31 January 2004

First Draft: South Shields. Mill Dam and the Mission

We often went down Mill Dam jetty to look at the ships and the busy jetty activity. On the way we would call in at the Mission to Seamen Club. This was run by the Anglican Church for the welfare of seamen of any nationality. Here could be found snooker tables or darts, get a cup of tea or a meal, relax in the lounge or a quiet read in the reading room. Religion was there for those in need and the Chaplin was always available. Otherwise the place ran just as any club would. Religion was not normally mentioned but there if it was needed.

It was only open to active seamen and we as prospective seamen were allowed to use the facilities, which we did. We would often call in even if it were only for a cup of tea or a meal or a game of snooker. Recently looking at their website and I see they are advertising bar facilities. Whether or not they serve alcohol or not I do not know at this point of time, they certainly didn't in the 1950 era.

The Mission had a roomy launch and on Sunday's the Chaplain would do his rounds of the new ships in port. He would go aboard each one and check for any welfare cases there might be in need of help. More often than not the visit was just a chat with the officer of the watch and the exchange of local news.

The roomy launch would hold quite a few more than the Chaplain and the launch master so the Mission ran a list to book a place on the launch. On a sunny Sunday it was pleasant on the river seeing all the berthed ships and sometimes laden vessels coming and going on the top of the tide. If the Sunday river activity were quiet the launch master would turn the wheel over to one of us and tell us to steer towards that buoy or that marker. He always made sure each of us had a turn of the wheel. Newbie?s always got first chance.

Just up from Mill Dam each summer 2 large ships called the Southern Venturer and the Southern Harvester would berth for cleaning and refit. These were whaling factory ships returned from the southern ocean. It was summer in the UK but down there in the high latitudes of the southern ocean winter reigned.

Everyone knew when the factory ships arrived; the smell of them would percolate through the town. Even after a thorough clean down they still smelt when we went down to Mill Dam. Tales would be told of how much money the crew had earned during the whaling season with high wages and catch bonuses. Of course the figure would increase as the tale was told and re-told but yes, the returns were high for the crew. It was a hard life for them down in the freezing cold wastes of the southern ocean and a lonely life too.

I'm not sure why Mill Dam was so called, may be once a stream entered the river here to be dammed for mill operation. I looked on an old 1860s map but Mill Dam was marked as a jetty and wharf even then. This was an old part of the town and I remember everything was old, who knows what existed here long ago.

Yes, Mill Dam was a busy jetty with seamen, shipping officials and other visitors coming and going from locally berthed ships picked up and set down by numerous small boats and launches. One boat, a dingy I remember clearly. Just 6 feet long, the operator rowed standing with one oar only from a rowlock on the centre of the stern. The blade of the oar was operated in a figure of eight motion and the dingy would shoot along in a twisting motion fast as if he had a motor on the stern. I remember him as proudly aware of his skills a little smile would start to appear at the corners of his mouth when he caught someone watching him. He always seemed to be delivering parcels and packages to the nearby ships.

And yes, Mill Dam was one of my favourite stopping places.

30 January 2004

First Draft: South Shields. The Hostel Again

After College sometimes I walked back to the hostel in Westoe, at other times I would catch a trolley bus back to Westoe. It all depended on the state of my finances and the state of the weather. According to a cost of living index I consulted my 10 shillings pocket money per week in 1950 would be multiplied by 20, in 2000 terms equivalent to 10 pounds per week.

The Westmorland Education Department's suggested 10 shilling a week pocket money was to cover bus fares, sundries like toothpaste and soap, leisure activities, snacks, dry cleaning and a myriad other odds and ends. Mum used to send a ten-shilling note by post each week planning it to reach me by Friday.

Like breakfast the evening meal at the hostel was filling to even the hungriest student. The hostel manager and his wife were pleasant people and seemed well used to managing a crowd of boys. The manager had been a ships bosun (short for boatswain) who managed the deck crew on merchant ships; this would be the equivalent of a foreman on land. They kept a strict eye on us and made sure all rules were obeyed. The strictest rule was curfew, the door was locked and lights out at 10.30 p.m. sharp. Most of the students did not stir far during the week nights by the time dinner was over, some study completed and maybe a short walk 9 o’clock supper came round and with it a big mug of cocoa. Yes, we ate well.

Of our meals tinned bacon at breakfast took a bit of getting used to. It came in large commercial catering tins and pickled in brine and the colour of the bacon was very pale. The first thing I noticed unlike normally cured bacon, it easily dropped to bits, particularly the fat portion and the rind. The taste was different too but one got used to it after a while. It had one advantage, I had never liked the fat on bacon and I had always cut the fat away. With tinned bacon this was easy. When I was young I was often chastised for not eating the fat of the bacon but much later we all learnt the fat was harmful to us. All in all tinned bacon was not such a bad deal, it was just the peculiar taste and it was always wet from the grease and brine... and it did drop to pieces.

The hostel boys were in the main a pleasant lot. I remember only 2 names Catchpole and Leeming but no others at the moment, maybe the names registered only as neither was of very pleasant character.

A number of us seemed formed a loose group who went out together. At weekends we would often go along the cliff tops between Westoe and Marsden Point then catch a bus back to Westoe. At high tide the sea rollers would come in and smash along the base of the cliffs. Sometimes we would go along the bottom of the cliffs if the tide was out or at half tide jumping from rock to rock to clear the pools and timing the jumps to miss the incoming swell in the channels. A dangerous practise really especially at half tide as demonstrated when I the last across one swirling channel missed my footing and dropped into the cutting. Dripping wet from head to toe I had no recourse but to back track and go back to the hostel. Who would let me on to the bus when we got to Marsden Point? Besides I was shivering cold, luckily we were not far into the walk.

Sometimes we would visit downtown and go up to the market square on a Saturday morning and watch the fast talking salesmen with swift patter giving away dinner sets at a ridiculously low price to the first buyer and discounting to the additional buyers to start sales rolling. Then we might go a little further along down to Mill Dam and watch the shipping come and go to and from the various docks and wharves and wonder if and when we would go to sea and where we would go. The River Tyne was a busy place in the 1940s and 50s.

Especially in the evenings we would at times walk down to the bottom of Ocean Road where a permanently sited fun fair was located with a cafe and large American jukebox with its flashing neon lights and latest pop music records. Jazz was still popular in the 40s and into the 50s eras and the jukebox was always busy playing the latest tunes. This was a popular area both with locals and students as well as holiday people in the summer for South Shields was a popular holiday destination with its close proximity to Newcastle and heavily populated surrounding areas. South Shields popularity for holidays was its large expanse of sandy beaches and its pleasant town atmosphere then in the 1950s.

24 January 2004

First Draft: South Shields. Course Work

The syllabus was split into 3 main areas:

1. The Basic Principles of Electricity and Magnetism. Theory and Practise.

We were taught the Atomic theory... electrons, nuclei, protons, ions etc.
Basic electricity... volts, ohms current, watts, joules, calories, etc. and all formulae.
Principles of magnetism and its applications. Formulae again, hysteresis loops, rules of operation, etc.

We were taught these principles all in depth up to motors, alternators including batteries, even the changing chemical action formulae from discharge though to full charge of a lead acid battery was taught.

The reason for going into everything in depth even apparently simple things was if you had a full knowledge and understanding of the basic principles you would be able to carry out equipment repairs at sea or rig alternative means if humanly possible. At sea there was no one to ask, " What do we do now" if something broke down. You were the Guru, the fountain of knowledge.

Batteries were of prime importance in the fact if the ships electricity supply failed large banks of batteries took over to power the radios and high power transmitters.

2. Radio Theory and Practise

Again we were taught in depth from A.C. theory through to radio and transmitting circuits, even taught the construction and operation of individual components. We learnt words like impedance, reactance, resonance, phase and their complex formulae. Even today in 2004 as I pen this I can still repeat these formulae at will. Draw the circuits and the graphs, the waveforms and add phase angles. These are just a few of the things we were required to commit to memory. They are all imprinted on my memory even now.

3. Operating Practise and Procedures including Morse.

Morse was just plain practise, practise and more practises. Initially we committed to memory the dot and dash combination of each single letter and digit. Then the instructor would send each letter slowly and pause and you wrote the letter down on paper. At first there would be gaps of missed letters but over the days and weeks missed letters would diminish and the speed of the instructors Morse speed would slowly increase.

Practise was usually sending and receiving text out of a book or magazine. As your speed reading of Morse increased the combined dots and dashes had an individual sound that you remembered. Then as your reading speed increased further the sound of the combined letters of small words had their own individual sound.

As well as sending and receiving text we were required to send and read code. These were 5 figure groups of letters or numbers. With groups of random letters or digits we had to be able to send and receive perfectly? every time. With plain text any errors could usually be deduced. Random letters or numbers couldn?t.

Note: I have emphasised how we were taught the theory basics in depth for a reason. Not only because we needed it at sea but how it served me in later life. As I progressed in my electronic career down through the years I found this depth of basic principles very useful in solving and understanding various aspects of my work. It gave me an edge over others in the electronic field and I often thanked this in-depth teaching for it.

20 January 2004

First Draft: South Shields. Marine College in 1949

The Marine College was originally built in the 19th Century as a training school for Deck Officers in the Merchant Navy and it was not long into the 20th Century before the Marine College started to outgrow its building in Ocean road in the heart of South Shields and then started to moved the Marine trainee facility up to the Westoe area of South Shields.

The old building in Ocean Road then became the training facility for Marine Radio Officers a recently formed department in the Marine College.

Jock delivered me to the reception and I was shown to a room containing a few other boys and as I waited others also were shown into the room. We numbered about 20 in all. I was the only one residing at the hostel the other students, all older than I were in private accommodation with a few from the surrounding areas travelling daily. We were a very diverse crowd coming from all over the UK.

We were introduced to our tutors... all 3 of them. Mr. Moore was head of department, mid-50s, and dark haired with horn-rimed glasses and smiled little. Then there was Mr Fergusson, we saw him the most, a dour Scotsman with no sense of humour and a sharp biting tongue but a most thorough tutor. The 3rd member, I forget his name now was a quiet man, the most pleasant of the three... at least to a 15 year old.

We were each issued with a hard backed workbook. When opened the left hand page was feint graph lined and the opposite page was normal lined. I found later these books were ideal for our study notes, many circuit diagrams, graphs, and masses of formulae.

We were also issued with a large thick green book with a large title The Admiralty Handbook of Wireless Telegraphy and Telephony, which was our "bible". The theory of everything we needed to know was in that handbook in great detail. The 3rd book was a thin book, a set of logarithm tables, 55 years later I still have them somewhere, I come across them now then when clearing out and each throw out I can't bear to part with them... it is a part of my past. We would be working with large numbers in our calculations like 10 to the power of 6... a million and 10 to the power of 12... a million, million were common numbers we would use in our calculations. No slide rules to be used and electronic calculators were yet to be invented in 1949. Logarithm tables are an aid to simplify the multiplication of large numbers. John Napier first published the original tables in 1612. I didn't know the tables were so old until I looked it up.

The last thing we were issued with was a pair of Ericsson headphones... I still have them; these were to be used for our interminable sessions of learning the Morse code, to a speed of initially 20 words per minute with no mistakes. We were told to identify mark them; it was common practise to leave them plugged in at the desks and lose them. I filed 6 notches on the metal headband and etched my initials on to the metal diaphragm of each ear piece. The marks are still there today. It may sound silly but I cannot part with these either.

I bought myself a good Parker fountain pen... a bottle of Quink royal blue ink but gravitating to green ink later... and some good HB pencils and ruler. I was set to do battle. No Biro's here either, these too had not been invented in 1949.

Tomorrow we would start our courses in earnest.

15 January 2004

First Draft: South Shields. The Hostel

In 1949 I left home after Easter and travelled by bus and train from our Kidside home to South Shields. I had been supplied with travel warrants by the then Westmorland Education Department to get there and the address of the hostel.

I managed to get there in one piece and wondered on the journey how I would get on living away from home for the first time. I used to go and stay in the school holiday's with relatives and our good friends, the Proud's at their farm in Ainstable. I used to often get homesick on these holidays and I hoped I would not have a similar problem with homesickness when I arrived in South Shields. I was to be away from home for the whole 1st. term at South Shields and It was too far away to come home for weekends.

Fortunately homesickness did not happen, I was kept too busy.

The hostel was in the area of Westoe and was one of a number of old dilapidated large Victorian brick houses built around a square, green, open area. The 3-story hostel stood in its own grounds with accommodation for I would estimate 20 boys. We were mostly all new to the hostel and the first thing I noticed as far as I could tell they were all older than I. Only one other boy turned out to be 15 like myself. Most were at least 16 with a few 17 year olds. Another thing I learnt was that everyone with one exception was there to do pre-sea training as cadet Deck Officers also known as Apprentices. The only other trainee Radio Officer was a Scotsman from Berwick and he had been at the college for some time. He told me that the Radio Officer?s course was a minor department and the vast majority of the trainee's were for cadet Deck Officers. I was assigned to a bedroom with 3 others, one being the Scotsman.

Next morning we were wakened early by the sound of a clanging bell and a head came round the door shouting, "Wakey, wakey rise and shine, shake a leg". It was the hostel manager and it was 6.30 a.m. I was soon to get used to this regular morning procedure. Jock just across from me said "quick, get to the bathrooms, its a long wait if you don't". I found out later the last ones downstairs got the breakfast scrap ends. Weetabix left only and the sugar all gone. After cereal came a hot breakfast at the kitchen hatch usually egg, baked beans, sometimes a sausage and something that seemed to resemble bacon. My first introduction to tinned bacon... more about that later... all swimming in large shallow pans of hot fat and dripping into pools on our plates, as the hot breakfast was ladled out. Toast and large metal teapots were on the long tables and god-awful stewed coffee from an urn. One thing there was plenty of breakfast and one soon learnt to eat heartily in the mornings, it was a long time to the evening meal.

The first morning Jock grabbed me to show me the way to the lecture halls situated half a mile away. The marine Cadets all went in a different direction to Jock and I, they went through the Cut that I came to know well and we went down to busy Ocean Road a good half mile away in the city centre.

14 January 2004

First Draft: South Shields. Education Summary To-date

At the age of 11 and living on the shores of Lake Ullswater I had failed to pass the 11+ examination to attend Grammar School and I was sent from a 2 teacher country school to Penrith Secondary Modern School to try and improve my education level which it did.

At the age of almost 14 we moved to Kidside, Milnthorpe, near Kendal and I was back to a 2-teacher school.

My interest was in electronics, I wanted to be a sea-going Radio Officer, and the minimum educational level of General Certificate of Education (GCE) was required to train with passes in English, Maths and Science.

Meetings with the local Department of Education, I was offered a funded scholarship provided I could pass a set examination in English and Mathematics at GCE level.

At Grammar School, GCE was sat at 16 years. I was almost 15 this being the mandatory age to leave school in 1949 when not attending a Grammar School.

Milnthorpe school headmaster took me under his wing and daily after school taught me a crash course of mathematics in a few weeks to the required level.

I sat the required papers in Maths and English. Science was arranged by the Department of Education to be waived. I passed the 2 papers.

In 1949, I was in the month of February, 15 years old and I was offered a place at South Shields Marine and Technical College to start after the Easter break.

12 January 2004

Ullswater: Foxes and Herdwick’s.

Foxes of the Lake District were the sworn enemies of the local farmers. Besides taking poultry, rabbits and small game, lamb was a favourite on a fox's menu in spring and summer particularly. In winter on the fells large adult dog foxes would under the right conditions tackle and take fully grown sheep.

Thus grew in times past the beginning of culling of foxes by farmers with their dogs, banding together and hunting foxes. As time progressed the modern day hunt was formed with a pack of hounds and employing a huntsman with his assistant whipper-in.
Hunting in the Lake District was a serious business and was done mainly on foot. No horses here, or dressing up in the approved riding gear, jumping fences and hedges in a social atmosphere it was a serious business to keep the foxes' at a manageable level. It was hard work on "shanks' pony" following the Huntsman as he follows the fast moving hounds in the chase. Knowing the hunting area intimately he would take short cuts to where he knew the fox was most likely to go to ground.

The Huntsman wore a red coat and black peaked hat similar to a riding hat as his badge of office. Everyone else dressed in warm wet weather gear and stout boots. The Master of the hunt if present wore his badge of office, which was said to be a red waistcoat. The fell hunts I attended, I did not remember seeing the Master so dressed.

I followed now and then as a boy, the Ullswater Pack when we lived at Sharrow Bay in the 1940s and later when we moved to Kidside, Milnthorpe near Kendal the Coniston Pack. The Ullswater Pack huntsman was Joe Wear at the time and I was a friend of his son, Mason Wear, we went to school together in Penrith. We did not follow the hunt together we lived to far apart. He at the Patterdale end of Lake Ullswater and we of course, at Sharrow Bay.

The huntsman prior to Joe Were was Joe Bowman, if my memory serves me right, a huntsman at least as famous as John Peel; some say more so, in the Lake District that is. There was a song wrote of Joe Bowman, the huntsman. I must try to find it and add it to this piece. I remember only a few odd lines now.

At later at Kidside in the 1950s when I was on leave I would occasionally follow the Coniston Pack. In the evening after the hunt was over it was usual to have a few drinks in the local pub where tales of old were told and local hunting songs were sung. I still see in my minds eye, the small bar room with squashed in bodies, everyone with a smile of enjoyment, we all bellowing out the words of the old hunting songs.

It is said that the Lakeland fox was hunted almost to extinction and to maintain the sporting side of fox hunting the southern fox was introduced. Whether this is true or not I do not know.

To me although it is a beautiful, intelligent animal the fox if not hunted would reach plague proportions and do great damage to the livelihood of the local people of the Lake District.

Some say fox hunting is barbaric; others say it is an old traditional sport. I don't really agree with either. I believe in live and let live but if something becomes a pest it must be either eliminated or held to manageable levels.

How do you control the fox in the rugged Lakeland terrain other than by hunting? No practical solution has been found yet.

11 January 2004

 Ullswater Foxes and Herdwick's 1.

Yes, I here you say once more... Foxes ok, but Herdwick?s?

Well Herdwick's are an old breed of sheep that have roamed free on the Lake District fells for a few hundred years now. They are a small tough breed of sheep with an exceptionally thick, shaggy coat, dirty grey in colour and often with a black fleck or occasional dark patches running through.

These initial memories go back first to our 1940s time at Sharrow Bay.

The tough Herdwick's roam the fell tops and steep fell sides and crop the vegetation as close as a lawn. The steep fell sides angling up to 60 degrees or sometimes more, are patterned with undulating horizontal sheep tracks which the sheep use for grazing and moving up or down the steep fell sides.

There are no walls or fences here and each farm's Herdwick's roam together and a tar mark on the coat identifies the owner. The sheep tend to stay within the local area and not often mingle with other flocks in adjacent areas. This has been inbred into the Herdwick's over hundreds of years as is also the sense to come down off the tops and fell sides in winter for shelter when snow is sensed approaching. We humans knew when the snow was coming as we looked out the window and could see the sheep winding their way slowly down the fell side, never mind what the weather forecasters predicted.

The sheep arriving in the fell bottoms would huddle in groups behind the large car sized or larger boulders and behind the drystone walls on the leeward side and hole up here until the storm was over. The snow would blow off the steep fell sides and down into the valley bottoms and form into deep drifts, walls and boulders would be covered, buildings would have snowdrifts to the eaves and the sheep would be more often than not, buried. The heat from the huddled sheep would start to melt the snow and soon an air hole would form tinged with yellow from the hot fetid breath and body heat of the sheep. In times of severe snow storms and especially at early Spring lambing time the farmers and shepherds would use these yellow tinged markers to locate buried sheep and new born lambs. And the sheepdogs knew where to sniff too!

The Herdwick's knew when the storm was over and after patiently waiting would start to trample the snow in the hole until a pathway was trampled to the surface. They would move out onto the fell side blown almost free of snow and nuzzle the remaining snow aside to reach the vegetation below.

During the late spring was the time for shearing. The local farmers would band together with their dogs and herd the sheep down off the fell tops and the fell sides down into the bottom. The dogs would be black dots bounding up the fell sides searching in all the nooks and crannies of the crags for reluctant stragglers. The newly shorn sheep were marked with each farmers tar marking and the unmarked part grown lambs of the present season were identified by their staying in close proximity of the mother and then branded with the mother's mark.

The newly shorn animals would wend their way back up as white coloured dots against the dull grey-green fell side cropping as they went, no doubt to their favourite feeding sites.

In the year 2002 foot and mouth disease hit Cumbria badly and many animals were slaughtered, also any other stock within a designated radius of the infected stock. There was great fear held for this ancient breed of sheep as farms bordering the Lake District fell areas became infected.

Fortunately the Herdwick sheep flocks were spared.