Sunday 20 April 2008

Wading well out of my depth

13st 10lb; 3.0 units of alcohol yesterday, which was 3.0 more than I had intended; 1,384; Cheshire or the Bermuda Triangle, whichever is less hazardous. That will be Bermuda, then.

My good mood persisted throughout the day yesterday. Even when I found myself sitting on the 10 o’clock to Newcastle, which they still call “The Flying Scotsman” even though it now stops at places like Northallerton, for Christ’s sake. Making it less like a flying Scotsman than one weaving his way unsteadily home after a pub crawl, and making frequent comfort stops en route. There was nothing wrong with the train as such, but someone kept making terse announcements in a voice that sounded like that of a leading counter tenor who had just inhaled the contents of a helium balloon. Close investigation established that the young mother opposite was entertaining her potentially screaming brat with an oversized, fake, gaily coloured, plastic mobile phone, which blurted out pre-recorded messages of truly mind-boggling inanity when its buttons were pressed. The infant’s favourite seemed to be, “Hello! How are you?” Somehow I restrained myself from leaning across and trying to teach him to say, “I’m a really annoying little twat, and I fear it may be hereditary”. Presumably mummy is hoping that his first real words will be “Hi, I’m on the train.” God help us.

I remained in a highly positive frame of mind through the evening’s concert by Aly Bain and Phil Cunningham at the Alnwick Playhouse, even though I was really far too exhausted to go out, and the leg room between the rows was clearly determined by the architect who went on to design the detention facilities at Guantanamo Bay. Their lovely tune “A Bright Star in Cepheus” will be joining Monteverdi’s concluding love duet from L’incoronazione di Poppea and a number of Handel arias on the list of desert island discs I keep constantly updated in case I receive an unexpected phone call from Kirsty Young. I also enjoyed much of their well-rehearsed banter, including the lovely old story of the great Jimmy Shand (of “And His Band” fame) casting a beady eye over his individual, portion-controlled sachet of honey at a hotel breakfast table, and saying witheringly to the proprietor, “I see you keep a bee.”

I even managed to chuckle to myself as I stopped on the drive home for the benefit of the two friends I had taken to the concert, so that they could “just nip in and pick up some fish and chips.” After a friendly chat of five minutes or so, the owner left the shop and got into his car to drive the 17 miles to Seahouses and put out to sea in his trawler to catch the principal ingredient. At any rate I think that’s what must have happened, judging by the length of time it took them to emerge. The fine, nutritious English staple of fish and chips has been unfairly derided in some quarters as being just another “fast food”. At least there is no danger of that in Alnwick.

Of course, throughout the day I had been chiefly pondering on the whole “too good to be true” situation. It seems strange to form such an instant and deep connection with a person one has never met. I finally understand how a 16-year-old schoolgirl can believe that she has fallen madly in love with an 18-year-old boy from a promising rock band, whom she has met on the internet, but who subsequently turns out to be a 50-year-old unemployed PR consultant living on hilltop in Northumberland, and who asks the court to take a couple of dozen similar offences into consideration.

Then, in the late evening, when I finally got back from Alnwick fish and chipless, I actually took the radical step of speaking to the young lady in question through the miracle of telephony, and the feeling of connection actually deepened. What could possibly go wrong, I asked myself?

Apart from meeting her, obviously.

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