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A Northumbrian Tale

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Lindisfarne

Lindisfarne

How low can we go?

Let’s be honest there’s nothing like a good old moan is there?

South Shields has its fair share of moaners and ne’er-do-wells particularly when it comes to car parking, charges, visitors, and shopping, Jarrow of course is a safe haven for many in South Tyneside, but really are we beating a well worn path that leads to nowhere or are we justified in our protestations?

Yesterday the Curly family took a ride out into Northumberland for a little history and culture in the hope that it may provide some inspiration for “Junior” and “Missy”, learning something of how other councils treat their visitors can be an eye opener too and Northumberland County Council is not short of detractors! The 160 mile round trip took in stops at Alnwick, Berwick, and Lindisfarne Island with the first being an unplanned emergency toilet stop in the market town of Alnwick where I discovered that the local Morrisons supermarket did not have customer toilets and the £1 parking charge was only refunded after the purchase of £10 of produce, not the £5 limit that we have in South Shields. Furthermore after a hasty walk down to the market place we discovered that the public conveniences in Northumberland carry a 20p usage fee! Parking in charges in Berwick were £1.8o per hour and again the same 20p toilet ticket, so by time we’d taken lunch and made another natural relief visit I was already £5.40 out of pocket. On returning to the car I discovered that the Edinburgh family parked next to me were in a furious fighting mood having picked up a £60 fixed penalty notice because one of their tyres was more than six inches over the white line marking out the bay! I was pretty glad that I know how to park straight!

And so we returned south to visit Lindisfarne just in time to see the last of the sea retreating across the causeway leaving us almost as much time as we wanted to explore the island, charges at the visitor’s car park were £2.80 for up to three hours, which should be long enough for most people, so I happily filled the machine with more coins but blast it did not print a ticket! So I repeated the operation at another machine and took note of the minuscule telephone number and rang the County Council, alas the 0845 number rang and rang and rang! Another few pounds wasted and I’m now down by £11.00, and then to add insult to injury the kids got bored and Mrs. Curly was disappointed not to see any monks distilling the famed Lindisfarne Mead, not sure where she picked up that misconception, but we purchased a few bottles as gifts for the family. So after an hour and a half I reluctantly admitted that I have a family of Philistines lacking in any real education about the north-east and its cultural and religious history, perhaps its the education syllabus to blame, perhaps its the multi-religious approach of the schools, or more likely it was my own fault for not fully advising them in advance of what to expect. However, having to take a reluctant decision to leave after such a short time was pretty gnawing and I rightly or wrongly thought that once again my day had been marred by the British bureaucrats.

The important point about this Northumberland tale is that once you get away from South Tyneside you realise that our 1p a minute parking charges really are a reasonable amount to ask, the current charges at supermarkets are not “out of the box”, and we still have public conveniences that are clean, well maintained, and free! This does not negate the previous comments that I have made about a shoppers car parking scheme. Whether we think that these things are right or wrong is immaterial, the fact is that we are cheap,  how low can we go? Perhaps too cheap, and perhaps, as the picture illustrates, higher charges will not necessarily put off visitors, oh if only Bede had been brought up as a skyetender and built a monastery next to the Roman Fort on the Lawe Top!

Northumberland County Council’s parking charges work out at roughly about £1 per hour, but after the first few hours the charges ramp up steeply, I’m not saying that they have the correct formula for retaining visitors and encouraging trade and they have managed on more than one occasion to upset the traders in Morpeth, but seriously here in South Tyneside we probably have gone as far as possible now in setting reasonable charging rates for car parking.

Another important point to note  is if a place is worth visiting, if it has important historical artefacts, if it has a place in history, if it has something to entertain and amuse, it will attract visitors in droves without any real problems. Tourists do take a day out expecting to spend money!

Now, who bets that 25000 people would not have been willing to part with £10 to watch Joe McElderry? 

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Written by curly

July 27, 2011 at 10:30 am

Joe McElderry triumphs in South Shields gig

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25000 stars on show!

It was a homecoming triumph for former X Factor winner and this year’s Pop Star to Opera Star winner Joe McElderry as he returned to say an emphatic thank you to his friends and family in South Shields. The Bents Park had never seen so many stars as “Tommy the Trumpeter” (aka Ray Spencer) reckoned that just over 25000 people turned up to the free concert which was part of the South Tyneside Summer Festival, I don’t think there had been such a turnout since Rolf Harris packed them in some years ago, space along the promenade of the north east coastal town was at an absolute premium as Metro bosses Nexus ran a full service on a day that was scheduled for engineering maintenance, visitors came from all over Tyneside and I spent the afternoon partly in the company of a nice little lady who had travelled down yesterday from Glasgow! The Dragon was completely covered by cars and streets in the town centre and beyond were choked with parked cars, those of us who lived locally could either walk or cycle on a very pleasant warm day when the sun came out to welcome our visitors.

I would normally be able to get a prime vantage point to photograph these events and let the world see them, but today I had to take my chances amidst the shoulder to shoulder crush of the crowd, but at least you get to meet and greet! The queues had perhaps began to form yesterday, I don’t know, but there were certainly some folks sitting outside the park at 7:30 this morning! With a line up of supporting acts McElderry was very familiar with, the afternoon was in full swing after Lauren Waine and Scooch had wound up the “glee factor”,  before the local hero made his entrance at around 3:10 for a set which lasted  almost ninety minutes. His immediate family was sat near the front directly below the stage and giant screen which South Tyneside Council had built up to help those further back get a decent view. We were treated to a full “journey” over the past two years featuring songs from his very first audition for ITV’s X Factor, through to his No. 1 single “The Climb”  including  numbers from his new forthcoming album and a soaring rendition of Nessun Dorma the moving aria from Puccini’s Turandot, . When Joe effortlessly reached those high notes the 25000 other stars roared with approval, it was a monumental success.

Many of our local councillors and officers were there to savour the event in a marquee reception for Joe McElderry’s family built to one side next to the main stage and a full civic reception was held after the event in the Town Hall, South Shields in recognition of the very favourable publicity that this young man has brought to his home town. In troubled times our representatives needed an outlet to celebrate some success that everyone could join in with, and without doubt today’s concert was probably one huge success that Joe will remember for many many years.

Next Sunday’s concert in the Bents Park will feature the Lightning Seeds and will compete against the Sunderland International Air Show for visitors, two great reasons for you to visit us!

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Written by curly

July 24, 2011 at 8:25 pm

Mouth of the Tyne Festival 2011

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Enjoying the parade from your caravan

A weekend to remember in South Shields

I’ve certainly enjoyed this year’s Mouth of the Tyne Festival from the Saturday night sea front parade through the myriad of entertainment along the promenade yesterday.

Granted the crowds looked just slightly smaller on Saturday night but that was understandable considering the downpours which preceded the parade, but I think that overall numbers must have been up on last year when Sunday’s attractions were taken into consideration. I happily snapped away with my camera recording over 300 frames on the two days making it very difficult for me to decide which to share in here and at South Shields Daily Pictures over the coming  weeks.

The great thing about the Saturday Evening Parade, which takes place at around 9:30 pm as the sun goes down, is not just the spectacle of colours, noise, lights, and pyrotechnics, but the “inclusive” feel of the whole thing as people join in behind the street theatre and move en masse from Gypsies Green to the large car park on Littlehaven Beach to watch the climax. It always reminds me of the story of the Pied Piper of Hamelin. Many of those in the crowds were not Sanddancers but visitors from other parts of Tyneside and even farther afield, our summer events have become occasions when ex-pats return home to visit friends and family or when those from other parts of the UK decide to take “staycations” and make Tyneside one of their destinations.

The only thing that irks me now about this festival is that Tynemouth gets all of the headline acts, I’m pretty sure that South Shields could handle at least one of these concerts utilising either the Bents Park, or Gypsies Green Stadium (well, it isn’t exactly being over used is it?). Perhaps our councillors and officers might like to start lobbying for a small change in format for next year?

However back to this weekend and the picture above, for me at least, sums up one success story of recent years by allowing the operation of the caravan park at Bents Park to be privately operated. The recent investment in improved standards in the park is paying dividends and caravan owners visit South Shields or allow their units to be rented to visitors who come and spend here. We have to be open and say that we cannot guarantee good weather, but at least we can guarantee a good time in very decent conditions. In a couple of years time we will also be able to offer visitors a new swimming pool with a cafe and other indoor facilities right on the sea front as another reason to visit the town, and importantly a venue where they can take refuge from the rain!

Which all brings to mind the one and only policy initiative ever offered to us by Ahmed Khan and the South Tyneside Independent Alliance, their town green plan of four years ago was inept, poorly considered, inappropriate, and likely to have blighted our regeneration and jobs prospects for generations!

The picture above is one of the best reasons I’ve ever seen for rejecting such witless ideas.

Enjoy the slide show!

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Summer Festival Picture special

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South Tyneside Summer Festival 2011 off to a scorching start

Well I missed the big parade in South Shields on Saturday, but my daughter reported that it was just as busy as the best years, the sun was out to bake the entrants on their procession from the Town Hall to the sea front and the Bents Park as thousands of residents and visitors lined the streets to get this year’s festival off to a flying start. Sunshine and warmth is certainly a great help for the Cookson Parade and huge splashes of glorious colour and noise attract visitors and encourage them to spend! “Missy” came back from the fayre in the Bents Park with a giant teddy, so her day was made.

The festivities continued yesterday with the whole sea front area swathed in crowds of summer visitors enjoying the beaches, the parks, the fun fair and the entertainment provided by local artists in the Bents Park. The park was packed as local talent was showcased on the stage in a family fun day involving rides and entertainment for the children, food and drink for the adults, selling opportunities for local businesses, and general good natured fun.

Customs House Director Ray Spencer in his guise of “Tommy the Trumpeter” was enjoying his role as Master of Ceremonies as he told me that:

“This really is as good as it gets for the first weekend, the weather has been brilliant and the crowds yesterday and today really made the effort to come and enjoy themselves. I’m delighted that local bands have got a great audience to play to today we really have some talented people in our community, and I’m looking forward to the other Sundays coming up, lets just hope that the weather continues like this throughout July.”

“Tommy” was enjoying a little break as South Shields actor Dale Meeks, who played Simon Meredith in ITV’s Emmerdale,  was fronting his band “Shake ya tail feather” on the stage. The band has now been joined by a female vocalist who helps to balance Dale’s tones and add some width to the range, as they belted out a repertoire of gutsy blues based beats from the Blues Brothers to the Doors, just what the crowd needed to get them moving! We were later treated to a Beatles tribute band of unusual qualities, not as you might expect a four piece bunch of “mop top” lookalikes but a six piece combo including a female vocalist! Looked nothing at all like the Fab Four but their sound was  authentic Merseybeat as they ran through a stream of early sixties Beatles covers in a very accomplished manner.

Later after the concert in the Bents Park was over another huge crowd listened to “the Proms” at the amphitheatre from South Tyneside’s youth orchestra with great vocal support.

If you were there, I am sure you will have enjoyed it, if not then you ought to have been, if you are reading this from outside of South Tyneside than can I encourage you to visit the Summer Festival web page to get a flavour of what is on offer this year and suggest that a visit here will be a rewarding experience.

Now, if you are a councillor or a council official can I encourage you to think long and hard about the numbers of people visiting South Tyneside this summer, yes it is great when the weather is this kind to us, the spending power is greatly appreciated by local businesses too, but we let a great opportunity slip by a couple of years ago to get our visitors to make more than just a day trip to the seaside. That’s right, we need to encourage them to stay for weekend breaks, and that means more accommodation in the town centre and sea front areas, the ill fated hotel at Gypsies Green would have fit the bill perfectly. We still have land and development opportunities available in the Town Centre,  Harton Staithes, and further along the riverside, we could use a four star hotel and something along the lines of a Travelodge to cover the budget end of the market. We need to be bold and brave and determined to aggressively market these opportunities, let’s not be suckered twice by blinkered opposition.

Enjoy this small picture slide show of yesterday’s events in the Bents Park.

p.s. Following my words yesterday about my dying monitor (which now works again after I fixed a faulty panel switch) I was rather surprised and overcome by the very generous offer of a free monitor from one of my readers! You really were far too kind sir, and your thoughtfulness was that of a typical Sanddancer, thank you very much for your offer I shall not forget your gesture.

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Written by curly

July 4, 2011 at 1:10 pm

Great North Dog Walk challenge

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Great North Dog Walk 2011What is the truth about the numbers?

I know, I mentioned exactly the same thing last year, I emailed Tony Carlisle but he failed to respond to my questions, and yesterday’s Great North Dog Walk held on The Leas, South Shields may have set yet another new record to be inscribed into the Guinness book.

Thing is, I have all sorts of questions about this so called “record breaker”, but lets have another look at the numbers again. According to The Shields Gazette:

The 3.5-mile Great North Dog Walk attracts up to 30,000 visitors to South Tyneside each year, and holds 15 Guinness world records for participation. Last year, more than 18,000 dogs including 178 different breeds took part.

Since it started in 1990, it has raised £4.2m for good causes.

And so yesterday, from what I hear, they were hoping to break that record again. So once more we ought to be examining the mathematics and posing more questions.

The picture above is not in any way a representation of yesterday’s event, it is just a factual view of one single moment at just after 2:00 pm, however it did indicate that after four hours the event had all but finished, tents were being taken down, fences were being removed, RSPCA volunteers were taking a rest, vans were being loaded, you get the picture.

Which means that if last year’s record was remarkably beaten again, then an average of 4,500 dogs per hour had moved past the point that you see in my picture; because this is a family event you often see pairs of dog walkers, or even threes and fours, now that would mean about 38000 humans took part. 38000 would fill The Bents Park twice over! Now, my own eyes, and those of the APCOA Civil Enforcement Officers witnessed that a great many of them arrived by car, they certainly didn’t all walk to The Leas, and if only 25% of the dogs arrived by car then where did the 4500 cars park? They certainly didn’t, indeed could not, park alongside The Leas because from Gypsies Green Stadium to the Redwell Bank roundabout there is only room for about 250 vehicles. Where would the other 4000 odd park? Not on the Dragon, it was virtually empty.

Also, if each dog lapped up around half a litre of water during and after the walk, they would consume the contents of some 4500 two litre bottles of water, that’s a lot of pallets and a lot of dog bowls, yet behind the finish line I counted only around 50 bowls.

I missed the start of the event so I cannot truthfully tell how many thousands were lined up ready to go, but remembering last year I found it difficult to believe that there might have been thousands behind the start line, hundreds would have been a better estimation from what my own eyes saw. Yet still I continue to find it very difficult to believe that now around 4500 dogs per hour walk around the course.

So, considering that South Tyneside Council is now one of the major sponsors of the event I think we are entitled to ask some questions to validate that it is indeed a major event worthy of tax payer support.

  • How do the organisers confirm how many dogs take part on the day?
  • Is there any involvement by any official from Guinness World Records Ltd on the day, and on site, to validate the “world record” claim?
  • How much does the event cost to organise and run?
  • How much sponsorship is raised and from whom?
  • How much money is raised for charities and which charities benefit?
  • Are any accounts published, and where can the public read them?

Related posts

I’m sorry that I find these numbers challenging, they just don’t match with what my eyes see,  were you there yesterday? Am I going slightly barmy about it?

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Written by curly

June 13, 2011 at 8:00 pm

A right Royal weekend

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South Shields really shines in the sun

I’ve had a great weekend, and hope you all did too, the early spring sunshine has helped to show South Shields at its very best with thousands of visitors enjoying our coast, beaches, parks, and restaurants. Friday’s Royal Wedding was a joy to watch whether at home in front of the TV or in the South Marine Park where I reckon about 1000 people were sitting on the grass with their picnics in front of a giant screen erected in front of the restored bandstand, it would be churlish NOT to congratulate the people at South Tyneside Council for arranging this. The picture quality was first class even in the strong sunlight, just a pity that a sharp shower temporarily got in the way, but it didn’t force people to leave, it really was quite festive.

We managed to do some supermarket shopping in the morning and it was the easiest experience you could find, the place was near deserted and we were finished in less than twenty minutes, I had a chat with some of the staff and discovered that they had all volunteered to work on Friday  and rewarded with overtime and a day off in lieu. It was also interesting to note that each year they nominate two of the available eight Bank Holidays to work and rotas are arranged on that basis, a pretty good way of satisfying almost all of the staff and ensuring that they get a good amount of Bank Holidays to themselves to enjoy with their families.

Saturday also found huge crowds in the parks enjoying the weather and I can see in future years that the cafe available inside the new swimming pool will be well used, certainly if we fall victim to the odd shower. Just disappointed that the afternoon was marred by a pretty inept display from Sunderland who surrendered without a fight to Fulham.

Yesterday saw me delivering leaflets in the Harton ward of South Shields in delightful warm sunshine, which made the task that much more rewarding, even had a very friendly chat with a congenial Labour councillor, as well as adding to some sterling work being done in the Beacon and Bents ward. Met many prominent members of our Bengali community yesterday evening on a full tour of every one of our restaurants in the town centre and Ocean Road, it was pretty cheerful and the reception was great, once again it was apparent that South Shields was the place to be as just about every establishment was busy with queues forming at two or three of the most popular, but boy the aromas of the spices were inviting. Just wish I could have sat down and joined in the feasting, but it was a bit early in the evening for me.

I have to say that I’ve been very encouraged by the responses we’ve received whilst campaigning for Mr. Hayder in the Beacon and Bents ward, no hostility at all, and I think people welcome the additional choice and a return to the days of more activity from the local Conservative candidate, far better than the days when a name was offered as a choice but no effective campaigning took place. This is far, far different to recent years.

We may be taking a trip out today if the kids can decide to agree, then it’s back to normal from tomorrow, hope you all enjoyed this great Bank Holiday weekend.

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Good foggy Friday

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South Shields loses out on sunshine

Well we could have done without the fog today which hung around the coastal areas of the north east and sunk into depressions and low lying areas. Everything was set for a bumper Good Friday for sea front and town centre traders as weathermen forecast temperatures in the 20s. Oh well, if you lived in Simonside or Jarrow you probably enjoyed your barbecue in the sun!

There are certain things that we do by tradition in South Shields and there are certain ways of doing them which cannot be thrown away, Good Friday is one of those “events” in the calendar when tradition must be upheld. Preparations begin weeks earlier when parents and grandparents start buying new clothes for children, and some are even taken to Sunday School for the first time, parks and gardens are attended to, cleaned up and pruned, the fairground attractions are repainted, repaired, and spruced up, new rides installed, and all the boats on the South Marine Park lake are given an overhaul.

So we were ready as usual for crowds to flock to the Market Place, the West Park, and East Harton School following the marching bands in The Procession of Witness organised by the Sunday Schools Union, civic leaders attended to add an air of community spirit which we all approve of, and the Mayor gets to be driven around at breakneck speed to be at two events within fifteen minutes of each other. In years gone by, after the public service for Good Friday in the Market Place the bands would march down King Street and Ocean Road before peeling away towards their respective churches, the huge crowds following behind would then carry on down towards the beaches, parks, and the funfair. I don’t know if this still happens because I leave the Market in a hurry to get to the West Park!

So it was today, in order to photograph and document as much of the day as possible, for some reason I want things to go on as they are, and for the rest of the country to know what we do here at this time of year. I want them to know that on the whole they can come to South Shields early in the day and enjoy a great day out, queue with the rest of us for fish and chips, and (if your luck is in) get a sun tan on the beach or in the parks as an added bonus. I took a great many pictures today in addition to the few showing in the slide show below, so if you want to visit us and want to see more of our Easter traditions, keep an eye on South Shields Daily Pictures over the next couple of weeks.

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Written by curly

April 22, 2011 at 8:28 pm