Friday 21 March 2008

Great God, this is an awful place

14st 1lb; zero alcohol; 1,414; somewhere that sounds remarkably like Calvary.

When I was a boy, Good Friday was – appropriately enough, I suppose – just about the most miserable day of the year. Everywhere was shut, and the newspapers weren’t published. My primary school headmaster even impressed upon us that we should not play outdoors during the sacred hours between noon and 3p.m. It’s reassuring in a way, I suppose, that the independent shopkeepers of Alnwick proved to be living up to the old standards when I drove there this morning. The Post Office, too, has turned back the clock in a way that I might even welcome, if it weren’t part of a much wider pattern of raising two fingers to the public. I can remember being astonished a few years ago, when my regular postman knocked on my front door with a parcel to be signed for on Good Friday morning. My paternal grandfather was a postman in central Newcastle, and I had been brought up on the story that Good Friday was the only public holiday he was allowed off (Christmas Day, when all the cards posted on Christmas Eve were delivered, was the busiest day of the year). I could tell that my postman thought I was barmy, so I explained that I was talking about a period before the First World War, which made things even worse. That’s what comes of having a family tree which features a lot of breeding late in life.

I made slow progress towards Alnwick this morning, as for some way I was on a winding road following a horse box with the arresting number plate CUM. I was surprised that this had made it past the censors, particularly as I read an article years ago in which a Ministry of Transport official boasted that they had not only excluded every offensive combination in English, but in every major foreign language, too. After all, a couple of innocent spinster sisters might decide to take their Morris Minor for a nice motoring tour of the Continent, and it would never do for them to be laughed at because their number plate spelt out the Serbo-Croat for lesbian. I was sufficiently intrigued to check the DVLA website, and found that they have now cottoned onto this one and taken CUM off sale (and how often am I ever going to be able to write that?)

The incident also brought back memories of the finance director of a client company who was driven almost mad by his inability to collect financial reports from his subsidiaries, because the corporate e-mail censor blocked anything that used the obvious abbreviation for “cumulative”.

Talking of car registrations, on my way into Newcastle on Wednesday I followed a spanking new Land Rover Discovery with the number plate P111 KEV. I concluded that this must belong to a Bloke called Kevin who was involved in the pill trade. But the car seemed perhaps ever so slightly ritzy for a pharmacist, while the plate was surely recklessly blatant for a drug dealer. If you’re reading this, Kevin, do feel free to elucidate.

I’d again intended this to be a day of wholesome exertion in the hills, but the weather proved an even more powerful deterrent than it did yesterday. For most of the afternoon and evening, the wind whistled around and indeed through the house like something from the soundtrack of Scott of the Antarctic, bringing with it first driving rain, then sleet, then hail and finally snow. When I let the dog out before we went to bed, I could not help thinking of brave Captain Oates. The dog too was gone for some time, but came back in and shook himself vigorously, spreading crap all over my kitchen floor. Maybe the real story is that Oates did precisely the same thing, and was then beaten to death by his comrades for fouling the tent.

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