May 28, 2001

Good Morning. I suppose I should begin these reports with the weather report, so as to uphold the well-established tradition of last year. It will also serve to involve you all in something that is very central to the English character. You see, the weather is important here – it both provides a neutral topic of conversation, something that is essential to a well-mannered society, and it regularly intrudes on people’s lives. Unlike us Californians who enjoy, for the most part, blandly pleasant conditions, things are usually rather dark and damp here, so when it gets nice, it’s a major event. Here in Weardale the economy is largely agriculturally based (with the exception of a few of us who haven’t realized that the mining industry is gone), and most farmers grow hay in their fields. During mid to late summer the hay matures but if harvested when wet, it will rot. As a result, when a sunny day happens, there is a flurry of activity in order to get the stuff harvested before the rain returns – which it surely will. Hence the phrase “make hay while the sun shines”.

But I digress, so on with the report. This morning things are cloudy and wet. So what else is new, you may ask? Everyone tells us that summer happened here last week, and that we missed it. Oh well, at least we’re not driving through mud getting to and from the cottage as we were this time last year. Jonina informs me that the forecast in the paper calls for more good weather this coming week. Anyone in a betting mood?

Everyone was rather jet-lagged yesterday, so things got underway fairly slowly. While Byron and Jonina were still in their horizontal phase of adjusting, I went out to the garage and rummaged through the boxes of stuff we stored here over winter. For some unknown reason, the phone was on top of the first box I looked in. This luck was mitigated by the fact that phone service was out in much of Weardale for a good part of the day, and we couldn’t call anyone further away than Eastgate. Being a foreigner, my first reaction was that perhaps BT had instituted some new long distance dialing procedure that I was having trouble sorting out. After enquiring with Jeremy and Phillippa – who had been wondering why their phone had been so quite – we came to the conclusion that the phones were really down. I guess everyone will have to trust that we arrived safely for a bit longer.

Went to the Mill Race for Sunday brunch, and caught up on things with the proprietors Mary and Denis. Evidently the foot & mouth disease problem has depressed business throughout the Dale, and things have been rather slow for them. Of immediate concern to me was that some of the cask ales they keep had been going off due to slow sales, and they aren’t keeping as many on at once as last year. With the closing of the Rookhope Inn, the Mill Race is one of the only places in the Dale that tends to keep a good selection of real ales on tap, and this situation was beginning to look like a personal disaster in the making. Mary was quite appreciative of the fact that we’ve directed three groups of visitors their way so far this summer, though she ask us to remind our friends of the time difference when they call or fax. I understand someone got woken up recently at 2 AM.

After recharging with a good roast beef and Yorkshire pudding, we set off for the Safeway in Consett for provisions. Everyone went looking for some of their favorite local goodies, and I found a good Stilton and some Scottish oat crackers, and Byron got his sharp cheddar (he’s from Wisconsin). The shelves were looking a bit bare in the market, again due to the drop-off in business lately, but we still managed to fill the basket and leave a fair amount of change behind.

Met up with Dave at his place in St. John’s Chapel after shopping, to discuss strategy for the summer. Over the winter, Dave has done a lot of maintenance for us at the mine, including rebuilding our drill, getting the loader bucket re-welded, and leveling some of the track. He’s also found us a second local miner for the summer – a fellow named Lofty, whom I gather is rather tall. It’s been an immeasurable help this year having someone like Dave working for us. With his help over the winter, we should be should be able to get up and running very quickly this summer. It’s a shame to think that in a couple of years it will be impossible to find someone with his skills. Unless specimen mining grows to the point where people can find full employment (and pass on these skills), a small scale mining operation will become quite difficult to set up soon. Dave showed us a photo of himself with the last mining crew at Groverake taken in 1999. He figures because of us he’s the only working professional miner left in Weardale these days. Glad we found him.

Stopped at the Golden Lion for a quick pint before heading up to the cottage. There was something happening they called a “Football Presentation”. I know that football here is what we call soccer in the US, but not being much of a sports fan, I am clueless as to what a football presentation really is other than an excuse to have a noisy Sunday afternoon party on a holiday weekend. I do know that it also served as an opportunity to keep the Karaoke machine fired up, and judging by the off-key fervor with which the participants were having at it, sales at the bar had been good. The noise was too much for Byron so we sat out on the picnic tables in the parking lot and enjoyed the late afternoon. Jeffery came out and joined us for a bit, making unkind remarks about the Karaoke. I guess if I had had to put up with the thing for two days in a row I would be in a mood too.

On today’s agenda is setting up the work room in the outbuilding (garage), going to the mine, and perhaps dropping in on Mark Watson to check on the cars – if he’s open today.

Stay tuned for more….

Cheers, Jesse

Byron and Jonina opening up the mine for the season.

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