The art of course is to know your music, to understand your audience. Stanhope Silver band knows its audiences very well and is a credit to the kind of music it plays and the place it comes from. It was formed in 1823 and is three generations strong. The oldest member is ninety, the youngest eleven and I have been to concerts and seen their conductor, Steve Robson, encourage the children to stand up and do their solos, giving them confidence in themselves and pride in the music.
I talked to Steve Robson and he told me that they don't know why the band is called The Silver Band because obviously all the instruments are brass and that originally he thinks there was a Band of Hope which played in the local Methodist chapel for a royal funeral which appears to have been the first glimpse of history about the band.  In the 1930s there were three or four bands in Rookhope alone which shows how communities went on in those days. In upper Weardale in the 1970s the London Lead Company supported the band and would give money to buy instruments.

The building which houses the band was the co-op in Stanhope and was first the home of the band  about fifteen years ago but they have outgrown it and are hoping to extend to the area at the back which they already own. Steve says there are 26 brass plus percussion and fifteen junior members.

Dates for your diary - on October 2nd there is a concert in the Methodist Chapel at Stanhope, the sixth Junior Band Festival, when opera singers Graeme Dandy and his wife Valerie Reid will be joining the band, October 16th there will be a marquee in Wolsingham for a junior band concert, Music from around the World, in December famous trombone player Brett Baker will be playing with band - he plays with the famous Black Dyke Band.

The band makes CDs both to provide money for the band's needs and for charity and has raised large amounts of money for Brass Band Aid, World Vision and Leah Pattinson from Frosterley went to India to set up Women in Need for women with leprosy and other problems and they have and are raising money for all these and other causes.
On Saturday morning at ten thirty it was pouring with rain but there they were, marching and playing and  carrying on one of the best traditions that we have and people stood under their brollies amid the fun fair and clapped and cheered and the narrow valley of the dale was full of the sound of joy.

I wondered whether my Uncle Willie, who died years ago and my grandfather and all the people who have lived in the dale, can hear the music still and maybe even the cattle down by the river stood and listened for a while as the dales' own band marched on through the little town.

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Wolsingham Show - Streaking in the Dale

It was the 231st Wolsingham Agricultural show last Saturday and yes, we had a streaker, I think for the first time. It gave the police something to do and set the rest of us outside the beer tent giggling. Just some lad having had too much beer.  He should have tried the wine, it was like paint stripper. Having persuaded him into his knickers the police led him off and everybody cheered.
It was the middle of the daredevil motor bikes.  I always delight in telling people that I used to own a trials bike and could do wheelies up the field on it. Ah, the accomplishments of youth. These lads were brilliant.
I'm afraid I haven't got a photograph of the streaker for you. I think the police would probably have taken me off as well if I'd done that but I can offer you a photograph of a motor bike in full throttle.

Cuddly toys
A real pooch

The country shows around us in Weardale are part of our heritage, I went as a child with my mother and
sister and then with my daughter and I have the feeling I even took my black labrador once as it is a very important outing for pooches.
The dahlias and chrysanths that won prizes

The biggest onion

You could buy anything from wellies to cheese.  The cheese is wonderful.
Cockerton Brass Band provided the music

Sulky racing followed the motor bike display

And by the end of the day everybody was hungry, tired and ready to go home.

Monday, 6 September 2010

Allendale - Old Stories and New Ventures

  Rhoda Carlisle lived in Allendale.  She didn't really, I made her up. I dragged my poor flu laden kid up to Northumberland on Boxing Day to see the place in winter, the year that I wrote my book, Snow Angels about shipbuilding, the Tyne valley and the girl who came from Allendale in the valley of the River East Allen, eleven miles from Hexham.  For me it's still the place where Rhoda lived, I can't go past the church or through the market place without thinking of her. I love that area, I go to Allendale to walk around the river and write in the cafes and shop at the co op and the very good butcher's and waffle about the gift shops.  I went there a couple of weeks ago with the top down on my car because it was a perfect day. The road there is winding and the moors were covered in bright purple bell heather and everywhere there are the remains of the lead mining, once a most important reason for people to go and work there. It even had its own temperance hotel which can't have been much fun. You spend all week working your socks off ( if you possess any ) and then you don't even get a drink at the end of it. Horrors!
Incidentally, the house on the cover is Belsay Hall which I adopted, along with several other country houses, as mine. I think I love Belsay best and then I think of the others, Cragside which I used in The Singing Winds and Wallington Hall which I've used but Belsay is the best and all because I spent a wet day walking my spaniel around the quarry gardens.  The colours ran into one another and I was entranced.

I took a picture of the new arts centre which is being built just to the left of the other photograph in the main part of the small town.

This is what I found when I was about a mile out of Allendale, the Allen Mill site which I knew nothing about, since I hadn't been to Allendale in some time. There is a cafe which makes its own bread,( The Allendale Bakery) a brewery, a recycled craft workshop and several other offices and small businesses, all worth seeing.The people who run MAKE,, sitting outside in the sunshine. They have free workshops on Thursdays from 10a.m. until 5p.m. It'a wonderful little shop with a tremendous atmosphere, selling all kinds of crafts and new goods but also encouraging people to reuse what they already have. Upstairs is the workshop and those who take part also get tea, coffee and biscuits.
The van belonging to the people who run the brewery. I liked the bit on the back about the beer!
Remains of an old mill at the other end of the river just below the town.
The river East Allen, what a lovely colour, it looks a bit like whisky.