Wednesday 3 September 2008

A cross between Jack Woolley and Le Petomane

14st 1lb; 4.5 units of alcohol yesterday; 1,251; Side.

After the LTCB’s last visit, I fondly imagined that my contribution to her regular training runs would be confined to opening the back door and pushing her out of it at the start of her now familiar course. However, it was swiftly made clear to me that my accompanying presence was indispensable. Not because she loves me so dearly that she can’t bear to be without me for an hour; nor because she values my verbal encouragement, or wants to prolong my life by ensuring that I get a modicum of exercise. Not even because she rightly fears the sub-normal, homicidal maniacs with guns who are such a feature of the Northumberland countryside. No, it is simply because she has a sense of direction so monumentally poor that I am completely lost for a witty simile to describe it. I pointed out the swallows flying around outside, and the fact that they somehow managed to cover 6,000-odd miles from South Africa and back each year, so that they could spend their summers crapping all over my woodshed. In the circumstances, I gently suggested, perhaps a creature with her slightly larger brain ought to be able to find its way around a six mile circuit without a fat bloke on a bike wobbling along in front.

But it was not to be. I was warned that one field full of sheep looked exactly the same as any other to her; and, if I sent her out into the locality on her own, I would almost certainly never see her again. God forbid that she should somehow find her way to the front of the field in the Great North Run next month. It could lead to the biggest mass disappearance since that unfortunate business with the kids in Hamelin.

So off we went. In fairness, it was probably the most useful thing I accomplished all day. The other contender for that title was booking a couple of absolutely bargain first class tickets from Chester to London so that we could attend an opera next month. Then realizing, about half an hour later, that I could not actually use mine as I was committed to attending a dinner in Newcastle on the date in question. I am not sure whether it was strictly necessary for the LTCB to ask at this point whether my former job responsibilities had included the meticulous organization of trips for the likes of analysts and journalists, involving travel to multiple locations over a period of several days; then comparing and contrasting it with my current inability to book one simple journey for myself.

The fact is that I need a PA. The LTCB has already spotted this, asking whether I really want a girlfriend or just the sort of PA who might be prepared to offer occasional sexual favours in return for a decent Christmas bonus. She also made it clear that she was not interested in applying for any such position herself. In fact, she wants a PA of her own. I have not dared to ask any sex- or even gender-related questions about this potential vacancy, though I might have considered going for it myself if the money was right. Until I completely blew my chances with this afternoon’s woeful demonstration of incompetence.

I was already thoroughly dispirited by this evidence of my failing mental powers when I went out to the car this afternoon. At which point I somehow managed to slip on the wet concrete outside the back door and fell full length on the gravel beyond it, doing no good at all to my new clothes. To look on the bright side I did not break my hip and have to be carted off to a geriatric ward in an ambulance, but I could see the LTCB looking at me as she kindly sponged my jeans, thinking “give it time – and not too much of it at that.”

I nearly fell over again for no obvious reason as we walked down Grey Street in Newcastle this evening, with me doing my enthusiastic tour guide number, pointing out that one of the few things that those old adversaries Pevsner and Betjeman agreed about was that it was one of the finest streets in England. We had some excellent beer and pork scratchings with a friend in the Crown Posada, on which so far as I know Pevsner and Betjeman were silent, but which I have no hesitation in citing as one of the finest pubs in England. And, therefore, the universe. Then we walked across the road to be treated to a fine Indian meal in a restaurant specializing in the distinctive cuisine of Kerala, in the country’s far south. Fish and vegetarian dishes predominated, all mildly spiced and quite delicious.

Afterwards I attempted to take the LTCB all of 100 yards for a romantic look at the river and its bridges, which cannot be mentioned these days without using the adjective “iconic”, but all I got was a loud protest that it was far too cold to be doing any such thing. Thank God I had not been planning to fall on my knees and propose to her, or anything like that. Then we walked back up Grey Street, with the LTCB now protesting that we could have taken a taxi. Unfortunately her voice was not quite loud enough to drown out the other sound effects arising from the consumption of a large meal with a high vegetarian content. In fact, the night proved the wisdom of the smoking ban as an elfin safety measure, since I have no doubt that striking a match in our bedroom at my club would have caused an explosion that would have devastated a pretty substantial part of Newcastle’s historic Grainger Town.

In view of all that I have read of late about the contribution that methane emissions from cows and sheep are making to global warming, and the resulting letters to the press from vegetarian activists suggesting that we should all give up eating meat, I think it is only fair to point out a vegetable diet had its downside, too. Maybe we should stop bitching about the Chinese and their new coal-fired power stations, and see what we could do to persuade the citizens of Kerala to eat more meat.

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