Elsewhere on the ‘Cabinet of Curiosities’ that is this truckshunting blog, I have mentioned that the only good reason to go anywhere near Bishop Auckland is the existence of the village of Escomb, which lies a couple of miles upstream of that truly benighted hellhole. And that was because of its small, barn-like, coal-blackened church. Despite its unprepossessing appearance and its irredeemably squalid surroundings (well done, once again, Durham County Council), Escomb Church is almost certainly the oldest complete building above ground in England.
Like so many of the architectural gems of my native county, it has to be actively sought out and loved almost despite itself, like the follies at Hardwick Hall, the beforested ruins of Langley Hall, the Elizabethan perfection of Horden Hall (practically invisible from the nearby main road) or the captivating little churches at Old Seaham and Dalton-le-Dale, all of which require some considerable effort to find.
Well, Escomb has reared its surprisingly bonny head yet again. This time, it’s because the village and its environs are one of the best sites in the north of England to see bats. Or so I am reliably informed.
Naturally, I’m very well aware that the human species - more especially the Western European version of it - seems to have a genetic, or even pathological, fear and hatred of certain other creatures with which it shares the world. Spiders, snakes, rats, beetles and house-mice spring to mind.
I have to admit that all of these have, at one time or another, given me the Ian Robinson version of the vapours. But each of these morbid fears has been more or less overcome, usually quite fortuitously.
My life at the BBC sometimes played a part in this. When you’ve held a tarantula spider in your hand, as I did once for the Blue Bus programme, then the average English house or garden spider tends to lose its fearsome qualities. And my quaking fear of snakes had to be abandoned when I handled a couple of them at the Wildlife Sanctuary at Ulgham and found them strangely calming and restful!
And who, I ask you, could be quite as afeared of rats after Lawrence Hepple allowed The Nightshift to adopt Grosvenor as its mascot?
As for mice...We once saw a little mouse run across the floor of the dining room of my house in Sheffield. My then-partner at once declared it an ‘infestation’ but agreed that any trap we set should be of the humane variety. The cheeky little so-and-so couldn’t resist a small piece of my home-made Victoria sponge cake (although, now I come to think of it, not a single human being was so easily seduced). We drove ten miles up onto the Derbyshire bilberry fields to release it, which made me actively jealous.
I still have problems, though, with beetles and some other ‘creepy-crawlies’. As far as I know, my frigidity in their presence dates from a truly unforgettable occasion when I slept overnight in the downstairs lounge of a distant relative who owned an adjoining fish and chip shop in Stockton. When I switched on the light during the night, the entire floor was - literally - crawling with cockroaches. Hundreds of them. And all falling over each other to get into the shadows.
I was 12 and had never, ever knowingly seen a cockroach in my life, let alone a whole floor full of them. That hideous sight burned itself in to my brain forever. For weeks I had a recurring nightmare that my best friend at school (Geoffrey Oliver, from Waterhouses) lay dying at the bottom of a cliff with cockroaches crawling out of every orifice. I’m shivering as I type.
But bats....well, I’ve always loved bats. I’ve honestly never understood the human dislike of them. To me, they are proof positive that ugliness and beauty are in the eye of the beholder and are also only skin deep. Their snub-nosed, ‘pugnacious’ faces are full of character and their physiology is a wonder of adaptation and evolution, from the oversized, radar-sensitive ears to the delicate membranes of their wings.
Many years ago I was on a canal holiday in Staffordshire and, on the first night, we moored up beneath some trees by a lovely old canal bridge ‘in the middle of nowhere’. As the light faded, the bats came out to play. We watched for over half an hour as they swooped and fluttered their bat-ballet in the gathering twilight. I’ve never forgotten it.
Anyway...the moral of all this is - and I never thought I would be saying this - go to Bishop Auckland. Well, go to Escomb nearby. And, if you’re very lucky, these charming creatures will give you a graceful and ageless twilight show.
BLASTS FROM THE PAST
I don’t often see my ex-colleagues from BBC Radio Newcastle so I am delighted to say that two of them made very pleasurable re-appearances last week.
Natasha had, for a while, been one of the producers on the Big Blue Bus programme. Many of our brightest moments were down to her and I missed her very much when she moved on to ‘pastures new’. (Where does that phrase originate?) She lives in Bristol now but was visiting Newcastle for a couple of days. We had several immensely enjoyable cups of coffee on Monday evening, during which, true to form, Natasha came up with a typically clear plan of exactly what I should be doing with my time. Just like the old days. I loved every minute of it.
She reads this blog, too. So - hello, Natasha. And put the kettle on.
On Tuesday, I met up with Paul Wappat. Normally, I take a tablet before I do this but I didn’t need to on this occasion because Julia Hankin was there, too.
Yes - Julia Hankin. It was on Julia’s afternoon show that my voice was first heard on radio. So she has a very great deal to answer for. I’m gratified to be able to report that the nightmares have now passed and Julia’s as happily unfazeable as ever. And even better: remember that kinda cheeky ‘twinkle’ in her voice? It’s still there!
She’s the Marketing Manager for the Centre for Life in Newcastle now and is loving it. But I still miss her on the radio. Don’t you?
Just a reminder that the next AGM will take place on Sunday 6 September at Tynemouth Station Market at about 1100. A splendid time is guaranteed for all. Specially jim.little, our new ‘follower’!
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