Friday 6 June 2008

The lady finally comes

13st 12lb; zero alcohol yesterday; 1,338; Alnmouth for Alnwick.

Today, as on most days, I started the morning by reading my e-mails and their attachments, which as usual included a link to press cuttings on my few remaining PR clients. I approached these with more than usual interest, since I had spent a little while on the phone yesterday afternoon to a journalist who had obtained a copy of one unquoted client’s latest accounts from Companies House. He had generously read his whole story across to me, and created no difficulty at all about making the one small alteration I requested. So what could possibly go wrong? Well, the headline majoring on the multi-million pound dividend that the chairman had paid himself was not the point I would have chosen to highlight, but it was factually correct and I reasoned that it could have been a lot worse. So I gave a sigh of relief always a mistake, that – before I scrolled down to find a Photoshopped picture of said chairman grinning manically and apparently brandishing a huge wad of banknotes very much in the style of Harry Enfield’s sometime character, Loadsamoney. Oh dear. I decided, on balance, that I would not ring him up to see how pleased he was with it on a scale of 0 to 10.

Today I should have been going to the Theatre Royal again to see Opera North’s production of Gounod’s Romeo et Juliette. Ironically, and typically, the one work in their whole Shakespeare season that I had not seen umpteen times before. But then my very good friend The Less Tall Cheshire Brunette identified this weekend as the optimum time for her to pay her first ever visit to Northumberland, and I decided that our relationship was not yet strong enough to suggest that she might like to hang around the Central Station for the best part of an hour while I watched the end of the show. Accordingly I gave my tickets away and arranged to pick her up from Alnmouth at half past ten.

I devoted the afternoon to buying various ingredients specified on the shopping list she had e-mailed to me, boldly substituting Norfolk asparagus for the green beans she had specified, which had been flown all the way from Zambia. My one – and it is a sadly recurrent – disappointment was the pitiful supply of genuinely local produce, given that I live completely surrounded by working farms. My efforts to source a local chicken for Sunday lunch from the butcher in Alnwick yielded only an allegedly free range, corn-fed bird from Yorkshire, which they warned me was going to be much more expensive than the bog standard, factory farmed alternative. I do miss my local farm shop, which closed in February due to lack of interest (mainly, it should be added, on the part of the proprietress). At least the multi-tasking butcher was also able to sell me the four ripe nectarines specified for Sunday’s pudding, ripe fruit being a completely alien concept to Alnwick’s supermarkets. Everything they sell is rock hard and usually never ripens, however long one leaves it in a fruit bowl in the window to catch any rays of the weak northern sun. Days elapse and the stuff retains the texture of granite until one night one goes to bed, and gets up the next morning to find it transformed into a rotten mush. Presumably it must pass through an incredibly narrow slit window of perfect ripeness as it makes its overnight journey from State A to State B, but I have never yet been fortunate enough to catch it in the act.

I cleaned the house a bit and lit a fire in the hope of creating a neat and cosy ambience which my guest might appreciate, then sat back and waited for the text bulletins on her progress. The last indicated that she was running half an hour late on leaving Durham, so I wandered casually through to my study at 10.30 to check her arrival time on the internet, and found that her train was actually scheduled to reach Alnmouth at 10.48. It is normally a 25 minute drive, which made for a bit of a rush. But I did it in time to walk across the bridge with a traumatized dog, who never enjoys my driving even when I go slowly, just before her train pulled in. Or, more accurately, to walk about a third of the way up the bridge steps before the dog worked out that he could see through them, which always induces total panic. He duly froze, like someone trapped on a cliff face, unable to go either up or down. I gave him a serious talking to, but eventually had to pick him up and carry him to the top, where he graciously agreed that it might be safe to walk down the other side. The only other person on the platform was a young man who had giggled at my conversation with the dog, so I made a jocular remark as I passed about not knowing how I was going to get him back. He suggested that I try throwing him across the line. Probably not a dog lover, then.

The LTCB’s happy face framed in the door at the end of coach F was enough to raise the spirits of even the most miserable curmudgeon, and I drove her back home in the best of moods, pausing to give her a glimpse of floodlit Alnwick Castle en route. I don’t think the subsequent comparison exactly favoured my house, but at least I had the presence of mind to stop my guided tour of the premises before we got to the attic housing my train set, or the other one containing 35 years of accumulated theatre programmes and press cuttings, not to mention my unusually comprehensive pornography collection. Come to think of it, not to mention my unusually comprehensive pornography collection was actually her instruction, not a helpful drafting suggestion.

No comments: