‘Time To Say Goodbye’: Ode to Green Ivy and Sweeter Things, 18th May 2016

Well, we all knew it was going to happen someday.  When the merger was first announced, the standing joke amongst the Church High staff was “How long will the ivy cross last after July 4th 2014?”  The answer was actually an awful lot longer than anyone had expected.  By my calculations, it lasted for 22 months and 2 weeks in the end.  Because of this, I didn’t realise what was happening at first when I turned the corner into Tankerville and saw a ‘Cherry Picker’ in action.  Then the penny dropped.  The green ivy cross had now gone.

Newcastle High school for girls
A man on an hydraulic crane continues his ‘ivy-killing’ brief.

As I mentioned in a very early post in April 2015 when Tolent were carrying out enabling work on the old building, early descriptions of Newcastle High School refer to its “red brick and deep red brick mouldings” being lined with creepers presenting “a pleasing and picturesque appearance.”  So creeping ivy has clearly been a characteristic feature of the Tankerville Terrace building for many years.  However, it was only at the time of Church High’s 125th Birthday in 2010 that Site Manager, Gentian Qeku, for whom the beautiful front gardens were a source of great pride, had the idea of training the ivy into the shape of a large green cross to represent the school badge.

Newcastle upon Tyne Church High School
Gentian Qeku’s lovingly-tended rose-garden and the ivy cross.

Newcastle upon Tyne Church High School

As the front cover of this 1917 Newcastle High School magazine shows, the cross in the school badge/logo pre-dates Church High.

Newcastle High School for Girls
The original Newcastle High School for girls branding (1917 School Magazine).

Although the detail was modified in subsequent re-brandings, the actual badge itself was not changed when Newcastle High School became The Newcastle upon Tyne Church High School in 1925.  This of course explains why many a person has tried and failed to locate the ‘C’ in the inter-locking initials on school jumpers over the years.

Newcastle High School for Girls
Original Newcastle High School for girls badge and motto.
The final modification of the Church High logo.
The final modification of the Church High logo.

In April 2015, the base of the ivy cross was traunched, presumably in an attempt to make its removal easier when the time for that came.

newcastle church high school
Tolent cut a traunch at the base of the cross in April 2015.

Giuseppe’s Clerk of Works photographs after Wates took possession of the site chart the die-back process in fascinating detail.  The very earliest image taken in October 2015 reminds us, if anyone had forgotten, that there used to be a white flag-pole in front of the main building.  For me, the sight of Mr Hyde being tied to it by marauding indian squaws one Sixth Form Leavers Day is very hard to forget.

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The flag-pole is still intact in front of the main building and Gentian’s roses are still in late bloom on October 2nd 2015.
newcastle high school for girls
There are signs of green growth in the ivy by November 2015.
newcastle high school for girls
March 2016, Mother Nature works her magic: the base is green again, but only the concrete flag-pole stump remains.

I know I am not alone in finding ivy a most beautiful plant.  As an evergreen, for the Victorians it symbolised life and eternity (basically immortality) as well as all binding love attachments because of its essential nature.  Taking its name from the Celtic word for cord, ivy featured heavily in Victorian Art.  Modern day composer, Isobel Waller-Bridge created a beautiful haunting piece of music called ‘Ivy’ (do listen to it on YouTube) and James Henry Leigh Hunt (best known as just Leigh Hunt) published a poem called ‘On Receiving a Crown of Ivy from John Keats.’  In his ‘London Journal’ of 1834 he also wrote a fascinating article ‘Ivy Does Not Make Houses Damp’: ‘Inspecting the repairs of a public building from the western gable (by the way, the part in our climate most exposed to rain and storm) of which a complete covering of ivy, of several years’ growth, had been unnecessarily just cut and torn down; when I observed that this was a most unwise and uncalled-for proceeding … the gentlemen present expressed surprise, saying that it must occasion internal damp; all with the exception of one, – who agreeing in opinion with me, said that the driest part of his house was that which was many years covered with ivy ….’  Well said, Sir!

Evocative images of the ivy growing over the west gable of the old Church High Main Building, November 2015.
Evocative images of the ivy growing across the west gable of the old Church High Main Building, November 2015 (G.cam).

newcastle high school for girlsLeigh Hunt may well be right about ivy protecting walls from damp.  However, it has to be said it can cause other problems on brickwork.  Giuseppe’s close up shots of the lead work up on the haunch and the UPVC window sills on the west façade clearly show that, owing to ivy’s clever method of climbing (described in scientific detail on the BBC Earth News web page), it’s a tricky beggar to combat.  This is perhaps the reason why GDST decided the ivy had to go.

newcastle high school for girls
The ivy’s attachment system also works if the plant is dead.
newcastle high school for girls
Mr Meltzer explains the root hairs fit into cavities within the climbing surface, where they dry out and scrunch into a spiral-shape locking the root into place.  Because of this, it makes no difference if you wait for a while before pulling it away.

Ivy damage NovemberFriday 26th August was ‘Handover Day’ when the building transferred back from Wates to NSHG.  Whilst this was a happy day, I was genuinely shocked to notice that the bronze plaque displaying the date of the Science Block, which I photographed on March 12th, was no longer on the wall where it was mounted after the building work in 1985.  As a commemorative monument, like the stone at the front of the building, this should have remained in situ.  Unlike the ivy cross, I see no justification for its removal other than its shape.  It’s hard to avoid the thought there may be downsides to blogging.

Newcastle church high school_newvastle high school for girls
The Science Block Commemorative Plaque.

Anyway, as you may remember from my Room 5 window in July 2014 and can see from Giuseppe’s November 2015 exterior shot below, Cherry-picker Man had quite a job on his hands with the ivy.

The ivy cross viewed from inside Room 5 in July 2014 and from outside in November 2015.
The ivy cross viewed from inside Room 5 in July 2014 and from outside from a hydraulic crane in November 2015.

newcastle high school for girlsBy the time I got to site that day, most of the heavy work had already been done and a mound of debris was piled up by the fence.

newcastle high school for girls
The cherry-picker now at rest and ivy debris.

By the time I left, the man was edging across the west façade trying to remove the aerial roots, first only with his hands then with a saw.

Those little aerial roots are almost impossible to remove completely.
The aerial roots are almost impossible to remove completely.

Once up close, the ‘ivy-killer’ proved to be a very nice man – all the workers on site are – and with a twinkle in his eye made a promise.

The gentleman sees the funny side of his 'ivy-killer' tag.
The guy’s only doing what he’s been told to do.  He assures me that he likes ivy a lot too.

It’s been ‘Time to say Goodbye’ (which has to be one of my favourite songs by Andrea Bocelli) to an awful lot of things for me of late and this last week has unfortunately been no exception.  I had intended to write a post midweek but on GCSE results day I sadly had to say goodbye for the very last time to my beloved, old-lady cat, Saskia.  Things like this put green ivy into perspective.  Nineteen years is a long time to share a house with anyone and Sassy was like me in many ways.  She loved to look out of the window at nature too.  I will most miss her companionship in the ‘wee small hours’ though.  She used to settle down beside me in the lamplight as I did school-work, read or wrote.  Who’s going to hint it’s past my bedtime now?

Saskia loved to keep me company when I work at night.
Sassy often liked to keep me company when I write at night.
'- yet, do not grieve;/ She cannot fade, though thou hast not thy bliss,/ For ever wilt thou love, and she be fair!' (John Keats).
‘Beauty is truth, truth beauty’:’ -yet, do not grieve;/She cannot fade, though thou hast not thy bliss,/For ever wilt thou love, and she be fair!’ (From ‘Ode on a Grecian Urn,’ John Keats).

Reflections on a ‘Blue’ Monday, 16th May 2016

Nobody wants to be the type of person who lives life as if looking through the rear view mirror of a car – always looking backwards and missing what lies ahead in the process.  But sometimes you really do need to look back on things to make sense of what you’ve seen.  The paradox, as Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard knew, is that “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.”

As you know, I don’t usually visit Tankerville on a Monday, nor after work either for that matter.  As it transpired, this wasn’t destined to be a ‘normal’ week in any way.  I know that now, but I didn’t at the time.  With the benefit of hindsight, it was a mould-breaking week as far as the blog was concerned.  All I knew at the time, however, was that some unsettling, unexpected things occurred towards the end of that week and the start of the next, that took a while to make any sense.   And why I had my camera with me that day, I can’t recall at all.  It may have been something to do with catching the cherry blossom at its height, but I do remember that I was feeling strangely ‘blue’.  When I felt like this, I’d always head ‘up the road’ to the trees.

The oldest tree on site rustles in the breeze.
The oldest tree on site rustles in the breeze.

As I write this, we are about to start the 12 day count-down to staff returning to work again in the renovated Newcastle High building, but, way back in May, it could still feel like that was a million miles away. Perhaps it’s because I’m a Taurean and my birthstone is an emerald, but I always feel soothed looking at greenery – even more so if it’s framed by a bright blue sky.  I doubt I’m alone in feeling like this.  Other than my night visit in January when I stood at the gates, this was the first time I’d been on site when everything was so quiet.  It felt a very different place as Peter was starting to ‘do his rounds’.  Very calming.  Very relaxing. Very green. All still except for the birds.

Usually the centre of activity, the glass-fronted buildings could be easily photographed.
At lunchtime, a hive of activity, the glass-fronted areas could be easily photographed now: old building above, new below.

On my way back from doing research in the archive last Thursday, I stopped by the site to say ‘Hello.’  It had been a long time since I’d been there and lots of things had changed.  A new Wates manager called Ken was now on site – had been for about a month apparently – overseeing the last ‘Big Push.’  The external landscaping is now getting underway and he told me the trees were proving to be a nightmare.  Logistically, at this point, I could see this might be so, but the trees have always been the main asset of the site which is why tree protection fencing has been in place throughout the project.  The variety of trees is key to Tankerville’s charm, of course.  That day, as I sat in late afternoon sun breathing in fresh air on the bench outside of Peter’s cabin, the little apple tree planted by the Junior School was just coming into blossom at eye level on my left, whilst to my right the flowering cherry tree so beloved by the Senior School girls looked truly splendid outlined against the New Build’s copper.

Delicate white apple blossom to my left and bright pink cherry blossom to my right.
Delicate white apple blossom flourishes to my left & bright pink cherry blossom to my right.

Newcastle HIgh School for Girls New Build

Do you know ‘Blue Monday’ by New Order?  That yellow tennis ball in my last post marooned high up in the Sports Hall roof gutter reminded me of the video the group released to go with the song.  At times over the past year, it’s been disorienting moving backwards and forwards between the past and the present, but I wouldn’t have had it any other way.  It’s been more a help than a hindrance and I’ve felt privileged to follow progress up so close.  It’s been very bitter-sweet on a number of occasions, of course, and at times New Order’s ironic lyrics have felt scarily apt: ‘Tell me how do I feel/ Tell me now how do I feel …. Those who came before me/ Lived through their vocations/ From the past until completion/ They will turn away no more …. And I still find it so hard/ To say what I need to say/ But I’m quite sure that you’ll tell me/ Just how I should feel today …’  However, with my exam class load now gone, sitting marvelling at the exquisite bright blue and green hues of the reflection in the windows of the new addition to the Church High old building, I felt my low mood lifting.

A shot of the new extension I wouldn't have captured on a lunchtime.
A magical photograph of the new extension I wouldn’t have captured on a lunchtime.  With the sun elsewhere in the sky that day, I was able to see the building in a different light.

I actually got some of my favourite shots of the new buildings that day.  Stepping off ‘the permanent way’ of my routine paid off for me.  WH Auden’s poem ‘A Permanent Way’ begins surprisingly for the modern reader comparing ‘self-drivers’ unfavourably to those who ‘jog/To the dogma of the rails.’  Unbeknownst to me on May 16th, the latter would soon become my lot.  But it did have its advantages.

As Peter closed the site gates behind me that night, the flowering cherry tree nearest the old Sixth Form kitchen in front of Tankerville House was spread out before me in the sun like a huge pink parasol.

Like a huge pink parasol: the flowering cherry in front of Tankerville House.
Pink parasol: one of the two Tankerville House cherry trees.

And as I framed the copper with as many different trees as I could find in a beautiful tonal palette of green, I didn’t feel blue anymore.

Landscape Clarifications: The Sports Hall Roof Garden No Longer A Mystery, May 2016

landscape clarifications

Every picture tells a story, so the saying goes.  Browsing through Giuseppe’s photos, this one spoke to me.  It appears in a folder called ‘Landscape Clarifications’ and that made me smile.  Yes it will be the ivy that appeals, also the trees and the greenness.  But it’s more than that.  It’s the way that Nature, left to her own devices on the far side of the tennis courts, has been silently re-claiming other structures.

Some stories begin with ‘Once upon a time’, others with one or two throw-away words.  This post about the Church High Sports Hall roof garden (yes, you did read that right) is of the latter sort.  When Peter got out of his pick-up truck just before I left on May 11th, I told him I’d been shown the roof garden and for a moment we were at cross-purposes. I meant the sedum roof: he meant the Sports Hall.

For a few weeks, the Sports Hall has been surrounded by scaffolding.
All month the Sports Hall has been shrouded by scaffolding.

The relationship between Man and Nature is a complex story.  I believe it’s somehow connected to the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics, but, as I’ve already said, I’m no scientist.  In my day, you didn’t have to do three Sciences at GCE so I just took Biology.  Physics is a mystery to me, but recently I heard the 2nd Law explained as a universal law of decay: the ultimate cause of why everything ultimately falls apart and disintegrates over time.  This intrigued me.  It’s something to do with warm things meeting cold things and the energy that is expended in the process.  Vast sums of money and energy are spent trying to counteract the relentless effects of this process via maintenance, re-painting, etc.  However, everything in Nature is obedient to unchanging laws.  And if a metal structure is abandoned to the elements for two years, disorder will occur.  Working on the New Build roof, the Wates team had been aware for a while, as in Macbeth’s fateful prophecy, that the trees really were on the move.

“Fear not, till Birnam wood/ Do come to Dunsinane”; and now a wood/Comes toward Dunsinane
‘“Fear not, till Birnam wood/ Do come to Dunsinane”; and now a wood/Comes toward Dunsinane’: Up here Mother Nature’s on the move

birnham wood 2Peter had explained there were trees growing on the Sports Hall roof, which greatly appealed to my sense of mischief and misrule.  However, it wasn’t until I saw Giuseppe’s site photos much later on that things were fully clarified.  The age-old battle, Man vs Nature:  “In the green corner, to your right, I introduce you to Mother Nature: in the orange corner, to your left, I introduce you to Man.”

On one side, trees have already encroached.
On one side, trees have already encroached.
On the other, Man prepares to paint over the green with grey. green
On the other, Man is making maintenance preparations to paint over the green with grey.

3 ManJoking apart, this is all necessary, of course.  From Giuseppe’s vantage point up on the scaffolding, the ravages of time are very clear.

Despite being Church High's newest structure, the signs of wear and tear on the Sports Hall are surprising.
Considering it’s Church High’s newest structure, the signs of wear and tear on the Sports Hall metalwork are surprising.

Since pictures can speak louder than words, I’m resorting to a series of ‘before and after’ shots to show the beneficial effect of repair work on the Sports Hall’s external metal structure.  In the process, you’ll see the familiar structure from some very unusual angles too.

One of the pillars supporting the roof at ground level (before) and reaching for the sky (after).
One of the supporting roof pillars at ground level (before) and reaching for the sky (after).

after 3

One of the striking brackets at the top of the pillars (before and after).
One of the striking architectural roof brackets at the top of the pillars (before and after).

after 1

The large metal girder under the windows (before and after).
The large metal girder at window level (before and after).

after 4

The large curved roof edge containing the gutters (before and after).
The large curved roof edging which conceals and contains the gutters (before and after).

after 5

And finally the roof gutters themselves (the before shot containing lots of moss and a sporting item).
And finally the large roof gutters themselves (the before shot containing lots of green moss and even a yellow ‘lesser-spotted’ tennis ball).

after 6And those deep roof gutters – they support a very large expanse of roof, don’t forget – really did need cleaning out.  I happen to think Giuseppe’s photos of the accumulated natural debris are actually very beautiful, looking almost like biological specimen slides.  However, these plants and minerals are clearly not ideal way up here!

Lovely colours but these are just dead leaves.
Lovely colours but these are just dead leaves.
No, not bronze or copper ore, just rust.
No, not bronze or copper ore, just lots of rust.
Reeds are nice in ponds but not up here!
This looks like a riverbank not a rain gutter.
Again, I'm all for planting new trees, but way up here?
I’m all for planting new trees, but way up here?
And finally the full-grown roof garden!
Finally, the full-monty: almost a roof garden!

These little problems have all been sorted out now and the Sports Hall exterior is looking gleaming bright.  Still, there was a particular kind of beauty in the natural decay occurring up there which brings to my mind the opening of Philip Larkin’s wistful poem ‘Afternoons’:

‘Summer is fading:
The leaves fall in ones and twos
From trees bordering
The new recreation ground.’

The power of Nature at work is certainly a wonderful thing to behold and I’m clearly not alone in thinking this.  There’s a fantastic website called ’30 Must See Breathtaking Places Reclaimed By Nature’ which I really would recommend you take a look at before you leave this post.  Some of the photographs are truly amazing.  If you know your ‘Star Trek’, you’ll know the Borg: in the face of Mother Nature ultimately “Resistance is futile!”  But we still try our best.

Bramble or ball?  Which one would your money be on?
Bramble or ball? Which of these would your money be on?

Tickled Pink: Yet More Green & The Sedum Roof Arrives, 11th May 2016


I doubt pink is the colour people would associate with me.  They’d be right too, though I have been accused many a time of looking at life through ‘rose-tinted spectacles’ – a gift I definitely inherited from my dear mother, Muriel, who departed this earth 12 years ago to the day (Aug 14th).  However, my favourite vintage Vivienne Westwood sunglasses actually have green glass in them.  That’s much more me.  Wearing them on a sunny day the world really does look more vibrant and I’m not alone in thinking this.  According to biographer Richard Holmes, one of my literary heroes Samuel Taylor Coleridge bought a pair of green solar spectacles in Portsmouth in 1804 just before embarking for Malta on the Speedwell.  The last two lines of Holmes’ Coleridge: Early Visions were quirky and wonderful: ‘He found that the flat mahogany rudder-case would serve as his writing desk, and the duck-coops around it could be stacked into a sort of armchair for him to sit on.  He took up his position, gazing up at the stars, while the caged ducks “quacked at” his legs companionably’ (P.361).  How cool is that?

Samuel Taylor Coleridge and 'green solar spectacles' (1752).
S.T. Coleridge and ‘green solar spectacles’ from 1752.

green solar spectacles 1752

I’m sure I’d have liked Coleridge, or STC as he preferred to be called.  His feeling for the natural world is something I share but it’s the simple truths about life he recognised that I’m drawn to most.  He knew that ‘What comes from the heart, goes to the heart’; ‘Good and bad men are each less so than they seem’; ‘He is the best physician who is the most ingenious inspirer of hope’; ‘No one does anything from a single motive’ and although ‘Love is flower-like: friendship is like a sheltering tree.’

Many friendships were celebrated under the shelter of this particular cherry tree at Church High.
As we know, many, many friendships were celebrated under the shelter of this beautiful pink cherry tree at Church High.

I wasn’t wearing my green sun glasses on Wednesday May 11th however when I noted that green was migrating along the roofline.  The south gable was finished and the guys were now working around the dormer windows in the eaves of the main east façade.

The roofing felt was now being replaced at the front.
The roofing felt was now being replaced around the front.

Giuseppe, once again, was able to supply us with a much better view.

The east facade lead guttering through Giuseppe's lens that day.
Roof work in progress along the east facade as seen through Giuseppe’s camera lens that day.

church high roof giuseppe ferrara 2

Around the same time, G took some fantastic photos of the roofline, an area of the building I’ve become more and more fascinated by as the work has gone on.  The history is there for all to see up there.

The 1925 Church High extension roof from the south.
The 1925 Church High extension roof from the south, latterly the two Geography rooms.

newcastle church high green roof 2

The bit you'll learn more about later: between the two halves of the main building.
A bit you’ll learn more about later : between the two sections of the main old building.
My favourite shot of all: the west side of the Hall roof.
And my favourite shot of all: the west side of the Hall roofline.

On the new build, work was continuing on the metal cladding – a slow process, it seems – and window surrounds were being added.

Little has changed with the metal cladding but there are slight changes to the windows if you look very closely.
Little has changed with the metal cladding but there are slight changes to the window frames if you look very, very closely.


Peter was hard at work on the pick up once again, moving sections of the recently-delivered air-conditioning system so they could be lifted up onto the roof,  so I was looked after by Dave that day.

Peter on the pick up moving the air-conditioning system.
Peter is on the pick up moving the air-conditioning system.

Dave is new to the site.  He comes from Yorkshire and was happy to escort me around but proved more camera shy than the other guys.  When I learned the living green roof was now on site, to say I was tickled pink was an understatement.  This was my ‘story’ of the day!

Dave may be camera shy, but I am very sneaky. The delivery looks much more interesting with someone in the frame!
Dave may be camera shy, but I am very sneaky, and the delivery looks much more interesting with a person in the frame too!

So what exactly IS a living green roof?  It didn’t turn out to be quite as green as I’d anticipated, but is certainly ‘green’ in the eco-sense.  A green roof has many environmental benefits such as absorbing rain water, capturing pollutants and providing a natural habitat for wildlife.  Ours is a sedum blanket grown on carpet-like matting.  Apparently honey-bees, ladybirds and butterflies all love sedum.  Butterflies always remind me of Mum. I saw a Cabbage White today.

Like the beautiful Cleopatra, little sedum flowers are rolled up in a blanket. beautifuLike Cleopatra
Just like Cleopatra, tiny sedum flowers rolled up in a blanket.


Dave opened up the netting on one of the pallets so I could see the ‘living’ side close up.  It was like nothing I’d seen before. The scale was so small and the pinky-green colour was really very beautiful.

The underside of the blanket was like a tropical rain forest in miniature.
The underside of the sedum blanket could have been a tropical rain forest in miniature.

There are a number of types of sedum roof.  From the red hue, it’s likely ours is sedum album ‘Coral Carpet’, a mat-forming evergreen sedum with small, fleshy, red-flushed leaves and white star flowers.


Since the roof-top terrace garden will basically be the preserve of the Science Department, when I spotted the tiniest piece of matting lying upside down in the dirt on my way out, I put it into my pocket.  When I got back to Eskdale, I found it a plate and added some water.  Since NHSG Science students will be working in this environment soon, I passed it on to Lynda Lant, our Senior Science Technician.  I do hope the girls were suitably intrigued by it.  An avid supporter of scientific enquiry himself,  Coleridge gave a series of lectures at the Royal Institution on ‘Poetry and the Imagination’.  Living in ‘The Age of Wonder’, I’m 100% sure STC would have seen and felt its beauty.

Coleridge described poetry as the 'best words in the best order.' He also advised us to 'examine nature accurately, but write from recollection, and trust more to the imagination than the memory'.
Coleridge: ‘Examine nature accurately, but write from recollection, and trust more to the imagination than the memory’.