Sunday, May 27, 2001

Houston, the Eagle has landed. Or something like that, though not quite so dramatic. At least, everyone has arrived in Weardale safely and in good order, and perhaps only a little worse for wear. My flight over was on time and mercifully uneventful. The hoped for upgrade to business class didn’t come through, so I got to enjoy the seemingly ever shrinking economy seats and “coach cuisine”, along with a constantly screaming baby -- thankfully not too close. Had an over-wing wing window so I couldn’t watch the scenery, and the in flight entertainment consisted of some lawyer drama and action films I had never heard of. Fortunately, I had a good book.

The flights from the West Coast are all overnighters, so the arrival time in London is usually early to mid morning the next day. The drive to Weardale is an additional 250+ miles north, so as last year, I arrived a day before the crew so I could try to get adjusted to the time change and rest some before the drive. As usual though, not much sleep was had the first night, and I had a chance to become intimately familiar with late night British TV. Not the same quirky stuff as it once was, though. Too many American sit-coms and cop shows these days.

Found Byron and Jonina at Gatwick airport around noon yesterday, looking suitably dazed and confused after their flight. This weekend is the late May bank holiday, so traffic and residual tiredness made the drive north seem interminable, but we arrived by early evening. Weardale seems timeless – nothing looked as if it had changed since we left last fall. As foot and mouth disease has not shown up in the valley, there are still lots of sheep and cattle about – including a couple shaggy Scottish Longhorn cattle I saw around Eastgate. Stopped at the Golden Lion on the way to our Little Allercleugh (our summer rental cottage), and found most of the usual characters assembled. Isabel was away at her older daughter’s wedding, and Kirsty has evidently had some sort of falling out with Isabel and is no longer working behind the bar. Karaoke Night in St. John’s Chapel was getting ready to happen, and Jeffery (Isabel’s “significant other”) was hoping that if we got a couple of beers down Jonina she would stick around and sing. Everyone was too tired though, so we missed out on the experience. If this does happen in the future though, I’ll try to get pictures.

After a couple pints we stumbled up the hill to the cottage, said hello to our landlords Jeremy and Phillippa, and hauled our stuff in. Had some crackers and cheese for dinner – not too exciting, but about all anyone was capable of fixing, and all collapsed by about 10 PM. Next thing I remember is waking up and thinking “I hope it’s not 2:30 AM again”. Fortunately, it was around 5, so maybe I’ll adjust to the time change without too much trouble. Got up and had my first chance to experience the full glory of an “English Shower” this morning. For those of you unfamiliar with this, I will explain. Unlike us Americans, the English seem to, as a rule, prefer baths to showers. Though most hotels in big cities like London are now equipped with fairly functional showers, I think most folks here view them as some sort of novel foreign concept. The one here at Little Allercleugh is a fine example of what a traveler can expect once he or she gets out into the countryside. Basically, it’s a small sprinkler on a flexible hose, which is attached to the tap and affixed to the wall, often at eye level requiring one to stoop in order to wash one’s hair. When turned on, a dribble of water emerges. This effect is accentuated at the cottage here by the fact that we are on a well and have fairly low water pressure to begin with. The temperature must be carefully set at the tap because there is only a slight variation between freezing and scalding. The shower curtain is usually minimal, but as there isn’t really much water spraying at you, you would have to do a lot of flailing about to get the bathroom very wet. Needless to say, one does not generally linger very long, and the process of soaping up and rinsing off is accomplished with remarkable haste. Could work well as a technique to promote water conservation.

After completing this ritual, I took a brief walk and saw a bit of a rainbow over the Dale. I think I caught a ghost of it in the attached photo, which was taken from the front door of the cottage. It’s now going on 8 AM and the troops are still snoring. Maybe I’ll make coffee and rouse them soon.

Things on the first day’s agenda include going to the Safeway in Consett, getting in touch with our local miner Dave, finding out where we stored the phone last fall so we can call people, visiting the quarry, and perhaps the traditional Sunday Roast. For reasons I didn’t catch, there isn’t one at the Golden Lion this weekend, so maybe we’ll go to the Mill Race. I spoke with Dave shortly before leaving SF and he thinks everything at the mine is in good order, so hopefully we will be able to get up and running quickly.

Stay tuned for more…

Cheers, Jesse

The view from Little Allercleugh looking toward the village of Ireshopeburn.

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