Just before dawn on the first day of 2011, Our Lass and I were northbound from Buckinghamshire, heading for our spiritual home in the Land of the Prince Bishops. We were both raised in County Durham, that interesting bit of industrial archaeology, bordered by the rugged Pennines in the west, the River Tyne to the north, the River Tees to the south and the North Sea to the east.
Some 4 hours later, we crossed into the county, at Piercebridge, next to the remains of the Roman fort. It is always a special moment, though with political boundary changes, the definitive sign, "County Durham - Land of the Prince Bishops", wasn't for a few miles yet. To explain, the eponymous clergy were a succession of powerful men who ruled the County Palatinate in medieval times.
Our first port of call was to the clan headquarters, or to be more correct, "me Mam and Dad's house". For, nestled in the Gaunless valley, in the village of West Auckland, is the home of the couple responsible for unleashing Imperfect and Tense on an unsuspecting world. After catching up on events recent and past, we settled down to watch the activity in their garden. It had us green with envy, as a flock of tits visited the bird table just outside their window. The usual Blue and Great, but also a couple of Coal and seven Long-tailed. I managed to catch some footage of the latter.
Following that merriment, we journeyed to that most confusing of constructions, the conundrum of all conurbations, Middlesbrough, to visit my brother and his family. Positioned by the wide estuary of the River Tees and on the edge of the idyllic North York Moors National Park, the town is dominated by its industrial past and present. The railway, the port, iron and steel and, latterly, chemical works have all left their mark, and aroma, on the town. Despite all that, my dear bro still has a garden bird list to cherish. I recently recalled the text message informing me that he had seen a Waxwing. Unfortunately, it was dead, having flown into a window. Quite possibly caused by lack of vision due to all the noxious petrochemical fumes.
That notwithstanding, we rounded off New Year's Day with a fantastic family meal and pondered on the wonderful start to 2011.