Friday, 16 October 2009

"Let's break this addiction to London - it's time radio was proud to head for the hills"

by Stuart Maconie, Radio 2 DJ. Quoted from The Radio Times, page 26, dated 26th September - 2nd October 2009. (Hear Stuart Maconie with Mark Radcliffe, Mon-Thur Radio 2, and on Sun 6 Music)

"By the time you read this, my swollen ankle, sunburn and bag of mud-spattered dirty laundry will be, I hope, just a memory, along with hundreds of other more pleasant ones from my journey along Hadrian's Wall. I don't intend to bang on about the trip again. If you listened to the shows, you'll have heard enough about that. But I'd like to say why we did it, in light of something a former radio executive said to me about it. Namely. "Why?"

I found that an extraordinary question. Every week radio shows come from nightclubs, zoos, hospitals, restaurants and such. No-one ever asks why, normally because they come from cities. In fact, normally because they come from cities. In fact, normally because they come from London. Even I, with barely a quarter of a Wogan-sized tenure at the BBC microphone, have presented shows from the top of the BT Tower, from battleships and hotel lobbies, football grounds and parks. I doubt if there's a postal district in the capital that's not had an OB van parked there at some time. It would never occur to anyone in the business to ask why. The assumption being everyone in the country is surely interested in the comings and goings of the folk Camden, Islington, Westminster and such.

Well, I'm interested in how people live, work and play in Bowness-on-Solway and Carlisle, in Crosby-on-Eden and Chollerford, in Byker and Wallsend. There are fewer of them, I grant you, but they appreciate their radio favourites as much as any big-city denizen. And they pay their licence fees, often for programmes that assume they care about Routemaster buses, Tube strikes and an inch of snow bringing chaos to Chalk Farm. To ask why, when radio programmes turn their faces north and reflect on their lives and loves, is not just bizarre, it's vaguely insulting.

A lady who met me with her madly energetic dog just outside Wallsend turned out to be a fan of my 6 Music show Freak Zone. She said that with the demise of the independent record shop, my show was becoming her main source of new music and new old music from around Britain. The village of Ryton on the Tyne, home to The Unthanks, one of Britain's best new folks acts. They told me they'd never heard their home patch mentioned on national radio before. I heard the same in Burgh-by Sands* and Brampton and Banks. True, these places are small, but no smaller than Highbury or Clapham, and yet I've grown up hearing those names in dramas, comedies or the news with the implication being that they are places I should know.

A man I met on the Whin Sill ridge by the sycamore tree immortalised by a visit from Kevin Costner in Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves thanked me profusely for coming to his village** of Haltwhistle, and when I said that it probably only usually got mentioned on local radio he said, "We don't even get mentioned on that."

Anyway, I shall step down from from my soapbox and simply say, in answer to the question "why?": because it's there."

Hadriana: I recently wrote to Stuart kindly asking if I could re-produce the article here but I've not had a response as yet. Not to worry..thought I...he's a busy chap. I still think the article deserves a bit of a wider audience as it has not been posted on the web as yet (not to my knowledge). I thoroughly agree with its content and it is very nice to hear a national broadcaster's non-London centric views!

Hadriana's tiny, incidental notes:

* pronounced.....Bruff-by Sands

** Haltwhistle is known as a town in these parts...
(Above Photo of "South Tyne at Haltwhistle", my choice, from the Frith Collection)

Saturday, 10 October 2009

Hello to Northumberland! (Our UK/Egyptian adventures continued)

The view from one of the many bridges in the Burn at Haltwhistle (c.1955). It is heavily wooded now and an extremely beautiful walk. It is possible to walk from the town all the way over to the Wall. This is taken at the end of the walk looking towards Hadrian's Wall.
Haltwhistle High Street (c.1960).

This is the modern day version of Haltwhistle High Street (looking the other way).

Sundial in my parents' garden.

Looking down towards Haltwhistle. (Hadrian's Wall's lies about a mile behind me...I took the photo.)

Even when I was pregnant with our daughter we did not know whether we would be staying in Northumberland. A bit cheekily I came back from Egypt for UK healthcare. The care I received was second to none. It's something that I hold dear.
Much as I liked Egypt...medical care appeared to be in the hands of private practitioners. There was a private hospital up in El Gouna. There was the state hospital in Hurghada and there was a hospital with a decompression chamber attached.There were naval and military hospitals. There were Muslim doctors. There were Christian doctors. I was treated by an Egyptian doctor, in the old town, in the early stages of my pregnancy. He was fine (no complaints at all) but it involved waiting, often until late at night, with lots of other women in various stages of pregnancy in a small room. Sometimes the strongest voice (with the help of some baksheesh*) got to see him first! I accept(ed) this. This is the culture. I decided to go back to my own culture where I knew the ropes.
I am not originally from the Haltwhistle area. I hail from the North East coast and latterly Newcastle and Jesmond. I left the area for London to go to University and then, banking. I never thought that I would return to live up here.
By 2003 my parents had moved from Newcastle to Haltwhistle. When I came back and began to see the countryside I was bowled over. Mr. H., after twelve or so years in Hurghada, did not need much encouragement...he was missing his newspapers, beer, pubs, green countryside and all the other delights of British life. I must admit...tracking down a nice glass of Guinness in Egypt...was not an easy task. (We used to get the broadsheets in Hurghada from The Grand Hotel...often a day late and for several Egyptian pounds. Hurghada had gone from being extremely provincial in its early days to being very cosmopolitan. Supermarkets selling international goods had sprung up all around town. Many of them Russian!)
Once our daughter was born we were still uncertain as to where to put down roots. We spent time looking at places in Devon, Cornwall, Tenerife and Mallorca (the last two for scuba diving). We could not make up our minds whether to stay in the UK and get involved in self catering or Bed and Breakfast. Thinking about it now...we probably took up too much time thinking about it and discussing it. (Easy to say this now with hindsight and in the midst of an economic downturn.) Nevertheless we had some great times touring around. Mr. H. was able to spend loads of time with Little Miss Hadriana (our daughter) as she was growing up and we were able to take her to see her "Down South" grandparents many, many times. Grandma South sadly passed away on Christmas Day last year. Thus it was time well spent...
We kept being drawn back to this area every single time. With the help of many OS (Ordnance Survey) maps we got to know this area. We saw hundreds of houses in Allen Valley, The Tyne Valley, Cumbria, North of Hadrian's Wall, South of Hadrian's Wall, Over on the Northumbrian Coast and beyond....looking at their potential or otherwise. This was all at the height of the property boom (2004-2007). Our saved up pennies did not seem to be going very far...What were we going to do?................
* baksheesh = tips/backhanders...

Monday, 5 October 2009

Refreshing the parts that other beers cannot....

BELOW: "Snowy"...a "desert dog" puppy which attached itself to the pack of "Stella", the grey desert dog, and "Ed" a European mongrel...part ridgeback, part chestnut lion, only kidding! All of them are/were rescue dogs from the Hurghadan streets. We brought the dogs with us. We flew them to Holland...then drove them to kennels in Moissac, France, where they were chipped and quarantined for six months. Then we drove them back through the tunnel up North. Sadly only "Ed" is still with us. Desert dogs are essentially wild dogs with a short lifespan....but "Ed" more than makes up for the loss of the other two. We are almost tempted to clone him. He's laidback and adorable!

Above: Some guests getting ready for a day dive. Below: Hurghada and the Straights of Gubal dive maps (also showing some famous wrecks e.g. the world famous Thistlegorm, Dunraven, Rosalie Moller...) Below below: Map of Egypt showing the location of Hurghada.

I feel that I have to go back a bit in time. I've been doing this blog for almost 18 months now. (Crikey...never expected to be doing it this long. I've enjoyed every minute!)

So I'll refresh my own memory (and perhaps yours?) to begin the story of how we moved to Hadrian's Wall Country from Hurghada, Red Sea, Egypt.

Back in 1999 I'd somehow found myself staring out of the 49th floor of Canary Wharf....thinking (yet again) that I'd like to see more of the world out there.

Little did I know that resolving to learn to scuba dive in 2000 through a BSAC (British Sub-Aqua Club) in Islington would mean that my life would change so profoundly. (The club is about to celebrate its 40th anniversary and Mr.H. was one of its star players. We are going to its ruby party soon.)

I wrote a post about how I met the marvellous Mr.H. here. (Above and below: just some of our wonderful diving staff at the original Easy Divers' Dive Centre at The Three Corners Hotel, Hurghada...)

So in late Summer 2000 I said "goodbye" to Canary Wharf, the City and "hello" to Hurghada, Red Sea, Egypt.

We spent three very happy years out there. (Mr.H. had been out in Egypt at least 10 years before I met him. He'd had secure jobs in London especially one at the Barbican. He had been very involved in the birth and early life of the Barbican. By 1990 due to a difference of opinion with a new breed of managers arriving he ended up being suspended on full pay for two years. He, therefore, continued his UK diving teaching and diving in Egypt! This culminated in working with a Dutch tour operator and the setting up of a series of diving schools in Hurghada, Safaga and El Gouna.)
Above: One of the day diving boats, which we often used, called "Princess Hend".

To move the diving equipment around we used jeeps and pickups galore. This white jeep (photo above) was my husband's old (long wheel base) Toyota Land Cruiser jeep. It's seen here outside the apartments where we used to live...the Easy Divers' Staff House at Mr. Lotfi's...

We had a lovely time in Egypt. We had (and still have) fantastic staff, European and Egyptian, working with us. I'm sure I'll be writing more posts about our time out there sans enfants. ("Without children"...Dare I say that? We do love 'em to pieces but it was good to be a couple before our two gorgeous nippers appeared on the scene.)

I even learnt a bit of Arabic both spoken and written. (Mr.H. speaks "docklands" Egyptian Arabic.) We had time to go up to Cairo often and over to Luxor. There were frequent trips into the desert. Safari week diving trips, restaurants, cafes, name it, we did most of it. The one place I never made it to was - Sharm el Sheikh - I still hope to get out there. Mr.H. always preferred the Egyptian authenticity of Hurghada. It was initially a small fishing village and now is a major resort...always getting bigger every time we go back. (It has its own airport.)

We still retain a very small interest in the dive centre. It is now based at the Hilton Plaza Resort in Hurghada. We must definitely take the children there sometime soon....splish! splash!