This morning I called on some neighbours to see whether they could shed any light on the extraordinary behaviour I encountered at the Tory fund-raiser last night. Had there been any reports of out-of-control alcoholism or Alzheimer’s which might explain or excuse the verbal assault I suffered? They had heard nothing out of the ordinary, though both pointed out that my assailant’s wife has been palpably off her trolley for years, and that sort of thing might well be catching, or at any rate inclined to push a spouse dangerously close to the edge. After some thought, one shrewdly observed that the gentleman in question had also spent much time and effort brown-nosing his way onto the board of a local institution, which had promptly sunk with all hands, and that this disappointment might well have had an adverse effect on his mental balance.
In short, I learned nothing; but at least I hoped I might have set off an avalanche of malicious gossip that will now cascade through the locality.
With truly astonishing hypocrisy, even by my standards, I next paid an eager visit to Alnwick’s new, out-of-town Sainsbury’s, which will undoubtedly squeeze what little life is left out of the town centre shops that haven’t already been converted into charity recycling centres. I have been publicly championing small retailers for years, and genuinely do as much of shopping as I can at my local village shop, and at the independent butchers, grocers and delicatessens of Rothbury, Alnwick and Longframlington. Yet there are some things which only a supermarket seems to sell, and for these I have had to trek 40 miles to Newcastle, given my reluctance to shop at what has been variously called Broughs / Liptons / Amos Hinton / Presto / Safeway / Morrisons in Alnwick. Now some serious local competition has finally arrived. It looked much like any other new Sainsbury’s, and all around one heard the classic Alnwick complaint, “There’s a lot of good stuff here, but it’s very expensive.” I don’t suppose that’s true for a minute, but if the belief keeps the riff-raff out, then it’s just fine by me. One striking contrast with the town’s established supermarket is that the staff have evidently been trained to smile and converse with their customers. My last memorable interaction at the other place was when an overweight youth took me to task for attempting to use force to release one of their defective trolleys, into which I had inserted a pound coin to no avail. I don’t think you can sink much lower than to be accused of stupidity by the sort of fat moron who is engaged to collect up the used trolleys from a supermarket car park.
After a commendably light lunch, the dog and I took a spirit-raising walk in the hills from Prendwick, up past the splendidly named Thieves Road plantation and out into the glorious Cheviot Hills.
The glorious Cheviot Hills (David in NZ, eat your heart out)
What could possibly mar the peace and beauty of this wonderful place? Absolutely nothing apart from some idiot roaring around in the distance on an unsilenced trail bike, which made a racket varying in pitch from the buzzing of a very large and angry hornet trapped in glass lampshade to the scream of a Stuka divebomber with airbrake failure. Which just goes to show that there is nowhere in this island so remote or beautiful that some selfish twat will not attempt to ruin it for everyone else.
The dog and I paused to pay our respects at the lonely stone erected at the spot where Eleanor Heron expired of hypothermia while attempting to walk home across the hills to Hartside on 3 December 1863.
As we walked on, I thought of that other apparent victim of the hills whose death has been so extensively reported in the last few days, and the numerous highly inappropriate jokes on the subject subsequently circulated by text and e-mail. Many of these have involved plays on the word “copper” or made upsetting references to the flying abilities of pigs. I shook my head sadly. Then I laughed out loud. I do hope that nobody heard me.