DREAM CATCHER #2 in conversation with Alison Stanley from Newcastle based theatre company, Life of Riley.

In the last post Alison talked about her latest play Sex is Hard Work. Here she talks about her singing career and writing a play last year The Life of Riley.

My thing when I was young was Musical Theatre then I went onto work in pubs and workingmen’s clubs – which are grand places to cut your teeth. Yes it’s ‘Don’t you dare put your speakers where the bingo machine goes’ (laughs).

Still play them now as an ABBA tribute which works out great cos the punters know what they are going to get. An AC/DC fan isn’t gonna rock up to the club and say ‘these are crap they want paid off’.

DON’T MENTION THE WAR

But I also used to go into the care homes and entertain. Now they are really hard audiences, that’s where I got material for a play I wrote Bedsocks & Secrets which tackled dementia, it went really well and got to Edinburgh. But there was some really funny and sad moments in the care home. I remember a woman came up to me as I was singing, she lifted her dress and shouted ‘Pet did I put my drawers on today’. Well no, she didn’t as I tried to keep on singing.

I would vary the show and do music hall stuff, 60’s & 70’s and a wartime show with a uniform on, a union jack behind us and its Vera Lynn ‘We’ll Meet Again’. One time the head carer came up to me and said ‘Do you mind not singing anything that references the Germans or the war cos we’ve got a new resident who is German’ (laughs).

KNOCK ‘EM DEAD KID

Years ago I used to work as a celebrant for a funeral company, I would give the eulogy at a funeral. When lockdown hit all of our theatre in education work, gigs, plays went out the window, that whole income stream was cut just like that. But in a way it was a very creative time for me not having to rehearse or deliver Theatre in Education in schools. So I went back to doing the eulogies because it got me work. It also combines two of my loves, writing and performance.

I go to the family first get all of the information, I’m genuinely interested in people so that helps. Then write it to deliver it like a performance on the day. I find it fascinating and it plays to my strengths entirely, you have to be respectful and professional.

Alison lwith Cameron Frazer in ‘Life of Riley’ at Northern Stage 2020.

LIFE OF RILEY

The first play I wrote was The Birthday Party which only played a few small fringe theatres in London. Next year is a national tour of Life of Riley and it’s the third play I’ve wrote. Predominantly, it’s about autism, but it’s a mainstream play and accessible to everyone. It’s family drama entertainment and educational. The feedback and revues from people who’ve been entertained by it are now more aware of autism.

When I wrote it, it was a cathartic process because my youngest son is autistic. Jay is 20 and high functioning autistic so a lot of themes in there is our lives when he was younger and when he was diagnosed. The title is tongue in cheek because this family have anything but the life of riley.

It’s about a man who is looking back over his life and experiences as an autistic child, and how the dynamics of the family changed with his diagnosis. It’s funny and can be moving in parts, I also add the shock factor, which I like writing – like the Granny who thinks he just needs a smacked backside. There is the scenes with the mam and dad’s relationship breakdown because of it, and she nearly goes off with someone else.

There is also a scene where he is a teenager and he is beaten up and says to his mother ‘Mam what’s a spacka ?’ You can feel the audience drawing in breath, it’s the shock factor of a rarely used word now. The audience are torn hearing the term, but unfortunately it still happens.

SELL OUT

The play has had some good reviews and in 2019 we took it to Edinburgh Fringe where it sold out. I was surprised to get a standing ovation where the audiences can be quite hit or miss about it because the number of plays that they see during the week.

We played shows on a Northern tour of the Exchange in North Shields, Blyth, Stockton and just before lockdown last year at Newcastle’s Northern Stage 500 seater who sold it out and we got a standing ovation.

Through the Riley play we offer a Theatre in Education where we deliver an autism awareness and acceptance play in primary schools.  That has opened up to more people asking when is the main play being staged again, we will be working on that this Autumn towards putting on a full national tour next year.

NORTHERN FILM

A spin off from the play is we made a short film clip of it with Chrissy Rock (Benidorm, Ladybird Ladybird) and Charlie Price (The Great). Now with BFI funding we are looking to make a feature film with Try Hard Films and Opus Films – all very exciting. The play and film are very northern, it will be a look of The Full Monty crossed with Shameless, that type of real gritty humour.

They have taken my stage script and Debbie Owen who writes for BBC programme Casualty has rewritten it into a screen play. I’ll be a sort of consultant when they are making the film, I will be there somewhere, because I’m not just a writer, theatre maker, I’m also a jobbing actress.

DANCE IN THE DARK

For the future I’m hoping we can have a creative hub with a 60-100 seat black box theatre – just a bare stage with black curtains, no red velvets or plush surroundings. We could hire it out to other companies to help sustain it and encourage new writing, experimental stuff. Plus we can have a small cinema screening room, rehearsal and meeting space with a café or bar, it would create jobs and work experience – that’s not too much to ask.

We just need someone to come and say you can have this building because I know you will make a cracking job of it. If I want to try something new I just go for it, I’ve never been frightened of failure I’m just frightened of regret. I don’t want to get to a point in life where I say if I had done that or tried that.

Alison’s latest play ‘Sex is Hard Work’ plays six nights at Newcastle’s Cluny from 28 June 2021.

Advance tickets £10. Doors open 6pm.

The Cluny, 36 Lime St, Ouseburn, Newcastle, NE1 2PQ.  (0191 230 44 74)

Interview by Gary Alikivi  May 2021.                    

DREAM CATCHER – in conversation with writer & performer Alison Stanley from Newcastle based theatre company, Life of Riley.

I’ve always loved singing, acting, performing – just something I’ve always done. I’ve been doing this since I was 4.

Nobody in my family sings or entertains, so you know bit of a freak really, the family think I’m a total exhibitionist – I just liked showing off (laughs).

SMELLS LIKE GYPSY SPIRIT

If I go further back my ancestry is German and Romany and in our family my Great Grandfather was the last of the travelling gypsies, he settled into a house and family when he met my Great Grandmother. A family name was the German, Fischer, they weren’t popular due to the war so the name spelling was changed by dropping the ‘c’. Maybe there was a German Gypsy treading the boards (laughs).

The whole process of theatre making for me is exciting, I don’t want to lie, it is challenging at times and some days I think is this the day I’m gonna throw the towel in. I’ve definitely got a bit of a strong spirit in me to keep going because hearing the word ‘no’ is not what I want to hear. If there is an obstacle in the way I’ll find a way round it.

NEVER LOST FOR WORDS

When an idea comes it niggles in the back of my head, then I sleep on it, it works its way to the front of my brain so in the morning it reveals itself and I think about how to develop the idea. Some writers say it’s a lonely time but when I’m writing I’m with all of the characters, I’ve worked out who they are and then they talk to me. Fictional characters just exist in my head where they are acting out their daily lives.

The whole rehearsal period can be frustrating but it’s good to hear your words brought to life. In rehearsals it’s mainly all there on script but sometimes I come in with a killer line. I add in a line if I’ve heard someone say it during the day or how some words sound – I’ll remember that and use it. On the first night in front of an audience it’s good feeling to see the initial idea from conception being brought to fruition.

BACK ON BOARD

I’m really keen on theatre being accessible to everybody so we can put a show on anywhere. Northern Stage have been supportive of my writing so I’ve had nights there, the Phoenix, The Arc in Stockton, Queens Hall in Hexham, I like mainstream theatres but I also like to take it to intimate audiences.

I’ve had three of my plays in Edinburgh, but beforehand I like to try them out to smaller audiences before they are unleashed on the scathing critics of Edinburgh Fringe. Getting any support is good because its hard getting your shows in any theatre because of the Covid backlog, so The Newcastle Cluny are preparing to show Sex is Hard Work from 28th June.

SEX IS HARD WORK

The show is based on a prostitute from South Shields who started work on the sex phone lines then ended up as an escort. When I first started rehearsing and writing the play I though I was a woman of the world, now I know I’m next to Mother Theresa (laughs). The play isn’t just titillation or a biography of her life it’s mainstream entertainment. I’ve took the character and added more depth. There is the part of life as a sex worker paired with being a carer for her father who’s had a stroke.

You know a lot of women are in the sex industry because of varying circumstances like debt, drugs and being coerced into it, or like the woman I spoke to just not fancying a 9 to 5 job and wanting to make lots of money. It may not be everybody’s career choice – but that’s hers. I like to challenge the audiences pre-conceived notions about a subject, and after the play they have taken a battering.

Sex is Hard Work plays six nights in The Cluny, Newcastle with the last night being a Thank You to NHS with some of their staff coming. We’ll see how the show is received then hopefully next year tour it and take it to Edinburgh Fringe.

‘Sex is Hard Work’ plays six nights from 28 June 2021. Advance tickets £10. Doors open 6pm.

The Cluny, 36 Lime St, Ouseburn, Newcastle, NE1 2PQ.  (0191 230 44 74)

Interview by Gary Alikivi  May 2021.

LOOKING FOR LUCIFER #3 – Art for Sale.

The continuing search for author & artist, Baron Avro Manhattan (1914-90).

Over a number of years I’ve researched the life of Italian born author & artist Baron Avro Manhattan, who spent his last years living in a terraced house in my hometown of South Shields. In 2018 a short documentary ‘Secrets & Lies’ was produced focusing on what I’ve found about his life so far. The link is at the end of this post.

Avro was originally called Theophile Lucifer Gardini, the name change is looked at in post #2. Looking for Lucifer #3 includes research used to script a second documentary about this fascinating character.

Lately I’ve come across some of his books and art being sold on EBay which includes a 1947 edition of ‘The Catholic Church Against the Twentieth Century’. The book is up for sale from Liberty Collectibles on Merseyside. I got in touch with Sean at Liberty and asked if he had more information about the book.

‘I have a number of these books for sale. I discovered them during a house clearance at Neston on the Wirral. The deceased owner was an avid collector of religious books, he had over 1,000, and had multiple copies of this book. I have sold some of them. They all appear to be unread as they are in excellent structural condition with some minor foxing to the edges of the pages. All still have their dust jacket but some of these have minor tears from storage and handling’.

Also for sale on EBay is a watercolour of a skeleton put up for sale from Planet Antiques based in Shipley, Derbyshire. I got in touch and asked if they had more information about the painting. Manager of the antique firm, Michelle Edge, replied

We bought the painting from an auction house local to us. As antique dealers it was something that just took my partners eye and something he loves. I can’t really tell you an awful lot more than that really. We researched the artist for the listing and he does indeed sound very interesting.

Superb watercolour, unframed, depicts a sitting skeleton which will appeal to a range of collectors, a fantastic painting done by a talented hand’.

If you have any information about Italian born artist & author Baron Avro Manhattan (1914-90) please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

Link to documentary:

The Life of Baron Avro Manhattan – SECRETS & LIES – documentary (Alikivi,12 mins 2018). – YouTube

Gary Alikivi  April 2021

LOOKING FOR LUCIFER #2 – Ciao, Avro.

The continuing search for author & artist, Baron Avro Manhattan (1914-90).

Over a number of years I’ve researched the life of Italian born author & artist Baron Avro Manhattan, who spent his last years living in a terraced house in my hometown of South Shields. In 2018 a short documentary ‘Secrets & Lies’ was produced focusing on what I’ve found about his life so far. The link is at the end of this post.

Looking for Lucifer #2 includes research used to script a second documentary about this fascinating character. Avro was originally called Theophile Lucifer Gardini and the change of name plus a press cutting from 1938 is looked at in this post.

Daily Herald November 21, 1938.

As well as Theophile Lucifer Gardini, Avro used the name Teofilo Angelo Mario Gardini. In my correspondence with his nephew in Italy, he refers to him as Teofilo. Angelo is also the name of his brother. A childhood friend in Italy where Avro grew up, told me his second name Lucifer was given to him by his father as his mother had given their other son an ‘angelic’ name in Angelo.

A lot of artists have used pen and stage names – musicians Farrokh Bulsara to Freddie Mercury, Mary O’Brien switched to Dusty Springfield and writer Eric Blair becoming George Orwell. In 1953 Teofilo Gardini changed his name by Deed Poll to Avro Manhattan. Why did he change his name making him sound like a rock star ?

One suggestion is that post war his art or book publisher might have suggested Manhattan would be an easier sell than Gardini on the European and American market. Or more likely he wanted a clean break away from Italy and the Fascist regime who still had followers in the UK.

This press cutting above is dated November 1938 and is about an art exhibition held in Mayfair, London.   

At the Bloomsbury Galleries this week there will be an interesting one-man show by a young Italian painter. This artist is Theophile Gardini and the exhibition was to have been opened by Dr Jane Walker, believed to have been the oldest woman doctor in this country, whose death occurred a few days ago. This clever woman doctor was keenly interested in art, and was known as a discerning collector.

The newspaper article doesn’t give the doctor the credit she deserves. Dr Jane Harriet Walker (1859-1938) was a big wig of the medical profession – establishing a private practice in London’s Harley Street, and was first doctor to use the open air method of treating tuberculosis.

A recent search found the Manchester Art Gallery have a 1938 painting by Theophile Gardini titled Spring at Nayland, Suffolk. Why would he be in Suffolk ? The link is Dr Walker, who in 1901 opened a sanitorium to treat tuberculosis in Nayland, Suffolk.

Spring at Nayland, 1938

Back to the newspaper report:

Young Gardini’s art career has been rather unusual. His father, who had artistic as well as literary gifts, was a political prisoner under the Blackshirt regime and sent to a disciplinary regiment to do his military term.

The Blackshirts were the paramilitary wing of Fascist Italy led by Mussolini, and like his father, Avro despised them. In 1928 he was called up for military service, refused to swear to the Fascist oath and was imprisoned in a fortress on Lake Como. As mentioned earlier, he wanted a clean break from Italy.

The closing paragraph of the article revealed:

His son, whose work London is now to have the opportunity of appraising, was designed for the Church and went into a seminary. But his artistic proclivities, especially a facility for drawing nude figures, was judged inappropriate to seminary atmosphere, and young Theophile became a painter.

Avro would have attended the Priest training centre in Monza, Milan, where he was born. But why would the Church protest against his style of painting, understanding this form of art he would have been an asset to the Church as most are covered in paintings and sculptures of people. Surely they can’t have expelled him for a few drawings ?

He might have uncovered secrets and was dismissed because of what he discovered ? In later years Avro wrote many books against the Vatican and the Catholic Church and their position in world politics. A topic he became well known for in religious circles.

If you have information about Italian born artist & author Baron Avro Manhattan (1914-90) please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

Gary Alikivi  April 2021

Link to documentary film:

The Life of Baron Avro Manhattan – SECRETS & LIES – documentary (Alikivi,12 mins 2018). – YouTube

WITNESS: 10 EVENTS of WORLD WAR TWO

pic Amy Flagg 1941. South Shields Market. Courtesy of South Tyneside Council.

War images by South Shields historian & photographer Amy Flagg are a reminder how the Second World War impacted the town. In the ‘70s I remember playing on bomb buildings and not realising that’s exactly what they were – big gaps in streets that had been flattened by German Luftwaffe.

On TV, a documentary series World at War had grainy black and white footage of soldiers fighting on the front line cut with colour interviews of people telling war stories – witnesses to armageddon.

On the big screen in the late ‘90s came Saving Private Ryan, there was audible gasps from the audience as one of the most brutal opening 20 minutes of film exploded on the screen. Using a hand held camera we were on board the landing craft shoulder to shoulder with troops riding the waves and hitting the Normandy beach. Then the noise. Gun fire, bullets on metal, screams from young men – welcome to hell.

For this post I’ve chosen events that shaped the war and eventual victory for the Allies in 1945. If some of them went another way the world would have looked a different place.  

Maginot Line : A series of concrete domes with weapons, underground rail and air–conditioned living quarters inside them, were built by France in the 1930’s. They were to deter a German invasion who had already conquered Poland, Belgium and Holland. The stronger defence line was positioned south at the border with Germany and Switzerland, but the enemy marched north through the Ardennes forest, which the French thought was impenetrable.

Operation Dynamo: The German war machine dominated mainland Europe and surrounded French, Belgian and British soldiers – it was a major military disaster. Luckily they stalled as the Germans occupied France and revelled in a triumphant march on the capital, Paris.

Meanwhile, a call went out to the British public and they responded by sending hundreds of small boats, yachts and fishing vessels to rescue thousands of British soldiers from the beaches of Dunkirk in June 1940.

But with only the English channel holding the Germans back, the Luftwaffe now aimed for complete domination of the skies and ultimate surrender of the British.

Battle of Britain: Sirens howled all over Britain, blackouts, rations, evacuations, gas masks for children, broomsticks for the Home Guard, and gardens were being dug out for air raid shelters.

The Germans never countered for high numbers of radar stations along the UK coastline which instantly communicated to the British air force that an attack was imminent. Enemy positions were pinpointed rather than patrolling an area.

In one raid Spitfires and Hurricanes defended Britain against the might of over 250 German bombers. The Luftwaffe blitzkrieg was bringing the fire.

Black Saturday: 7 September 1940 sirens went off and like a dark cloud hundreds of German bombers filled the skies over the capital. The night sky was full of smoke and in its wake a trail of destruction. The blitz was in full force as airfields, shipyards, factories and civilians were targeted.

Battle of Britain Day: 15 September 1940 an all-out concentrated day attack from the Luftwaffe over the skies of London was pushed back by the British Air Force. Helped by heavy cloud cover, the Germans retreated and only night time raids were planned.

Operation Sea Lion: Hitler wanted a plan for an all-out invasion of Britain. But the German High Command went cool on the idea. New battleships weren’t ready, the Luftwaffe weren’t the success they thought they’d be, dates weren’t right for weather conditions, and the British were gaining strength. Hitler cancelled the operation and a new plan was needed. Enter the Russians.

Operation Barbarossa: Became known as one of the largest theatres of war during the conflict as the Germans turned their attention to the Soviet Union. As in mainland Europe the German war machine was expecting a speedy victory on the Eastern front. But taking on the Soviets in their own backyard during winter turned out to be a bad tactical decision.

First they were having difficulties making tracks as mud was bogging down the vehicles, then the ground was frozen. The infantry were tired and weakened without warm clothing. In this climate the Soviets were better prepared and more experienced.

Battle of Moscow: The capital was one of the main targets for the German invasion. But Soviet determination to hold their positions caused great concern to Nazi high command. Strategic defensive moves halted the attack and pushed back the Germans who after the defeat, dismissed their General. Were cracks beginning to show in the armour of the German war machine ?

The Black Pit: The mid-Atlantic was known as the black pit owing to the high number of ships that the German U boats would take out, in five month they sank 274 – it was an onslaught.

Hitler tried to starve Britain out of the war by cutting off supplies. He sent hundreds of U boats in wolf packs to hunt down, create havoc and attack merchant ships crossing the Atlantic with food and oil. The U boats were close enough to attack from ports around France and Norway, they could reach top speeds, dive to extremely low depths, find their targets with deadly precision and co-ordinate missions to attack all at once. They were so successful that the sea became a mass grave of seaman and ships.

Fortune turned when the Americans, who had so far kept out of the war, came in with a Lend-Lease deal. They supplied Britain with a number of war ships including the Corvette – which earned a reputation as a supreme U boat hunter.

Then one of the worst military decisions of the war was made at the end of 1941. Japanese war planes attacked stationary American warships at Pearl Harbour – the USA declared war and the killing business was taken up a notch. Ultimately, Hiroshima and Nagasaki would suffer dire consequences.

HMS Bulldog: A Royal Navy destroyer built at Tyneside’s Swan Hunter shipyard, saw escort duty in the Battle of the Atlantic. In May 1941 near Greenland, HMS Aubretia depth charged a U boat forcing her to the surface, Bulldog fired and closed in on the crew who were abandoning the boat.

Sub Lieutenant David Balme of Bulldog led a small party to board the U boat, enter the wireless room, and remove the coding machine. It was taken to Bletchley Park, England where a team of intelligence officers broke the code.

By 1943 U boat power was annihilated – the hunter became the hunted. The end of the German war machine was in sight and the balance of power had shifted toward the Allies.

Research: TV History programmes and official BBC websites.

Gary Alikivi  May 2021.

TYNESIDE HERO TOMMY CRACKS THE NAZI CODE

The Royal Navy destroyer HMS Petard was built at Vickers Armstrong Naval Yard on Tyneside, she saw active service during the Second World War in the Mediterranean. On board was 16 year old Tommy Brown from North Shields who risked his life to capture vital documents from a German U-boat, which ultimately helped British code breakers change the course of the war.  

Allied shipping was taking a battering in the Atlantic. Winston Churchill wrote ‘The only thing that frightened me during the war was the U-boat peril’. On 30 October 1942, a submarine was tracked on radar near Port Said off the Egyptian coast. HMS Petard, with four other British ships, attacked the U-boat with depth charges forcing it to surface. The German seamen abandoned their vessel.

First Lieutenant Anthony Fasson, and Able Seaman Colin Grazier swam across to U-boat 559. They climbed the tower then went below and gathered together an Enigma machine and code-books. They were helped by NAAFI canteen assistant, Tommy Brown. When asked at the inquiry what conditions were like, he replied:

‘The lights were out — the First Lieutenant had a torch. The water was not very high but rising all the time. There was a hole forward of the tower and water was coming in. As I went down through the tower compartment I felt it pouring down my back. They passed some books to me’.

‘I saw Grazier and the First Lieutenant appear at the bottom of the hatch. I shouted twice ‘you better come up’, they had just started when the submarine started to sink very quickly. I managed to jump off and was picked up by a whaler’.

The U-boat became their coffin as Fasson and Grazier drowned when it sank with them and the Enigma machine inside. HMS Petard left the area signalling that documents had been captured. The treasured codebooks retrieved by Brown were immensely valuable to code-breakers at Bletchley Park in England. But nobody would know the effects of their actions, as for thirty years they were guarded by the official secrets act.

Not long after the three hero’s had blown wide open the German codes – they were read by the Allies. The convoys could now be directed away from known U-boat locations, saving thousands of lives. Long range bombers were called in and an aggressive campaign turned the war. By 1943 the Battle of the Atlantic was won paving the way for eventual Allied victory.

Tommy returned home to 6 Lily Gardens on the Ridges Estate. He was one of eleven children to Mr and Mrs T.W. Brown, his father was also a member of the forces. But when Tommy joined in April 1942 he lied to the Navy about his age. The officers found this out, so he spent his days on HMS Belfast moored on the Tyne, allowing him to spend his nights at home.

But sadly one early morning in February 1945, he died attempting to rescue his 4 year old sister Maureen from a fire at home. Called out at 2.30am and fighting through intense heat and dense smoke, it took fireman one and a half hours to extinguish the fire which destroyed half the house.

Rain poured down on a cold grey day as neighbours stood patiently outside the Brown’s home silently paying tribute to the funeral of Tommy and Maureen. In a full Naval funeral, an escort formed outside the cemetery gates and six members of the ship that Brown sailed in, were coffin bearers. Family and friends attended the graveside service in Preston Cemetery, North Shields.

His family were awarded the George Medal by King George VI, Tommy being the youngest person to ever receive the award. Today, the Exchange Building in North Shields has a stained glass window devoted to Tommy, a permanent reminder of a true hero.

If you have any information about Thomas Brown please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

Research: North East War Memorials project, Celebrating Bletchley Park and special thanks to Joyce Marti for providing archive Tyneside newspaper information.

Gary Alikivi   May 2021.

LOST INDUSTRIES on TYNESIDE

Angel of the North (pic May 2015).

Between 2009 and 2016 I made over 20 Tyneside films which are available on the Alikivi You Tube channel. In 2012 Vanished was a documentary about the lost heavy industry on Tyneside now commemorated by pieces of public art along the riverside.

They reflected the past of coal, steel and shipyards which dominated our landscape. In 2004 when I was making a video about art on the riverside I filmed some of them from a helicopter capturing the location of the piece.

On the seafront in South Shields is the Conversation Piece with Tyne Anew on the north side of the river, and on the banks of the Tyne at Hebburn I talked to artist, Charles Quick, who designed Flash.

In 2002 I was invited to put a proposal in for a piece of artwork for Hebburn Riverside park. After talking to people in the area and doing some research about the history of the area I discovered there were lots of industries in Hebburn, but not so evident anymore – shipbuilding, coalmining, cokeworks and electrical engineering.

One thing that would link all those together was industrial flashes of light from the arc welding or the cokeworks.

I worked with many different communities to design flashes of light and these were orchestrated through a number of LED’s on the top, it was all solar powered so it really was looking to the future. There was no cabling linking any of the columns, it was all radio controlled. There was a radio receiver that tells all the columns when to come on and off.

They can come on at night and there’s a timetable so they always come on in the dark, and also 30 second flashes of light every 15 minutes during the day. So it was a piece that would work in the day and at night.

Also featured in the film was former Whitburn colliery miner, now artist, Bob Olley.

Well I worked at Whitburn Colliery from 1957 till the colliery closed in ’68. Whitburn was a wet pit mostly and I was working in the east yard seam three miles out under the North Sea. It took us three quarters of an hour to get in and three quarters of an hour to get out. I think it’s because it’s such an adverse industry, danger, and whatever else, a sense of humour developed.

When the colliery closed it was the push I needed to get out. When I first went into the artistic side of my life the stuff I did was very dour, mostly pen and ink work. Then I moved away from coal mining for about 15 years then suddenly I got this urge to go back to the subject.

Up to about 15 years ago I would say most people in the North East their lives were influenced by the coal industry. The amount of people that were involved with the transportation of coal, the winning of the coal, the processing of the coal, everybody’s life was touched by coal.

Metro bridge at Crossgate, South Shields over former railway line leading to Westoe Colliery. (pic February 2013).

There was a lot of railway lines which used to criss-cross around South Tyneside, now they are used for walking and cycle paths. One man who remembers what it was like was John Cuddihy.

Well I was 40 years on the railway I worked at Sunderland, up to Consett, Darlington and over to Durham. Mostly worked South Shields station, High Shields station and Harton Junction. You had a Harton railway system and you could see the trains coming from Hilda Yard and through the tunnel under where the La Strada nightclub was, then up to Harton low staithes and then we’d run the wagons back.

Then under the British rail system you had the huge system at Green Lane, a massive system at Tyne Dock bottom where you used to get these big nine ’F’ engines hauling these ore trains all the way to Consett. They would haul through Green Lane at high speed. The fireman used to be really fit to haul all the way up a bank to Consett.

If you were on the Marsden Rattler you could travel from Westoe Lane, a huge station with a signal box there an’ al – it was very impressive. You could travel through from Westoe to Whitburn and travel back it was only a short distance done on an aged rolling stock.

After that they pulled it all down, done away with it all together, there’s photographs of how it was and I took one in 1995 of the station. After that they built flats on it you wouldn’t think there’d been anything there – it’s a shame.

Holborn docks, South Shields (pic. September 2016).

By the mid 1980’s there was virtually no shipbuilding on the Tyne, but one man who spent the early years of his working life there, was Vince High.

I started working in the shipyards when I left school in 1975. My Grandad had been a welder, also my uncle. So it was a natural thing for me to aspire to be the same as them, the fact that they were welders was a no brainer for me – I wanted to be like them.

A lot of the guys prided on the fact that they never lost anytime at all. I have visions coming back of the time there was a roller shutter that used to come down dead on 7.30am.

So if you were at the top of the bank and the shutter was coming down, myself and my mate would saunter down happy to lose a quarter hours pay, but you’d see some guys running down, throwing their haversacks under the shutter just before it hit the ground and doing a commando roll into the yard just to save a quarter hours pay.

Looking at the river now compared to say 20 years ago it’s actually incredible. Clearly the shipyards to all intents and purposes are gone, that high employment is gone, but what I think is happening is we’re trying to make an alternative use for the river now.

Whereas at one time it was about industry, work and employment, now it seems to be about improving the housing and getting people actually living near the river again.

Watch the film here with narration by Tom Kelly and music from Ron Smith.

Tyneside Lost Industry – VANISHED (Alikivi 9mins 2012) – YouTube

Gary Alikivi  May 2021.

FAMILY TIES #3: JARROW SLAKE & THE GALWAY HOOKER

Fishwives by the river Corrib, returning from Galway’s fish market.

In 2007 I was over in Ireland researching my family tree when I picked up a book ‘Old Irish Country Life’ by Hugh Oram. It was packed with photographs taken at the beginning of the 20th century of people working on the land, some I’ve included here along with text by Oram.

From fishwives to seaweed harvesting, weaving and cutting turf, the wonderful black & white pictures illustrated a harsh life – and these were similar scenes to what my ancestors lived through.

A branch of my family came from Galway so I was drawn to a picture that features fishwives by the river Corrib, returning from Galway’s fish market. I was also interested in the photograph of a couple of fishermen’s wives repairing nets – as faint as a pencil drawing.

Galway fishwives repairing fishing nets.

The Claddagh, meaning ‘stoney foreshaw’ in old Irish, was one of Ireland’s oldest fishing villages on the western shoreline of Galway city. The sea off Galway was rich in cod, herring and mackerel. The boats would all go out in the evening, drifting overnight and bring in hundreds of mackerel by dawn. In the 19th century over two thousand people fished the bay using the traditional boat with its red sails – the Galway Hooker.

Galway fish market which stood across the river Corrib from The Claddagh where fishermen lived.

In 1985 my Grandfather wrote his memories of an Irish family living in Jarrow, North East England.

I suppose when they were built they would be a hamlet outside of Jarrow. There were three communities like this at the time; the Old Church at Jarrow Slake, pronounced ‘Slacks’, where we lived, Quay Corner at the riverside, and East Jarrow over the Don Bridge. The Don was the river that ran past our house.

My mother’s family the Joyce’s, originated in Galway in the west of Ireland. She came from a big family, her brothers, uncles and cousins were all fishermen. I remember her one day telling me about the night they went out fishing in Galway Bay and a big gale blew up. Most of them were lost.

I remember my mother being a very hard working woman. She worked as a stoker in the chemical works over the bridge in East Jarrow. She worked there all through the 1914-18 war, and I remember taking her bait over at dinner time and getting half of it for myself.

Two World Wars happened in my life. The Great War of 1914-18 was on when I started school. We heard the Germans firing their guns on Sunderland. One day we saw a Zeppelin pass over, and I believe it dropped a bomb on Sunderland Docks.

We also went to Quay Corner to watch the Royal Navy ships come in after being in battle. I remember one, HMS Lion, her mast and bridge were all broken up and she had a big hole in her side. Also some tugs towed a great big ‘thing’ up river and moored it at the Slakes. It was like a great big house, and my mother said it was a Royal Naval hospital for sailors wounded in battle. It later became known locally as the Floating Hospital.

The old Jarrow bridge over the river Don at low tide. The slake was over the bridge.

Looking back the things I used to get wrong for seem trivial. Such as playing in the Slakes at low tide and coming in with my feet full of mud or playing on the timbers at high tide. We all did that, we would cut four or five timbers adrift and use them as a raft. But sometimes Mr Beauly the river policeman would catch us and tell our parents.

The slake was also our swimming pool, we all learned to swim there from about the age of six. By the time we were ten or eleven we were swimming in the Don and the Tyne. At high tide the Don was about twelve feet deep and we would dive off the bridge into the river.

When my Grandfather died and was cremated in 1986, his ashes were thrown into the river Don from the old bridge. Sometimes we go back to where we started.

Hugh Oram book published in 2007 by Stenlake Publishing Limited.

Gary Alikivi   May 2021.

FAMILY TIES #2: A FULL MOON & AN IRISH WAKE

In 2007 I was over in Ireland researching my family tree when I picked up a book ‘Old Irish Country Life’ by Hugh Oram. It was packed with photographs taken at the beginning of the 20th century of people working on the land, some I have included here along with the text by Oram.

From fishwives to seaweed harvesting, weaving and cutting turf, the wonderful black & white pictures illustrated a harsh life – and these were similar scenes to what my ancestors lived through.

Seaweed harvesting was an industry along the coastlines of Mayo, Galway, Donegal and Kerry.

Work on farmland and fishing were major occupations in Ireland and after a long day’s work people would organise entertainment – there was no radio, TV or cinema in those days.

Relatives, friends and neighbours would enjoy endless singing and storytelling, the tradition of seanchaí – a teller of traditional stories – was hugely popular in rural households.

Killing the pig was an important ceremony and social occasion with neighbours lending a hand. Tea and the odd whiskey or two were shared afterwards, plus the latest neighbourhood news and gossip.

Superstition played a part – a pig was never killed during a month containing the letter ‘R’ and if it was done on a full moon the meat increased in size.

The Bothan Scoir, a labourers cottage, west Ireland.

Ancient customs and traditions were a big part of Irish life – and death. The wake was a send off by  family and friends in the house of the deceased before the body was handed over to the church. My Grandfather wrote of his experience as an Irish family living in Jarrow, North East England.

You know looking back on my younger days, knowing the bit about my father and the more I knew about my mother, she was a very kind woman, strict but fair, and very religious. She must have been a strong woman to work the way she did and to put up with the life she had with my father.

I often wonder how they came together as they had nothing in common with each other. One was always in the pub, the other in the church. Still, I suppose there must have been some feeling between them as she had five children to him, three sons and two daughters. As they say, there’s nothing as queer as folk.  

In 1920 I started at St Bede’s Senior School, Low Jarrow. I was eleven years old and quite a lot happened to make me grow up quickly. I detested school and did everything I could to make sure I seldom went.

The only time I was ever happy at school was during the winter because each classroom had a big open coal fire and it was lovely and warm. But in the summer I would go to school in the morning and if it was a sunny day I would go to Shields beach in the afternoon.

When my father died my mother insisted on an Irish wake, where the deceased is put on display in the front room so that family and friends can pay their respects. They all sat at a table where there was snuff, cigarettes, clay pipes and ‘baccy.

Later on the men brought in the beer and to my young mind everybody seemed to be enjoying themselves except for my father who was stuck in the corner.

Then the final touch the night before the funeral, the priest came down at 7pm to say prayers as there was no taking the coffin to the church the night before the funeral as there is now.

More Irish family ties and images from ‘Old Irish Country Life’ on the next post.

Hugh Oram book published in 2007 by Stenlake Publishing Limited.

Gary Alikivi  May 2021

FAMILY TIES #1 : THE GALWAY CLADDAGH & JARROW DON

Galway fish market 1905

In 2007 I was over in Ireland researching my family tree when I picked up a book ‘Old Irish Country Life’ by Hugh Oram. It was packed with photographs taken at the beginning of the 20th century of people working on the land, some I have included here along with text by Oram.

From fishwives to seaweed harvesting, weaving and cutting turf, the wonderful black & white pictures illustrated a harsh life – and these were similar scenes to what my ancestors lived through.

The Claddagh, Galway City.

A branch of my family came from Galway so I was drawn to a picture that featured The Claddagh. The houses in the photo remind me of old black and white image’s I’ve seen of homes near St Paul’s Church and along the river Don in Jarrow.

Old pit cottages, Jarrow, 1897.

My grandfather lived in those white walled cottages, and before he died in 1986 wrote down his memories of Jarrow life growing up in an Irish family.

To begin with a word about the type of house I lived in and the surrounding area. I suppose when they were built they would be a hamlet outside of Jarrow. There were three communities like this at the time; the Old Church at Jarrow Slake, pronounced ‘Slacks’, where we lived, Quay Corner at the riverside, and East Jarrow over the Don Bridge. The Don was the river that ran past our house.

The house itself was old it was one of the original pit cottages built when there was a pit in Jarrow. The pit itself was at the top of Queens Road and when I was young we had a fair there every year.

But back to the houses, they were white cottages, the walls would be about 8 feet high with a shallow sloping roof. They were two roomed, but the attic was turned into a bedroom for the children and there was room in it for two beds. To make it more comfortable we pasted layers of newspaper over the rafters.

More Irish family ties and images from ‘Old Irish Country Life’ on the next post.

Hugh Oram book published in 2007 by Stenlake Publishing Limited.

Gary Alikivi   May 2021.