On the Tide Line – But Not Quite Washed Up

Lowsy 1

THERE’S a special place on the Furness peninsula where people live in huts for much of the year. Some of the huts are made from old boats, others from scraps of wood, door frames and bits of recycled houses; a couple of the more modern ones resemble holiday chalets, complete with double-glazing and wind-generated electricity.

I take a dog and a granddaughter and we plod across a railway line and around a bay to this smattering of huts at Lowsy Point. And we gaze across the waters of Walney Channel to the distant slagbanks of Barrow-in-Furness, and the grey blur of a town once dominated by shipyard cranes. This was where my working life began – in that grey smudge – back in September 1973. And I suddenly realise the irony of visiting this place today. Because at work last night, a hundred miles to the east on the other side of the Pennines, I was handed my notice of redundancy. That’s me gone full circle. Finished . . .

The headland of Sandscale Haws is a nature reserve in the Duddon estuary famous for its colony of natterjack toads. Lowsy Point juts from its southern side, pointing towards the northern tip of Walney Island. (Click images for high-res versions)

map thingMy father used to tramp across these sand-dunes with his 12-bore shotgun and me and my brother in tow. I can still feel the chilblains I acquired during the long winter evenings spent crouching in the rushes waiting for geese that never materialised and rabbits that were snug and warm in their burrows. I used to pray he didn’t shoot anything because it made the bag heavier.

And here I am again, about forty-five years later, with a girl who is attracted to mud and my mother’s frantic collie. Black Combe dominates the skyline, as it always does in these parts, and occasionally we are treated to glimpses of the Lakeland fells – a broad arc stretching from the Scafell range in the west, through Bowfell, Harter Fell, Dow Crag and Coniston Old Man, to the slopes of Helvellyn in the east.

Lowsy 22 Lowsy 3 Lowsy 23And the seascape: grey vistas stretching to the Isle of Man and the mountains of Mourne on a clear day. Beaches of grey shingle and acres of perfect sand. Dunes that rise white from the water and roll inland like petrified waves. A bloke can lose himself in the silence. Just walking. A bloke without a granddaughter and Border collie, that is.

Lowsy 4 Lowsy 2 Lowsy 16This is one of those excursions where we wander at will. We spy a wreck of a boat above the tide line, and I sit in the damp shingle while her ladyship clambers among the frames. That’s the sort of thing I used to like doing. The dog runs in circles because it can.

Then we wander among the huts and smell the wood smoke, and feel the cool wind on our faces, gusting in from the Irish Sea. And we sit on a bench and soak up the atmosphere as a boat slides around the tip of Walney. All that’s missing is the faint, rhythmic poetry of the Shipping Forecast drifting from a half-open door. Do you know how they make you redundant these days?

Lowsy 5 Lowsy 6 Lowsy 7 Lowsy 8 Lowsy 9 Lowsy 10 Lowsy 11I thought I was familiar with the redundancy process because I was handed my P45 on three occasions during the 1980s and early 1990s. In the old days they used to get rid of you when the company was losing money – sort of throw the sailors overboard to stop the ship sinking.

Lowsy 19Now they get rid of you to increase profits – they ditch the sailors to make the ship go faster, that’s the name of the game. It should be noted that, in true British fashion, the captains (two) and high-ranking officers on my particular vessel have actually increased in number during the past five years. They are still dining at the top table while prodding the sailors along the plank.

I didn’t intend to employ a maritime metaphor here but it seems appropriate because of our proximity to the sea. It is also suitable because the very first editor of The Northern Echo – the paper I have spent the past 18 years working for – Mr WT Stead, went down on the Titanic. No kidding. He’s at the bottom of the Atlantic in his top hat and tails.

Lowsy 19aSo they gather you all together and announce that the entire sub-editors department in Darlington is being scrapped – along with its counterparts on sister papers in York and Bradford – and all our work is being transferred to Newport, in Wales, where fewer people on lower wages will edit stories about places they have never heard of except in the football results.

Welsh private-sector growth will be boosted, and I have no doubt that George Osborne will point to growing employment in an employment blackspot as another sign of the economic recovery. Green shoots sprouting among the leeks and daffodils, if you like, boyos. But at the expense of a higher number of jobs in the North of England. There’s something perverse about that.

Lowsy 19bSo we walk along the shingle to exercise our muscles and generate an appetite for tonight’s Chinese take-away from the Happy Garden in Askam, kicking stones and throwing sticks for the dog, waving at people doing jobs on their sheds, and breathing the fresh sea air with its rich smells of seaweed, fish and salt.

Funny how things change. The slagbanks across the channel have been landscaped in recent years. The shipyard cranes have nearly all vanished, although ships are still built in Barrow. The railway line we walked across has been downgraded from double to single-track. But the tide still flows and ebbs, and the natterjack toads are thriving.

Lowsy 12Lowsy 13 Lowsy 14 Lowsy 15 Lowsy 18 Lowsy 20 Lowsy 21 Lowsy 24 Lowsy 25 Lowsy 26 Lowsy 27 Lowsy 28I retrace my steps around the bay with the granddaughter on my shoulders and the dog still dashing in noisy circles, as the sun goes down and the December shadows lengthen. Oil lamps twinkle in windows at Lowsy Point and stoves warm snug corners. The shed-dwellers are pulling on cosy slippers and preparing for another peaceful night in their alternative lives.

Lowsy 17That’s another walk over. Another era, in fact.

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About McFadzean

Alen McFadzean, journalist, formerly of the Northern Echo, in Darlington, and the North-West Evening Mail, Barrow. Former shipyard electrician. Former quarryman and tunneller. Climbs mountains and runs long distances to make life harder. Gravitates to the left in politics just to make life harder still. Now lives in Orgiva, Spain.
This entry was posted in Childhood, Environment, Hiking, History, Life, Mountains, Newsquest, Northern Echo, Politics, Ranting, Redundancy, Shipping Forecast, Unemployment, Walking and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

53 Responses to On the Tide Line – But Not Quite Washed Up

  1. The place looks eery and attractive in equal measure. I’m wondering how the dwellings (can’t think of a better word) stand up to the stronger gales that must blow across that part of the coast. I’ve wandered round the coastline near Grange-over-Sands, but nowhere farther north, other than Ravenglass. It certainly looks like a place to stroll when you need to get your head round or make sense of something like redundancy.

    I’ve noticed how these well paid decision-makers like to serve these notices close to Christmas as if the decision isn’t sharp enough they have to rub a bit of sandpaper over it just to make sure. (I was kicked out along with a number of others last September.) Hope you find something with a proper salary soon. I’ve heard being in the House of Lords is quite well paid these days.
    Chris

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    • McEff says:

      Hi Chris. Thanks for cheering me up. A peerage would be just the job, and one I could handle as well of any of the ermine-clad graspers, I think. And yes, it always happens just before Christmas. But, never mind, I’ve just watched the news and unemployment is down, so I expect there’s a well-paid job waiting for me just around the corner. So long as it doesn’t mean I have to wear a big white beard and red coat. Ho ho ho.
      Cheers, Alen

      Like

  2. Stewart Brady says:

    I was saddened to hear of your redundancy, particularly the way in which it was done. Keep walking and blogging.

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  3. Mjollnir says:

    Hi Alen, absolute bummer about the redundancy thing. Been there, suffered that, about ten years ago. Maybe you could write a piece eulogising Osborne and you’ll get that place in the House of Lards. That seems to be how things work in the corrupt, New Dickensian ‘UK’. Or more accurately, “You scratch my back and I’ll stab you in yours!”

    I used to read the Echo when I went on frequent visits to Darlo many years ago. A decent paper back then but I know nothing about it now. Still, I’m sure your experience there will stand you in good stead for the future. I certainly hope so.

    Iain.

    Like

    • McEff says:

      Hi Iain, fellow clansman. I’ve always found that redundancy eventually leads to another door and a brighter future, so fingers crossed. We are seriously considering doing what you did and making a great leap of geography and faith – only south instead of north. But all that’s for the future. I’ve a couple of months to work yet and plenty of time to plan.
      All the best for Christmas, Alen

      Like

  4. The wind blow forward and the wind blows back (Trout Mask Replica)

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  5. David says:

    A interesting area and one that is getting closer to the top of my list for a visit as it looks like there is a campsite nearby to park the campervan for a spot of wandering one weekend. Sorry to hear about your redundancy and having been there I can understand a little of how you must feel at the moment. It also looks as if there is a similar thread developing with regard to future plans, perhaps we should swap notes some time.

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    • McEff says:

      Ah, yes. We are identifying an escape route, David. But it’s going to take a great deal of thought and planning, and it’s all a bit up in the air at the moment. I shall be making updates as and when and would appreciate any advice or ideas. Keep in touch.
      I think you’d enjoy a visit to Sandscale Haws. It’s been a nature reserve for many years, and although I have never seen a natterjack toad, it’s one of the few places they thrive.
      Cheers, Alen

      Like

  6. belfastdavid says:

    Hi Alen,

    I just wanted to pass on my best wishes for the future.
    And to say that one of the best things which ever happened to me was my last redundancy. Partly because I knew from all my previous redundancies that I would survive. And partly because it was my opportunity to opt out of all the crap associated with working for someone else!!!

    I do hope you will carry on blogging. I thoroughly enjoy them.
    And I love the thought of living in one of those little shacks – the possibility of getting up in the morning to a view of the Mourne Mountains is very appealing. 🙂

    My best to you

    David

    Like

    • McEff says:

      Hi David. Thanks very much for that. Positive feedback is greatly appreciated at this particular time. I shall continue blogging because I’ve made so many friends through this media in the past few years, and enjoy it so much that I couldn’t give up if I tried.
      Like you, I intend to use redundancy as an opportunity instead of a setback. Thanks for the advice because I appreciate it immensely.
      Cheers, Alen

      Like

  7. Will says:

    Sorry to hear of your redundancy, Alen, but hope that something positive comes out of it…and that you keep on producing your splendidly written and very personal blog.

    With best wishes for Christmas and beyond.

    Will

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  8. cheesepare says:

    Ramshackles!

    Well, Alen, I am trying to cheer you up and isn’t that a cheering word for a wordsmith?

    No reader here will need to be told that the Northern Fekkos must be a bunch of pricks to “manage” to lose your conspicuous talents.

    However, you will have to wait. With administrative delays and the like for the cheque, I guess it will be 2014 rather than this year when you will have two Christmasses. For then, we wish you every good fortune when that cheque can be rocket fuel for sufficient exit velocity for something brilliant in your new venture. We are waiting …

    Best,

    Jon

    Like

    • McEff says:

      Ha ha. Thanks for that, Jon. I like the Northern Fekkos tag, that’s one I’ve never heard used before and I shall employ it to great effect around the office while I still have the chance.
      Cheers now, Alen

      Like

  9. scott says:

    Whether you know it’s coming, and however little your job fills you with glee, redundancy isn’t much fun. That’s about five and a half years now since it happened to me, and – although there’s aye a wee bit of luck needed – looking back I wouldn’t change a thing.

    Plus, you have an advantage over most folk – reading your work proves that you’re good at something. 😉

    Oh, and even if you have to borrow a collie, dugs inevitably take the edge off unhappy news.

    Orrabest,

    Scott

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    • McEff says:

      Ah, perhaps you’ve hit on something there, Scott. I could borrow the dug on a permanent basis and he’d keep me happy. Not so sure my mother would approve though.
      Thanks for the encouraging words and the advice, borne of experience. It’s very welcome indeed.
      Cheers now, Alen

      Like

  10. Ash says:

    It sounds to me that there is lots of stuff out there for you still to do so have a jolly good Christmas along with some rest & come back in the New Year turbo-charged.

    Like

  11. Your posts are always a joy to read. Having ran my own advertising agency in Durham for 16 years I know what sort of people they are. It may be a godsend. Good luck and keep posting.

    Like

  12. Paul says:

    Hi Alen,

    Sorry to hear the bad news, I’m glad to read though, it hasn’t altered you one bit, keep up the great work & more importantly, keep walking.

    Like

    • McEff says:

      Hiya Paul. Good to hear from you. It hasn’t altered me – just made me a bit more angry and awkward than I usually am. And I don’t think that’s a bad thing. I shall keep on walking, nothing surer than that.
      Cheers, Alen

      Like

  13. Sorry to hear about the redundancy Alen – especially just before Christmas. I have to say though, that I’m hoping for a redundancy in a few years myself so that I can have a bit of money when I intend to give up work around 60 or 62 and not the 66 the Government have suddenly dropped on me – there’s no way I’m staying in a full-time stressful job until then! I have to say our company (a famous building society) are very good about not keeping the management layers – the last cull got rid of most of middle management rather than the folks at the bottom.

    Love those shacks but I wonder how they haven’t been moved on by the English/Lake District over-zealous councils? Presumably they must move out for a month or so then they aren’t classed as permanent dwellings?
    Carol.

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    • McEff says:

      Hi Carol. Yes, that’s the other side of the coin. I’ll be damned if I’m working my socks off till I’m 66 so in a way it’s doing me a favour. There used to be a saying in the shipyard at Barrow if you had a day off work without pay: “Money in the bank of health.” So that’s a very positive way to look at redundancy. But you still do feel extremely angry that they’re throwing you on the scrap heap because it’s convenient for them to do so.
      I think there have been running legal battles over the years between the shed people and Barrow Borough Council. I don’t think anyone lives there on a permanent basis, just weekends and long periods during the summer. But I might be wrong on the last point. Still, wouldn’t mind a bit of it myself.
      Cheers, Alen

      Like

      • I wouldn’t mind it at all! I think conventional housing is overrated – and always falling to bits!

        On the redundancy front, my last one did me a huge favour as it paid off my house 🙂 There’s usually some good comes of them when the shock wears off

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        • McEff says:

          That’s the general impression I’m getting from the comments on this post. And it’s my own experience from redundancies in the past. There’s just the immediate “shock” factor that makes it all unpleasant and more than a bit scary. Still, it’s very gratifying to get all this positive feedback.
          Onwards and upwards, as they say . . .

          Like

  14. Hanna says:

    Dear Alen. My friend also got a redundancy for Christmas once 👿
    In fact, several of our friends tried it in turns in the last decade.
    There is one thing I have learned from their ordeal. If there are real good friends at work, keep in touch with them. When the last day occurs, take the good experiences with you and leave the bad behind. Displace bitterness by all means, if there is any.
    “Redundancies eventually leads to another door and a brighter future” that’s the right attitude Alen.
    I am looking forward to hear some news. Never forget to do a brainstorm session where you give yourself permission to fantasize entirely.
    It would be a shame to exclude an exciting opportunity 🙂
    All the best,
    Hanna
    PS
    Give her Highness (the little one) a Christmas stuff and if there’s something left over it’s yours.
    Your headline is unique and bodes well for your future work. That’s what I call real attitude.
    When the going gets tough…

    Like

    • McEff says:

      Hej Hanna. Wise words as always from across the water in Denmark. I like the idea of hanging onto the good experiences and leaving the bad behind. That is a very positive approach.
      I also like the idea – very much, in fact – of the brainstorming session. I’m long overdue a good hard walk in the mountains, so once up there I can allow the conscious mind to escape where it will. But sometimes goes in the wrong direction. It’s those gremlins. Whatever.
      Best wishes, Hanna, and have good Christmas.
      All the best, Alen

      Like

  15. Well Alen,like everyone else says it`s just the start of a new adventure.I dread the day when the newspapers are only available online.It`s just not the same !
    I hit the wall about three years ago and was thoroughly miserable and disgruntled by work.I woke up one morning and thought “Why should I carry on if I hate it this much ?”. I life a rather frugal life nowadays but have never looked back.I reckon my outgoings have been reduced by about 75% by watching things carefully.Of course,the wife had to go to achieve this saving 🙂

    I reckon I know where you are thinking of going.Somewhere where the heating bills are considerably less ? I reckon you would make a good walking guide over there 🙂

    I`m sure you will be fine 🙂

    Like

    • McEff says:

      Hi Alex. Thanks for that sound advice. The road you have gone down is more or less what we are steering towards. I am particularly drawn to the means you achieved your 75% reduction in outgoings. I reckon that if I followed your example I could get it up to 80%. There might be a bit of shouting and screaming but I can put up with that.
      Walking guide – now there’s a thought. But I suppose I’d have to keep the wife to make up the sandwiches.
      Cheers now, and thanks for the laugh, Alen

      Like

  16. Grand pictures of a most intriguing landscape.

    Like

  17. rthepotter says:

    Belated commiserations and thank you for these wonderful photos – it looks like the right sort of walk to do when you have received such news, and I’m glad your granddaughter was with you, too.
    Best wishes for the next leg of the journey.

    Like

  18. Mark says:

    Hi McEff,
    I’m one of the silent majority (also a former Darlo-ite) who read but never comment – just wanted to urge you to keep blogging through these uncertain times for you; it’s great stuff and brings me a lot of pleasure. I’m sure a man of your talents won’t struggle for offers, even with times as they are.
    Cheers,
    Mark

    Like

    • McEff says:

      Hi Mark. It’s comments like yours that make writing this blog so worthwhile. Positive feedback is the best reward a bloke can ask for when he casts his thoughts on the internet.
      Thank you so much and all the best for the new year, Alen

      Like

  19. Jo Woolf says:

    No! How have I missed this post?! I am very sorry to hear you are being made redundant, Alen. That is never good news, but particularly at this time of year. Moving the whole subbing department of a Northern newspaper to Wales? Yes, that makes sense! (?) They will soon be regretting that, I am sure. Don’t despair – someone with your talent for writing and editing has got to be able to find work. And why not consider publishing a book (or three) on the landscapes that you know so well? You have got so much specialist historical knowledge, it should be shared on something more permanent than a blog! (But don’t give up blogging, either!) Great post, by the way. Keep smiling, and all the best for 2014. Jo

    Like

    • McEff says:

      Hi Jo. Thanks for your kind words. I’m sure something will turn up because it always does. Doors open and close all the time. The trouble with newspapers is everything is being channeled on-line and quality is sinking to the lowest common denominator. Design, punctuation, grammar – it all goes out of the window on newspaper websites. But that’s what the industry wants because it lowers overheads.
      I fancy a complete change and this might just be the opportunity. I’d like to be the man in Local Hero who lives in an old boat in the sand-dunes and spends his nights gazing at the stars. Not so sure Anne would go for it, though. Anyway, something along those lines but perhaps with a bit more comfort and internet access.
      All the best, Alen

      Like

      • Jo Woolf says:

        I have noticed all this myself – the death knell of good English, in fact. It’s sad but inevitable. I can just imagine you in an old boat on the sand dunes (maybe a comfortable cottage, with a boat as a garden shed?)

        Like

  20. sprintexec says:

    I’ve arrived late and others have trodden the blasted ground on redundancy. You may recall that responding to my comments on the Welsh slate mines you said that you wouldn’t mind being on a hill in Cyprus. Well, opportunity beckons. If you are not racing towards fresh employment and you fancy heading out to Cyprus we’ve some space here. It might make a pleasant change of scene?

    Like

    • McEff says:

      Hi Andy. Thanks very much for your generous offer. I’m not racing towards fresh employment, because I’m fed up of being employed and with the hassle it causes, but my wife and I are looking very seriously at acquiring our own sunny hilltop in Spain. Or at least a little bit of a sunny hilltop near Orgiva, just south of Granada. It’s a place we’ve visited five times and we’ve got friends there. That’s why I was so impressed with your hilltop in Cyprus. You’re several steps ahead of us.
      We haven’t finalised any plans yet, we’re in the financial assessment stage and wondering what to do with the chickens and piano. It’s a big step so if we do it we’re going to do it right.
      All the best, Alen

      Like

      • Andy R says:

        Hi Alen,
        I’m glad to hear you have a hill in your sights in Spain. As I write, we have a young guy here who is originally from Spain. Currently working in Norway as an outdoor adventure instructor he chose to come here to learn something about Cyprus. We provide food and lodgings in exchange for some volunteer work. It seems like a win win situation. Jodnas, that is his name, says that Orgiva is a stunning location with great views of the Sierra Nevada. Apparently in the spring Jodnas and his pals like to go kayaking and rafting on the river Guadalfeo – the ugly river, apparently due to the colour of the melt water. You probably know it? A couple of nights ago were looking at video footage of a 13 kilometre snow and ice race taking place in the Sierra Nevada, sent by a friend to Jodnas phone. The area looks quite challenging in winter, that may add to your pleasure if you are at all like my brother-in-law who when he moved to Shetland felt that he had arrived in a part of the UK that best suited his wardrobe! I have nothing to offer on the chicken and piano conundrum though I’m sure there would be homes waiting for all of them should you so decide.
        All the best Andy

        Like

        • McEff says:

          Hi Andy. yes, the Rio Guadalfeo. I can see why they call it the ugly river, because even when we were over in Orgiva in November the water was grey and unappealing. And to be quite honest, it smells a bit too, and I know that from personal experience because I waded through it one day. mind you, it was quite warm, so it does have something going for it.
          We once considered moving to the Orkneys, one down from the Shetlands, because property is as cheap as chips and we wouldn’t have needed any new clothes. I think, on balance, that Spain is the better option. Certainly my wife thinks so.
          Cheers, Alen

          Like

  21. maromapress says:

    Alen,
    Spain has to be your next move! But please swot up on the lingo rather than follow the example of so many Brits who come down here and never learn a word of Spanish. Seems the printed newspaper is on its way out. Sad for us journos but somehow I have managed to survive as a freelance after opting out of the Fleet Street rat-race years ago. And today the sun was blazing down on my pueblo andaluz — and the wine wasn’t bad either!

    Like

    • McEff says:

      Hi David,
      I’ve got about six weeks to go before I’m out of a job. The plan is to do the house up once I have the time, put in on the market, and try to get over there before Christmas.
      We have some good friends in the Orgiva area and they’re giving us help and advice. And yes, I’m learning the lingo, but the truth is I’ll have to improve – and quickly.
      So before long I might join you for a glass of wine in the sun.
      All the best, Alen

      Like

      • maromapress says:

        Sure. Email me or give me a call in Frigiliana — I”m in the phonebook. Just come back from a great walk along the disused rail track that runs from Ventas de Zafarraya down to the village of Periana. Incredibly cold and windy at Ventas where the wind funnels though a gap in the mountains, but warm and sunny later — and magnificent views. This is one of the easiest walks in this area, flat or downhill all the way.

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        • McEff says:

          We drove over that pass from Ventas de Zafarraya and down to Velez-Malaga a few years ago and I actually remember seeing the trackbed of the railway cutting off to the right. That’s a walk I shall put on my list.
          Cheers, Alen

          Like

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