Monday 1 September 2008


14st 2lb today; 6.0 units of alcohol yesterday; 1,253 more todays in the pipeline; Alnmouth for Alnwick.

Since I am going out with an acronym, it seems only right and proper that one of her favourite maxims should be another: JFDI. In which the slightly less predictable letters stand for Just Do It. So, at 5.30 this morning, if I did not exactly leap out of bed, I at least rolled out of it and JF Did It for several consecutive hours. By the time I had finished the house looked respectable enough to receive discerning visitors, which was handy as the LTCB herself was by then on her way from Chester on a series of expensive and ill-connecting trains.

She had missed the first of these owing to that universal phenomenon which means that, whenever anyone turns up at any station anywhere in the country, eager to buy a ticket for immediate use, they will find themselves stuck behind several people trying to book journeys of Byzantine complexity some months in advance. Still, this had the unexpected bonus for me that the later train on which she ended up making the last stage of her journey actually called at what she described as “Alnwick”, obviating the need for me to make a two hour round trip to Newcastle and back in order to pick her up.

Not that she wouldn’t have been worth every second of that. Dear me, no.

As any fule kno, the real Alnwick station closed in 1968, when the line was severed in the interests of saving a few quid in the construction of a by-pass. The fine building, constructed to impress royalty visiting the ducal castle, survives as a second hand book shop. The remaining, thoroughly undistinguished stop on the main line between London and Edinburgh is actually called Alnmouth, though latterly the current Duchess of Northumberland’s attempts to put her husband’s seat (no joke intended) on the map have borne fruit with the arrival of new signs expanding the station’s official name to “Alnmouth for Alnwick”. Since the LTCB had told me that she was coming to “Alnwick”, I had a faint but nagging worry that she might remain on the train until it arrived at a station with precisely that name. On the other hand, I felt that the response to a quick phone call to clarify the situation was likely to be “Do you think I’m stupid?” A question which it seemed best to avoid her asking, given my desire to get her visit off to the best of all possible starts, even though I am well versed in the correct answer to it.

So I suppressed my concerns, drove to Alnmouth and stood on the northbound platform, where a surprisingly packed Cross Country train from Plymouth soon pulled in and a smiling Brunette hopped off. Not because she only had one leg, either. What she did have was a suitcase so heavy that I struggled to carry it across the footbridge, creating two mysteries: (1) how she had managed to cope with it during her two previous changes of train, and (2) what the hell she had brought with her that could possibly weigh so much. Lead diving boots seemed much the most plausible possibility.

This being one of the few sunny days witnessed in Northumberland since the beginning of the so-called summer, I had driven to the station in my convertible, with the roof down. Unfortunately I always forget that this makes my usual lively commentary on other motorists and pedestrians audible to its subjects. We stopped at Sainsbury’s in Alnwick to pick up some shopping and I made some monumentally tactless comments about a scruffy and shifty-looking youth who was lolling against the Transit van next to which we parked. Subsequent enjoyment of my trolley-pushing around the store was significantly reduced by a vision of the aforementioned youth taking revenge for my disobliging remarks by squatting on my tonneau cover and taking a dump on the rear seat of the car. I was much relieved, on returning to my vehicle, to find that he had not done so. Perhaps he was deterred by the CCTV cameras, or maybe he was deaf along with all his more obvious disadvantages. Or perchance he is just biding his time.

I reflected as we drove home, listening to the jolly new CD by Scouting for Girls which the LTCB had just purchased, that it would be much better on the whole if I simply learned to shut up. A point, funnily enough, which one or two readers of this blog have also made to me. Still, before I bring this entry to a close I can’t forbear to mention that I cooked dinner this evening and that it was a triumph. Albeit one tinged with sorrow that the superb small joint of lamb I extracted from the freezer to provide its centrepiece was the very last of its kind, purchased at my local farm shop on its final day in business, before it went the way of virtually every attempt at retailing in this sparsely populated corner of the country.

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