Wednesday 19 March 2008

The wonders of true Northumberland (Tyne to Tweed)

14st 2lb; zero alcohol; 1,416; Earthly Paradise?

I wrote a column in the paper yesterday, much savaged by someone in the design department who found it less interesting than yet another bloody picture of Bamburgh Castle, which expressed my great enthusiasm for tasteless jokes, and my disappointment that the City specialists in this area had not yet come up with a real cracker about Bear Stearns. I have now spent the best part of 48 hours thinking of little else, and drawn a blank. I feel that there must be something to be made of the fact that my next-door neighbour would say “Bear Stearns” if he were trying to convey the concept of bare stones. Rock, stones … is there a lesson here somewhere? Maybe it’s just that you should never entrust your savings to any organization that sounds like it might once have boasted Fred Flintstone as a customer.

Today I had lunch in Newcastle’s substitute for The Ivy with one of my very few remaining clients and a couple of the region’s top business journalists. My contribution was confined to filling any gaps in the conversation with Heather Mills jokes, and really, really enjoying my food. I had not realized how much my appreciation of flavours and textures would improve if I stopped stuffing myself all the time. I carefully chose what looked like the least fattening things on the menu, though for some reason they both came on a base of undercooked spuds, proudly billed as “Heritage potatoes”, presumably because the Heritage people had outbid the National Trust in some sort of sponsorship deal. Then I went mad and ordered the bitter chocolate mousse with blood orange granita, mainly because my provincial ignorance is so vast that I had no idea what a granita was (and partly to test their assurance that there were no Heritage potatoes at all involved in this course). Now I know exactly what a granita is, I’m wondering whether that infamous former restaurant in Islington, where Blair legged over Brown, would have done half as well if they had called it by its English name: Slush Puppy.

I drove back home in good time to take the dog for a walk up the hill from Biddlestone, past the isolated cottage of Singmoor. I had forgotten what a superb short walk this is, offering one of the best effort to reward ratios in the county. After a comparatively gentle climb, panoramic views open out in all directions, from the coast to the Simonsides and Cheviots.

Vue panoramique numero un: towards the coast

Vue panoramique numero deux: towards Simonside

I heard the calls of skylarks and curlews, two of the most spirit-raising sounds I know. I stopped to lean on my stick in a rare moment of total contentment, and reflected how incredibly lucky I was to be able to combine this experience with lunch in a sophisticated metropolitan restaurant in a single day. Oops, I’m beginning to sound like one of those “Passionate People, Passionate Places” adverts from the local tourist board. It’s crap, really. Stay away.

On my descent, I passed a man reversing his van at high speed up the rocky track towards Singmoor. From the speed at which he was doing it, I deduced that he had a lot of practice in this art, and that it was his usual way of tackling the hill. It took me back to the ancient book called How To Drive A Car, which my father kindly lent me when I turned 17. That advocated tackling steep hills in reverse to increase traction, in the same helpful spirit that it recommended opening the windscreen to improve visibility in fog. It devoted an entire chapter to the art of double de-clutching. I was greatly disappointed when I got to my first driving lesson and found that this arcane knowledge was no longer required, but then I was also a bit flummoxed by the fact that the handbrake turned out to be on the inside of the car.

Now I come to think of it, something very similar happened with The Joy Of Sex and what Viz refers to as the female “go” button, but that’s a story for another time and place.

No comments: