Sweet Tees Flow Softly (Black Friday Aftermath)

Piercebridge 1

IN this land of eternal gloom, where fog hangs in grey air and moisture drips from autumn berries and bedraggled sheep, Romans once marched to distant outposts on a cold northern frontier. They crossed many rivers on their journey from York, and few were swifter and more majestic than the river the native Celts called Tees – a name which is thought to mean the boiling, surging water . . .

Today I embark on another short walk, frustrated by weather and back pain while my wife ventures into Darlington and the aftermath of Black Friday. This might be called Satanic Saturday because the nation remains in shock and exhibits few signs of recovery.

Black Friday. It’s very tempting to launch into an unbridled rant about the despots of British commerce imposing this sick and cynical imported pseudo-tradition on the public while their allies in Westminster insist our national identity is being undermined by poor people from Europe. But I’m not.

Piercebridge 2I park the van at Piercebridge, a pleasant village on the border of North Yorkshire and County Durham which was, incidentally, built by the labours of poor people from Europe during the early decades of the first millennium. The village occupies what was once the Roman fort that defended the river crossing against attacks from Brigantes. The houses stand, more or less, along the lines of the defensive walls, the rectangular village green occupying the fort’s interior.

On the North Yorkshire side of the present road bridge stands The George, an old coaching inn. Apparently, I embarrassed myself here one night doing a John Travolta impersonation on the dance floor during a works Christmas do – but I don’t remember. Its other claim to fame is that the Henry Clay song My Grandfather’s Clock was inspired by an old timepiece in the hotel which stopped ticking upon the death of its owner. Is that enough trivia for one article? I hope so.

Piercebridge 3I shoulder my bag and leave The George, which in the still and heavy afternoon air is enshrouded in a delicious fog of chip fumes, and head east along the river on slippery paths. Soon I arrive at one of England’s most celebrated archaeological jewels – the ancient foundations and stone piers of a Roman bridge that once spanned the Tees.

Piercebridge 7 Piercebridge 8 Piercebridge 9 Piercebridge 10Piercebridge straddles the Roman road known as Dere Street – the direct link from the Roman city of York to Hadrian’s Wall and beyond. It was an important and strategic place because of the bridge, which had to be defended continuously.

The ruined bridge does not lie directly on the line of the road. Archaeologists reckon the ruins are most probably those of a replacement bridge which was erected after the original was destroyed by floods. Neither are they situated on the banks of the Tees, which flows – rather inconveniently – a short distance to the north. The accepted theory is that the river has shifted its course during the past 2,000 years.

Piercebridge 11 Piercebridge 12Piercebridge 4 Piercebridge 5 Piercebridge 6In 2009, Channel 4’s Time Team visited Piercebridge to investigate its Roman remains. Among the discoveries were huge timber baulks submerged in the bed of the river close the the modern bridge – modern being 1789 – which predate the Roman occupation and are thought to be evidence of a bridge constructed by the Brigantes. Fascinating, that. There’s some serious history here.

Piercebridge 13 Piercebridge 14 Piercebridge 15

This is part of one of those ceramic insulating pots you used to see on telegraph poles. I find it in the shingle at the side of the river. Only last week the young Inspector Morse charged a bloke with murder after finding one of these at the crime scene. It’s a scary world.

This is part of one of those ceramic insulating pots you used to see on telegraph poles. I find it in the shingle at the side of the river. Only last week the young Inspector Morse charged a bloke with murder after finding one of these at the crime scene. It’s a scary world.

Piercebridge 17 Piercebridge 18I wander downstream in the peace and quiet of a sullen afternoon. A few short miles further down the river, and well beyond my field of vision, hordes of baying natives are sacking Teesside Retail Park in scenes that mirror the Iceni sacking Colchester. Still, it’s probably a positive economic indicator. Have I time for a mini rant? Yes, of course. Here we go . . .

Is it just me or is the English language turning into a shopkeeper’s lexicon? Where has this phrase “in store” suddenly sprung from? As in: “Order now and pick up your goods in store,” and “See our fabulous selection in store,” and the perverse “Our in-store staff are here to help”. What happened to “in the store” or “inside our store” or simply “our staff”? While we’re at it, what the hell is footfall? Is it something that keeps you out of the army? And then there’s the dreaded “retail outlets”. Do they mean shops? If so, why don’t they say shops? And how big is a “regular” coffee, for Christ’s sake, because I might prefer the “irregular” option? And to be perfectly honest, the last thing I’d want to do in an “eatery” is sodding eat, because dining out is more than merely filling your face with food as if you were fuelling up to hibernate, it’s a social activity that’s meant to be enjoyed on numerous levels.

I don’t want to live among this sort of stuff. If the language is changing it should change organically from the bottom up with natural acquisitions such as pyjamas, curry, Blighty, veranda and bungalow, not be forced upon us from the top down by oily marketing types who have never ventured beyond the M25.

Language is as much a part of our heritage as Stonehenge and Blackpool Tower – but you wouldn’t illuminate the former with neon or watch the sunrise beneath the latter. It should be guarded as it evolves. The last thing we need is a pack of ill-educated, career-orientated, middle-management hash-tag tappers corrupting it solely to generate cash in the most cynical of fashions. Quick change of subject. Let me tell you about Holme House.

Piercebridge 19Many years ago I walked down the Tees from Barnard Castle to just below Piercebridge then cut across fields to my home in Barton. I left the Tees at a place called Holme House. There’s nothing there except a farm and a row of houses – but it must be the most idyllically-situated row of houses in the world.

Piercebridge 21 Piercebridge 22

Ah, a recycled Belfast sink . . .

Ah, a recycled Belfast sink . . .

This place is in the middle of nowhere. It’s surrounded by fields, has the river on one side, and is a brisk and pleasant walk from the nearest road – the B6275 Dere Street. Black Friday doesn’t touch places like this. Holme House is an island of peace in a turbulent, truculent sea. I’d love to live there.

Piercebridge 23But I don’t. And I need to head home to resuscitate the wife with vodka and white wine after her sortie into the mad and chaotic world of commercial mayhem that accompanies the most hallowed festival of the Christian calendar. Peace and goodwill to all men.

AND FINALLY – Old Railway Goods Wagon No 18

Piercebridge 30DECOMPOSING sadly behind a barn at Manfield Lane End Farm, at the side of the Roman road between York and Hadrian’s Wall, is a British Rail goods wagon. I’ve passed it many times on my journeys north but never made the effort to stop to take a picture. Now it is recorded for posterity.

And so is another small and barely significant part of our wonderful heritage saved for the enlightenment of future generations.

 

 

 

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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 Archaeology, Belfast sinks, Black Friday, English language, Environment, Ewan MacColl, Footpaths, Hiking, History, Iron Age, Jargon, Railway goods wagons, Ranting, Rivers, Ruins, Teesdale, Teesside, The Romans, Walking, Weather, York and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

51 Responses to Sweet Tees Flow Softly (Black Friday Aftermath)

  1. I was hoping you’d have a rant after threatening early on to do so. The shopping lexicon is as insidious as management-speak, with its blue sky thinking and the flagged up escalated problems it creates. But deep within the rant I noticed you used the word ‘orientated.’ I thought I was one of a dying breed who still use orientated instead of the grammatically deformed oriented.

    And the Tees reminds me of the Hodder that runs through Bowland. A similar healthy looking, swift flowing river accompanied and criss-crossed by centuries of history. No Roman bridge, but there is a 16th century triple arched bridge from the time of Cromwell that can still be crossed. (Cromwell’s Bridge near Hurst Green, if anyone wants to google for a picture.)

    And I’ve often thought you had a passing resemblance to John Travolta.

    Chris

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    • McEff says:

      Hi Chris. Firstly, I don’t quite dance like John Travolta but I’m better than Ricky Gervais. At least on a good day and after a few pints.
      I’ve just done something I haven’t done for a long time – and that’s consult proper books as opposed to the internet. I always use “orientated” because I was brought up to use it and regard it as correct. After consulting several books, including The Complete Plain Words by none other than his majesty Sir Ernest Gowers, I feel I have strayed into a minefield. Some maintain the two are interchangeable, but I get the impression that “orientated” is more common and accepted in English usage while “oriented” is the preferred option across the Atlantic. So, when in Rome . . . orientate yourself and do as the Romans do.
      Incidentally, mentioning Cromwell, there’s a Civil War connection in Piercebridge too. I read somewhere that a battle took place on the bridge between Royalists and Thomas Fairfax. I shall re-orientate myself and look into it.
      All the best, Alen

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    • I use orientated – I see oriented as a new-fangled, American-type thing! 😉

      Like

  2. qdant says:

    Powerwolf
    The moon is out and rising
    And silent is the night
    My face is pale and hiding
    Behind the neon light

    The seven is my number
    Temptation is my game
    I came from six feet under
    And Satan… Satan is my name!

    At night I’m dressed as lover
    I praise the morning star
    Good evening little lady
    Come join me in my car
    I am the one you’ll come to
    A wolf is his best disguise
    Don’t say they never told you
    The evil… Evil never dies?

    Saturday Satan – See the devil is alive
    Saturday Satan – Diabolic dynamite
    Saturday Satan – See the evil in my eyes
    Saturday Satan – I’m the devil in disguise

    Satan! Satan! Satan! Satan!

    I am the son of darkness
    The pentagram’s my sign
    Believe me little darling
    At midnight you’ll be mine
    I’ll eat your soul for breakfast
    Can’t break my evil spell
    My purgatory’s waiting

    Saturday Satan – See the devil is alive
    Saturday Satan – Diabolic dynamite
    Saturday Satan – See the evil in my eyes
    Saturday Satan – I’m the devil in disguise

    Satan! Satan! Satan! Satan!

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    • McEff says:

      I’ll tell you what, Danny, you never fail to brighten up a dull day. Remind me not to spend a night in my tent down there on the Yorkshire/Lancashire border without my garlic and wooden stake.
      Thank you for introducing me to Powerwolf. I’m not into German heavy metal as a rule, but I’ve just watched a couple of videos and found them quite easy-listening and more melodious than your average Satanist band. Certainly a step up from John Travolta and Olivia Newton John.
      All the best, Alen

      Like

    • That’s similar to the lyrics for a Megadeth song 🙂

      Like

  3. David says:

    Sometimes when I read your observations on life I could be listening to myself. The corporation that is the UK is not a nice place to be, especially as it is well and truly run along the lines of the lowest common denominator, money.

    When I saw the images of shoppers fighting each other I actually felt ashamed of what this country has become and of just how thick some people are.

    Imagine if they put as much energy into fighting for the NHS, social justice, dealing with the banks, or whatever.

    It is worth noting that for many Black Friday, will be followed swiftly by in the RED Saturday and if these idiots don’t wake up soon and see the reality of life under the corporations, they may find their children doing the same, only it won’t be for luxury goods, it will be for essentials like food and water. See the link for a glimpse future.

    http://action.storyofstuff.org/sign/nestle_water_privatization_push

    Nice walk btw despite the grey and damp 🙂

    Like

    • McEff says:

      Hi David
      That Nestle article reads like a spoof from a satirical news programme. People like Peter Brabeck are an insult to the world. He represents the very worst side of globalisation and corporate greed. And I wouldn’t mind betting there are more Brabecks behind the scenes, manipulating our lives and wellbeing, than we care to imagine.
      I felt exactly the same as you when I watched those scenes on Friday’s evening news. Some of those people didn’t even know why they were queuing. Talk about sheep. Meanwhile, the country’s falling apart at the seams – but it doesn’t matter if you’ve got a new iPhone or the latest curved-screen TV with accessories and surround-sound.
      Apparently, today’s known as Cyber Monday. I’ve just heard it on the BBC News. This is the day we all go mad and spend the last of our wages on the internet while we’re nursing our bruises from the weekend’s shopping. Happy browsing.
      Cheers, Alen

      Like

      • Water is recognised as the ‘new gold’ and has been for many years now. There will definitely be a rush amongst the Corporates to grab control of it if they can – there won’t just be Nestles…

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        • McEff says:

          What’s happened? This isn’t the country I grew up in. Water was controlled by boards composed of elected or nominated people – aldermen, councillors, dignitaries, people of worth – who acted in the common good. They collected stuff that falls free from the sky and diverted it into our homes. Water is ours, the same as the air. Thatcher’s to blame, of course. It really is about time we put a stop to this stupid experiment.

          Like

          • Can’t blame Thatcher for that one – it’s a worse problem in other countries – US, desert states etc. It’s going to be a major cause of wars in the future…

            Like

            • McEff says:

              I blame Thatcher for everything. She deserves it. She took one of the most socially-advanced countries in the world and turned it into a broken and spiteful fiefdom where the poor suffered intolerably while the rich stewed in their own greed. Her legacy is what you see – water and energy companies seized from the people who built them and who created the superstructure, and handed at knock-down prices to faceless and barely accountable multi-nationals which run roughshod over their customers and regulators. I hope she burns in a privatised hell.

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  4. Jill says:

    Nice post McEff, if a little introspective and cynical! Thanks for the memories of Piercebridge – I remember parking my bike in the car park of The George once and going for a riverside walk there. (Handy hint: just ignore things that annoy you – it’s bad for your health otherwise!)

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    • McEff says:

      Hello there Missis. I thought you’d disappeared into the wilds of the north. You must have run out of petrol.
      Now if I remember correctly, you used to live on the banks of the Tees so you must know the area quite well. Nice spot is Piercebridge. We nearly bought a house there once. Nice pubs as well.
      I find it therapeutic to get annoyed occasionally and really chew things over. And the pills help.
      Cheers, Alen

      Like

  5. That looks terrific, didn’t know about the bridge but must go and have a look.

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  6. Ash says:

    Hi Alen, terrific post again. Funny how so many of us feel ashamed of those pictures of Black Friday! Problem is I feel ashamed of how we treat our countryside, our wildlife………the list grows everyday. Have you ever heard of Edward Abbey? One of his quotes ends with “you will outlive the bastards”. It’s a shame he is no longer with us but still he’s worth looking up! I’m lucky to have just retired. However I’ve just realised that it hasn’t changed my view of the current state of the world, if anything, I’m even more ashamed of our current predicament & all I want to do is……… S C R E A M !

    Like

    • McEff says:

      Hi Ash. I’d not heard of Edward Abbey, but I’ve just read his Wikipedia page. He sounds like the sort of person who wouldn’t be easily knocked down or fobbed off. That’s the type of person the world is short of.
      Getting back to the shame people felt after witnessing those Black Friday scenes. I went out for a walk through the fields today and talked to a gamekeeper and his mate who were trimming hedges. They’d watched the news on Friday as well and expressed exactly the same sentiments. It’s as if there are two different worlds – the ordinary world where we live, and one that’s portrayed in the media as a real world but isn’t. It really does make you feel like screaming.
      All the best, Alen

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      • Ash says:

        Alen, I was reading some comments (about pine martens) made by a journalist called Rob Edwards, http://www.robedwards.com & it was there on his ABOUT page that I read about Edward Abbey (the particular quote was very long but with a real sting in its tail. A certain phrase made me think of you!). There is a link there to the Edward Abbey website.

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        • McEff says:

          Thanks Ash. I’ve just read that and I feel refreshed and inspired. The James Cameron quote is one I’ll try to remember as well, at least the gist of it. It’s reassuring to know there are people out there who care about these issues and are prepared to do something about it and focus attention.

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  7. Black Friday doesn’t touch me here either – basically, they’re not selling anything i NEED – and I’m one of the ones who knows the difference between need and want = unlike those loonies who were scrapping over tellies and suchlike in the supermarkets! I couldn’t believe the country has deteriorated so much. People are blaming the supermarkets/sellers and, while they’re partly to blame for jumping on such a silly bandwagon, I really think those shoppers must have a screw loose somewhere. If you don’t NEED something, why fight over it? (that’s my rant over).

    Another great post. The changes of our language annoy me too – most especially ‘retail outlets’ – they’re something I’d avoid like the plague. I hate shopping anyway.
    Carol.

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    • McEff says:

      You’re right, Carol, they’re a load of loonies with loose screws. Like you, I buy what I need. I don’t think that’s old fashioned – I think it’s common sense. And there’s also pride and self-esteem to be taken into consideration. Those people were a complete embarrassment. Fighting in public simply to save a couple of quid on a mobile phone or a telly? Jesus.
      Apparently, Curry’s are to blame for introducing Black Friday. I’d boycott them only I stopped going there after being pressured by pimply sales-people who looked like they should still be at school and couldn’t answer basic questions about a cooker I wanted to buy.
      Thanks for the rant. Alen.

      Like

  8. mandala56 says:

    My head is still spinning over the “oriented” or “orientated” discussion. I always thought “orientated” was just wrong. I’m sure it will become more popular here over time, but my opinion was that it sounded pretentious. I’ll try to rearrange my thinking.
    That said, Edward Abbey’s books are worth reading. And here’s a ballad Tom Russell wrote about him (Tom Russell is a great folksinger and song writer):

    Great pictures. I love how I learn things from you. I stayed home on Black Friday. I’m sorry to hear it’s as insane there as it is here.

    Like

    • McEff says:

      Hi Jeanne. Thanks for the YouTube link. I’ll leave it in place because it’s a great song. Tom Russell is a new name to me too. I shall look out for more of his work.
      Black Friday is a new phenomenon over here. Unlike in the US, where it has grown in popularity because it’s tied in with the Thanksgiving holiday, we have no holiday to go with it. If they gave us a holiday as well then it wouldn’t be so bad, but things don’t work like that. In fact, there have been moves from the right over here to cut our holidays in recent years, May Day being the prime target.
      Cheers, Alen

      Like

  9. mandala56 says:

    Sorry about the full-sized Youtube link. I didn’t know it would take over your page. Feel free to delete.

    Like

  10. alan.sloman says:

    As I get older I find I’m shouting at the television and radio more often, so it’s nice to be shouting “Yes! Yes!” at my laptop for a change.

    It seems I’m always late to the party here, but I always leave feeling that I’ve had a good time.
    Thanks for that, Allen.

    Like

    • McEff says:

      Hi Al. Glad you dropped by. My wife tells me to shut up when I shout at the telly, so it’s good to know there are other people out there doing the same thing.
      Someone should invent interactive televisions then we could all join in and boo people off.
      All the best, Alen

      Like

  11. Greg Kaye says:

    I thought I was the only one irritated by ‘in store.’ I’m not as good with words as you Alen but these get on my nerves as well:

    How are you ? I’m good. Should it not be ‘I’m well.’
    Pronouncing words with ‘th’ in them as f. As in ‘I fink I can do that’
    9 am in the morning. Presumably as opposed to 9 am in the afternoon.
    Asda’s old slogen, ‘ permanently low prices forever’
    When did a chocolate bun become a muffin?
    When did Eddie Stobart (as in stop) become Eddie Stoebart?
    When did Christmas dinner become Christmas lunch? Even Radio 4 etiquette expert says this is pretentious nonsense.
    Just getting old I guess.

    Like

    • McEff says:

      Hiya Greg. Good to hear from you. I agree with you on every one of those examples. I find myself shouting things at newsreaders, because their standard of English has deteriorated over the years. Or perhaps I’m getting less tolerant. Here are some other irritating things that have crept into the language in recent years:
      “Enjoy” – as a one-word substitute for enjoy it, or enjoy yourself.
      “No problem” – this is the shop assistant’s favourite expression. My inclination is to say: “I’m glad it’s not a problem because you’re just doing your job, but I get the impression that you do have problems during the course of your work so perhaps you should consider a career move.” But I don’t, of course, because I’m a nice person.
      “No worries” – as above.
      “Amazing” and “awesome” – because they are used when people can’t think of anything else to say.
      Well, that’s got me off to a grumpy start on a fine Saturday morning.
      Cheers, Alen

      Like

  12. beatingthebounds says:

    Surely everyone shouts at the television? Or they aren’t watching the news, party political broadcast or live sport?
    I’m going to take a different tack Alen: the post’s title? It resonates with me because I like the books of ‘Robert Gibbings’ and his most successful (in commercial terms at least) was, I believe, ‘Sweet Thames Run Softly’, but I thought that he was quoting Spenser, so I looked for the source of the quote, and an internet search led me to a song by Ewan MacColl and to the fact that Eliot also quoted Spenser in ‘The Wasteland’. So: were you thinking of all of them, or none of them, or one of them in particular, or are you going to tell me that the line originally dates back to a poem written by one of the Brigantes, (i.e. from the North)?

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    • McEff says:

      Mark, I’m so glad someone picked up on that. My painstaking search for a subtle title was not in vain after all. The Ewan MacColl song, Sweet Thames Flow Softly, was what I had in mind, though the version with which I am familiar is the Planxty cover from the 1970s in which Christy Moore sings the words. I didn’t realise MacColl wrote the lyrics until I Googled it for the piece. I see Dick Gaughan also recorded the song. And now I’m going to have to familiarise myself with Robert Gibbings and his Sweet Thames Run Softly. Life is an education.
      All the best,. Alen

      Like

    • Ash says:

      Yes! Spenser, from “Prothalamion”: “Sweete Themmes! runne softly, til I end my Song”. And Gibbings book (1941) is full of his own beautiful engravings.

      Like

      • McEff says:

        Thank you for that, Ash. Robert Gibbings is a chap I am not familiar with. Another name on the list of authors to investigate.
        All the best, Alen

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        • Ash says:

          And there’s more……….How about “And Quiet Flows the Don” by Mikhail Sholokhov! When I first read this post this was the book I couldn’t remember & couldn’t find! Written in the 1920’s about the Cossacks at peace & at war the author eventually received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1965. He was a huge figure in Russia during his lifetime but I suspect not many have heard of him these days. He did write other books but I only read this one. I remember it as an epic rather like Tolstoy’s War & Peace.

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  13. maromapress says:

    Liked your diatribe about the misuse of the English language, “eateries”, “in-store staff” etc. Seems like you have plodded over a good part of Northern England, but have yet to glimpse you again in exotic Frigiliana!

    Like

    • McEff says:

      Hi David. I’ve been plodding over Northern England for more years than I care to remember, in fact this March will see my fortieth anniversary of plodding. I’m hoping we’ll be back in Andalucia sometime soon. It depends on events outside our control.
      Cheers, Alen

      Like

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