Uncommon Ground

Please come down and see this project exhibited at London College of Communication, for the final show of the MA in Photojournalism and Documentary Photography.  www.uncommon-ground.co.uk.

There is also now a book of the project called To happiness, endlessly.

The title is a line from Philip Larkin’s poem, High Windows.

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I met my friend Tom when I was in Newcastle and he thought that Bradford would be a good place to go.  Bradford has a large Asian population, in stark contrast to whiter-than-white Durham.  Quite a few of the towns I’ve visited so far have very few black people, which might help to explain, but not excuse, the depressing amount of prejudice I’ve encountered when mentioning England.  According to the 2001 census, in England as a whole ethnic minorities make up around 9% of the population, although 45% of people from ethnic minorities live in the London area.  Bradford has the second largest proportion of Muslims outside London.  There were serious race riots in 2001, and a tendency here for racial tensions to flare up.  Bradford is one of the most economically deprived places in England.  There were more beggars here than anywhere else I’ve been on this trip.

I used to live next door in Leeds, and I’ve always felt a bit sorry for Bradford because it is the greyest city I have ever known.  It doesn’t matter what time of year you go, it will probably be grey.  (The exception which proves the rule is the evening at The Leisure Exchange below, where the setting sun cast a cinematic glow over the usual suspects: Pizza Hut, Frankie & Benny’s, and Cineworld).  As a pedestrian, you are constantly crossing busy roads, letting you know that the car is more important than you are.   I walked up Leeds Road looking for a curry house but frustratingly most of the places were called things like UKFC and selling fried chicken.

Although both being born in England, Mohammed and Javaid said that they identified more with being British: ‘We’ve always seen English as more connected to the indigenous race as opposed to the person or character, it’s more of a racial thing, whereas British is a more inclusive term’.  There’s the strange dichotomy in Bradford of thriving asian restaurants on one side of the road, and a pub festooned in the St George’s flag on the other, standing totally empty.  The older generation don’t seem to have moved on.  Whereas racially mixed groups of youngsters wander around, trying to look intimidating, as youngsters do in every other town.

I have to leave Bradford and head back to London for work.  I’m finding it very difficult to keep perspective on this project, and tend to think all the photographs I’ve taken are rubbish, incoherent, a mess.  The stress is mounting  as the deadline in November draws nearer.   Not enough ground has been covered, and it’s hard to do it in five day stints then back to work.  I know that the project can’t be representative of England, as by it’s very nature it is merely a collection of encounters in various places.   I’m just hoping this will make sense in the end.

Great Hall, Durham Castle, Saturday 25th September 2010

Durham, Saturday 25th September 2010

Durham, Saturday 25th September 2010

Durham, Friday 24th September 2010

Train from Durham to Bradford, Saturday 25th September 2010

Bradford, Saturday 25th September 2010

Bradford, Saturday 25th September 2010

Leeds Road, Bradford, Saturday 25th September 2010

Leeds Road, Bradford, Saturday 25th September 2010

Mohammed, Mubashir and Javaid, Bradford, Sunday 26th September 2010

Train from Bradford to London, Sunday 26th September 2010

Kings Cross, Sunday 26th September 2010

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second coming

Durham is a university town where the students always tend to originate from the upper-middle or upper class.  Around town, the students are referred to quite affectionately as ‘The Rah’s’.  Term hasn’t started back yet, so there aren’t many students around, but I did speak to Hannah and Amanda, who are studying foreign languages at the university.  Both were positive about their futures: Amanda wants to be an academic and live in a small house with a dog.  Hannah wants a successful career in London.

There are lots of middle aged tourists quietly traipsing the cobbles in colourful cagouls.  It’s bitterly cold.  I lose count of the number of polite people who say ‘oops, sorry!’ because they walked into my frame.  I feel a bit guilty because they don’t realise I am intentionally photographing them – I have collected hundreds!

In a vintage shop I met Bronia and Jonny.  Jonny remembers the mod revival, how that was about celebrating English culture without prejudice.  They are proud to stock lots of vintage clothing which is made in England.   He also talked about this ambivalence, a pride in being English and yet a concomitant shame.  Later I met them and their friend Matt at The Angel pub, where we witnessed the second coming of Jesus – I wouldn’t have guessed he drinks Newcastle Brown.  Bronia and Jonny say this is the best pub in the world because all of the local ‘alternatives’ come here, from punks to goths to bikers to hippies, and ‘there’s never any trouble, the bikers sort that out’.  We went back to their house in the sticks with an open fire and a scooter in the kitchen and lots of cats.  I think I fell asleep.  The morning came too soon.  It was a great night.

Edward Chandler, Bishop of Durham 1730-1750, Durham Castle, Friday 24th September 2010

Michael, cathedral steward, Durham, Friday 24th September 2010

Durham, Friday 24th September 2010

Hannah and Amanda, Durham, Friday 24th September 2010

Uses of the colour red, Durham, Friday 24th September 2010

Jesus at The Angel pub, Durham, Friday 24th September 2010

The Angel pub, Durham, Friday 24th September 2010

Jonny and Bronia, Durham, Friday 24th September 2010

The morning after the night before, near Durham, Saturday 26th September 2010

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After being looked after at my sister’s house I was dropped off by the river to walk a stretch into Newcastle city centre.  There were loads of brightly coloured huts on a ledge above the river, used for housing pigeons.  I found John there.  John has been made redundant after working for 41 years.  He looks after the birds for a friend because it’s something to keep him occupied.  He made us a drink on the small stove in the shed, where the kettle sat next to his good shoes – he changes out of them when he’s here because his wife doesn’t like the mess of the pigeons.  He’s looking for another job, but competing against people who are thirty years younger than him so it’s hard.  I thought it was amazing that he wasn’t at all bitter.  ’What’s the point in that?’ said John.

There was a torrential downpour which flooded the streets at lunchtime and seemed to stop the whole city.  Water was cascading down the streets, and for a moment an actual drowned rat was caught in a torrent before my eyes before being washed away.  I got the train to Durham, sharing it with a bunch of school kids discussing who did and who did not have an iphone.

At an Italian restaurant for dinner I got chatting to the waiters, and they kindly fixed my bill so I paid a mere pittance.  I can’t quite fathom how you would leave Italy and come directly to genteel and pleasant Durham, and they couldn’t really explain it either.  Love, now lost, came into it somewhere.  When I left in the driving rain I managed to get completely lost myself, walking a huge circle around the city before arriving back exactly where I’d started.  Comedy.  I did eventually make it home to my room in Durham Castle, which is student halls much of the year.  This was great until I gave myself the scaries imagining gruesome historical horrors.  I did not dare leave my room till the morning.

Newcastle, Thursday 23rd September 2010

John makes coffee, Newcastle, Thursday 23rd September 2010

Newcastle, Thursday 23rd September 2010

Train from Newcastle to Durham, Thursday 23rd September 2010

Durham, Thursday 23rd September 2010

Massimo, Durham, Thursday 23rd September 2010

When I was lost, Durham, Thursday 23rd September 2010

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A lady in the next village from mine when I was younger had a stocky grey pony called Hartlepool who pulled a cart around the countryside, and ever since I’ve liked the name.   So Hartlepool became the next destination.  The excellent and cheap Grand Central train line runs through it direct from London, and on the way I heard one old white Yorkshireman and one young black south Londoner, strangers to each other, chatting the whole way about football mostly, but also about Big Brother, the Jade Goody racism saga, Peter Andre’s relaunched career, the best meat pies to get from Morrisons (Pukka has too much pastry), bad service at fast food cafes, Nick Griffin on Question Time, the BNP generally, and The A-Team.  I was left feeling humankind can be good.

I don’t know what I expected from Hartlepool exactly, but what I got wasn’t it.  Some young people sat outside the shopping centre said there was nothing to do in Hartlepool, and that they were ‘Goths spelt G O F F S’, whatever that means.  If you want to find them, they hang out by the supermarkets, or here on the grass outside the shopping centre, next to the war memorial.  ’There are too many chavs here, listening to shit music’ they said, and ‘Santa’s grotto in the shopping centre became a mosque last christmas.  It’s stupid’.  One girl wants to be a lawyer, another an air hostess.  The lads want to be musicians.  ’England could be better,’ said Liam.  ’Yeah, but it could be worse’, said someone else.

In the pub I met a few retired men.  They volunteered to tell me a little bit about the monkey-hanging business, though they couldn’t agree on whether it was fact or fiction.  (See the monkey-hanging legend here).  A few of them were visibly quite disgusted when I said where I was from: ‘You can forget down south, pet, it’s all crap.  The north is England – apart from Middlesbrough which is shite, that’s something we can all agree on – and Hartlepool is the north, it’s the heart of this country.’  Another man told me that England is ‘Blue eyes.  It’s white.  Anglo-land’.  Some agreed with him and some didn’t.  Mr Morris Campbell was kind to me – he said there was nothing wrong with being from Northampton and living in London, for which I thank him.  I finished my half and was pretty happy to get on a train out of Hartlepool to my sister Katy and her boyfriend Jez’s house in Newcastle.

Train from London to Hartlepool, Wednesday 22nd September 2010

Train from London to Hartlepool, Wednesday 22nd September 2010

Hartlepool, Wednesday 22nd September 2010

Hartlepool, Wednesday 22nd September 2010

Gemma, 17, Hartlepool, Wednesday 22nd September 2010

Mr Morris Campbell, Hartlepool, Wednesday 22nd September 2010

Train from Hartlepool to Newcastle, Wednesday 22nd September 2010

Newcastle, Thursday 23rd September 2010

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what I ate

Still waiting to adventure out again next week.  Meanwhile here’s some of the food I ate on the trip so far.  I was mostly trying to eat for under a tenner a day.  Finding something healthy to eat on a budget was very difficult. From my experience, I would go so far as to suggest that budget food in England is almost entirely lacking on the healthy side of the nutritional scale, if such a thing exists.  The best food could only ever be at my mum’s house.

Blackpool; Blackpool; Birdoswald

Blackpool; Leek; The Lizard

Newquay; Stoke-on-Trent; Buxton

Blackpool; Stoke-on-Trent; Morecambe

Newquay; Blackpool; Newquay

Ravensthorpe – Mum’s house; Ravensthorpe – Gordon’s house; Ravensthorpe – Mum’s house

East Haddon – Rachael & Gareth’s house; The Lizard; Buxton

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where I slept

I’m in London until next week now because of work and unbreakable festival commitments, which is why I haven’t had anything new to say.  I thought I would post up the beds in which I’ve slept on the trip so far.  I would say the best night’s sleep was on the living room floor at Bec and Luke’s house in Bath.

I’ll be restarting next week and then again a couple of times in the next few weeks, fitting in around work in London.  I’ll show some culinary treasures from the trip soon.  Until then adieu.

The Lizard - Hazel & Keith's house; Buxton Bed & Breakfast; Bath - Bec & Luke's house

The Lizard – Hazel & Keith’s house; Buxton Bed & Breakfast; Bath – Bec & Luke’s house

Newquay Hostel; Newquay Bed & Breakfast; Sunderland Bed & Breakfast

Ravensthorpe – mum’s house; Stoke-on-Trent Bed & Breakfast; Windermere Bed & Breakfast

Windermere Hostel; Morecambe Bed & Breakfast; Blackpool Bed & Breakfast

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Sunderland tourism call it ‘the city by the sea’.  I don’t think that many tourists come to Sunderland.  The first person to approach me from the train station is a teenage boy asking for money to so he can get somewhere to sleep.  As I walk into town from my bed and breakfast I see a goth boy walking down the street get kicked several times by another boy walking past him.  His friend finally pulls him away.  Some people stop and check the boy is ok, and one of the men says ‘You should have hit him back, son’.

The next day I speak to some lads playing football near where I’m staying.  I’ve been asking people what they think about England, and what being English means to them.  One of them has a big aggressive looking dog which circles around me growling.  I say I’m quite scared of it and ask if it bites: ‘Yeah, she has bitten people.’  Good to know.  George says he’s BNP, and ‘There’s no black in the Union Jack.  This should be a white man’s country.  Work-wise it’s shite, I got kicked out of school, I haven’t had a job and there aren’t any out there.’  He says his dream is to be famous and popular with loads of money, and be captain of the England team.  Or he says he’d fight for his country: ‘I bet I would kill more of them than could kill me.’  One of the lads, who is about 20, asks why I want to know, and I say I’m studying at university.  He hasn’t heard of university before.  ’Do you get paid to do that?’ he asks.

I’m starting to have enough of Sunderland and enough of the trip for now.  I check my bank balance and that has also had enough.  So I got on a train home.

Acorn Guest House, Sunderland, Tuesday 24th August 2010

Acorn Guest House, Sunderland, Wednesday 25th August 2010

Sunderland, Wednesday 25th August 2010

Sunderland, Wednesday 25th August 2010

Sunderland Library, Wednesday 25th August 2010

Stranger who gave me directions to the sea, Sunderland, Wednesday 25th August 2010

Sunderland, Wednesday 25th August 2010

Sunderland train station, Wednesday 25th August 2010

Train from Sunderland to London, Wednesday 25th August 2010

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queen and country

I got a bus early from Carlisle to visit Hadrian’s Wall.  A man called David gave me an extensive commentary the whole way on the Romans and the forts and the wall.  He comes from Milton Keynes every month and walks a stretch so he knows what he’s talking about.   Apparently Birdoswald, where I was heading, is not the most exciting.  Ah well, I don’t think I’m quite so keen as David anyhow.  It’s seriously cold and I am seriously under-equipped with outdoor wear.  A few people mill around the fields looking at the brick remains as the clouds skim overhead.  One guy I walk past jokes: ‘You haven’t seen an old wall somewhere round here have you?’  The views across the valley from up here are incredible.

Back in Carlisle I feel like another night here would be overkill.  Although no-one has suggested the north-east, I think I better go somewhere there so I decide on a train to Sunderland.  I get some lunch in a Wetherspoons because it’s cheap and talk to Stephen and Ray.  Stephen used to be in the army, but now he has post-traumatic stress disorder and is unemployed and in and out of hospital.  He says he regrets some of the things he did in the army, but orders are orders.  He gets very upset if people criticise the queen, he says.  That’s what he fought for, queen and country.  What he wants for the future is to have his daughter back living with him ‘and away from that bitch’.  And to be a better person.

Ray says my questions make him shy.  He is pretty drunk.  ’You shouldn’t be on your own’ he says.  As I leave he slips a piece of paper with his number on it into my hand.  ’I get lonely’ he says.  ”Text me’.

Carlisle, Tuesday 24th August 2010

Butterfly and bees, Carlisle, Tuesday 24th August 2010

Civilisation (looking south); Hadrian’s Wall; Barbarian country (looking north), Birdoswald Roman Fort, Cumbria, Tuesday 24th August 2010

Stephen, Carlisle, Tuesday 24th August 2010

Ray, Carlisle, Tuesday 24th August 2010

England stranger, Carlisle, Tuesday 24th August 2010

Barbed-wire hearts, train from Carlisle to Sunderland, Tuesday 24th August 2010

Sunderland, Tuesday 24th August 2010

Bed and Breakfast, Sunderland, Tuesday 24th August 2010

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a long way up

I came to Carlisle because some people on a yacht on Lake Winderemere said I should.  It’s far north and near to Hadrian’s Wall, built by the Romans to keep the barbarian Scots out (or in).  Carlisle is very cold and very wet.  There was a Caribbean night at the racecourse so I went there for a bit of sunshine.  There wasn’t quite the carnival atmosphere I imagined, and there were no Caribbean people.  Even the steel band were white.  But it was quite jolly in an English sort of a way.  I love the names of racehorses – the ones I bet on were called Amazing Blue Sky, Six Diamonds, Wicked Wilma, King’s Sabre, Diggeratt, and Nave.  I had a run of luck to start with and won a huge ten pounds from the first three races from my measly one pound bets.  Then I gambled my fortune away.

Bed and Breakfast, Bowness-on-Windermere, Sunday 22nd August 2010

Karen, Bowness-on-Windermere, Monday August 23rd 2010

Keswick, Monday 23rd August 2010

Bus from Keswick to Carlisle, Monday 23rd August 2010

Carlisle from the bus, Monday 23rd August 2010

Caribbean night at Carlisle Races, Monday 23rd August 2010

Caribbean night at Carlisle Races, Monday 23rd August 2010

Caribbean night at Carlisle Races, Monday 23rd August 2010

Carlisle, Monday 23rd August 2010

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