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Friday 28 August 2020

Whitby, Staithes and Scarborough

Kite Flying, Raithwaite, Whitby, 1997
Kite Flying, Raithwaite, Whitby, 1997

I never visited Staithes or Whitby as a child, nor did we go to Scarborough much, probably because Bridlington and Filey (see previous posts) were nearer.

We have since been to all three quite often. In the nineteen-nineties we stayed twice in cottages in the grounds of Raithwaite Hall about two miles north of Whitby: not then the luxury hotel and spa complex it is now. The cottages were new, but the hall itself was the decaying former home of two Whitby shipping families. Pictures of the ships and their histories were displayed in an outhouse. When the last of these shipping magnates, William Headlam, died at the age of 81 in 1990, he cut his estranged wife out of his will and left his £7m fortune to a fifty-six year unmarried nurse who had cared for him for twenty years. Offers of marriage flowed in from all over the world, but she rejected them all.  

We also stayed a mile further north at Sandsend during a memorable week when the temperature soared and we spent most of the time playing in the warm pool that forms where East Row Beck crosses the beach to reach the sea. I towed the children round and round in an inflatable dinghy for hours. We flew kites in the longshore winds, one a stunt kite bought while rushing to catch a train, making me mangle my words in the shop. The Reverend Spooner would have been awestruck.

Another year, we stayed yet a further ten miles north at Staithes. There’s a place to get fit quick. You won’t find much of it on streetview. You have to leave your car at the top of the village and walk down the hill with your bags, or park briefly at the bottom and carry them up steps. You walk up and down to the car, and down and up to the harbour all week. Your leg muscles swell out like mooring buoys. 

Staithes: we rented the house top middle with three skylight windows, to the left of several white ones.

As for Scarborough, I went a couple of times with my parents when little, but have no photographs. My strongest memories are of Peasholm Park on the North Bay, where I learnt to row round and round the island in the boating lake – a skill later to impress my children. Several times a week there was a re-enactment of the Battle of the River Plate with miniature battleships, culminating in the scuttling of the Admiral Graf Spee, celebrating the days when Britain liked to think it could wup the Germans over and over again without really trying. The special effects – the smoke, the explosions, bombers dropping torpedoes as they whizzed across on a zipwire – were phenomenal. Most of the model boats were operated by people hiding inside and walking on the bottom of the lake. There’s a job for some people I might name.  

Peasholm Park, Scarborough

Peasholm Park, Scarborough

We saw all three places again last week while staying in Whitby. They were crowded. There were no rowing boats on Peasholm lake, only dragon pedaloes. Where is the skill in that?

Dragon Pedaloes, Peasholm Park
Dragon Pedaloes, Peasholm Park

And then there were the walks on the North York Moors …

Tuesday 25 August 2020

Trains and Boats

We are just back from a week in Whitby where we stayed in a third-floor riverside apartment watching the clockwork of the tides, Northern Rail and the North Yorkshire Moors Railway (NYMR). It was not the usual kind of country cottage we stay in, but a wonderful location nevertheless, and an unexpected family holiday in a year when the offspring had planned things of their own. 

Here are some pictures of the NYMR post-lockdown ‘Optimist’ service arriving from and departing for Pickering:

D7628 ‘Sybilla’ arriving at Whitby 18 Aug 2020 11.00 a.m.
Arriving with heritage diesel-electric locomotive D7628 ‘Sybilla’ at 11.00 on 18th August

926 ‘Repton’ leaving Whitby 19 Aug 2020 at 16.30
Leaving with 4-4-0 steam locomotive 926 ‘Repton’at 16.30 on the 19th August

825 leaving Whitby 21 Aug 2020 at 16.30
Leaving with the unnamed 4-6-0 locomotive 825 at 16.30 on the 21st  August

I love the NYMR heritage railway. It runs for eighteen miles through the North York Moors National Park from Pickering to Grosmont. At the northern end, trains can then join Network Rail tracks to run the six miles from Grosmont through to Whitby. Regrettably, the eight miles of track connecting Pickering to Malton at the southern end was lifted after the Beeching cuts of the nineteen-sixties. If still in place, trains would be able to run all the way from York to Whitby without having to go round by Middlesbrough, which would be very popular. Hopefully, one day it will happen. 

In past years we have had many happy days out on the NYMR. We have driven to Pickering, caught the train to Grosmont, eaten in the pub, walked back to Goathland and returned on the train to Pickering. We have done a similar walk between Newton Dale Halt and Levisham station. We once used it to visit to Whitby. A lot of people like to visit Goathland as the location of Aidensfield in the television series ‘Heartbeat’ which is set in the nineteen-sixties, and its railway station appears in the ‘Harry Potter’ films as Hogsmeade station. 

You can do all of this, of course, by car, which costs a lot less, but that way you don’t get to ride on a steam train. Some love it so much they just travel back and forth along the line. We’ve done that too. I could spend all day just watching the wooden railway gates at Grosmont: proper swinging gates that make a satisfying clunk when they come to rest against their wedges. Here are some past pictures.

NYRM Deltic Weekend, Grosmont, 2002
Grosmont, August 2002

NYRM 60007 Sir Nigel Gresley Goathland 2014
Goathland, July 2014

NYRM Grosmont 2014
Grosmont, July 2014

NYRM 61264 Grosmont 2017
Grosmont, July 2017

Last week was the first time we have stayed in the area without visiting the railway. They have had to introduce COVID-safe restrictions, such as non-stop services and pre-booked seats only, making it difficult and inconvenient. I don’t know whether there is any more risk of catching the virus on a train than in walking the crowded streets of Whitby, Scarborough or Staithes, which we did. If, say, one in twenty thousand people is infectious, then you would be unlucky to encounter it at all, and even unluckier to catch it.

The trouble is that lots of small risks combine to make bigger risks, so that if an infectious person is around in the community they could easily infect someone, somewhere. You just have to hope it won’t be you. I suppose that one infected person on a train could infect several others, whereas in the street, provided you and most others are sensible, you would only be near that person for one brief moment in which you are unlikely to get it. I really do not want to catch it. Even those with so-called mild cases, such as the son of one of my cousins, a fit young man in his thirties, have had unpleasant and worrying symptoms persisting for months.

Anyway, I didn’t just think about trains. I thought about boats as well. Even Mrs. D. was fascinated by the activities on the river and in the boatyard:

“Look! There’s a gap now next to the greeny-yellow one. I wish we’d seen them lifting it back into the water. And there’s a chap with a hose pipe on top of that black and white one [see first picture]. And that couple are still on the white boat this morning. They must have been there all night.” 

What fun to have a little boat moored at Whitby to live on board whenever you fancy a few days away. 

I became especially interested in the boat resting on the mud bank in the first picture. She usually re-floated at high tide but not always. One morning she stayed on the bottom with water over the sides and spouted like a leaking kettle as the tide went out. But hoo-ray and up she rises come the next tide.

SD403 Our Mellissa, Whitby, 20th August 2020
06:00 a.m. 20th August

SD403 Our Mellissa, Whitby, 20th August 2020
Later the same morning - 09:30 a.m. 20th August

SD403 Our Mellissa, Whitby, 21st August 2020
The following day - 07:00 a.m. 21st August

Ignoring ridicule from my family (“Oh no! He’s obsessed with clapped out boats as well as clapped out trains!”), I walked round over Whitby swing bridge to take a closer look. The boat turned out to be Sunderland-registered trammel net trawler SD403 ‘Our Mellissa’, built in Denmark in 1979, previously named the Norlan and the Kraefrihed, which seems to have been active in Whitby until around 2016. Here she is with our ‘Whitehall Landing’ apartments across the river (on the site of a former shipyard, they were supposedly designed to look like traditional dockside warehouses), and in happier times in Whitby Harbour in 2010.

SD403 Our Mellissa, Whitby, 20th August 2020
SD403 Our Mellissa at Whitby, 20th August 2020

SD403 Our Mellissa, Whitby, 2010
SD403 Our Mellissa in Whitby Harbour 2010

I didn’t just think about boats either. The North York Moors around Whitby is wonderful walking country, but that’s another post.

Tuesday 11 August 2020


Filey c1957
Dad with my brother, Primrose Valley, Filey, around 1957

Filey, like Bridlington, is another Yorkshire seaside resort with a long family association. There are pictures of my dad there with his parents in the nineteen-thirties and then with his own family including me in the nineteen-fifties. Later I took my family in the noughties. We had some good times there, and some not so good ones. 

Primrose Valley caravan site 1950s
Primrose Valley caravan site 1950s

My earliest memories are of Primrose Valley, the caravan site just south of Filey near the Butlins camp: not the modern fixed caravans there now but the old towable tin boxes with fold-away beds, sickly calor gas, a long walk to fetch water and cell-block toilets. We spent most days on the beach with proper metal buckets and spades, digging and building sand castles with paper flags and sea-water moats.

A fresh-water spring bubbles out of the sand near the cliffs and washes down the beach begging to be dammed before it flows away. No matter how much sand you pile up, the weight of water accumulates until it inevitably breaks through. You have to watch out nobody is sitting on a picnic rug lower down the beach.

And there is Filey Brigg, a long, low neck of sandstone and limestone sticking half a mile out into the sea, covered in shells, fossils and rock-pools. It makes for a breathtaking walk on a warm day at low tide, with gentle waves, seaweed smells and lazy seals, all at one with the enormity of the earth, sea and sky. On other days, at other times, it would be foolish to defy the power of the wind and tide.

Filey beach
On Filey beach with the long, low neck of Filey Brigg piercing the sea to the right

Filey Brigg
Filey Brigg

Filey Brigg
On Filey Brigg
At the end of Filey Brigg
At the end of Filey Brigg

We had two family holidays at Filey in the noughties, staying in the rented cottages that nestle in the dunes beyond the caravans. It was a wonderful time: our children, born in my forties, were still under ten. That first year we found the fresh-water spring and dammed it, or tried to, and walked out along the Brigg searching for life in the rock pools. From the cottage windows, through binoculars, we watched the Regal Lady from Scarborough sail by in the evening sun on a coastal cruise.

It was so good we booked again the following year in a different cottage. That was one of the not so good times. We nearly went straight home. It was the most disgusting holiday cottage I’ve ever stayed in.

I still have a copy of the letter we sent to the agent. The cottage had not been cleaned. There were stains and spots of blood on the bed sheets and one of the children’s beds smelled of urine. The drawers and cupboards stank and were filled with the owners’ dirty clothing and other personal items such as half-used bottles of mouthwash. There was very little room for our own things.

In the bathroom there were soiled footmats, hairs around the wash basin, the bath needed cleaning, and the lavatory smelled appalling and had a broken seat. There was a note from the cleaner to say the shower was not working and would be repaired during the week, but it wasn’t. Other things in the cottage were also broken.

In the kitchen was a vase of dead flowers, the bin had not been emptied, there was rotting food in the fridge, a smelly dishcloth on the draining board and a grill pan full of dirty fat that tainted the oven. There were crumbs everywhere.

The sitting room stank of stale cigarette smoke and prominent in the book case were Alex Comfort’s ‘The Joy of Sex’ and other visually explicit sex books, hardly appropriate in a seaside holiday cottage where young children such as ours would be staying. We encouraged our children to read and take an interest in books, but not those at that age.

The cleaner and owners could not be contacted, nor, it being Saturday evening, could the agent. Fortunately we found clean bedding to make the beds usable, did some cleaning ourselves, and survived the week by eating out more than planned.

It took two weeks to get an apology. The cottage had been unbooked the week before ours but someone had been there without booking. It had been cleaned after the previous legitimate occupants, and the cleaner had then gone away on holiday. The owners, a couple from Sheffield, were also on holiday.

We got a refund eventually. The owners sent flowers, which seemed patronising, and offered a further week’s stay for free, but, frankly, at the thought of them enjoying the joy of sex in their pissy underwear, we politely declined. 

We have been back to Filey for days out, but have not stayed.

Thursday 6 August 2020

Health Gadget

Boots Blood Pressure Monitor
Recently, I went to Leeds Infirmary for medical tests: some of my cousins have been diagnosed with a serious, intermittent heart arrhythmia of hereditary origin and I need checks to see whether it is in my line of the family. There is a further test to come, so other than to say all looks well so far I won’t write about that now.

However, during the tests my blood pressure was measured at 189/87 millimetres of mercury, with a pulse rate of 83. The diastolic reading of 87 is not too bad, but, bluntly, a systolic reading of 189 is extremely high. It is classed as Stage 3 hypertension, a potential medical emergency!

In my defence, I should say that the measurement was taken about five minutes after a brisk fifteen-minute walk uphill from the railway station followed by a climb up five floors of stairs, that it had gone down slightly after half an hour, that I was typically anxious about what was about to happen and that I was uncomfortable in a coronavirus face mask, but really, I thought it best to respond to the letter from the G.P. I had been ignoring for a month and go for a routine blood pressure test.

That reading was a bit better: at first 167/83 and then, as I calmed down, 154/78, with a pulse of 70, which the practice nurse said was still classed as hypertension, but not at a level that would normally be treated with drugs. The diastolic 78 was, in fact, normal. I wasn’t just relieved, I was elated.

But, I should not have high blood pressure. I am active, vegetarian, have a below average body mass index, don’t smoke and don’t drink excessively, so why is it elevated? Could that also be hereditary? My mother used to be on what (in polite company) she called “wind and water pills”. Or am I, as some would say I always have been, of a nervous disposition? 

The nurse said it might be worth getting a home blood pressure monitor, so for £20 from Boots I bought the one pictured. As the cuff and instructions show, it is a rebadged early model of the Omron monitor they have in the surgery.

It has been well worth it. At one time, doctors would not have let you anywhere near a gadget like this so as not to “worry the patient”. My readings are coming out even better at around 142/77, and just out of bed first thing in the morning I managed 124/71 with a pulse rate of 56. Phew! That’s absolutely in the normal range.

Except, the American College of Cardiology and the American Heart Association have now changed their definition of normal from below 140/90 to under 120/80 (see source article). Well, they can just piss off.

Mrs D., by the way, is gloating over her reading of 112/64 with a pulse rate of 59. I know it’s not a competition, but that makes it feel like it is, one I can never win.

Saturday 1 August 2020

New Month Old Post - Partners and Seniors

(First posted 6th October, 2015. 1,050 words)

Andrew and I were speaking in hushed voices, trying to look as if we were working.

“You’ve hit Mr. Hawkwind.”

We were playing Partners and Seniors. It was based on Battleships, a pencil and paper game for two players.

In Battleships, each player draws two 10 x 10 grids for their own and their opponent’s fleets of warships, and positions their own fleet secretly in their own grid. Typically, they would have an aircraft carrier occupying five squares, a battleship occupying four, a destroyer and a submarine of three squares each, and a minesweeper occupying two. Neither player should be able to see the other’s grids.

The objective is to sink your opponent’s fleet before they sink yours. There are many variations but we played it as follows. Players take turns to shoot by naming a square in the opponent’s grid. If the square is occupied by one of the opponent’s ships then it is announced as a ‘hit’. If the square is adjacent to an opponent’s ship it is a ‘splash’. If the square is neither occupied nor adjacent it is a ‘miss’. A ship is sunk when all its squares have been hit. Players use their second 10 x 10 grid to record the results of their shots and to decide where to target subsequent shots.

Partners and Seniors

Except we weren’t playing Battleships. Our game had evolved into Partners and Seniors. In place of warships we had Chartered Accountants. Instead of aircraft carriers, destroyers and minesweepers, we had partners, seniors and articled clerks from the firm where we worked. Mr. Hawkwind was one of the partners. He occupied four squares.

We were working out of the office on the most mind-numbing of all the audits we did. You could be there for months putting ticks on ledger cards. It was like disappearing off the face of the earth.

The client was a cloth merchants, an old family firm. They bought rolls of cloth from the manufacturers in every weight, weave, colour, stripe and herringbone imaginable, and re-sold it in suit lengths – the amount needed to make men’s bespoke two-piece or three-piece suits, with or without extra pairs of trousers. The rolls of cloth were stored elsewhere in the building, away from the damaging effects of heat and light. The cool, shadowy stillness of the warehouse had a strange musty smell: a mixture of dyes, preservatives and the scent of the cloth itself.  

The firm supplied just about every tailor and outfitter in the country. In other words, they had a lot of customers: twenty trolleys full. For each customer there were one or more yellow sales ledger cards around eight by ten inches in size. The cards were arranged alphabetically in boxes on long-legged, wheeled trolleys like miniature babies’ prams. They referred to them as buses. “Have you seen the ‘B’ bus?” “Could I have the ‘QR’ bus when you’ve finished?”

Some of the office staff had been there for decades, from the days when most clerical jobs were done by men. They all still wore suits and ties, and kept their jackets on all day. Only the office manager, in the room next to ours, worked in his shirtsleeves. He was not an attractive sight: a fearsome, grossly overweight man who always left his unpleasant outdoor shoes, or in winter his stinking wellington boots, beside the radiator.

One of the clerks, in his mid-forties, all worry-lines, teeth and thick glasses, would have been tall had he stood upright, but was bent over from years at a desk. As he stooped to push the ledger buses, his jacket draped itself around the cards as if trying to consume them.

One Friday afternoon we listened, able to overhear the office manager tell the clerk, completely out of the blue, that he was no longer needed. “You realise this is absolutely no reflection on you in any way whatsoever,” he tried to reassure him, as if it made things better. The clerk seemed unable to reply. A week or two later his job was taken by a new girl straight from school.

The business was beginning to struggle and trying to cut costs. Demand for made-to-measure suits was falling because of changing fashions and cheaper, ready-made, ‘off-the-peg’ garments. One floor of the warehouse was now empty. Within not so many years the family owners would decide to give up the ghost and lease the building to the old adversary: the Inland Revenue.

But that was in the future and the firm still had a few years left to run. As auditors, we were required to check that every sale the firm had made during the year had been correctly recorded on the correct ledger card. So for several weeks each year, a couple of articled clerks would spend their days ticking off the cards against the order books and sales invoices. Then, to ensure they received an appropriate breadth of professional experience, they would go through all the incoming payments and tick those off against the ledger cards too. One year you would use a red pen, the following year a green, and then back to red again. The exhilaration was tangible. You really looked forward to getting up in a morning.

What made the task seem even more superfluous was that the ledger cards were partly computerised. They were printed by machine, and each yellow card carried three dark-brown, machine-readable, magnetic stripes to record all the transactions. It was an early, primitive system, but really, wouldn’t some kind of statistical sampling been sufficient to ensure the cards were reasonably accurate? Any mistakes that crept in could have been corrected as and when they were discovered. The firm must have wanted everything checked by the auditors. Articled clerks were paid a pittance so it didn’t cost a lot. Perhaps they needed to keep tabs on the inexperienced staff they were now taking on. 

I never did find an error. That is not to say there weren’t any, but the job was so soporific that any I came across would probably have got ticked correct anyway.

Is there any wonder we invented diversions such as Partners and Seniors and firing rubber bands at paper cups to brighten up the day? 

“You’ve just sunk Mr. Hawkwind.”

Mr. Hawkwind would have sunk us if we’d been caught.