Wednesday 9 July 2008

Losing the last of England

14st 1lb; zero alcohol yesterday; 1,306; Milfield.

Like most people, I derive my mental image of a chimney sweep from the film version of Mary Poppins, with Dick van Dyke doing the world’s worst cockney accent as he hammed his way through “Chim chiminee, chim chiminee, chim chim cheroo.” Ah, to be able to go to one’s grave knowing that one had left a grateful world a set of lyrics like that. The marvellous bloke who turns up once a year to sweep my chimneys looks nothing like Dick van Dyke, but then mercifully he doesn’t attempt to sing either. Today was the day and I really pushed the boat out and got him to sweep three chimneys (one more than usual) which he did with his customary efficiency. Yet I am still sufficiently in thrall to that bloody song from my childhood to think that I should really have shaken his hand for luck. As usual, I remembered to ask him shortly after he had driven off to his next appointment.

I had lunch today with another member of the diminishing band of North East newspaper columnists, this one being the former editor of one of the biggest selling national titles. I must say that his local in Milfield did a really cracking lunch. Though my jealousy was mitigated to some extent by the fact that his “local” is now about a five mile drive from his house, the same distance as the nearest boozer is from mine. The pub that was only a short walk from his front door is currently boarded up as a consequence of such pub-friendly policies as the drink driving crackdown and the smoking ban, along with the availability of cut-price alcohol in every supermarket. A great shame since, as Hilaire Belloc observed, “When you have lost your inns, drown your empty selves. For you will have lost the last of England.” The only thing that has ever made me wish that I lived anywhere in Northumberland other than my current house is the prospect of living within convenient walking distance of a really good boozer. But the turnover of landlords is so high, and the incidence of closures so frequent, that it would be a crazy criterion for anyone to put high on their list when choosing a place to live. Added to which, if I did live anywhere near a decent pub, I’d feel I had to strive so hard to keep it open that my weight would soon climb back up to 17 stone and I’d be able to add cirrhosis of the liver to my long list of health worries.

My host greatly cheered me at any early stage of our lunch by mentioning that there was a letter in today’s paper citing me as the writer’s favourite columnist. Now, there’s a first. On getting home and actually reading the thing, I was pleased to note that he wasn’t a blood relative, friend or employee. On the other hand, after his promising opening he went on to complain that I had described Tony Blair as an Englishman when he is in fact Scotch. And to take the paper to task for posing the quiz question “In which film did Holly Hunter play a mute?” Because there is apparently some PC term much preferred by people who cannot speak.

On the other hand, why worry? They are hardly likely to give us that much earache about it, are they?

At least exploring the question of the chameleon Blair’s real nationality gives me an easy idea to spin out into a few hundred pounds for a column next Tuesday. Which is important since in my case at least 90% of the effort goes into coming up with the initial idea, and less than 10% into the actual writing.

1 comment:

John Gray said...

Dear Mr Hann,
I am the bloke who wrote to correct your mistake concerning Mr Blair's nationality. I hope you understand that those who are English have enough problems in tolerating Thatcher as one of their own, let the Scots keep Blair. By the way I am not a racist, I don't care what nationality anyone is, I take them by the person and can usually find enough reason to dislike them in that.

With regards to the Holly Hunter question, the Journal should have known better in publishing such an offensive term, they wouldn't call someone who is black a Nigger, because it would cause offence and also outrage. The term Mute to someone who does have some vocal output even if it is only a grunt of some nature is offensive. This is not PC, this is real offence. Morag Horseman who is supposed to be a Speach Therapist, and I don't believe it for a second, also condoned the term Dumb, The journal refused to print my comment on that. I am not a supporter of PC, but I have to complain when Newspapers perpetuate the stupid myth, that those without Speech are either Mute or dumb, I haven't met a single person Without speech who is stupid, but I have often seen those with speech who are, and usually when they were talking just look at Parliament, its full of the idiots, maybe we should elect a few of those without speech.

I am looking forward to reading you every Tuesday as per usual. By the way I am not English, I'm a Northumbrian, and I long for the day we tell Parliament to stick the houses of Commons and Lords to stick it where the sun or Journal, don't shine!
Regards John Gray