Tall Man at the Iron Gate

A story hard to believe but indeed true

In 1985 I went to Civil Engineering Department at University of Newcastle Upon Tyne under British Council’s Academic Link program. It was month of November. The weather in Newcastle was windy and it was biting cold. I wasn’t much prepared. Professor Sam James was my contact. A Teacher par excellence, a warm and kind personality.

Sam worked on water quality modelling of rivers and estuaries along with David Elliot. At that time, I was attempting a two-dimensional water quality model using Yotsukura and Sayre’s Stream Tube concept. I was inspired by Prof T P H Gowda’s work on Canadian rivers. The application of two-dimensional model was to be made on river Ganga. Idea of the Link program was to exchange our experiences in these areas. I eventually made this application and developed STREAM-II model.

Tees estuary modelling was Sam’s focus. He used compartment or box modelling concept that was tried on river Thames. Here, the estuary was construed as consisting of layered boxes – stacked on and next to each other with exchange coefficients and reaction mechanisms. This model seemed to work and corroborate well with the field data. (Later, I realized that the same approach was used in Box modelling of air pollution in cities. Here Akula Venkatram made some inspiring publications).

In the course of day, I used to read some of Sam’s unpublished work, join discussion meetings with his Ph D students and sometimes attend his lectures. We used to meet up all faculty in the coffee room in the late afternoon. I loved these get togethers. The coffee used to be great – in both taste and aroma.

I was staying at Hotel Avenue on Manor House Road. This B&B hotel was in Jesmond and at a walking distance from the Casse building of the Civil Engineering Department. Sam used to drop me by his car to save me from the cold winds.

Hotel Avenue

One day, Sam had to leave early as he was not feeling well. “Will you manage going walking today Prasad?” He asked. I nodded as the distance wasn’t too far.  Sam explained how to and recommended a short cut.

I got out a bit late as I was engrossed reading one of Sam’s research notes on Tees Estuary modelling. It was 5 pm and the evening was already set with streets getting dark. I tied to follow Sam’s instructions of walking along Clayton road but missed and instead took route via Jesmond road and reached Osbonne road instead of the Osbonne avenue. There was no one to ask in the street.

Road from Civil Engg Department

I reached a point where I came across a majestic iron gate with a dim light outside. There was a Tall Man standing there – perhaps waiting for somebody. I stopped by and asked him. “Sir, how to reach Hotel Avenue? I think I am a bit lost. Can you please guide?”

The Tall Man smiled. He said, “You are not too far away Sir, continue on this road another 5 minutes, reach Rosebery cres and then take a left, then first right, and then second left. You should reach then the Avenue Hotel”.  I was now confused – not just because his complex instructions but because of his Northumberland accent.

The Entrance with Iron Gate

The Man saw me give up.

“Well sir, there is an easy and shorter way too. You can get inside this Gate and head straight through the inside road. A 5-minute walk and you will hit a similar rear Gate. Get out of the Gate and another 200 m ahead is Hotel Avenue”

I thought this option was better. But I was a bit hesitant.

When the Man noticed my discomfort. He said “Sir, this is a public property and so you can enter with no inhibition whatsoever”

He thought for a while and added

“I can walk with you through Sir and give you company This may help”

The Inner Road

I thanked him for his generosity.

We started walking together.

The road inside was narrow with tall grass around. I couldn’t see much as it was already dark. All I noticed was an unusual silence. Leaves made noise as we walked.

“Sir, what brings you to New Castle? You don’t look like a local” The Tall Man asked.

“Well, I am here to do some joint research at the Civil Engineering Department of University” I answered. I wanted to be brief as I didn’t want to be technical. Besides the weather was getting now real windy.

“What research?” The Man seemed to be curious.

I explained to him the work we were doing on mathematical modelling of Dissolved Oxygen on Tees estuary in as simple terms as possible. I think I did well as the Man asked more questions that were meaningful and relevant. I elaborated.

“So, will your modelling work help the fish in the estuary? Will it improve the income of the fishermen?” The man asked me this question as we were coming close to the rear Gate of the property.

I had not thought about this question. I was only thinking that we could publish our work in a good refereed Journal and we could “produce” two Ph Ds.

“Honestly our work should” I answered.

But then I wasn’t sure. “Must speak to Sam” I said to myself. This Man is asking good questions.

The Tall Man continued

“Sir, did you ever visit Tees estuary?”

I nodded negative.

“Did you listen to the sound of its high and low tide? And did you meet any of the fishermen? And did you take a ride on the boats and spoke to them about fish?” He asked

I realized that I was away from the reality. I was attempting modelling with no real purpose.

“Well, I haven’t done this yet. I have been kind of glued to the computer and research papers” I said apologetically.

“I see – this is generally the case” The Tall Man whispered.

We had reached by then the rear Iron Gate, and so our conversation ended.

In this 5-minute walk, I realized that I needed to completely change my perspective on environmental modelling.

The Man shook my hands, walked back and disappeared.

When I exited, I noticed the board at the Gate that was dimly lit.

It said “All Saints Cemetery, Jesmond”

All Saints Cemetery, Jesmond

When I reached hotel Avenue and the Bar, Tim, the bar tender got me a Bitter with froth and served with chips. He saw me with sweat on the forehead

“Sir, how come you are sweating in such a cold and windy weather” Tim asked

I explained Tim about my experience of walking through All Saints Cemetery with the Tall Man.

“Oh, did you actually see this Tall Man and walked with him?” The bar tenders voice had a lot of concern.

“The Man you met is a famous person of the fishermen community of the Gates Head. There are so many stories about him – few true but most untrue. Very few see him”

“Well Tim, I spoke to him, and he said a few things that were simple but very relevant to my work. Now how do I get hold of him for another round of conversation?” I took a large gulp of the Bitter

“Sir, the Man you met, and I was referring to – died a 100 years ago. His grave is the first one as you enter the Cemetery from Osborne Road” Tim said while topping my Bitter.

I did not visit Newcastle university after 1987. I plan to visit and walk through the All Saints Cemetery once again for a friendly advice from the Tall Man

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  1. The tall man is still walking with many whom he likes to talk.. I went many times to this saints cemetery during my phd days but failed; though I was also interested to be with him. He may not be interested as I was too far from his work interest that is air pollution. But Jordies (the native Newcastle people) love this saint… He is a good soul.
    nicely described !!!

  2. Great story. I believe we find enlightenment and inspiration from the most unexpected places and I also believe there is help being offered to find sustainable solutions to our environmental and societal issues if we open our hearts and our minds.

  3. great write up, Dr. Modak……reminds me of the discussions we have had on air dispersion modelling and its link with the reality of clean air in cities……..many researchers lose themselves in the ‘means’, rather than focusing on the ‘end’ ! You have always tried to bring the two closer, in your work…

  4. Just to share –
    The Tees River is an unique catchment as well as with meandering small tributaries. If you have been to Middlesbrough towards north west of Newcastle the river is quite shallow but strong flow. The complexity is generated in the modelling due to meeting of small tributaries causing strong back flow. That causes uncertainty in estimating the K value which makes the model formulation and their performance quite challenging. Though I am not a water person but one of my very good Pakistani friend Prof Shah who happened to share the office room doing his phd at that time under Prof O’Connel used to discuss with me such examples as I was also doing the same estimation through observations of K of coke oven emissions.
    It used to be very interesting conversations that I always have been missing in India even at IITD.
    Another interesting information that I want to share is that England is the Haunted Country and it has produced a mapof haunted locations. I was having a map in my flat and me and my very good friend JD sometimes used to drive those places to explore in a hope that we may come across to meet a SOUL … but unfortunately never!! Hope I will able to meet this tall man sometimes in future in Newcastle and discuss that a lot has been achieved since you had conversation..

  5. A unique friendly encounter ! I was completely taken aback at the vision and advice of the tall man. It was a blessing from the ghost. (Blessings need not be restricted to gods alone. Ghosts , too can offer them.)

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