Having stated only two days ago that my club in Newcastle serves the finest cooked breakfast in all England, I can clearly only claim the silver medal for the one I conjured up for the LTCB and myself this morning: Alnwick sausages and bacon, grilled field mushrooms and tomatoes, with scrambled eggs from the contented hens next door, toast and orange juice. But it was pretty damn good, even if I do say so myself, and the view from the conservatory where we ate it is infinitely better than the one that you would get from my club, even if there weren’t a fat, elderly couple and a set of net curtains in the way.
After that my first task was to buy the newspapers as a cover for taking the LTCB to be inspected by the village postmaster, in the hope that he would then prime the local gossip pump with a positive report. I then drove her on an introductory tour of my part of Northumberland, driving past Lilburn Tower to Chillingham Castle (open to the public every day except Saturday, it turned out) and on to Bamburgh. I’d been intending to drive a bit further before we stopped for a walk, but the LTCB pronounced that the dog needed to get out of the car (or maybe she just needed to get him out of the car to have a break from a terror-stricken Border terrier clinging to her chest). So we parked and let him off the lead and he promptly ran off and made friends with two other dogs and a couple of youths, from whom the LTCB ultimately had to run to retrieve him.
I maintained my usual flow of high quality banter as we strolled along, and after a few choice observations about the other people on the beach, including a suggestion that we divert to take a closer look at a beauty in a bikini who turned out to be about eight (but, in my defence, I am still waiting to take delivery of my new glasses) the LTCB stopped dead in her tracks and stared at me to enquire “What on earth am I doing, going out with a grumpy, old, curmudgeonly, racist, paedophile snob?” To which the only reply that sprang to mind was “I’m not actually a paedophile.” I fear that this might well have been taken as a plea of “guilty as charged” to all the rest.
I wish I could show you the pictures of this happy time, but their publication has been vetoed by a higher authority which must remain nameless. But lives in Cheshire.
Then we drove to one of the two logical starting points for the inevitable scenic walk to Dunstanburgh Castle, entering the village pub just as the barmaid was gleefully gathering up all the menus at the end of their period of lunchtime food service. She smiled with rather obvious satisfaction when the LTCB asked her if they were still doing any food at all and she was able to respond with a shake of her head. Coming from a part of the country where all-day food is the norm in pubs, the LTCB confidently expected that we would be able to find a delicious light meal at our next port of call, where I took the precaution of sending her in beforehand to establish whether they were still serving food and if they permitted dogs in the bar. She came out again delivering an unexpected thumbs up, so we went in and just managed to order two crab sandwiches and a bowl of chips from the enormously fat woman behind the bar, who had a supplementary arse at the front to complement the more conventionally placed one to her rear. Seconds later, she triumphantly whipped away her sign reading “cold sandwiches and chips ONLY” to reveal another one reading “Kitchen Closed”. The Derby was being run silently on an enormous widescreen TV as we flicked through The Journal and I drank a pint of Black Sheep. Our sandwiches arrived commendably quickly, but the bread seemed a bit stale to me and appeared to contain some sort of bland crab paste, rather than the delicious fresh crabmeat for which this establishment had once been famous, while the chips were the most disgustingly greasy I have ever been served anywhere. Not that that stopped us eating them. Dear me, no.
After a while a party of southern tourists arrived, bought drinks and took seats in the window to admire the view. This area of the pub was off limits to dogs, so it had not been an option for us. After a while, one of them returned to the bar and said that he would like to order some food. “You can’t,” said Four Buttocks. “The kitchen’s closed.”
“Until when?” asked the innocent tourist, contemplating the minor inconvenience of having to savour another aperitif until they began serving supper.
The barmaid, as I shall call her with a touch of poetic licence, paused for full effect, before announcing “Until tomorrow!” She seemed peculiarly pleased with herself, but somehow managed not to punch the air and shout “Yes!” in her moment of triumph.
This sort of thing precisely encapsulates the traditional Northumbrian attitude to tourists: we loathe the bastards, and just wish they would go away and leave us alone. Though we will of course shamelessly cite the vital economic importance of the tourist trade as a powerful reason against the erection of wind or nuclear power stations on our hills or beaches.
Shortly after this we left and did the classic walk to Dunstanburgh Castle in the early evening sunshine. There was a prat leaning on and blocking the gate at the start of the walk as we approached, but he moved out of the way as we arrived. Some people coming the other way with a dog warned us that the cows were very curious, and the prat’s orange haired female companion embarked on a bizarre monologue about how they would eat the dog first, then us. I enquired, with as much acidity as I could muster, whether we had wandered into an audition for The League of Gentlemen. She confirmed that we had, which was slightly surreal. A day trip from the local lunatic asylum seemed an altogether more plausible explanation.
The bullocks, for such they were, did indeed follow us closely for some way, but we then entered sheep territory and the dog kept the LTCB entertained with his Mighty Hunter routine, crouching down low to stalk them until he was ready to make a killer lunge which was always doomed to failure by the fact that he was on his lead. One or two ewes and lambs demonstrated an interest in fighting back, at which point he suddenly remembered that he had a very important and urgent engagement elsewhere. We walked all the way to the Castle gates, where I had the unnerving experience of pausing for a pee in a clump of nettles, and suddenly finding myself being glared at in a menacing sort of way by a man who had materialized from absolutely nowhere and was carrying a gun-shaped case. Luckily it turned out that he just wanted me to clear off so he could get on with climbing illegally into the castle, no doubt for some nefarious purpose.
We took the scenic route home across the moors from North Charlton to Hepburn. Even though it was misty, the view of the Cheviots when we stopped by Ros Castle was still stunning, and I like to think that the LTCB was suitably impressed.
The LTCB cooked the most delicious supper of salmon fillets in a delicious watercress and crème fraiche sauce with baby new potatoes and asparagus, followed by raspberries and strawberries with cream and ice cream. Then we sat cosily by the fire in my sitting room and watched a DVD she had brought with her: a British comedy about a serial killer called Keeping Mum. I wonder what message its selection was intended to convey to me?