Thursday, 19 July 2018

You probably had to be there

Yesterday a random tweet from a total stranger inspired me to respond, because I had already faced this presumably quite rare challenge: being best man to a friend for the second time.

For added complexity and piquancy, as I went on to point out, the bride was also my own ex-fiancée, whom I had met through a lonely hearts ad my PA had begged me to place in Private Eye so that I would stop hassling her for a date.

At the reception afterwards, several people congratulated me on my very unusual speech, which they took as evidence of an amazingly powerful imagination. But, in fact, every word of it was true. I have no imagination whatsoever. I never have had. I often think how different my life might have been if this were not the case.

It is also true, as I reported on Twitter, that one of the other highlights of the day was the experience of two teenage bridesmaid sisters who managed to evade all the measures carefully put in place by the Oxford college hosting the reception to prevent them from consuming alcohol. When the younger began to display clear signs of being the worse for wear, her elder sibling wisely decided to take her for a refreshing walk around the city centre. It was an exceptionally hot day so they ducked into Blackwell's bookshop for a refreshing blast of air conditioning, at which the younger girl immediately fainted. Only to be plucked from the floor by a kindly gentleman with a curiously familiar voice, who was enquiring whether she was OK.

When the girls returned to the reception with their tale of being rescued by none other than Bill Clinton, we naturally treated this as a juvenile fantasy of the highest order. But then we saw the newspapers the next day, and who should have been in town but ...

Since one or two people have expressed a very mild interest, here is the speech I gave that day, 7 July 2001, at Worcester College, Oxford, for the wedding of Richard and Chris:

Ladies and gentlemen

Well, here we are again!

It was borne in upon me in the run-up to this glorious and happy event that it would be extremely tasteless for me to allude to two things: one, that Richard had been married before, and, two, that I had once myself been engaged to his lovely bride. And indeed it would be tasteless in the extreme. But then, I thought, what else did he expect? Does one book Bernard Manning for an evening in the hope that he will give a lovely reading from the collected works of Beatrix Potter? One does not. Unless, of course, one is Richard, whose increasing detachment from the world might well lead him to confuse Bernard with his distant cousin the Cardinal; who might well assume that the latter is still alive; and who might indeed expect an elevating talk on the general theme of Papal infallibility. On that basis, I strongly advise any members of the Governing Body of Worcester College here present not to allow Richard’s already enormous body ...

... of responsibilities to be extended to include organisation of the annual Works Outing, Meat Tea and High Class Entertainment, which I know to be such a highlight of your academic year.

I had thought, if I were ever called upon again to say a few words at one of the rites of passage in Richard’s life, that the chances of heckling and general disruption would be substantially diminished by his enclosure in a stout wooden box. Of course, I did not rate the chances of this very highly because, although I am - and always will be - significantly younger than Richard, a decade ago our relative body masses suggested that he would enjoy an advantage over me in the ancient sport of coffin-dodging.

Since then, I have to say, the contributions of the Worshipful Companies of Pie-makers, Pastry-chefs and Vintners have considerably narrowed the odds.

To confirm this, the other weekend I showed a recent photograph of Richard to an old school contemporary of ours, Andy Bardgett, now the proprietor of Newcastle’s most distinguished firm of funeral directors, and the owner of Tyneside’s only turbo-charged hearse. Complete with go-faster stripes.

Andy felt, obviously without the benefit of deploying his trusty tape measure, that we would be looking at either the Arbuckle, a very fine, roomy fibreboard model with real plastic oak veneer and brass-look plastic fittings, or – for the fatter wallet - the even classier but equally commodious Chesterton in ersatz mahogany. This is, Andy says, ‘a coffin to die for’.

Both are available at very attractive prices on five-year interest-free credit and with a full money-back guarantee in case of disappointment.

He also said that he hoped neither of us were wasting a lot of money paying into a superannuation fund.

Now, you may think I have digressed into an area that is not only tasteless but morbid. On the other hand, when you’ve already written the funeral oration, why let it go to waste? And as for tastelessness, as the world’s greatest entertainer Al Jolson so memorably put it in the very first talkie, ‘You ain’t seen nothing yet!’

So let us get back to the generally recognised duties of the best man. Organising the stag night – no, aborted due to lack of interest. There were some brief discussions about getting the groom drunk last night in the generally approved fashion, though it was finally agreed that keeping him sober for a night would be a more interesting intellectual and physical challenge. And the plans to chain him naked to the Martyrs’ Memorial had to be abandoned owing to our inability to procure a sufficiently long chain. Though Swan Hunter did think they might be able to supply one by mid-2003. Hand over ring at ceremony, tick. Make speech delving back into previous life of groom and causing him serious embarrassment. Ah, yes.

Those of you who were fortunate enough to hear my previous address on this theme may recall that I compared Richard to the then recently deceased Orson Welles – a resemblance that has in some respects increased over the intervening years. Orson, some of his obituarists pointed out, had apparently lived his life backwards – starting, when barely out of his teens, by making one of the most sensational broadcasts in radio history, and following that up with Citizen Kane, generally recognised as one of the half dozen greatest films of all time.

His career had then progressed steadily downwards through a series of B films until he wound up in his old age doing voice-overs in a well-known commercial for ‘probably the best lager in the world’. 

My point was not then, and is not now, that Richard had embarked on a similar pattern of progressive professional failure, but that he had in many respects grown younger with the passing years. When I first met him, as my high-flying academic development in the fast stream of Newcastle Royal Grammar School led to my form being merged with his remedial class, Richard was 15 going on 85.

He pottered around with a malacca cane and panama hat, taking sepia photographs of steam engines, for all the world like a less talented version of John Betjeman.

And I shall now quote directly from my earlier address: ‘Rumour had it that he spent the evenings in the attic of his parents’ house ... wearing a powdered wig and practising the harpsichord while sipping a glass of old sack’.

Now, ladies and gentlemen, there might have been some signs of modernisation and normality in Richard’s life in the late 1980’s, and I cannot comment at all on his harpsichord skills, but let me tell you now: on the matter of that wig, I stand before you astonished at my own prescience. For, as so often in Richard’s life, fantasy is merging with reality.

That wig has moved through the phases of aspiration, ambition and objective to become a veritable King Charles’s head.

Admittedly, certain physical changes wrought by the passing years might make it a slightly – though only slightly – less ludicrous affectation now that it was then. I only realised the seriousness of the situation when Chris told me that Richard had noticed that she had had her hair done (an unusual event in itself – the noticing rather than the hair-do) and had said: ‘I do like your hair. It looks rather like a wig.’

Is there another man in this room – or, for that matter, the world - who could have made that remark expecting to leave the room alive? And, what’s more, to have intended it as a compliment?

The mind quite rightly boggles. But, in a world where, after the regrettably brief interlude of Thatcherism, ‘progress’ has come back to the top of the political agenda, Richard has stood firmly before the clock, pushing the hands backwards with all his might.

Anyone who has wandered innocently into this College, as I have done, to find him in full sail across the quad in square and surplice, cannot fail to imagine that they have stepped back at least a hundred years. Chris, as many of you will know, compares it to living in an episode of that hugely unpopular 1960’s television series Adam Adamant, in which a deep-frozen Edwardian gent found himself brought back to room temperature in swinging London, with all the obvious scope for confusion and complication.

Except that, in Richard’s case, the period of cryogenic suspension seems to have been more like two hundred and fifty years.

But there are, of course, some telling anachronisms. For example, he is prepared to draw freely on the best features, as he sees them, of the subsequent decades. Chris tells me that his total lack of interest in the preparations for this afternoon’s service lifted spectacularly when she told him that she intended to have a train with her wedding dress. And sank back with equal speed when he realised what kind of train she meant.

Many of you may know that Richard recently became the proud owner of a five-inch gauge model of a North Eastern Railway steam locomotive, which is large enough for him to mount and drive. Soon, if my current plans to become a major slum landlord and property owner in Northumberland come to fruition, he will be able to drive his loco around the paddock to the rear of his house, clad in whatever rig might be appropriate for an eighteenth century clerical – perhaps even episcopal – engine driver, with the glorious panorama of the Cheviot Hills spread before him. The epitome of human happiness in Mr Blair’s bold and progressive New Britain.

And what of the rock on which his future happiness will be based? The lady who, much to the surprise of Arthur the Border terrier after all these years, lately consented to be his wife. She will, I am sure, be tolerant and supportive, for it is the only language he understands.

And how, you may be wondering, did these two distinctive individuals come together?

Well, let me tell you a little true story that is all but incredible and takes me back, once again, a number of years. Twelve years ago, not a million miles from here, an old friend of mine got married. So envious was I of the lifetime of married bliss to which he could look forward, that I undertook a radical stocktake of my own position, and decided, for once in my life, to be decisive. So I placed an advert in the lonely hearts column of Private Eye¸ a copy of which I have here. ‘Educated Englishman ...’ it began ‘remarkably still single at 35’.

Ah, as I think Shakespeare once observed, if one could but look into the future one would top oneself straight away and avoid a whole lot of unnecessary trouble.

Ladies and gentlemen, Chris was the least insane – or I should say, in the interests of accuracy, the least obviously insane – of the many respondents to that advertisement. And, long after our own paths diverged owing for reasons which it would indeed be tasteless to explore – since it might reflect badly on me - Richard nobly stepped in and took her from her life of seclusion in rural Northumberland to the glittering heights of academic life here in Oxford.

And how entirely typical and appropriate, I thought, that Richard should have founded a whole new category for the social scientists here to investigate. Not a man who found his wife through a lonely hearts ad – for they are many in the ever busier and more disjointed world in which most of us live.

But a man who found his wife through someone else’s lonely hearts ad, thereby saving himself £46.25 – which would have bought a pretty decent case of wine in 1989. I will accept a cheque by way of reimbursement.

Ladies and gentlemen, before I move on to reading out the fictitious telegrams which are such a highlight of these occasions, I cannot fail to remark on the sad absence from this occasion of one of Richard’s and my closest friends from our schooldays, the legendary Fat Ted.

Once again, he is sadly unable to be present today owing to the fact that he hasn’t been invited, but I am sure that if he were here he would like to say ‘Weff!’ to you both, and to give Richard some sound advice for his wedding night which would lead to the early involvement of at least two branches of the emergency services.

For if it had not been for the wise advice on how to handle the opposite sex that Fat Ted so freely dispensed to Richard and me when we were in our early teens, I am sure that none of us – for I include Fat Ted himself within this group – would have endured so many fruitless years of social dysfunction and non-fulfilment in the general field of human relationships. A non-fulfilment now, thankfully, in Richard’s case, coming finally and triumphantly to a conclusion.

And now, the moment you have all been waiting for, apart from me shutting up and sitting down. The telegrams:



TOP TIP FOR YOUR WEDDING NIGHT, STOP. DON’T, STOP. No, I’m sorry, that should be DON’T STOP, STOP. And that, inevitably, is from FAT TED.

Ladies and gentlemen, I am sure that, given goodwill and tolerance on both sides, a marriage across the centuries such as that we have witnessed today, can be a source of lasting joy to the participants and of inspiration as well as entertainment to the broader world outside. And so, with pleasure in my heart and – no doubt – relief in yours, I ask you to raise your glasses and drink a toast to whatever we are supposed to be drinking a toast to.

In the absence of any better suggestions, may I propose: ‘Chris and Richard. At least they won’t spoil two houses.’

Sunday, 8 April 2018

The antithesis of entrepreneurship

I know many entrepreneurs, and have worked for several highly successful ones, but I have always known that I could never hope to become one myself.

Anyone who has ever met me will have recognised immediately that I lack the requisite energy and ‘never give up’ determination. But, above all, I lack the basis killer instinct to make a buck whenever the opportunity arises.

I recognised the true extent of this deficit earlier today, when I turned to Amazon to remind myself of the price of the one and only book I have published to date. (Yes, I have got a shelf full of them in my study, but just as it seems easier to consult Wikipedia rather than the painstakingly assembled library of reference works directly behind my desk, so I instinctively clicked the link.)

I had forgotten that The Bluffer’s Guide to Opera is out of print. (There is a new edition, from a new publisher, coming out in June.) Consequently some chancer, sorry entrepreneur, was taking the opportunity to try to shift a copy for an eye-watering £189.83.

My response on Twitter was instantaneous. Come to me and I will sell you one for the cover price of £6.99. I even felt a bit guilty about this, because I enjoyed a 50% author’s discount when I bought them.

It took me several hours to realise that anyone with an ounce of business sense would have tried to knock them out on Amazon at £189.82.

Sadly, I simply haven’t got the trader’s mentality. My one undoubted and entirely theoretical commercial success was in the far bygone days when I used to travel overseas, and would invariably attract envious glances from my fellow tourists as I became a magnet for absolutely amazing offers in every street market we visited.

The stallholders having mistaken my total lack of interest in ever buying their carpets or whatever for the possession of world class haggling skills.

I have had an eBay account for years, but never sold a thing, despite currently being in possession of two houses positively groaning at the seams with unwanted tat. This includes a large collection of vintage model railway equipment that I have been repeatedly assured was a strongly appreciating asset through the 1980s and 1990s, but is now more or less worthless.

I can follow the logic of the dealers and auctioneers: this sort of thing was collected by men (and only men) who were children in the 1950s, prosperous in the closing years of the century, but are now dying or downsizing. Understandably enough, there is no one else motivated by nostalgia to buy it from them.

Since I am in the rare position of being an old man with young children, I concluded that I might as well cut my losses and let them play with the trains, instead of trying to sell them. Yet here is a curious thing. I recently built my elder son a larger train set, and have been trying to buy a few additional antique Hornby Dublo accessories to brighten it up. (Being made of metal, they are vastly more durable than the contemporary alternatives.)

Every time the desired items come up on eBay I add them to my watch list, and adopt my proven strategy of bidding extremely late and unpredictably high. Yet every time I do it I find myself outbid, usually by a substantial margin.

So clearly someone is out there, in defiance of all logic, paying Big Money for old Hornby Dublo. As usual in life, things are only head-shakingly worthless when I am the seller.

By the same token, perhaps there really is someone on this planet mad enough to pay the thick end of £200 for an old edition of my Bluffer’s guide. I shall find out when my career in corporate affairs comes to its inevitable and surely imminent close, and I am thrown back on selling stuff to try and sustain my family.

Come on. I’m not asking £189.83. I’m not even asking £189.82. It can be yours for just £150 (plus postage and remarkably expensive packing) and I won’t even devalue it with my signature.

Then again, you could just hang on until June …

Friday, 11 August 2017

You are old, Father William

To each of us who is fortunate enough to live long enough, there comes a point when we must reluctantly recognise that we are old.

It is usually quite sudden. I can remember it happening to my father when he was taking my pet Sheltie for a walk around the block in Longbenton in the 1960s. Some lads paused their kickabout, saying “Let’s wait until this old bloke has gone past.” Dad looked around for the old bloke, only to realise that he was it. I suppose he would have been in his late 50s at the time. He came home thoroughly dispirited. I can remember laughing at him.

For me, it happened on the afternoon of Wednesday, 9 August 2017. I’d had an agreeable lunch with my wife and two sons, aged eight and five, before they headed for a matinee at the open air theatre nearby. (Amazingly, it did not rain.) On my way back to the office I thought I’d call in at B&Q to pick up some paint I’d promised to buy to enhance the appearance of our summerhouse. I also added four bags of potting compost to the legendarily unmanoeuvrable flatbed trolley and headed towards the checkout, where I was intercepted by a solicitous, orange-clad matron with the words:

“Are you all right, dear? Would you like someone to help you with that?”

“I’m fine, thanks.”

“Come to this till, I can open it up for you.”

Never before in many years of shopping at B&Q have I ever known more than one or two tills to be open, and have often wondered why they installed the other four in the first place. So this was a genuine first.

“Have you got one of our cards, dear?”


“Would you like one? You are over 60, aren’t you?”

“Yes I am, as it happens. But I haven’t got anything on me to prove it.”

“Oh, you don’t need to worry about that, dear. I can see you are. Only it’s 10% off on Wednesdays for our Diamond Club members.”

So there I stood, with £80 worth of goods on my trolley, and a straight choice to make between my self-respect and a saving of eight quid (which actually proved to be only six quid, because the compost had already been discounted).

Naturally I went for the six quid, but still returned to the office feeling far, far older than I had been when I set out, and contemplating a future in which “a nice cup of tea and a sit down” will feature extensively, along with pensioners’ specials at lunchtime, whist drives in the day room, and lively discussions about the deaths column in the local paper.

To be fair, the ticket office staff at Newcastle Central station regularly asked me “Have you got a card, pet?” when I was still in my 40s, after the stress caused by my demanding clients turned my hair grey somewhat prematurely. But back then I could always kid myself that they had mistaken me for a student.

Now there can be no doubt. I am a Diamond Club member, my foot is poised on the edge of the grave and the ground feels distinctly slippery. But at least I’ve got Wednesdays sorted for my few remaining months, and I’ll be able to put the savings on home improvement products towards my funeral expenses.

Everyone to whom I have retailed this story in my search for sympathy has laughed at me, just as I laughed at my father half a century ago. So I have also finally learned the true meaning of karma. And all thanks to B&Q.

Friday, 3 February 2017

If you go down in the woods today

Last week Mrs H volunteered to drive our elder son and two his school friends to an eighth birthday party. It didn’t seem too much of a challenge, on the face of it: the party was being held within a few minutes’ drive of our house, albeit at an address Mrs H had not visited before. But she had said address, the benefit of verbal directions (“we live in the woods”), and the support of a fully functioning sat nav. What’s more, she had taken the precaution of calling en route at the office of the local estate, from which the house is rented, to make absolutely sure she went to the right one of the two identically named cottages in their possession. What could possibly go wrong?

Here’s what:

Yes, we’ve all read about the people who have driven into canals, onto railway lines, or got their HGVs irretrievably jammed between two ancient and fragile buildings because “the sat nav told me to do it”, but this is the first time I have encountered this phenomenon quite so close to home.

I don’t think I can do better than to let Mrs H’s White Knight tell the story in his own words:

I’m not quite sure I can express my sheer delight/awe/dismay in a word that summarises all of the emotions I felt when I realised the true extent of Mrs H’s predicament. I can say, though, that one of my initial reactions was relief: if only that I am not the only man alive with a wife capable of making such a manoeuvre.

When I first got the call to duty (4.15pm) we still had failing daylight. The message was as clear as it was urgent: three 7/8 year olds and a distraught mother stuck in the deepest, darkest depths of the woods, and the mist was closing in fast.

[It surely goes without saying that Mrs H had got stuck in a spot with zero mobile reception, and had had to walk some way from the car before she could despatch a text message pleading for help.]

After about 20 minutes “off–roading” I happened on a gaggle of desperately waving children in the near dark of the woods shouting excitedly “Are you in a four-wheel drive?” and “Thank God - we thought we were going to die!” “Thank Christ!” etc. All very biblical anyway … 

[This is good, as it shows that their education in a Church of England school is delivering at least some of the hoped-for benefits.]

Behind the young Christians was a fraught-looking Mrs H, obviously downplaying the youngsters’ prophesy of doom had I not found them…. “I’ve got my car stuck up there” (gestures into the jungle). “It’s not badly stuck though!”

All very Hansel and Gretel, actually, come to think of it.

On that cheerful note they all, relieved, jumped into the car and we got back to the house so they could be duly terrified by tarantulas and snakes, this being the order of the day apparently. 

I took the opportunity to steal away from the frivolities of the killer animals in our kitchen to see if I could free the vehicle from the mud…… not being “badly stuck” etc.

Having picked them up in the woods off a moderately muddy but not impassable path (if you happened to be in a tracked vehicle, that is) I had assumed that where I had been pointed towards to find the stuck vehicle must have been on a similar woodland path. I took myself back towards where I had picked them up, to realise that where the car was actually stuck appeared to be on a track further up into the woods, and not accessible by line of sight…….. 

Mrs H had in fact decided (because the Sat Nav had dictated) that she turn off what must have been a questionable track in the first place into the woods literally off road. The SAS would have struggled to navigate the course she/the Nav had chosen to take.

A friend helped us pull the car out with his tractor in the dark after we gave up digging it out and trying to move it with his pick-up truck: having exclaimed on first sight “It looks like it’s fallen out of that fucking tree - how did that get there?!”

I have told my wife never again to describe where we live as “in the woods” in case anyone else takes it quite so literally!

Brilliant. Simply brilliant. Lifelong comical material.

I find it hard to disagree with that verdict. Mrs H described it all as “a bit of a ‘mare with the car” while my son’s verdict was slightly more dramatic: “Daddy, we nearly died in the woods!”

By way of a postscript, over the subsequent weekend one of Mrs H’s front tyres developed what appeared to be a slow puncture. I pumped it up, but it kept losing pressure, so on Monday Mrs H took it to those nice people at the local Kwik Fit.

Their first question, after examining the car, was “Do you do a lot of off-roading?”

Because obviously, if you did, your first choice of motor would be a two-wheel drive Nissan Qashqai. We wanted a four-wheel drive model, as Mrs H had before, but at the time of order Nissan had decided that its customers could have a 4WD Qashqai or an automatic Qashqai, but not both in one car, and the automatic gearbox won.

I would say that we had made the wrong choice, but my own car is supposed to be one of the most capable off-road vehicles on the market, and I don’t think it would have fared any better in the circumstances.

I am currently on eBay looking for a competitively priced second hand tank.

I conclude with many thanks to Mrs H’s rescuers, narrator and photographer, and the assurance that I will, without fail, report here with equal fullness and frankness any car-related misfortunes that may occur when I am behind the wheel myself. How’s that for making myself a hostage to fortune?

Monday, 12 December 2016

Having Santa arrested

Yesterday Mrs H took the boys to the traditional Christingle service in our parish church, then on to see Chitty Chitty Bang Bang at the Lowry in Manchester, while I lay on the sitting room sofa attempting to pull myself together from the total exhaustion that has afflicted me since Friday.

Luckily a friend of our older son was able to use the theatre ticket I had bought for myself.

The boys having made donations to the Children’s Society during the church service (which is to say, having handed over the candle-shaped cardboard collecting boxes that Mummy had filled for them), Mrs H attempted to interest them in another good deed: buying extra Christmas presents for needy children.

“Will that be with our money?” Charlie, the elder, asked suspiciously.

“No, Mummy will pay for them.”

“But why do we need to buy presents for other people?”

“Well, because these are for children who might otherwise have nothing at all on Christmas Day. How would you feel, Jamie, if you came down on Christmas morning, and Santa hadn’t left you anything?”

Jamie, aged four, had no doubts about that.

“I’d ring the police and have Santa arrested,” he replied.

Continuing a robust turn of phrase for which he has become noted in the Hann family. Indeed, we can recall only one recent concession.

Jamie has a particular aversion to having his hair washed and, subsequent to that, receiving the attentions of a nit comb. (Head lice, a phenomenon completely unknown to me and my childhood friends in 1950s Newcastle, are now commonplace even among the denizens of overwhelmingly middle class church schools in Cheshire; which seems odd given the vast improvement in standards of personal hygiene over the intervening half century).

In the course of these regular bathroom battles, a certain amount of personal abuse tends to be directed at Mummy.

During one of these recently, Mrs H provided a summary: “Yes, I know, I am the worst, unkindest, most cruel and evil Mummy that ever lived.”

Jamie looked at her coldly and replied: “I never said you were evil.”

Tuesday, 1 November 2016

This is all your fault, Mummy

Today we lunched at home and took our walk at the far end of the beautiful Breamish valley. It must have been getting on for 20 years since I paid my last (and only) visit to the waterfall called Linhope Spout, but I was conscious that it was pretty and, more importantly, that the three-mile round trip there and back should be within the walking abilities of both the children and our 15-year-old Border terrier.

Though, to be honest, I seriously doubted whether we would actually make it to our intended destination.

These doubts seemed well-founded when we reached the bridge in the little hamlet of Linhope, about 20 minutes after starting our walk, and the boys noted the water tumbling over a few rocks in the stream below.

“That’s it. We’ve seen the waterfall! Let’s go back!” they announced.

But Mummy was made of sterner stuff than that, and insisted on persevering. So we secured their reluctant agreement to walk up the grassy hill on the path that led away from the tarmac road. Towards the top of this we came to a well-worn sign that read “Linhope Spout ¼”. The inaccuracy of this became clear some way further on, when we passed another sign pointing in the opposite direction that read “Hartside 1”, Hartside being the place where we had parked the car, close to a sign that correctly declared the total distance to Linhope Spout to be 1½.

“Come on, team Hann!” said Mummy, enthusiastically. “It’s only a quarter of a mile! We can do this!”

So we set off, with the expedition naturally dividing into two parts. The first, or pathfinder, group comprised me, my seven-year-old son and heir, and our three-year-old Border terrier. The second consisted of Mummy, the four-year-old child and the aforementioned geriatric dog, who has the turn of speed you might expect from a 105-year-old blind human.

As the ground descended on the approach to the Spout the boy lost sight of me and began to doubt his mother’s sense of direction.

“Mummy, we need to go straight on!”

“No, we turn right. I saw Daddy go this way.”

“No, it’s straight on!”

“Look, there’s a sign. It’s pointing this way.”

“No, no, no! You’re going the wrong way! We’re lost! Lost in the hills! I’ll never see Charlie or my house ever again! Ring Daddy!”

“I can’t ring Daddy.”

“Oh for God’s sake don’t tell me you’ve forgotten to bring your phone!”

“No, it's just that the reception isn't very good here and ...”

“This is all your fault! If you hadn’t walked so slowly we wouldn’t have lost them in the first place!” 

And so on and so forth until the Spout finally hove into view with an elderly man and a small boy standing beside it, and a smaller boy started trying to hurl himself down a rocky slope to join them.

We took a commemorative photograph and made our way back to the car shortly before nightfall, with approximately half of us moaning all the way as we went.