Wednesday, 30 September 2009

C'mon, Follow The Geordie Boys!

Grumpy Git Productions presents The Jarrow Crusade. First things first - a short history lesson is required as background to the song. So pay attention, as there will be a short test afterwards.

This is but a brief synopsis to explain the lyrics of the song and various elements placed into the film, but it is well worth reading about in more detail elsewhere.Jarrow is located on the River Tyne, six miles east of Newcastle. At one point it was one of the main parts of the U.K for shipbuilding, and with the likes of Palmers and the mercantile docks, there was plenty of work to go around.

After many years of prosperity, work in the town started to decline, and by 1936 three out of every four men were unemployed, with the consequent social effects on their families and the communities. The town had the second highest infant mortality rate in the country. The town folk eventually decided that enough was enough, so on the morning of 13th October 1936, two hundred men set off from the town hall on a march to London to deliver a petition in protest of the situation. They were led by the then M.P of Jarrow, Miss Ellen Wilkinson. That certainly wouldn’t happen now ....

In 1936 the benefit rules were very different from the handout culture of today. Should a man be unavailable for work the Government stopped any benefits to the family - so when the men went off on the march, the women left behind had nothing to feed themselves or their children with. Nonetheless, those involved felt that the sacrifice had to be made, as it was the only way to try and build hope for the future. During the march, if word of a job reached one of the marchers he would have to leave the march and go to wherever the job was. The marchers covered 280 miles in 22 stages on their way to London.

A life-sized bronze statue to commemorate the 65th anniversary of the march was unveiled in 2001. It shows two marchers, two children, a woman carrying a baby and a dog, which was the mascot. They are all walking out of the ribs of a ship, carrying a banner. Local residents named the statue The Spirit of Jarrow, and unlike most modern sculptures commissioned these days, it is a dignified and fitting tribute to the Crusade.

So here I present Alan Price performing The Jarrow Song, with new film footage created by GG Productions. Enjoy!

Creating The Film

In my previous post, I mentioned how the idea of a follow up to Big River came about. I wanted to produce a video that revolved around a similar idea of past and present in the North East, but it would need to be presented in a different way so as to not to appear to be just a copy. The Jarrow Song was ideal to work with – whereas in Big River the melody picks you up and rolls along at a steady pace, Jarrow has more changes of gear than Stig on the Top Gear track. It was an interesting concept, and I set to work.

Musical Arrangement

The song is quite complex and features a number of different sections. The introduction and first two verses are traditional brass band marching style, known technically in music circles as oompah-oompah. This set the tone for the narrative about the cry for men to join the march, and the support from their wives and families.

After the second chorus the song changes dramatically, as the tempo increases to a rock beat (known as twangin’) and the lyrics compare the past with the present:

Well I can hear them,
an' I can feel them

An' it's as just as if they were here today
I can see them
I can feel them

An' I'm thinking nothing's changed much today
Not all came here to stay their way and die
But they would come and hit you in the eye

Now's the time to realize that time goes on
Nothin' changes, changes, changes

There then follows a long instrumental section led by violins, which is played fast and light – from the diddly-diddly-dee school of music. The diddly-diddly-dee then fades into some more oompah-oompah for the last verse and chorus, before another passage of instrumental diddly-diddly-dee that morphs into some final rock twangin’ and the final fade. I hope you don’t feel overwhelmed by all technical musical jargon used here.

Into The Editing Suite

The changes of pace and tempo provided plenty of opportunities to try out different effects to complement the track and emphasise the overall atmosphere of the song. I began with a lovely scene from Beamish created with the help of the friendly tram conductor. In the background you can hear a little girl saying ‘Bye!’ as the conductor rings the bell and the tram departs – a nice touch. The first verse is made up of scene setting images from the 1930’s; watch the little girl in the park scene as she falls over and picks herself up – delightful mannerisms! This park scene was used in Big River, although it was cut down for timing and aged. It is such a pleasant scene that I broke my rule about using footage twice and placed it here where it shows up more clearly and for a longer period – there’s plenty to view here.

In the second verse I used the industries of the day – coalmines, shipyards, engines and railways – to illustrate the traditional, but declining, employment of the time. Each time the chorus begins – ‘C’mon, follow the Geordie boys…’ I used the Jarrow statue as it defines the spirit of the march.

As the song moves from the past to the present, the tempo increases and I needed a changeover point that would be visually effective to clearly show the changes between then and now. A coalmine represented the past, whilst the striking university with it’s imposing height and sharp edges points the way forward into the future. Well, it does if you can afford the tuition fees.

The song is now moving rapidly through the twangin’ section, and the lyrics are all about the changes on Tyneside. This was the place to get creative, as I needed constantly moving film to keep up with the beat. When you’re filming inanimate objects, such as buildings or politicians, creating movement can be tricky. For that reason I went for big, imposing structures that define the area and shot them at dramatic angles, before cutting them into short clips so that there would be no lingering looks at anything. Even then I wasn’t happy with the section, because it lacked sufficient impact and movement. The answer came with pop video transitional effects between the clips – these really emphasise the directional changes and add enough motion to give the whole piece a feeling of momentum. It also leaves you feeling giddy and seasick, but you must suffer for my art.

During the planning of the video, I had an idea of roughly what sort of footage I was after for most sections. But the violins’ diddly-diddly-dee bit had me stumped. I just couldn’t picture any scenes that would work, especially as they needed to be present day. Fortunately, the boat cruise up the Tyne solved that problem, as I was able to use the footage from Newcastle Quays and the return trip under the Millennium Bridge to create a nice effect and a smooth transition back to the past and oompah-oompah time.

The final verse was shot at Beamish and Ryhope, before the difficult task of working out an ending. I’d hit on the idea of the Metro belting over the bridge and into the tunnel as a perfect end to this scene, hence my obsession with bagging that front seat for filming! Most attempts at this didn’t work – either the window was too dirty and the sun reflected off it, or the train was lurching around so much that I filmed the ceiling, the floor and teenagers texting the teenager sitting next to them. It was frustrating, but eventually I managed it, purely by luck. The views from the side of the train had been filmed back in August, so they could be joined up to create one journey.

This still left me with a missing link – joining the last chorus to the diddly-diddly-dee and twangin’ finale (and merging the past with the present). I decided to extend the Metro section backwards, and shoot a train leaving Jarrow station. A steam train would provide the link between transport around Tyneside, then and now. This was stock footage from my Nene Valley library that now has quite a bit of useful historical footage available!

Overall, this has turned out well – better than expected, to be honest. The last trip to the North East provided some absolute gems of material, and I feel that this is sufficiently different to Big River to release as a film in its own right. Just a pity that I couldn’t work the Byker Wall into the final edit … but hang on, what’s that on the horizon …?

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Cruising Back in Tyne

After the nostalgia of Saturday’s 1940’s event, I was heading back to the present day on Sunday for another day of location shooting – but with a very different subject matter. It all began during the editing of Big River, when I realised that quite a lot of rather nice bits of film were ending up on the cutting room floor, as it were. I toyed with the idea of a follow up to Big River, but I’m aware that sequels usually disappoint as anyone who has seen Rocky XVIII (Why Did I Come Up Into The Ring?) can testify. So, if another film were to be made with the same subject matter, then it would need to be approached in a different style. Then there was the small matter of some suitable music. As is so often the case, the answer came quite by chance when I heard the Alan Price Jarrow Song on the radio. Ah ha, the eureka moment! I got a copy and made a CD, which was then played endlessly in the car while I worked on various story outlines.

With ideas in place, I decided to use previously unused museum footage for historical sections, but shoot entirely new present day scenes, as I needed some particular angles and ideas if my plan was to work. And that was why I left Grantham at 03:30 on Sunday morning, in order to be at The Angel of The North for dawn. Everything went well, and I got a fantastic sunrise on film with a beautiful fiery orange sky. I can’t say that I particularly like the Angel as a piece of art – to my eye it looks more like Biggles’ Sopwith Camel got shot down by an ASBO teenager with an air rifle, and crash landed on Gateshead, nose first. But it’s iconic, and would look great in the scene I had planned. When the film is finished, don’t bother looking for the Angel – ironically enough, the scenes were deleted! I could have had some extra hours in bed, but never mind.

As always, it was a jam-packed day, so with the Angel in the can, (there's a phrase you don't hear every day) I set off for the short trip to Sunderland in order to dump the car at my mother’s house, as I’d be using public transport all day. Tyne & Wear have an excellent transport system that has defied successive Government schemes to destroy it, although they came close with bus deregulation a while ago. I was going towards Newcastle by Metro, but I wanted to film the view from the cab going over the Tyne Bridge. Metros have an interesting design feature; the driver’s cab is only half width, which means that there is a front passenger seat giving great views of the route ahead.

The front seat is occupied as usual on an otherwise empty train.

The downside is that this seat is always the first to be occupied and the last to be relinquished, except on Friday and Saturday nights, when just pouring yourself onto the train is considered progress. The chances of getting the front seat at Sunderland were non-existent, even early doors on a Sunday morning. As this narrative features a lot of location names, this Metro map will help place the places, as it were.

Starting point is Sunderland, bottom right on the green line.

For that reason, I took the Metro going in the other direction to South Hylton, the terminus at the southern end of the line. I nabbed the rear seat, which of course became the front seat when the train started back on the trip to Newcastle. I’m not quite as daft as I look. A little insane, maybe, although I prefer to think of this as dedication. I now had the front seat all the way to Newcastle, where I got my film crossing the Tyne – although it didn’t end up getting used in the film either. Alighting at Monument in the city centre, I filmed the actual Grey’s Monument itself, and yes, I have used the footage in the film!

My next planned move was to go out to Wallsend to film some blocks of high-rise flats (long story) and on the way back, alight at Byker for more flats. I really know how to have fun on a Sunday morning. However, the Metro didn’t arrive, which was unusual, but one did turn up going in the other direction, to St James. This station is only one stop away and the terminus of the line; it serves the football ground of the same name. I’d heard that the Metro Station was done out entirely in black and white stripes, but never seen it for myself. As you can tell, I’m not what you might call fanatical about football. So I jumped on this train and travelled to St James, which really is finished in the Toon Army stripes, as you can now see:

It’s very striking (did you see what I did there - oh, never mind), and at the top of the concourse, there’s even a football pitch! Different. I suppose on match days, they use the opposing teams' supporters heads for the ball, but I’m just guessing. I went walkabout, and figured that while I was after some modern Tyneside icons, I might as well film the football ground itself. Once I started exploring the area, I found a veritable cornucopia of material to use. The new university buildings are surrounded by equally new glass and steel office structures, and a short walk away were some high rise blocks even more impressive than the ones I’d chosen at Wallsend. It got better – right next to the university grounds were large sections of the original city walls; hundreds of years of history separated by less than 100 feet. Amazing – perfect for the past-meets-present shot I was seeking. I spent a couple of hours poking around St James, and naturally, ditched Wallsend and Byker from the itinerary.

I had no idea that the old city walls still existed - what a find.

As time was still ticking, I decided to head towards South Shields, with a stop off at Jarrow. Back at St James, an empty Metro was waiting, which meant I could have the coveted front seat! It would be a crime to occupy this for one stop – and that was underground – so I decided to make the most of this opportunity and ride out to Byker after all, across the impressive viaduct that gives superb panoramic views of the Tyne at this point. Now Byker isn’t, shall we say, the most salubrious part of Newcastle. But rather than put ideas into your head, here is a picture of Byker Metro station – draw your own conclusions.

The word 'No' springs to mind.

One of the reasons I’d planned to visit Byker on this trip was to see some more iconic (but bloody awful) architecture. There is a huge council estate, built in the 1970’s, called simply ‘The Wall (or Byker Wall). It has won many urban housing awards, and officially is described as being recognisably post modern in design and is indicative of post modernism as a reaction against modernism. This is architectural bollocks for bloody great eyesore. It’s what happens when architects who drive Porsches, snort coke and live in Greenwich think would be absolutely spiffing - as long as they don’t have to actually live in them. Chuck in unlimited public finances from bribed Council Officials, and before you know it, Legoland meets Baghdad Prison. Words cannot adequately explain the visual horror that greets you as you emerge from the Metro, so I present this short gallery that speaks for itself:

Escape is impossible!

I gather from light reading that this area is not regarded as the Shangri-la that the designers promised, so I decided not to hang about. I took some photos as well as scenes for the film that, rather inevitably, didn’t make it to the finished product. Again. Although if you look carefully at one point, the triangular block gets into a river shot. Still, at least I’ve been.

Back to the Metro, and return to Monument in order to change trains for the Jarrow service. To my amazement, although quite full, the cherished front seat was empty again! Three times in one day – there’s more likelihood of finding someone in Byker who knows which contraceptives are easy to use. I therefore filmed another crossing of the Tyne (yes, you’ve guessed). Because of my deviation from the schedule, I decided to postpone Jarrow until later in the day, as I had a boat to catch. Staying on the Metro until South Shields, I alighted here and went straight to the most important place of my trip – McDonalds. Coffee, food and toilets - just what I needed. Suitably discharged and refilled, I set off for the 5-minute walk to the boat. Regular ferries take passengers over the river to North Shields, but today was special – one of the boats was doing a Tyne Cruise up to Newcastle, and I was definitely up for that. I wanted to see all the areas that were out of bounds during my Big River walkabout, as well as the opportunity to view the river from a different perspective. The cruises run every so often during the summer, and this would be the last one of the year, as the Tyne gets a bit chilly come Autumn. It can get so cold that some locals might even have to put something on top of a tee-shirt. But not often.

The boat for the trip actually featured in this scene
from Big River, a nice link between the projects.

The cruise was great; although it didn’t half get windy. Still, this sent the less hardy souls scurrying down to the warmth of the saloon, which made photography a lot easier. The boat began by cruising down to Tynemouth and the pier heads, before turning round and taking us up to Newcastle Quays, passing the sites of many famous industrial names, almost all of which have vanished. A great many new modern housing developments have replaced the shipyards, staiths and industrial giants that formerly occupied the riverbanks. I have to say that whilst modern rabbit hutches with rooms the size of your average fridge aren’t to my taste, these developments do look as if they belong, and have been designed to blend in with the location. Mind you, after visiting The Wall, a prefab hut would look attractive.

We sailed past the remnants of the once great Neptune Yard of Swan Hunter (mentioned in Big River) before the highlight of the tour – sailing into the Quays area, as the Millennium Bridge was raised to allow our passage. From my vantage point at the front of the boat, this was an incredible spectacle. The bridge is made up entirely of curves and looks impressive from any angle. This photo explains things more clearly:

I took this from the adjacent Baltic centre at Christmas, and the graceful design is evident. To allow shipping to pass, the tall vertical arch tilts forward, bringing the walkway up to a 90° angle. It made a spectacular piece of film, although sadly it was too long to include in the film itself. I didn’t want to cut it down, as that would spoil the slow and graceful movement, so I’m thinking about doing a straightforward Highlights of The Tyne Cruise film to show it to it’s full advantage. Once through the Millennium Bridge, the boat described a full circle so that everyone had a good chance to see the fabulous views on offer – and yes, that is most assuredly included in the film! Then it was back downstream to South Shields – a most enjoyable and interesting 3 hours. I saw sights that I’ve never seen before – old and new – and with so much construction work going on, the face of the river is still changing dramatically.

One of the last two cranes at Neptune Yard.

Back on dry land, I fortified myself with another McCoffee, before boarding yet another Metro for the short hop to Jarrow. I was heading for Morrisons, of all places. Not because I’d suddenly developed an interest in shopping – no way. My ‘more reasons to visit Morrisons’ was reason 159 – The Jarrow Crusade Sculpture that is right outside the main entrance. This has pros and cons; finding it was dead easy, but filming it in the middle of a retail park and trying to make it look as if it were anywhere but a retail park is problematic. This picture reveals the location:

Apparently, Morrisons paid for the sculpture, so they got first choice as to where to place it. Whilst a supermarket carpark is less than ideal, I suppose I should be grateful they didn’t stick on the deli counter. I shot some film, and you can judge for yourself how successful it is. Fortunately, because it was Sunday and well after 5pm, hardly any people were about, which made life a great deal easier.

Well, it was a wrap as they say – I had everything I needed and was pretty tired. Time to go home – except that there was nobody home as my mother was travelling back from France, and I would pick her and her friends up from the station later on. I was in no rush to return to the house as there was nothing on tele, so decided to stay on the Metro system and go all the way out to Newcastle Airport, simply because I’d never done that before. Did I mention how exciting my life was? Oh yes. I used to travel part of the route back in ’84 when I left school, as my first job was in an office at Regent Centre. The rest of the line to the Airport was virgin territory, so I settled down for the ride.

Well, that was interesting.

I got out at Airport, and realised that the rear of the train consisted of the original Metro prototype cars, which have been restored to the 1976 style Tyne & Wear PTE livery. I took some shots, but the camera couldn’t really cope with the gloom at that point.

Consequently, I nipped across the platform and jumped aboard a southbound Metro – this would take me through Newcastle and then all the way to Sunderland without a need to change, which was nice – and I discovered that for the fourth time in one day, I had the front seat. Whey hey! Also, this particular Metro had seen the washing plant within the last six months, so the window was reasonably clean – another stab at the Tyne Bridge beckoned. I’m pleased to say that not only did I get the desired footage; I even used it! So it must have been divine intervention that sent me to the Airport.

I clocked up some miles by Metro during the day, and all for a £3.90 Daysaver ticket – you can’t argue with that. Later in the evening I had to drive to Newcastle Station to collect the OAP's back from France and the apparent horrors of Eurostar. That drive made me glad that I'd chosen Metro as my preferred transport for the day - but that's another story...

The new film is the final stages of editing as I have a few days off work - watch this space.

Monday, 28 September 2009

Oh What a Lovely War

On Saturday I found myself heading once again for the Nene Valley Railway – you might think I’d have had enough by now, but the NVR keep on putting on different and exciting events that deserve support. This weekend was loosely termed as a 1940’s event, but themed largely around the war years. The programme was interesting; ENSA style performances on the station platform at Wansford, topical sales stands and food in the café, battle re-enactments at Wansford, vehicles on display and a general dressing up was encouraged. I felt that this was worth visiting, and went with the aim of hopefully being able to create a film from the day.

I was surprised at how many people dressed up in period costume; not just expected military uniforms for the re-enactors, but civilians as well – whole families in many cases. Almost everybody was happy to be filmed, and provide atmosphere to the planned film. ENSA singing performances were held all day with various singers; headlining was Fiona Harrison who delivered three completely different and thoroughly enjoyable sets throughout the day.

The train in use was favourite 73050 City of Peterborough with the crimson and cream MK1 set. This would make a nice backdrop to the station scenes as the soldiers went off to war.

I’ve mentioned in previous posts that the NVR has a good collection of foreign rolling stock, including a 5-car set of olive green DSB coaches, plus a good fleet of Wagon Lit coaches. I rather thought that they missed an opportunity by not using these during the weekend to create the European aspect of the war. I wasn’t overly impressed with the bright red rake of Royal Mail parcels vans parked up in Wansford Station either as they spoilt the 1940’s image so carefully recreated elsewhere. They could easily have been moved up to the coach siding near the tunnel and left the station clear for the events of the day. I don’t know who was in charge of that part of the operation, but I do know that they are a stupid boy!

Highlight of the day was the two battle recreations. The first was held in Wansford Yard; this is adjacent to the station so there was good visibility for spectators. The battle was a re-enactment of an actual battle that took place during the assault on the bridge at Arnhem (later filmed as A Bridge Too Far). The battle was realistic with plenty of loud bangs, gunfights, mortar bombs and explosions that blew eardrums inside out. One quaint point was that the battle was due to start at midday, but the incoming train was delayed, and of course many passengers would want to see it. This led to the unusual tannoy announcement, “Owing to the late arrival of the incoming train from Peterborough, the start of the war will delayed by ten minutes.” This could actually be the way forward for world peace – get Notwork Rail to organise the next war. With everyone taking part stuck at Crewe because of over running engineering work, they’ll be too busy filling out compensation claim forms to worry about blowing each other up. Thus, a lasting peace will prevail – problem solved.

I’d got chatting to a bloke who visits many of these wartime re-enactions, and he told me that the second battle usually took place on the bridge at Wansford, where the railway crosses the river. It was dramatic, but viewing was restricted as the picnic area that looks onto the bridge gets very crowded and a good view is restricted. Well, he found the right person to be nice to, because with all my exploits on the NVR lately, I know my vantage points. We crossed the bridge and went into the fields – these give a fantastic position to get a good pan of the arriving train, and thus the bridge. Last year the enactment had been about the British forces attacking a German platoon that were attempting to blow the bridge up. This year was expected to be the same, so I set up ready to photograph the arriving train and then film the battle afterwards. However, things were different, and a new story had been planned. As the train approached the bridge, German soldiers stopped it. Then, from the first coach, a female resistance fighter jumped off and attempted to escape. She was challenged and shot by the Germans, which provoked a fierce gun battle from Allied Forces who were under the bridge, and who swarmed up the stairway to attack.

Further forces materialised on both sides of the train, and in the battle gradually drove the Germans back. It was an exciting spectacle, and from our grandstand viewpoint we had an excellent side-on view of all the action, which was perfect for filming. It just demonstrates how a quick and friendly chat can make such a difference to such an occasion.

Overall, it was a thoroughly enjoyable event; well planned and executed, and I’d recommend visiting a similar such event in the future.

All pictures taken from screengrabs of video shot on the day.

Sunday, 20 September 2009

Oh No, I Don't Believe it ...

On Saturday I was out on my travels again, armed once again with camera, tripod and a pack-up. I was heading towards the Peak District and the Tramway Museum at Crich, followed by a trip to The Midland Railway Centre.

After a very frustrating drive up what was once the M1 and is now, in the East Midlands, a 12 mile stretch of road cones, piles of gravel, average speed cameras and very little else I arrived at my destination. Crich Tramway Museum does trams, as you might expect, but in a way that only Britain can do museums. I’ve noticed recently, with a flurry of visits to heritage sites in the UK, that if there’s one thing we do well – better than any other nation, I believe - it’s the past. Every site I’ve visited so far has been beautifully presented, enthusiastically staffed with knowledgeable personnel, immaculate, well designed and provides value for money. So any chance of the people who run the past in Britain taking up posts in Government and applying the same treatment to Britain, here and now? We could certainly do with it.

Crich was fairly quiet on my arrival, and only three trams were running, which was a pity, but predictable as the season winds down. I was after some footage of generic British trams for a video project, so I chose the small but nicely restored town street area for the run pasts. Despite the fact that few visitors were about, they all contrived to push very large and very modern baby buggies into view on almost every shot. I wanted people in the shots to add character, and I don’t even mind if they walk in front of the camera, as it adds a dimension of fly-on-the-wall to the footage - and at Beamish some of the best shots came about this way. But baby buggies are monstrous things; bigger than the trams in some cases. And the equipment levels – they have more kit on them than my car. I have a friend with a baby, and her buggy has cupholders, for God’s sake. No doubt they’ll soon be fitted with satnavs as standard.

Crich offers a service that an increasing number of such sites have adopted recently; purchase a ticket and then receive free entry for an entire year after that. It is an excellent idea to encourage repeat visits, and presumably they make the money back with the catering and gift shops – so no one loses out. Crich is £10.50, and that represents outstanding value. I only stayed for three hours, mainly shooting video, but didn’t do the full look-round as I needed to get off a few miles down the road to the Midland Railway Centre at Butterley. I’ve been to Crich quite a few times anyway, and expect to return soon.

At Butterley I was again after some fairly generic steam-age footage, and fancied a change to the Nene Valley for variety. Butterley Station is very attractive, and I arrived just in time for the scheduled arrival of a train. 20 minutes later I was bored with waiting, and as a footpath runs down the line to nearby Swanwick Junction, set off to see what was up. On the way, I heard the train coming, some half hour late, which is pretty good going on a 3-mile long track. Still, I set up to get a lineside shot in the cutting, and this is what I got ….

I don’t believe it! Another bloody Thomas! Yes, the Jinty tank loco used as sole motive power was Thomas, in all his pale blue glory. The name and number had been removed, but there’s no disguising everything else. Fortunately I’m editing in black and white, so the worst effects can be mitigated, but I think it’s pretty poor to run one engine in steam and offer this.

Still I was here now, so continued to Swanwick Junction. The footpath takes you past several long sidings full of preserved, but not restored, railway vehicles. There are lots of these all over Swanwick, seemingly dumped and abandoned rusting derelict hulks of DMU’s, coaches and wagons. The whole area looks like a glorified scrapyard, rather than a working museum. Now, I understand that restoration is a long and expensive process, but all the vehicles dumped in the sidings next to the main line were there during my last visit in the 1990’s. It presents a poor image to the public, for whom this is their ‘Welcome to Swanwick’ presentation, whether they are arriving on foot or on the train. A long line of tatty DMU vehicles in faded Scotrail livery sitting at Swanwick station doesn’t help much, either.

My point here is that I believe that there is far too much emphasis on acquisition and not enough on restoring what they already have. I’d rather see two lovingly restored and operational DMU’s instead of nine rusting hulks. If there is no intention of restoring the vintage vehicles dumped in the sidings, it would be better to scrap them altogether and channel resources into feasible projects. This might sound like heresy from an enthusiast, but come on, be practical here and live in the real world. Alternatively, why can’t these (very) long term projects be moved to an area away from public view, and then place the restored stock next to the running lines? I’ve been to a lot of heritage sites this year, and they all manage that part of their business very well. Image is important in the modern world, and what will the casual visitor to Swanwick remember about their visit?

Consequently I made my way back to Butterley Station, which conversely, is a shining example of how a preserved railway should look. The station is beautifully restored with good attention to period detail, as seen here.

I decided to get a shot or two of Thomas in operation and depart, but despite myself, I found that I was growing to like the place and stayed until the last train. The station offered some interesting shooting possibilities and locations, and at least without a face and a name, I could disguise the loco to look like a loco. But it looks as though I’ll have to ask Ringo Star to do the voice over…..

All photos are screengrabs from the video footage, hence the less than perfect reproduction.

Irn Bru for Breakfast

After posting the Big River film recently, I was delighted to read about Iain Robinson’s memories about taking on the adventurous task of being an artist in a Clyde shipyard – respect! Iain’s article and paintings may be viewed at his Losing Track pages, and make for fascinating reading. Iain suggested that I seek out a 1961 film about the Clyde shipyards, as it brings back many memories of growing up in the North East, another centre of shipbuilding at the time. I came across this excerpt from the film Seawards The Great Ships, and it may be seen here. Thanks to Iain for sharing some fascinating memories in such a humorous and personal style!

Screengrab from the film as a cargo ship is launched on the Clyde.

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Big River – The Tyne: Past and Present

Grumpy Git Productions proudly announce the release of their latest film, Big River. I hope that you enjoy it:


I first heard Jimmy Nail performing Big River back in 1995, and the song instantly struck a chord with me (pun more or less intended). It tells the story about Jimmy’s memories of growing up in the North East and his recollections about his father’s career in the Tyne shipyards when coal, steel and shipbuilding were the backbone of North East industry. It’s a lovely song; melodic with some atmospheric twanging (as we non-musicians call it) provided by my favourite musician, Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits, on lead guitar - yet with Jimmy’s gruff tones providing a rough and ready working class feel as he relates the story.

One of the most famous ships to be built on the Tyne; RMS Mauretania being fitted out.
Photo from the Atlantic Liners website.

RMS Mauretania leaving the Tyne on the 22 October 1907 .
From a picture by Tom M Hemy in the collection of Newcastle Arts Centre.

Jimmy Nail compares the days of his father’s generation with the gradual decline of the river and its dependence on coal to a period of depression and stagnation as, one by one, the shipyards and coal mines closed down. The song ends with a promise for the future; ‘The river will rise again’. Fourteen years on, the river is rising again and the regeneration has been amazing, especially along the old quaysides at Newcastle. Downstream, work is in progress to give new life to long dead shipyards, factories and coal loading staiths and quays. Into their place go apartments, riverside parks and shopping centres – hardly the industrial powerhouse of fifty years ago, but nevertheless, a very welcome resurgence of life to the area. This would make a fascinating film, so back in July I decided to make a video that would accompany the song.

Jimmy’s memories were broadly similar to my own in several respects. I was brought up on the River Wear, rather than the Tyne itself, but was no stranger to the ‘Big River’, especially Newcastle. Any self respecting Mackem (someone from Sunderland) will flinch at the preposterous idea that anyone from Sunderland could even hint at an association with Newcastle, but there you go. Live and let live, eh?

Your author at Roker on the River Wear, long before grumpiness set in.

My mother would also take my younger brother and me to South Shields, and we’d watch the ships entering and leaving the river – I paid homage to this with an old family photo near the beginning of the film, as it leads nicely into the present day scene at the same location. That picture was taken in 1974; some 35 years later the ship looks as handsome as ever, whilst as for me …..

To keep the story relevant, I decided to follow the lyrics with images as closely as possible, but substitute the family coal mining connections in place of the shipyards mentioned in the original. Of course, mining was inextricably intertwined with shipbuilding and every other industry at the time anyway. Coal was King, and with good reason - it fuelled industry; provided warmth and electricity to homes, ran the railways that provided transportation and, of course, coal drove the ships that were being built on the Tyne itself. In the film, therefore, impressions of this vast industry would be vital to create the atmosphere that I wanted to convey.

Shipbuilding on the Tyne, photo from the excellent Old Hebburn & Jarrow Collection.


Before filming began, I listened to the song many times in the car on the way to work and back, so that I could create the storyboard in my mind. Once I had a visualisation set in place, the interesting research work could begin. Authenticity was an important factor; the film would need to look and feel the part, especially to anyone who hails from the area. A little poetic licence would be necessary as the only trams I’ve ever been on have been in museums (I just look as though I used to commute on them).

I had various requirements for the film; notably I needed a functioning coal mine and industrial machinery hard at work; old street scenes with trams; docks and / or shipyards; ships of different shapes and sizes; steam trains; modern scenes of the regenerated Tyne, vintage scenes of the declining Tyne and a closed colliery. So, that’s not asking too much, then.

After some research online, I chose the locations that seemed best suited for my purposes. The first trip was to the National Coal Mining Museum, and my story about the visit is recounted here. The NCM would feature as a 1970’s closed colliery, and I also obtained footage of the old ‘Paddy Train’, the quaint narrow gauge railway that took the miners to their work. This was quite a bonus, especially as it was operating during my visit.

The bulk of filming was done over a manic three-day visit to the North East over the summer bank holiday, which I wrote about here. The locations used for filming were Beamish Living Museum, Ryhope Steam Engines Museum and the River Tyne between Hebburn and Tynemouth, plus Newcastle Quays.

Beamish really made the historical part of the film possible. It provided the authentic street scenes, trams, the lovely park and some of the coal mine shots – notably the all-important working pithead winding gear that would recreate the atmosphere of the industrial era. Everything at Beamish is genuine North East material; whole buildings were dismantled brick by brick and erected at the museum in order to recreate the atmosphere of days gone by. The shops and businesses are genuine North East companies, and even the featured trams are from Sunderland and Gateshead. All of this would add impact to the film and make it more believable.

When Beamish first opened in the 1970's, they advertised for suitable old relics to be exhibited. My mother donated an old vacuum cleaner that now resides in one of the miner’s cottages. That’s impressed you, eh?

Thanks to Beamish and the NCM I now had plenty of exterior scenes to play with, but to really bring the industrial age to life I needed to get up close and personal with big old coal fired engines that used to power just about everything in industry and the home. I was after engines that took up entire buildings; steaming and pumping away amidst gleaming brass levers, polished steel, dials, handles, wheels, counterweights and pistons. How different to today’s machinery – anonymous grey cabinets full of flickering red and green diodes and clicking relays. These grey boxes do everything from powering the office coffee machine to unleashing nuclear war, and they just don’t have any character.

The big engines that I sought after looked and smelt like ‘proper kit.’ Nowadays in Britain, heavy industry is regarded as the machine that puts a dollop of butter on those pre-packed sandwiches on sale in Tesco. But real steam engines were almost a living entity – speak to the older generation who actually worked on them and you’ll understand this. Engines needed feeding with coal, then nurturing and cosseting to produce results and power. The men that fired and operated these beasts took great pride in them; hence spotless engine rooms full of gleaming brass and polished steelwork. Don’t get me wrong; working on them was not romantic or easy. It was hard work – bloody hard work, and not for the faint hearted. Shifts were long, incredibly hot, dirty and strenuous and conditions weren’t in the least bit comfortable. But nevertheless, many men who slaved away on them, whether they be steam trains, steamships or industry took great pride in getting the best out of their engines.

When things went wrong, these engines would blow up. It was messy, but at least you knew where the problem lay. What happens now when a machine goes wrong?

“Error Message 6142589. Port LFR2168 nodule unable to locate SMTP server 5469 LAN on proxy failed sender h=domainkey-signature:content-priority: bh=Ce08Lu7ZHp0Fb = pressing any key will delete entire hard drive. Not pressing any key within 30 seconds will delete entire hard drive. Press any key to continue."

Yes, we’ve all been there. No such gibberish back then; an error message was an almighty bang, and your head, arms and legs went through the roof, and not necessarily in that order.

To obtain footage of one such engine, I visited the Ryhope Engines Museum (story here) and was incredibly fortunate that it was during one of the handful of steaming days. I was able to film the boiler being fired up, and the huge pumping engine – that occupies three floors – in action. Ryhope Engines Museum itself is extremely friendly and welcoming, and I would thoroughly recommend a visit. The footage gained from the visit was invaluable, and would add a lot to the film.

The River Tyne was the most complex location to film at, as I needed to cover a large area in both geographical terms and timescale. Also, whereas my other locations were aimed at a clearly defined chapter of history, here I would require present day scenes, footage from the declining years when things were closing down and rotting away, plus some vintage clips to represent the industrial era. All of this, however, simply made the task more enjoyable and creative. The piers at Tynemouth, where the river enters the sea, were timeless and would suit any era. Newcastle Quays would represent the modern era, thanks to the fantastic regeneration programme in this area. Seeking out the 1970’s spots proved the most difficult, but in my travels I came across some abandoned quays and wooden jetties that have so far evaded the developers, who are steadily rebuilding everything. Film it while it’s there was my motto – leave it, and in six months time it could be yet another block of unaffordable apartments called ‘Cargo Ship View’ or ‘Derricks Haven’ or some such bollocks that developers think is necessary to remind homeowners that they are living next to a river, and thus justify the extra 25% purchase price. (It’s similar to the way that when they build houses on the site of old railway workshops; they come up with Gresley Close and Stephenson Mews. In years to come, when they put apartments up in Downing Street, I trust that it will be renamed ‘Lying Bastards Avenue’ in order to maintain the theme).

'Dock View', 'Big Cranes Drive' and 'Oil-Rig in My Garden Crescent' line the Tyne on
the 'Down By The Riverside Estate.' Aren't modern developers original?

I obtained some great shots along the Tyne, including the all-important opening scene of the cobblestone road and The Steamboat pub. That didn’t come from Beamish; no, it’s at South Shields in the beautifully restored area known as Custom House. Filming was done at daybreak; any later and the line of parked Mondeos and Vectras rather ruins the image. Plus you get knocked down while standing on the cobbles and that really spoils your day. As it is, it took half a dozen attempts to get that shot. I kept getting traffic going past at the top of the road, even at that unearthly hour, and when I moved the camera to the right to compensate, I discovered that I had a lovely view of a parked up Citroen Picasso. It was such a great shot that I persevered, and having seen the result, am pleased that I did. The Steamboat Pub is a lovely hostelry to frequent, and if you are going to follow my ‘Tyne Trail’, then call in for a much needed tipple during walkabout. If the owners of The Steamboat would like to thank me for the publicity with a pint or two - well, it would be rude to refuse. I knew I could work that in unobtrusively.

Finally, I wanted an impression of the railways that linked everything together, especially some industrial footage from a grimy, working yard. For this, the trusty Nene Valley Railway would provide the answer; I have written about my visit to obtain these scenes here, and in a less technical manner, here.


Editing would require three distinct timeframes that would suit the three chapters of the story – present day, my childhood, and the ‘King Coal’ era. Present day would be in colour; the declining years in black and white, whilst the earlier era would need to be in black and white that would be aged to date it.

I now had masses amounts of film to play with. Editing had begun shortly after the visit to the Tyne, and I gradually joined up the various segments over umpteen cups of coffee and packs of Hobnobs. I don’t know how many times I listened to the song during this process – every edit required a run through to see if the changes had worked – but it’s a lot. Maybe I should go on ‘Britain’s Lamentably Short of Talent’; I’d be word perfect. The hard task of what to include and what to leave out got underway. Some clips were a natural choice; The Steamboat pub, the boy running for the tram, the Tyne Bridge and the cruise ship Boudicca passing the cannons at Tynemouth as she headed out to sea. Other scenes fitted the lyrics so well that they were included by default, even if they weren’t technically good shots. Editing took several weeks, as there were so many permutations to work with. Several good scenes were reluctantly cut for various reasons, and different techniques to represent the three distinct eras were tried. Some were great, some were awful; it was an absorbing exercise. Finally, I was pleased with what emerged. I had a film that closely matched the song lyrics, as well as the tempo of the music. It was a reasonably accurate impression of my memories, and contains a great deal of authentic material, even if it has been suitably doctored.

This is one of the best photos I've ever taken.

The song is, to my mind, a fantastic piece of writing. If you aren’t tapping your foot to the beat by the time the song ends, then you must have no aptitude for music at all, and I can therefore only suggest that you audition for X-Factor.

Sunday, 13 September 2009

Thomas Saves The Day

This is the non-technical version of
Thomas to The Rescue
on my other blog.

It was the morning of the Railway’s Big Gala Day, and Thomas was resting in his shed with Annie and Clarabel. Today was his day off, and Thomas wanted a lie in. But then the Portly But Not Morbidly Obese Controller entered the shed, munching on a bacon and egg cob.

“Thomas man, wake up, I’m reet in it.”
“What’s up?” asked a startled Thomas.
“Aw, man – Victor the Visiting Engine and Gareth The Guest Engine haven’t turned up for me gala, like. Nee bugger can agree track access charges with Notwork rail, so Notwork are not working and the engines aren’t coming!”
“Oh dear me,” said Thomas. “What are you going to do then?”
“Well, I know its yer day off, but ah need ya to work.”
Thomas’s face fell. He was tired because Annie and Clarabel had been out on the razzle last night, and had had far too much degreaser than was good for them.
“Tell ya what, man,” said the Portly But Not Morbidly Obese Controller. I’ll let you work on the Big Train. You can take it from Wansford to Yarwell and back all day, and Richard the Reliable Engine will do the Peterborough bit and back. How’s that sound, mate?”
Thomas was absolutely thrilled! He didn’t work the Big Train very often and now he could show The Railway just how important he was. He quickly got up steam ready for the day ahead. During the day, Thomas worked very hard, ignoring the snorts of ‘brown noser’ coming from Dean the Deltic Engine who hadn’t been asked to help out.

Thomas was happy to have such an important task today.

At lunchtime, the Portly But Not Morbidly Obese Controller came back to Thomas in between trains.
“There’s another problem, mate. All the people who turned up for me gala are dead annoyed that nowt’s happening. I need some action to shut the buggers up or they’ll smash me face in. Can yer dee a bit of shuntin’ round the yard?”
Thomas was ever so pleased. The Portly But Not Morbidly Obese Controller was so dependent on him today. “I’ll get some of the lads to help you out, like,” added the Portly But Not Morbidly Obese Controller, who went across to Dean the Deltic Engine.
“Morning, Dean. I need a favour …”
“Bog off.”
What did you say?” The Portly But Not Morbidly Obese Controller was incredulous. No engine ever spoke to him like that.
“I said, bog off. You told me I was like, working today, then I wasn’t, then you went and got ‘im to help you. Did you ask me? Like, no. So I ain’t havin’ none of it.”
“But Dean man, I really need your help.”
“Talk to the bogies, man. The cab ain’t listenin’.”
The Portly But Not Morbidly Obese Controller was furious. I’ll show you, you bloody great lump of tin, he muttered.

Dean on one his good days.

Thomas was now shunting in Wansford yard. He was so happy to be the centre of attention. He trundled down the siding and banged heavily into Olivia the Oil Tanker.
“Ow, be careful will you – I’ve just had my axleboxes highlighted.”
“Sorry, sorry,” said Thomas. “We’re just going for a trip round the yard, that’s all.”
Olivia gasped. “But … but … but - I’m a freight wagon!” she exclaimed. “I don’t work Saturdays. It's in the working time directive,” she added, helpfully.
Thomas sighed. “Please … pretty please. The Portly But Not Morbidly Obese Controller really needs us to pull together today to save his gala.”
“Oh all right then,” Olivia gave in gracefully. She had a soft spot for Thomas; he was so much more in touch with his feminine side than the bigger engines that paraded up and down the line.
"But mind how you go. I came on last night. Never seen so much axlegrease as that, and I’m feeling delicate, you know?” she added ruefully.
Thomas nodded sagely even though he hadn't got a clue what she was on about - but he didn't want to look like a total plonker. He was somewhat out of touch with the workings of the female underframe. He shunted Olivia round the yard, until the Portly But Not Morbidly Obese Controller approached him. Thomas could see that he was furious. He wondered if someone had stolen his pie and chips again.

“Thomas, that bloody diesel lump is doing me ‘ead in. I’m gonna sort ‘im once and for all. Stop what you’re doing and go and drag Dean round the yard a bit. Once he’s on YouTube he won’t be half as clever, the sod.”
Thomas shivered. Dean was seriously big, and you don’t spend half your life in Finsbury Park without learning how to look after yourself. But, he’d been asked, so Thomas trundled off to Dean’s siding. He decided to try reasoning first, because he knew that Dean had been to Anger Management Classes after HST’s took over his job.
“Hello Dean,” said Thomas politely.
“Piss off.”
Oh dear. That didn’t seem to go down well.
“Look,” said Thomas. “We’re all in this together. We need to work as a team and salvage the day. Remember, there’s no ‘I’ in team.”
“Really?” asked Dean laconically. “Well, maybe there ain’t no ‘I’. But there’s an ‘M’ and an ‘E’ and that says ‘ME’ and me ain’t going nowhere. Diggit.”
Thomas was cross. He was so angry that he coupled up to Dean, and using all his strength, dragged his huge carcass round the yard before dumping him in the depot. Dean was so surprised that he stared open mouthed at Thomas.
Respect, blud. I never knew you had that in you.” Thomas chortled and trundled back to his siding. He was so happy about getting one over on Dean that he didn’t look to see where he was going and crashed into Annie and Clarabel.

Thomas with Annie & Clarabel, before the divorce.


“Oi, oi, oi, what that’s all about?” demanded Clarabel.
“Oh, sorry, sorry, sorry,” Thomas apologised profusely. “I forgot that you were out all night,” he added slyly.
“Yeah, well, a girl’s gotta have a bit of fun, eh?”
Thomas blushed. He was a bit naïve in many ways. “So what did you do last night?” he asked out of politeness.
“Well, you should have seen what Annie got up to,” winked Clarabel.
““Omigod, omigod, omigod, don’t tell no one about last night,” Annie gasped. “It’s like sooooooooooooooooo embarrassing.”
“Oh really?” said Thomas. “Tell me, and quickly, because Richard the Reliable Engine is on his way back and I have to take the Big Train to Yarwell."
“Oh, we know all about the BIG train,” said Clarabel slyly. “Well, you know that Gordon the Big Engine has got this thing for Annie here, right?”
Thomas didn’t know, but Gordon never spoke to Thomas anyway because he was too big and flash, even since he’d lost all his hedge fund investments. Talk the talk was Gordon’s motto.
“Yes, I know,” lied Thomas.
“Well, last night Henry the Green Engine was chatting up Annie, yeah, and making like progress, whatever? Then in steams Gordon from London bangin’ on about his new portfolio.” She laughed wickedly, “You should have seen Henry the Green Engine ..... he was like, so, uh, green,” she added lamely, vocabulary not being her strong point. “Anyway, and before you know it, he’s giving her a coupling in the tunnel, like, yeah?”
"WHAT?!!" Thomas was outraged. “In my tunnel?”
Clarabel looked confused. “No man, Annie’s tunnel. Keep up, yeah.”
Thomas was dazed. His sweet and innocent little Annie was not only playing away, but with Gordon the Big Engine, and in his tunnel!
“I just can’t believe it”, he sobbed, with steam leaking from every pipe. “Of all the carriages, why Annie?”
“Oh for Chrissake, grow up,” snapped Clarabel. “Annie’s been loose for years, she only stays with you for convenience. Every time you turn your bunker, she’s off playing the field. Remember when Pete the Peak and Wesley the Western visited? She gave a double-header.”
It was an amazing revelation for Thomas. He was glad the day was nearly done, it had been a rollercoaster of emotions and he felt as though he’d been on, like, an amazing journey.
The Portly But Not Morbidly Obese Controller waddled over at the end of the day, munching on a Terry’s Chocolate Orange because it formed part of his five a day.
“Well done Thomas, mate,” he beamed. You saved the day. All that shunting shut them moaning buggers up and everyone’s happy.”

Richard the Reliable Engine missed out on all the gossip; he was working all day.

Thomas smiled wanly. It had been a good day overall, and he alone had saved it. He went to get his boiler down for some well-deserved rest, but before he did, he made sure that all of Annie’s things went into the spare shed. He’d deal with her later.

With suitable apolopgies to Rev A.W. Audrey

Monday, 7 September 2009

Making Movies

Following several weekends of hectic activity, I decided to have a quiet one at home and get caught up on a few jobs that needed doing. First task was to complete the quintet of films for Poshboatz at Peterborough. So far, I’ve uploaded two films, one for the overall feel of the boat and surroundings (Ferry Cross The Meadows), followed by When The Boat Comes In; a version that was aimed at the round the lake boat trips for visitors to Ferry Meadows. So far, so good – now let’s get creative.

Poshboatz III - Feel The Need … The Need for Speed

And now for something completely different - a short but action packed film highlighting the exhilaration of a high-speed run up and down Overton Lake. Bob suggested this film himself, and thought it would work well if the Formula One theme music was used. I had reservations, but decided to give it a try. My feeling was that the music would be too fast and racy for the boat, so that in effect the music would be moving too quickly for the action.

Of course, you don’t know if you don’t try, so I listened to the track several times and began to imagine that it could work – the music wasn’t as fast as I had thought; it is simply that when you watch the F1 titles, the action coupled to the distinctive beat and guitar chords creates a feeling of speed and power. That’s the power of good television. I wanted to use the original song by Fleetwood Mac (The Chain) for this version – most of the song is vocal, but with a long instrumental fade out of nearly 2 minutes – the perfect length of film for a short but thrilling sprint. Unfortunately copyright infringement prevented use of this track, so I found an instrumental version where the owners aren’t as touchy, and this was happily accepted.

The film is very simple, as it consists of only two elements - a high speed run seen from onboard, and a high speed run viewed from land. That’s it. I had several sequences from these runs, and by their nature they were lengthy clips. During filming I’d wanted to get the build up of power and acceleration, and then follow through the run itself all in a single take. For that reason, I cut the clips down to intermix with each other so as to create a more exciting film for the viewer. My favourite clip is the long centrepiece taken from onboard the boat, when Bob executed near enough a full 360° turn, and I was able to go sporty and get a full pan at odd angles. Very Top Gear, eh Clarkson? The great lighting helped out here as well. The clips were placed onto the soundtrack, and looked pretty good I have to say – Bob’s vision was right on the money, and I’m glad that I decided to try it out.

As for the title – well, something short and snappy that would arouse interest and provide a hint as to the nature of the film was required, and so The Fast and The Curious was born. Well, it is fast, and if you watch it you must be curious!

Poshboatz IV - The Director’s Cut

From thrills and spills to slow and graceful. The fourth film in the series was an addition to the series, and has been included to demonstrate all that is available when the boat is chartered privately. This film’s focus is primarily on the river, as I had a considerable amount of good footage that hadn’t made it into earlier films – it would be a shame not to use it.

As always, the soundtrack needed sourcing first. I believe that a film of this nature – where there is no dialogue – is 50% music and 50% vision. A good soundtrack makes all the difference in film; think of the fantastic score for Jaws or some of the great chase scenes in James Bond films. (My personal favourite, if I may digress once again, is the ski chase in The Spy Who Loved Me. The music and action are perfectly edited together to create a truly memorable piece of film).

The soundtrack I was seeking needed to be calm and relaxing with a steady pace, but with a rise and fall in places to match specific moments that I wanted to emphasise as I was looking at making a 5 to 6 minute film. As with all the other soundtracks, I wanted something that would be familiar to an audience, and it had to be very different to all the others to ensure that the film would be interesting and fresh. After looking around for a bit, I found exactly what I was looking for. Ennio Morricone writes fantastic film scores, and Chi Mai was just perfect.

I was working on creating the film with around 80% river footage, some lake scenes and rounded off with a hint of a high speed run. The river scenes that were filmed from the boat were made early in the morning, and this proved to be a gift in a photographic sense. The water was a sheet of glass, and the reflections could have been painted onto the surface. My favourite segments are the approach to the stone bridge at Milton Ferry, and the delightful scene where the grazing cows stop munching one by one to stare beadily at the stranger in their midst. That was a lovely moment.

The title is self-explanatory – it is from a Chris de Burgh song that I originally planned to use in the film, but Chi Mai suited my vision much more closely. Still, I kept the title, so Chris doesn’t need to feel too bad about it. From a technical and photographical point of view, I feel that this is the strongest film in the series.

Poshboatz V – This Time it’s Wild!

This film was not originally planned, and is a bit of fun to round off the series. When I uploaded all the clips and filed them into various headings, I was amazed at how many fell into the ‘wild life’ category. Whilst many clips would find their way into the main films, it seemed like a good idea to bring them altogether to round off the presentation, and include some unseen footage at the same time. Once again, music was the key here – I’d wanted to use the lovely theme music from Howard’s Way all along, but none of the films really suited it. The melody really flows along, and there is a lively up-tempo section three quarters of the way through, and that was ideal for some action shots that I’d been lucky enough to catch on the day. So for the final time, take to your leather armchairs as we cast off and head for Meadow’s Way.

So if you're in Peterborough, be sure to pop down to Overton lake and say 'Hi!' to Bob, before enjoying a relaxing trip in comfortable surroundings.

Saturday, 5 September 2009

When The Boat Comes In

It is time for the launch of the latest film from the studios of Grumpy Git Productions. This is the second of several being produced for Poshboatz at Ferry Meadows, Peterborough. Each film serves a different and specific purpose, and today’s offering is aimed at attracting visitors to the traditional round-the-lake cruises.

The pace of this film remains constant, as the boat cruises around the lake at the same leisurely pace throughout the trip. Therefore the soundtrack needed to be a relaxing piece of music that would gently flow along, to pick up the viewer and transport them around the lake in a calm and unhurried fashion – I was going for the feel of a lazy Sunday afternoon here. Clair de Lune by Debussy admirably ticked all the boxes in this case, and whilst there are many versions available, I particularly enjoy this interpretation by Richard Clayderman and The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.

So, be seated in one of the sumptuous leather armchairs, take a sip of your lightly chilled Sauvignon Blanc 1998 and nibble on a chocolate Hobnob as we cast off on a circuit of the lake …

Thursday, 3 September 2009

Things Can Only Get Wetter

I recently spent a very hectic but enjoyable bank holiday weekend back in my native North East England. The trip was planned around shooting some film clips for my next project, and I’d planned an interesting and varied schedule.

Step Back in Tyne

It all kicked off Saturday morning, when I drove up the A1 to my first port of call – literally – as I wanted to get some photographs of dawn breaking over Roker, at the Port of Sunderland. The weather cooperated, except for a fierce wind that made filming from the tripod a tad tricky.

Once I had all I wanted, I jumped back in the car for the short trip up to South Shields at the mouth of the River Tyne. Here I was also after some early morning shots, and as a North Sea ferry was due in around 08:30, I stuck around to film the arrival.

The Groyne Lighthouse at South Shields

Then back into the car to return to Sunderland and my digs for the duration – my mother’s house, of course. No matter how old and grumpy you get, your mother always thinks that you are 12 years old and therefore require looking after, so you are constantly plied with food and drink. I’m all in favour of this, especially as it entailed tucking into a full English breakfast before hitting the road again, this time to the open-air museum at Beamish, while I left a pair of trousers that required some new fly-buttons sewing on for repair. Old habits die hard.

Beamish calls itself The Living Museum of the North, and it lives up to this in every respect. At Beamish, you don’t visit a museum in the accepted sense – you go back in time to a period around the turn of the century. There is far too much going on to do it justice here, but everything from a town High Street, coal mine, farm, tramway, school ….. etc, etc, has been recreated in full and working order, so that the visitor can experience a slice of life from a time gone by.

The coal mine, restored in working order.

Sunderland tram 16 runs at Beamish. The route on the destination blind reads ‘Circle’ which was a suburban route in Sunderland that I used frequently as a boy – although it was buses in my day – how old do you think I look?! My mother recalls her days of riding these trams as an everyday occurrence. When the tram reached its destination, she and her friends would wait until the conductor had set the destination display and gone downstairs before they’d wind the handles round so that it would read somewhere completely different. Then they would flip all the reversible seats on the top deck so that they faced the wrong way round. And you thought teenage hooligans were a recent phenomenon!

I’ve visited Beamish before, and knew exactly what I wanted to see and film before moving on to my next location in the afternoon. But as always, there was just so much to see that I stayed all day until closing time. I returned to a home cooked dinner, and also was happy to find that my trousers had been repaired in the intervening hours, I’m pleased to say. I'd planned to return to South Shields for some evening filming, but in the event the weather turned nasty, as as I was pretty shattered from the rather full day I'd had, was pleased to call it quits and rest up instead.

As Tyne Goes By

Sunday would be a very different experience, as I was planning to do a lot of filming along the banks of the Tyne. After another full English breakfast, I took the excellent Metro to Hebburn, and planned to work my way downstream to South Shields via the various photo stops I’d worked out with Google maps and suggestions from friends and family in the area. Then I’d cross the river by the ferry to North Shields for filming at Tynemouth, and gradually work upstream as far as Howdon before jumping on the Metro to visit Newcastle Quayside.

Things started well, with a pleasant Metro ride and walk down to the lovely Riverside Park at Hebburn. As I steadily plodded downstream, I began to realise that I’d been a tad over ambitious with my schedule. Firstly, although I had my maps with me, some places I’d planned to visit turned out to be hopeless for photography, or located within private property. All of these were at the end of long, steep roads, of course. So I’d retrace my steps to the main road and keep going. Naturally, I had some pleasant surprises as well – footpaths would appear from nowhere, and following some of them brought me to a couple of fantastic locations. But it all took a lot longer than I anticipated, and it didn’t help that that it was a very humid and sticky day, even with the fresh wind blowing in at exposed places – by exposed, I naturally mean anywhere that I set up the tripod.

Drilling Rig supply ships are serviced on theTyne.

Around the area of Tyne Dock, things got busy, as this is the last remaining area of the once thriving cargo docks. Access is predictably denied to the public, so after a very long walk I jumped onto another Metro once I finally found the well-hidden station at Bede, and alighted at South Shields.

The river ferry is located a mere five minutes away from the station, and the all-day Metro ticket I’d bought for a mere £3.90 was also valid on the boat. This is a quick and easy method of crossing the Tyne, and after a 10 minute cruise I alighted at North Shields. I was a good couple of hours adrift on my timetable by now, so decided to miss out Tynemouth and just nip down to the Fish Quay for some pictures. Then the long hike to film from the north side of the river began, which really was a major disappointment. Vast amounts of former dockland are now in the hands of developers, so the whole area was fenced off. I went down several long, steep roads that looked very promising on Google maps, as they led to old staiths and docks – but frustratingly, all of them ended up against big fences with bigger gates and threatening signs.

This magnificent pub is one of very few buildings still standing in the Percy Main riverside area - but I suspect its days are numbered. Given the vast number of unaffordable houses and apartments springing up in this area, surely it would make financial sense to restore this building and use it for its intended purpose? Although when you see the size of mortagage repayments, a pint's out of the question...

Time was ticking on at an alarming rate, and I realised that there was now no chance of getting to Newcastle Quays for a photoshoot and then back home in time for tea - I did say earlier that mothers regard you as being 12 years old, and that includes getting home in time for tea! I’d booked tea at a specific time, because I needed to drive back to South Shields in the evening to photograph a departing cruise ship – I mentioned before that my schedule was a bit on the ambitious side …

Rather than rush the job and spoil it, I decided to simply take the Metro into Newcastle, change trains and proceed directly to Sunderland on another one. My legs were protesting about all the walking anyway, and hobbling around the Quayside didn’t appeal. My initial plan had been to leave Sunderland and return to Grantham during Monday morning; I reckoned that if I waited until the evening I could then use the extra day to catch up.

Consequently, I made it to home on time, and was able to get my dinner while it was hot. A quick cuppa, then off to South Shields again. The weather, which up till now had been very pleasant if rather windy and humid, decided that as it was Bank Holiday, we needed some rain. What happened next depends on where you live in the UK. In the North East, we got what we call ‘a spot of weather.’ Londoners would say they got flooded out in a torrential rainstorm. But did that stop me filming? No way! I’ve got this far, so I’ll keep going. I had my raincoat, so set up the tripod close to the car on St Hilda’s Bridge as this commanded a great view of the Northumbrian Quay where the ship, Athena, was berthed.

Cruise ship Athena, pictured earlier in the day from Custom House.

It was simply a matter of waiting for the right moment, then jump out of the car, attach camera to tripod and shoot. As Athena was moving downstream quite slowly, I decided to leap back to the car, and race down to the pier at the river mouth. I say race; obviously I drove courteously and carefully, observing all the road signs and traffic lights and keeping well within the posted speed limits. Would you expect anything less? Actually, I had to keep it moderate as my mother had come with me to see the ship, and I didn’t want any tutting coming from the passenger seat. I must have driven reasonably well as there were only two intakes of breath, and that bollard has always been at that strange angle. Really.

I dumped the car in the nearest available carpark and legged it onto the pier. A pair of fishermen encouraged my rapid progress, “Gan along bonny lad, be quick or yer’ll miss it!” Another lightning set up and I banged off some film as Athena cruised sedately by – I’m sure Spielberg doesn’t work like this. The marathon dash took its toll, and as I packed up the camera I hobbled back past the fisherman. “Did ya gerrit, mate?”
“Oh aye, but I can tell you, mate – I’m getting too bloody old for this lark!”

I have to say that in my younger day I would regularly make a mad dash to photograph a train and try to beat an interesting loco from one location to another – but I never dreamed that by the time I reached the Grumpy Years, I’d be running after a bloody ship!

The Bridge on the River Tyne

Monday was therefore to become catch-up day. Naturally the first task was to get through another full English breakfast. Suitably fortified, I set off on the short drive to Ryhope, just south of Sunderland, in order to visit The Ryhope Engines Museum. This is based at Ryhope Pumping Station, which was built in 1868 to supply water to the Sunderland area. The station ceased operation in 1967 after 100 years of continuous use.

The Museum is now regarded as one of the finest industrial monuments in the North East of England and is a fascinating, if little known, place to visit. Although the station no longer pumps water, the two 100 horsepower beam engines are kept in working order by volunteer members of the Ryhope Engines Trust, and steamed periodically for visitors. In fact, steaming takes place only about five times a year, so it was a huge stroke of luck that I’d chosen this weekend to visit.

In addition to the beam engines are three Lancashire boilers of 1908, two of which are in regular use, a blacksmith's forge, a waterwheel, numerous steam engines and pumps, a replica plumber's shop, waterworks accessories such as depth recorders, and many items concerned with the distribution and uses of water in home and industry.

I was principally concerned with filming the steam beam engines, and decided to pop in for opening time at 10 for some quick shots before carrying on with my programme. But did it work like that? I was first to arrive, which was great for getting exterior shots without McFamillies getting in the way. The friendly volunteers who crew the museum on open days said they were getting up steam, as the engines would start around 11 a.m. They suggested going to the café to pass the time, which was an excellent idea, and I pottered around the place as there was so much to see. In the end I stayed until midday; everyone was so friendly and informative that it was a shame to leave. But needs must, so I drove home, dumped the car and walked to Sunderland to take a Metro so that I could carry out the planned filming of the Newcastle Quays.

This area has undergone what must be one of the best-executed city regeneration programmes in the country. When I was growing up, the quays were falling into disuse and neglect was all around. Now the old industrial buildings have been restored and redeveloped as flats, offices and restaurants, whilst brand new buildings have filled the gaps. The overall appearance is superb, and really enhances the riverside. It’s not often that old and new architecture can sit side-by-side, but Newcastle has managed it. Both sides of the quays have an excellent bus service that connects with the Metro stations within Newcastle and Gateshead, so getting around was simplicity itself – far more relaxing than trying to drive and park up.

I had about an hour at the Quays before taking another Metro all the way down to Tynemouth, which was part of yesterday’s aborted programme. The area is quite high up where the river runs out into the North Sea, and has some commanding views of shipping arriving and departing from the Tyne. I wanted some general shots of the area, but in particular, the cruise ship Boudicca was departing at 5 p.m., closely followed by a DFDS ferry to Ijmuiden and it would make some great footage. I scouted out my chosen location, and had about an hour to wait. No worries, time for a cuppa while watching the goings on in the river. Once again, as if on cue, the weather had other ideas. While I’d been waking around, the nice pretty fluffy white clouds had gradually been elbowed aside by a huge black monster that hovered over Tynemouth like something from War of The Worlds. I knew what was coming, and legged it. I made it as far as Roy’s Café in the main street and watched as a monster downpour was unleashed. The rain was heavy enough for South Shields pier opposite me to disappear completely. This really was quite a spot of weather. I wanted to film it, but only had 10 minutes of space left on the SD card in the camera and needed that for the ship departures – always assuming I could see them leave, of course.

The cloud dumped the annual rainfall of Norway over Tynemouth in 15 minutes, and then got bored. It ceased as quickly as it had started, and then set off over the North Sea to annoy Holland. After a coffee and a green cake thing with lots of cream, I set off back to my vantage point to see the ships. The sky was still threatening, as can be seen here, but this was a baby compared to what had just passed over. Well, I’d come this far to see these ships, so I wasn’t giving in now! As it turned out, I was able to film both ships and was on my way back to the Metro when the rain returned – and this time, it returned with a vengeance.

The gleaming white paint of departing Boudicca contrasts strongly with the leaden skies above. This was a 40 minute break between spots of weather - I suffer for my art.

Overall I was delighted with my weekend of filming. I’d got most of what I’d come for and a lot more besides. It was a fascinating visit, and no doubt I’ll be returning soon - but in the meantime, it must be Tyne to say goodbye!

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