Living by the Sea

 

Ice Cream on Scarborough Beach, September 1963

Ice Cream on Scarborough Beach, September 1963

The photo above shows (from left to right) my mother, me and my brother enjoying ice cream cones on the beach in September 1963.

I generally don’t give much thought to the fact that I’ve spent most of my life living in coastal areas, in homes which, even if some did not have a direct view of the sea, were only a few miles from it.

This wasn’t entirely a deliberate policy on my part, and things just seem to have worked out that way. Nonetheless, I’m very glad that things did work out that way!

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, my parents and my grandparents all came from Leeds, and they used to look forward to annual vacations in Scarborough and other coastal Yorkshire towns. (They usually seemed to choose Yorkshire destinations, although my grandparents did occasionally venture further afield, to such exotic locations as Grange-over-Sands!)

In those days, the air in coastal towns was much cleaner than in inland industrial cities, so there was a clear health benefit to living by the sea. The photo below of Scarborough Harbour, which was also taken by my father in 1963, shows smoke rising from buildings, a nuisance that was much worse in inland locations. The image also includes various other nostalgic features, such as a fleet of fishing boats and a commercial cargo ship in the Harbour!

Scarborough Harbour, September 1963

Scarborough Harbour, September 1963

In 1972, while still living in Scarborough, I bought my first copy of Railway Magazine. Given that the magazine has been published continuously since 1897, there was nothing momentous about that event, except for the cover of that edition, which didn’t mean much to me at the time.

Railway Magazine, September 1972

Railway Magazine, September 1972

As shown, the cover featured the famous locomotive Flying Scotsman, which I recognized, but I was completely oblivious as to the location. I knew that the locomotive was touring the USA, but that was all. In fact, it shows Flying Scotsman at a far-away seaside location, near Fisherman’s Wharf, in San Francisco. How prophetic for me!

(The astonishing subsequent story of how Flying Scotsman’s owner went bankrupt during its US tour, leaving the locomotive impounded at Fort Mason, can be read about here.)

The sea often featured in my childhood paintings, as in the image below, which I produced at school, at the age of 14. It purports to show a British flying boat over New York, although at that time I’d never seen New York except in pictures. (The cheap paint used in the picture has decomposed over the years. Originally, there was a calm moon shining over the sea, but now it seems to be exploding!)

Flying Boat over New York, as imagined when I was 14

Flying Boat over New York, as imagined when I was 14

A Very Significant Sea Change

In November 1987, I arrived for my new job in San Mateo, California, and found myself once again in a seaside location, albeit on the opposite coast of a different continent. I was initially quite confused, because I hadn’t been aware of the existence of San Francisco Bay, so, living on the Peninsula, I wasn’t sure whether I was looking west at the Pacific Ocean, or east at the Bay!

Nonetheless, I soon figured out the local geography, and settled down to live the remainder of my life by the sea! The 1996 photo below shows a view over San Francisco Bay from the kitchen of our house in San Mateo.

San Francisco Bay from San Mateo, 1996

San Francisco Bay from San Mateo, 1996

The Speeders of August

Speeders in Santa Rosa, 2007

Speeders in Santa Rosa, 2007

Ten years ago, my wife Mary and I spent an enjoyable afternoon traveling on a short stretch of what at that time was the disused North Western Pacific Railroad line in Santa Rosa. The small “Speeder” in which we rode the rails is the dark green vehicle shown in the photo above.

At that time, a group of enthusiasts used to bring their rail speeders to Santa Rosa annually, to ride the derelict line one day per year. The event took place at Santa Rosa’s North Western Pacific Railroad Depot, which, amazingly, has survived from its construction in 1904 (just before the major earthquake of 1906) to this day, as shown below.

Santa Rosa NWP Depot, 2007

Santa Rosa NWP Depot, 2007

The depot building also featured in the 1943 Alfred Hitchcock movie Shadow of a Doubt, which I described in a previous post.

Although the last regular passenger service on the line ended in 1958, freight service continued after that, and the counties bought the track and right-of-way during the 1990s (via the North Coast Railroad Authority). In contrast to the fate of many railway lines abandoned and lost forever as part of the “Beeching Cuts” in Britain, this fortunate act saved the railroad’s right-of-way for its modern renaissance.

That day in 2007, the Speeder owners were offering free rides to the public, so Mary and I hopped aboard. As shown in the picture above, we chose a green Speeder that had custom bodywork to make it resemble a San Francisco cable car. Given that the Speeders have only 4 wheels, the ride is quite bumpy, but it was a fun experience, and one that we will never get the opportunity to try again, at least on that line.

Below is a short video viewed from the Speeder as we were riding in it:

Railroad Renaissance

The good news is that this line is no longer disused, because it now forms part of the SMART line from San Rafael to Santa Rosa Airport. Test trains are already running on the line, and full passenger service is expected to start some time this summer.

The bad news about that is that, because the line is now occupied, we’ll never again be able to ride a Speeder on it as we did ten years ago!

A Tribute to Graham Roberts

Graham Roberts and Co-conspirators, 1975

Graham Roberts and Co-conspirators, 1975

“I’m not a Yorkshireman, but I play one on the radio.” For several decades, that could have been the motto of actor Graham Roberts, shown on the left in the 1975 photo above. Continuing the Yorkshire theme of my previous post, I’m taking the opportunity to pay a small tribute to one of the most amiable men I ever met. My friendship with Graham also had a significant, if perhaps unanticipated, influence on the direction of my own life.

The photo was taken by my father during a visit to Graham’s home in Leeds. Yes, that’s me to the right of Graham, with full 1970s “mop” haircut! To the far right is Graham’s wife, singer Yvonne Robert.

For an astonishing 31 years (1973-2004), Graham played the character of George Barford on the BBC radio soap opera The Archers. That show was first broadcast on radio in 1950—initially as a way for the Ministry of Agriculture to educate farmers, it seems!—and is still running today.

Graham was born in Chester, and studied in Manchester, but he had an excellent ear for accents and dialects, so he probably had little difficulty picking up the Yorkshire accent he needed for his role in the Archers. Living in Leeds, he heard it all around him every day.

During the 1970s, vocal impersonations were a popular form of comedy (bringing fame to Mike Yarwood and featuring on TV shows such as “The Impressionists”), so Graham and I spent much of our time inventing silly names and speaking to each other in a variety of outlandish voices!

A Day that Shaped the Rest of my Life

I met Graham during the 1970s, when, in addition to his Archers role, he had a regular job as a Continuity Announcer for Yorkshire Television. In those days, it was deemed necessary for each TV channel to have a live announcer, who would welcome viewers and announce programs. The announcer was also expected to handle occasional technical emergencies that could occur during broadcasting. I’m sure that Graham found that job quite mundane, but it was regular and reliable employment, which is a relatively unusual benefit for those in the acting profession. Graham is listed as one of the station’s “Former Announcers” on the Wikipedia page.

One day, Graham took me with him to his announcer job at Yorkshire Television’s studios in Leeds. For me, this was an introduction to a whole new world, which had seemed completely inaccessible until then.

Some years later, that one day’s experience would lead (via a contorted path that I’ll describe in other posts) to my decision to try to become a video engineer. To that end, I obtained an electronics degree, and eventually secured a broadcast engineering job at the BBC. I doubt that I would ever have embarked on that career path, had it not been for Graham’s perhaps unintended prompt.

The Unrecognized Celebrity

Strangely, although Graham’s voice was heard on the airwaves of Britain for many decades, both on TV and on radio, he rarely appeared in vision, so he usually went unrecognized in public. This gave him the advantage of being able to go about his life without being pestered by the autograph-seekers and celebrity-followers who would otherwise no doubt have hounded him.

Outstanding Empathy

For me, Graham’s most remarkable quality was his outstanding empathy for others. It seemed that, whatever you were interested in, Graham could take an interest in it too.

It was all quite genuine and I don’t think Graham could have faked that ability. I’m sure we all know that, if you’re not interested in something, it’s very difficult to give the consistent impression that you are.

Were it not for Graham’s influence, I almost certainly would not be doing what I do today, nor probably living where I live today. I feel very fortunate to have met him and been able to spend some enjoyable times with him.

Sadly, Graham passed away in 2004, and there were many fascinating obituaries, of which two can be read here and here.

Yorkshire Day

Mulberry Hall, Stonegate, York, 2010

Mulberry Hall, Stonegate, York, 2010

Tomorrow (August 1st) is Yorkshire Day. The photo above shows Mulberry Hall, which is a medieval building on Stonegate in the center of York.

In the background of the photo you can just see part of York Minster, covered in scaffolding at the time of my 2010 visit.

Mulberry Hall was built in 1434, as attested by the date above its front door, although the building has been extended and refurbished several times since then.

For many decades, the building contained a china and glassware shop (which was also called Mulberry Hall). My wife and I always made of point of visiting that shop when we visited York, and we also had gifts sent from there to friends and family in Britain. Sadly, the business closed in 2016, but the building remains, and hopefully will one day again house a prestigious merchant.

York: Two Thousand Years of Adaptation

I was born in Yorkshire, and, during the period 1979-81, I lived in Scarborough but visited York (by train) nearly every Saturday. I can’t think of any other city where there’s so much to do and see, packed into such a compact space. (There are larger cities with many attractions, but they’re more difficult to walk around.) That’s partly because York is a relatively small city that has fulfilled so many roles for the past 2000 years. The earliest recorded settlement was a Roman fort, which eventually became a town. In medieval times the city became a wool trading center and the northern archbishopric of the Church of England. During the nineteenth century, the coming of railways transformed York into a major rail hub and manufacturing center. While still retaining remnants of all those former roles, the city is now a world-class tourist attraction.

If you’re in the area, York is definitely worth visiting, but you’d probably have to spend many months there to see and do everything that is available!

Ye Olde Misspelling

In my photo above, further down Stonegate, you can see a sign over the street advertising Ye Olde Starre Inne. The Starre Inne is almost as old as Mulberry Hall, dating back to 1644, but what’s interesting about the sign is that includes a corrupted Old English letter. The word “Ye” in this context actually means “the”, and is pronounced “the” (although even many Britons are unaware of that).

As I mentioned in a post on my professional blog, prior to the Norman Invasion in 1066, English used two special letters to represent the language’s “th” sound. One of the letters was called thorn (þ), and that letter was sometimes misinterpreted (and mispronounced) as a “y”. Hence, “þe” is often misspelled as “ye”, as in the sign over Stonegate. I doubt that the Inn’s owners will want to change it, however, because you can imagine the difficulties associated with telling customers that they must type “Þe Olde Starre Inne” in their Google searches!

Monochrome Illustration Techniques

Young H G Wells (Incomplete)

Young H G Wells (Incomplete)

The image above was intended as a portrait of the young H G Wells. I started work on it while I was an undergraduate student, but, unfortunately in retrospect, I never finished it.

Even though the drawing is incomplete, I’ve scanned and posted it now because it is one of the few surviving examples of my artwork that uses a monochrome stippling technique.

Over on my professional blog, I just published a new post—The Age of Monochrome Illustration—reflecting on the significant changes in commercial illustration practices that have taken place during the past quarter century or so. On looking back at the work that inspired me in those days, I was astonished to realize just how much things have changed since then. It was a “given” back then that most illustration work would be printed in monochrome, and it had been that way since the dawn of mass printing.

Looking through my own remaining artwork to find images for the post, I had no difficulty finding examples of artwork that used cross-hatching, but an example of the stippling technique was less readily available.

I can think of only one area of electronic publishing where monochrome artwork may still be preferred, and that is for eBooks that are to be read on eInk devices such as the Kindle Paperwhite. However, that’s not necessarily much of a restriction, because the same publications can, in general, be read on compatible readers with full-color screens. I’m not aware of any cases where eBook artwork was deliberately created in monochrome for that reason.

Kirkham Priory Postscript

My Pencil Drawing of Kirkham Priory, 1974-75

My Pencil Drawing of Kirkham Priory Gatehouse, 1974-75

The image above is a pencil drawing that I executed at school in 1974-75, when I was about fourteen. It shows the gatehouse of Kirkham Priory, which was the topic of my previous post.

The gatehouse of the Priory is probably the most famous and recognizable portion of the remains, and has been drawn, painted and photographed many times over the centuries. My own effort wasn’t entirely original, being heavily based on a lithograph produced by William Richardson in 1848.

As I mentioned in the previous post, Kirkham was and is a major tourist attraction, and the same portion of the ruins even featured in railway posters during the twentieth century.

Edit 7/23/17: I obtained the press photograph below via eBay some time ago. The print is dated October 24th, 1927.  It shows the remains of Kirkham Priory just before the Office of Works began excavations.

Kirkham Priory before Excavation, 1927

Kirkham Priory before Excavation, 1927 (Copyright the Times)

The caption on the back of the photo says:

A view of part of the ruins of Kirkham Abbey, in the valley of the Derwent, Yorkshire, which have recently been handed over to the Office of Works by Sir Edward Allen Brotherton. The Abbey was founded by Walter L’Espee [sic], the founder of another Yorkshire abbey, that of Rievaulx, in the North Riding. The work of preservation, which the Office of Works is carrying out, will probably take two years to complete.

Picnic at Kirkham Priory

Picnic at Kirkham Priory, August 1964

Picnic at Kirkham Priory, August 1964

The photo above, from August 1964, shows our family picnic at Kirkham Priory, Yorkshire, during one pleasant weekend afternoon. I’m on the far right, with my mother behind me.

I mentioned in a previous post that the area in which I grew up is scattered with the ruins of many huge medieval (or older) buildings. Some are castles and other fortifications, but there are also a large number of ruined abbeys and other religious buildings. These were all forcibly closed down and partially demolished during Henry VIII’s Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1538-40. The lands seized by the King during that process were then given or sold to personal favorites, so these sites were in private hands for many centuries thereafter.

In the early years of the twentieth century, concerns increased regarding the continuing collapse of the remains of these buildings, which were coming to be regarded as national heritage sites. The Office of Works was pressured to take the properties into public ownership, and it induced the owners to sell, primarily by demanding that they maintain the ruins, and threatening them with huge repair bills if further deterioration occurred!

The Setting of Kirkham Priory

Although Kirkham Priory is by no means the largest or most impressive of the ruins, it enjoys a particularly pretty setting, by the banks of the River Derwent, which was navigable until about 1940. On the opposite bank of the river is the York-Scarborough railway line, and, during the 1920s, the enterprising Station Master of Kirkham Abbey started running a tea room and renting out boats to tourists, further popularizing the spot.

Family Outings

The man on the far left in the photo above is my grandfather, Allen E Martin, and my grandmother is to his right. I described in a previous post how my grandfather spent most of his career working for Leeds City Corporation, then in the 1950s he retired and moved to Scarborough to live with my parents. At that time, my father was the only member of the family who could drive, so he would often take all of us out for a “run”.

We picnicked at Kirkham Priory quite frequently, but the occasion shown in the photo was memorable because of the thoughtfulness of the attendant at the ruins that day. We were going to sit down on a blanket on the ground, but the grass was wet (not unusually in Britain). The attendant saw what we were trying to do, and brought out from a shed the table and chairs shown, especially for our use.