Saturday 17 May 2008

The greatest discovery since the potato

13st 10lb; 4.0 units of alcohol at lunch yesterday; 1,357; the Stuart court in exile.

The sun was shining brightly when I took the dog for his walk yesterday evening, and one of my neighbours was happily (or, at any rate, resignedly) cutting the verges on his ride-on mower. Good idea, I thought; I shall do precisely the same thing first thing in the morning. Naturally it turns out to be chucking it down. How could I have been such an idiot as to expect anything else in May in England?

I was overcome by an unusual exhaustion (perhaps the consequence of that rogue melon in yesterday’s lunchtime salad) and wasted the morning lying on a sofa, like a nineteenth century consumptive, only considerably fatter, reading the Daily Telegraph and fighting the temptation to doze off, though with less than total success. Then I decided that I really ought to do something useful and spent the remainder of the day restoring my recently painted rooms to the hideously overcrowded condition in which they had started. I soon uncovered a fatal design flaw in one of the pine bookcases I had had expensively made for the dining room, in that its shelves are supposed to rest on little brass plugs which are incapable of supporting the weight of a shelf full of hardback books. Making it technically not fit for purpose, as John Reid would say, in its designated role of a bookcase, though it would no doubt be perfect for housing a collection of seaside holiday memorabilia or adorable cuddly toys. I solved the problem by driving to Rothbury and procuring a number of steel angle brackets which I then screwed into place to support the shelves. I noticed when I had finished that there were now a couple of dozen screw ends protruding through the outside of the bookcase, which will no doubt have compromised its resale value but will have no effect at all on its potential as firewood.

The facts that this blog has gone to hell in the proverbial handcart, and that I am completely incapable of learning from experience, are both underlined by my actions this evening: going out for another huge pub meal. The excuse for this one is that the nearest pub to my house (and, at a range of five miles, the only one within cycling if not convenient walking distance) has extended its food offer beyond crisps and pork scratchings for the first time in its long history. I had arranged to meet one of my many ex-fiancées and her husband to try it out, and 50 per cent of them duly turned up. It remained the rather depressing place it has always been, but the beer was good (Tyneside Blonde real ale, tasting rather fresher than most of the Tyneside blondes I have experienced, and having fewer expensive and painful after-effects). More importantly, the menu looked promising and did not disappoint in any respect.

A friend of mine who ran a pub for many years produced the best chicken liver paté of all time; this place’s might have tasted every bit as good if they had served it with some nice warm toast rather than somewhat uninspiring white bread. While my fillet steak was cooked to perfection and positively melted in the mouth. As for the accompanying chips – well, they looked rather off-putting, if truth be told, since the potatoes had been sliced with their skins still on. But they tasted like … well, they were just the most delicious and dangerously moreish chips imaginable. It was the most brilliant discovery since the potato itself.

I was reminded of the old joke about the bloke who spends all day at the office being asked if he feels all right, because people think he looks terrible. He assures them that he feels terrific. Eventually he feels obliged to consult a doctor, and explains that everyone says he looks terrible, but he feels terrific. What on earth could the problem be?

“Oh, that’s simple,” replies the doctor, “You’re a c***.”

Could this fabulous foodstuff not attain national if not global fame, arrestingly branded as C*** Chips?

No, I thought not.

My companion expressed himself well satisfied with his unusual starter combining black pudding and banana, though I fear that attaching the “locally produced” claim to the fruit rather than the pigs’ blood may have set the publican on his way to a bruising run-in with Trading Standards. In so far as I could make out what he was saying with his mouth full, I think my co-tester assured me that the game pie was very good, too.

Obviously I couldn’t possibly eat a pudding after that lot, so I ordered apple crumble, which was very good and might have graduated to excellent if it had been accompanied by the advertised custard rather than vanilla ice cream.

Before we left we studied the lunch menu, which included such delights as a large plate of C*** Chips topped with three (count ‘em) fried free range eggs. I hope they have got a defibrillator at the ready behind the bar.

I shall certainly be going back, since the prices are high by Northumberland standards (£17.95 for my fillet steak, for example) which should keep the riff-raff out nicely. This is, after all, a county which regards Sainsbury’s in the same light that most Londoners view Fortnum & Mason. Though I am not convinced about the economic sanity of taking on at least four additional staff to serve dinner to a total of 14 people in the course of the evening.

As we said our farewells outside, my companion gestured to the blank pub sign, which once bore an uninspired picture of Elizabeth I. He has persuaded the landlord that it should henceforth be graced by a portrait of either Queen Mary of Modena, second wife of James II; or Queen Maria Clementina, consort of the Old Pretender, James III, and mother of Bonnie Prince Charlie. This should certainly make the place stand out among the many Queen’s Heads scattered around the country, and place it right at the top of the list for organizers of coach tours by Jacobite sympathizers. I just hope that there are enough of them around to keep the venture afloat, and that they have suitably deep pockets.

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