England – Part 1

Greetings everyone,

Happy Father’s Day to all Dad’s out there in reader land, hope you have a great day and hear from your kids. So kids “CALL HOME!”

This post is the first of two or three articles on our Friendship Force home stay in the Stockton, Darlington, and Durham areas of northeast England. First, a little about the Friendship Force International. This non-profit group was founded in Atlanta in the 1970’s by a former missionary Wayne Smith. Reverend Smith was acquainted with then Governor Jimmy Carter whose wife, Rosalyn, participated in the first Friendship Force exchange to Brazil. Soon after his inauguration, President Carter introduced the Friendship Force organization to visiting state governors. From that endorsement, the Friendship Force took off and established chapters in 63 countries. Currently, there are about 400 exchanges involving over 5000 participants per year with over 16,000 members in 375 communities worldwide. The vision for this organization is lofty and becomes even more so as tensions increase in many parts of the world. That vision is for ordinary people, like you and me, to help build understanding and breakdown barriers between people that separate us from each other. In other words, by making one friend at a time soon a world of friends becomes a world of peace. One of the features of the exchanges is sharing a home, meals, conversation and experiences with your hosts. So by combining home hospitality with cultural exploration, we reach a new level of understanding about others. We are members of Friendship Force of Wisconsin-Madison, an active club established in 1978 with about 120 members. Check it out at www.ffwis.org or the international website at www.friendshipforce.org. There were 12 members from the Madison club that participated in the exchange with the Cleveland Friendship Force Club May 11-18, 2016.

We met our hosts, Bill and Pam Jones, at the Darlington railway station after a pleasant, two hour train ride from Edinburgh. The Joneses live in the village of Yarm on the banks of the River Tees. While we traded a few emails prior to our visit, we were anxious to learn more about our hosts for the week. Bill and Pam are retired, Bill was an engineer and Pam a teacher. While they grew up in the London area, they much prefer the English countryside to the bustling city. They are very active people, involved in two Friendship Force Clubs and other civic organizations. They’ve traveled extensively in addition to hosting numerous Friendship Force ambassadors from different parts of the world. Here’s a fun photo of Bill and Pam at the train station.IMG_3039

We had many great meals and conversations with Bill and Pam at their lovely home in Yarm that is much like a middle class neighborhood in the US.England-1376.jpg

The first evening, we attended a gathering of all the Madison ambassadors along with our hosts at a traditional “Ceilidh” or social gathering that featured folk music and dancing. We enjoyed meeting all the hosts and found their English humor to be quite enjoyable.

The morning of our second day, we met the group at the Town House (like our city hall) of Stockton-on-Tees that is the center of government for the area. At the session we were introduced to the Mayor of Stockton, Councilor Ken Dixon and his wife the Mayoress. The term of Mayor is for one year and he or she acts as the Chairperson of the meetings of the full Council. The Mayor also performs many of the ceremonial duties on behalf of the Borough of Stockton-on-Tees. The Mayor’s driver, Kevin Bowdrey, gave a very interesting talk on the history of Stockton, the duties and responsibilities of the mayor, and some of the historic symbols of the office and the Town House. Here’s a photo of two Madison ambassadors talking with the Mayor at the reception.England-Stockton Mayor-1426

The main presentation was in the ornate Council Chambers. Here Mr. Bowdrey is explaining the symbolism of the Mayor’s chain.England-Stockton Mayor-1441

And here’s a photo of the Mayor and Mayoress in the Mayor’s Office. Note the mace, another historical symbol of the office of Mayor.England-Stockton Mayor-1468

And here’s Mr. Bowdrey talks about the British Commonwealth flag. It was a very interesting morning learning about local government and long history of the development of Britain. England-Stockton Mayor-1484

Later that day, Bill took us on a tour of the Tees Barrage that controls the flow of the river and flooding as well as the effects of tidal change from the North Sea. Nearby there is also the Tees International White Water Course, an artificial course used by whitewater enthusiasts for practice. Here’s a view of the Barrage (left) and the Course (right, not much water flowing the day we visited).

As we were looking around the Barrage, a young fellow approached us and asked us we’d like to see the control room. We of course said “yes!” Reece was his name and he was one of the most enthusiastic workers we’ve ever met. He was so proud and excited about his work and how important it was to the people that depended on them to monitor the flow of the River Tees. Here’s Bill and Donna listening to Reece explain how the control board worked.England-Barrage-1491

On the other side of the room was the control for the small lock that is on the river so pleasure boats and small craft can safely pass from the River Tees to the North Sea. Reece pointed to a photo on the wall of Prince Philip pressing the button to open the locks during the dedication of the Barrage. Reece then asked Donna if she’d like to open the lock, so she tried to mimic how the Prince did the job!England-Barrage-1494

Down the river from the Barrage, we took a look at the Tees Transporter Bridge locally known as the “Tranny.” A transporter is like a gondola like contraption that carries people and vehicles from one side of the river to the other, well kind of like a bridge. Took me a while to figure out how it worked but it is something I’d never seen before and proved to be very interesting. The idea behind building it was that wouldn’t inhibit river traffic as would a traditional toll bridge or drawbridge. Built in the early 1900’s, the bridge was damaged by bombs during a WWII German air attack. And apparently there was a movement underfoot in the 1990’s to replace the bridge because it wasn’t very efficient. That is until it was designated a historical site and received national funding for repairs and improvements. Here it comes for a landing. England-Transporter-1511

Then quickly reloads with cars and passengers to return to the other side. England-Transporter-1519

Well, that’s enough for this week. Next week, a visit to Whitby, York and the Yorkshire Dales.

Take care,



2 thoughts on “England – Part 1

  1. Tom you never fail to educate and captivate me with your weekly blog. The “Tranny” is an interesting alternative; couldn’t help but think of the maintenance needed on those cables. Already looking forward to next weeks blog.

    1. Hi Marsha, thanks for your kind comments. As I wrote this blog, I realized I was reliving our time in the UK. Find of fun when I think about the writing process. Tom

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