Wednesday 28 October 2009

Lonely and only in Newcastle

15st 3lb, zero units. Would I still be entitled to call myself Bloke in the North if I no longer lived in Northumberland? It wasn’t the critical factor in deciding not to sell my house to the nice Baronet, but it is the sort of thing I mull over when I wake at 4, as I did today, and fail to get back to sleep. Cheshire is still in the North, is it not? Though admittedly we have settled in a part of Cheshire that is less only about three miles from the border with Shropshire, which is definitely in the Midlands. On the other hand, we are also only about two miles from Wales, thanks to the border lurching east from the natural boundary of the River Dee, and taking a bite out of England that can only have been designed for the convenience of manufacturers of jigsaw puzzles. At least it is definitely NORTH Wales. I suppose as a last resort we could always move a couple of miles west so that I could legitimately call myself Bloke in the North (of Wales), with the (of Wales) being silent. The price for this, if we sent The Baby to a State school, would be having part of his education conducted in gibberish. But I dare say that Welsh would prove no more incomprehensible and useless to him than trigonometry and algebra did to me in my day. Anyway, this is all academic because I am in Northumberland, as it happens. The day started gloomily with the arrival of my builder, to explain that the small areas of rotten wood we had identified in my windows were actually far more extensive than he had predicted, and that many of them are reaching the point of being beyond economic repair. Which either means removing them to a workshop for prolonged and uneconomic reconstruction, or having new “like for like” replacements made to the high standards demanded by the authorities who keep an eye on listed buildings. It is, of course, entirely typical that a house which has demanded minimal expenditure on maintenance since I had it comprehensively renovated 21 years ago should become a money pit as soon as I turn down an offer to take it off my hands. Similarly, the estimate for repairing my shed roofs, slumping due to dry rot in their supporting timbers, ran into thousands rather than the few hundred pounds I expected. After spending the morning at my desk I drove to Newcastle for a lunch with some of my fellow contributors to The Journal – an occasion intended to be so convivial that I had taken the precaution of booking myself into my club for the night, in the hope of being unfit to drive a car for at least 24 hours. The first disappointment arrived as I walked out of the car park on my arrival, in the form of an e-mail and voice message from our editor apologizing for the fact that he could no longer join us because of a hastily arranged and unavoidable meeting. The second occurred when, after a decent interval waiting at the table with the one guest who had actually turned up, we rang the missing columnist to find him still sitting at his desk 65 miles away, happily composing his next piece. “Oh dear” he said. “I completely forgot. I really am a dickhead.” It was hard to disagree. Though it could be argued that I was the dickhead for forgetting, despite my 26 years in PR, that professional journalists are chronically unreliable and can be more or less guaranteed to forget to turn up for lunch unless they are reminded an hour or so before the appointed time. Even this does not necessarily work, for example if one is forced to rely on a colleague's assurance that “It's in her diary and I'm sure she will be there.” I once fell for that and had a rather sticky lunch a deux with a fuming Chief Executive, who had travelled from the other end of the country to improve understanding of his business (from a low base) with the sector specialist on one of the key national dailies. She turned out, on the strength of a slight headache, to have decided to enjoy a “duvet day” instead. Still, my non-professional journalist friend and I had a perfectly decent lunch in Newcastle’s nearest equivalent to The Ivy today, and I was able to catch up with another Journal colleague over evening drinks in the Crown Posada. What could be more agreeable? Well, technically speaking, the Crown Posada under slightly less pressure from other bores, particularly the hugely fat “life and soul of the party” type who held court for a while with a group of younger acolytes at the table next to ours. But at least they lacked our staying power. We finally prised ourselves away to eat in a chain pizza restaurant further up the street, which looked in dire need of a visit from a team of professional cleaners. I took a detour on my way back to the club to check that my eyes were not deceiving me when I thought I saw a group of hairy-arsed men on a stag night queuing to get into a club. From a distance, it looked as though they were wearing only see-through pink leotards over tiny black thongs. Unfortunately I proved to have perfect vision when I got close-up, too. Only in Newcastle? One can but hope.

Monday 26 October 2009

Le rouge et le blanc

14st 13lb, 9.0 units. Writing about woodmen putting crosses on trees yesterday reminded me of the classic Northumbrian tale of the Mad Major. Like all townies transplanted to the countryside (very much including the present writer), the Mad Major wanted the landscape surrounding his house managed on the following simple principles: No Change. At All. Ever.

So he was naturally much put out when the local squire commissioned some forestry harvesting operations, and positively incandescent when the woodmen came and painted big crosses on the trees forming an attractive avenue on the approach to his house.

Not being properly versed in the ways of the countryside, he did not realize that the white crosses they had used were designed to protect the trees, being a sign that they were NOT to be cut down. So he sneaked out overnight and painted over them in red, which in his mental world stood for “stop” and “leave alone”. Not appreciating that, in the world of forestry it stands for precisely the opposite.

The only worrying thing about this story, as I come to recount it, is that I am no longer entirely sure that I have got the significance of le rouge et le blanc the right way round. I hope I can remember the correct answer before the agents of tree destruction next make their way to my neck of the ex-woods.

Sunday 25 October 2009

A day of wine and water, but mostly wine

15st 1lb, 10.8 units (I only did it for The Baby). After a night in which sleep battled against chronic indigestion, and the indigestion won as it always does, we rose to the bright, crisp morning of The Baby’s christening. Thanks to our chronic indecision in John Lewis a week ago, he had a choice of two ultra-cute outfits: one a traditional silk affair and the other a sailor suit with matching hat. However, Mrs H decreed that he would not be wearing either of the above until the start of the actual christening service, because of the near certainty of some unfortunate mishap as soon as he was smartly attired.

We had arranged a private christening at 11.30, but told all our guests that we would be attending the usual 10 o’clock Holy Communion and that they would be most welcome to join us then. Strangely enough, no-one took the hint apart from Mrs H’s parents and uncles, who are not exactly dedicated members of the C of E, and my goddaughter from Liverpool. I was quite impressed by the latter until it turned out that she had only made it because she had forgotten to put her clock back.

The Baby duly confirmed the wisdom of his mother’s dress policy by creating a certain amount of mess while being fed before the service.

“Where’s his muslin?” asked Mrs H, slightly frantically.

“There’s a whole row of them sitting right behind you,” I replied unhelpfully, gesturing towards her family.

My, how we laughed.

As usual, we defied the instructions of the Archbishops and shared the communion chalice, which really was an act of faith given that the vicar, who had first dibs, was doing a strikingly convincing impression of having swine flu, though he blamed it on an adverse reaction to his vaccination against it yesterday.

Perhaps illness affected his judgement as when we got to the “Sign of Peace” bit in the service, which he normally skips over, we were all invited to participate. My aunt raised her eyebrows significantly.

When the service was over, the congregation made short work of the homemade chocolate brownies Mrs H had brought with her to accompany the sacred rite of coffee, and also demolished the remains of our wedding cake. As they started to drift off, our other guests began to drift in. With the notable exception of the godparent who had come furthest for the occasion, whose yellow Porsche finally drifted into the church car park about ten minutes after our scheduled kick-off. He claimed, plausibly, to have been caught out by the “A51 Closed Weekends: Follow Diversion Not Sat Nav” signage, though his partner revealed that he had also viewed the christening invitation as he would that to any other sort of party, and assumed that it would be deeply unfashionable to turn up at the time specified on the card.

The Baby limbering up for the Big Splash

We kicked off eventually with a Book of Common Prayer service that not even the vicar had ever used before, but which I found vastly more interesting than the modern alternative. It is not yet up there with the 1662 wedding and funeral services as one that I can just about recite from memory, but certain phrases echoed comfortingly down the ages, including “Ask, and ye shall have; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you” and “Suffer the little children to come unto me.”

And who could resist witnessing a couple of multi-millionaires promising to “renounce the devil and all his works, the vain pomp and glory of the world, with all covetous desires of the same”?

It was great.

The first time I went to a christening as a godparent, I remember writing rather preciously in my diary afterwards that seeing the vicar make the sign of the cross on the baby’s forehead reminded me of nothing so much as a woodman marking a tree for felling. I had no such sense at The Baby’s christening; just joy that he was the focus of so much love and happiness; that he got through the ceremony without crying; and that the vicar’s mild dose of swine flu prevented him from noticing the whiff from the bundle in his arms, who with perfect timing had noisily filled his nappy a few seconds before he was handed over.

The Baby sees The Light

Godparents wondering "What have I done?"

The Baby and his newly extended family

Afterwards we all drove to a pub and had a Sunday roast, preceded by champagne and accompanied by rather a lot of Zinfandel, telling ourselves that it is what The Baby would have wanted. I regret to say that I gave a short address (No 1, London), which went pretty much like this:

Good afternoon

The bad news is that I have spent all week working on a speech.

The good news is that it wasn’t this one.

It was Mrs H who suggested that I should “say a few words”. As you might expect, given that Mrs H has been the driving force and organizational genius behind this whole event – and therefore the person to whom any comments or complaints should be directed.

Her leading role is actually a bit odd, when you think about it, considering our respective religious backgrounds.

Someone genuinely did ask, when we first mentioned this date, whether we were having a Muslim christening or a Christian one?

Worryingly, they weren’t trying to be funny.

Resisting the temptation – which is unusual for me – to ask what exactly they thought that the derivation of the word “christening” might be, I just said “It’s being done by Rick, the very nice man who married us.”

“Oh”, they said. “So neither, then.”

Followed by, on reflection, “I mean it will be the best of both worlds!”

Well, I am sorry that we did not manage to introduce any exciting elements of tension this morning, like Mrs H being asked whether she wanted to marry me three times, but it was certainly exactly what I wanted, and The Baby’s too young to have a view, so that’s clearly what matters.

Thank you, Rick, for being as ever so willing to accommodate any request, however eccentric.

And thank you all for being here to support The Baby on this important day, and particular thanks to all our wonderful godparents. We were surprised and delighted that you all agreed to take on these onerous responsibilities with such alacrity.

There were a number of other candidates we had in mind, and when Mrs H mentioned one of them to me I pointed out that the Church of England merely suggests three godparents as a minimum, and there was nothing to stop The Baby having more of them.

“Oh no,” she said disarmingly, “We need to keep some in reserve for the next one!”

I pointed out that he was only ever going to have the one christening, and she explained that she meant the next baby.

Which came as news to me. But then the first one came as news to me, so why should I be surprised?

Sorry, I should make it clear that I am referring to a hypothetical next baby there, not making an important announcement.

Anyway, this is The Baby’s day and The Baby is still quite short, so I guess I should be, too.

You will all be familiar, I am sure, with the story of the beautiful young woman who approached George Bernard Shaw and suggested that he should father a child with her, as the combination of her looks and his brain would be absolutely stunning.

“Yes,” he replied. “But what if it has my looks and YOUR brain.”

The Baby has been fortunate, you will have noted, in inheriting his mother’s looks. And, though I recognize that I may be biased, he is the most handsome baby I have ever seen.

In the interests of total honesty, I should perhaps add that this may also reflect the fact that I have never taken any great interest in babies before.

(Except in you, obviously, darling goddaughter.)

It is too early to say how he will turn out in terms of intelligence. At present he is still behind The Dog and The Cat in the Hann family league table, but it is early days.

What I can say with certainty is that he has inherited a huge number of my characteristics, including periodic grumpiness and an intense suspicion of anything or anyone new – unless, curiously enough, the someone new happens to be an attractive blonde lady.

We are doing our utmost to iron out these inherited quirks and make him a far better man than his father. Which won’t be difficult, I know.

For example, I started swimming lessons at the age of eight and kept them up for eight years, at the end of which I still could not swim a stroke – as remains the case today.

The Baby started swimming lessons at eight weeks and is already very happy underwater.

We are also trying to make him comfortable in social situations – something I have never mastered. With the exception of a five day stay in hospital to have my tonsils out when I was five or six, I can honestly say that I don’t think I ever spent a night apart from my parents until I was 17 and went for an interview at Cambridge.

The Baby has been staying with his lovely grandparents on a regular basis since he was six weeks’ old, and the only problem we ever encounter is persuading them to let us have him back.

Thank you.

As for the godparents, all I can say is that you won’t need to do much to improve on the contribution of my godparents to my life, which could neatly summarized in two words, one of which is “all”.

(Marion, feel free to have a word with them afterwards and tell them how it should be done.)

I’m probably rambling now, so let me just thank you all again for being here, adding the rider that I am now being sincere even though it is my cross always to sound sarcastic.

Now let’s have a little toast to put an end to this.

I’ve no idea what one is supposed to say on these occasions, so I’ll probably get this hopelessly wrong, but my instinct is that we should raise a glass to The Baby and wish him long life, good health and much happiness.

Which we did.

And I can report that it has worked admirably so far.

Hello, sailor

Saturday 24 October 2009

The real Fawlty Towers

14st 11lb, 7.0 units.

Trying to be Nice and Organized (at least one of which does not come at all naturally to me), I suggested to my 84-year-old aunt that it might be a good idea if she came across from Northumberland on the train for The Boy’s christening tomorrow, rather than driving the 213.7 miles herself. This seemed to make particularly good sense as I had to drive back anyway on Tuesday and would be able to give her a lift.

The first obvious snag was that we couldn’t actually put her up, as we are the proud possessors of a five bedroom house containing only one bed. (Well, three, to be pedantic, but one is only suitable for a cat and the other for a dog, not that he has ever consented to sleep in it).

No problem, she said. I’ll book myself into that nice hotel where I stayed for your wedding in February. Leave that to me, I replied, I’ll sort it out. So I went online and started filling out a form, then decided I might as well make the reservation over the phone as (a) I wasn’t actually booking a room for myself, and (b) I needed to speak to them anyway to organize dinner for five on the first evening of her stay.

I had a perfectly civil conversation with a woman who sounded very young, though probably of above primary school age, and who seemed to have grasped exactly what I was after. I was pleasantly surprised to note that the price she quoted me for three nights’ B&B was some £20 cheaper than the one offered on the hotel’s website, which was one in the eye for Martha Lane Fox’s theory that it costs a fortune not to have the benefit of internet access.

I began to wonder whether things might have gone ever so slightly wrong when I received a phone call on Tuesday evening, asking for a Mr F*** (not the usual F-word denoted by asterisks), who did not exist. I told the caller that they had got the wrong number, then reflected that their own number looked vaguely familiar, and that F*** was, after all, my aunt’s surname, so I rang back. It was the hotel “just ringing to confirm your dinner reservation for five people this evening”.

No, I pointed out, I had made that booking for Saturday.

Thinking ahead for once, I thought it would be wise to check that they had actually made my aunt’s room booking correctly. Yes, Mrs Barbara F*** was definitely booked in for three nights from Saturday. Which admittedly would have been more reassuring if my aunt were actually called Barbara, or even something vaguely like it.

The next elephant trap had nothing to do with the hotel, but was laid by whichever successor body to Cheshire County Council is responsible for repairing the roads. I allowed a full hour for what my sat nav assured me would be a 40-minute drive to Crewe station, and got within about five miles of my destination before I encountered a bleak yellow sign baldly announcing “A51 closed weekends”. This directed me on what I expected to be a short detour but which actually just about doubled the length of my journey and made me a full half hour late. Stupidly, I believed the yellow signs positioned at regular intervals saying “Follow Diversion Not Sat Nav”. Bastards. Being alone in the car, I felt obliged to stop to make an apologetic phone call to my aunt, thereby making myself even later and achieving precisely nothing as she proved to have her mobile phone switched off.

Have you ever driven to Crewe station? Don’t. It’s like taking part in a treasure hunt through one of the world’s most depressing urban landscapes, and you won’t want the prize when you finally get there. It reminded me of East Germany before the Wall fell, which is a bit puzzling given that I have never actually been to East Germany. Or any other part of Germany for that matter. My father tried to go there in 1944 on a boat trip paid for by the Government, and people kept shooting at him. He advised me not to bother.

Anyway, I finally managed to collect my aunt and, on the way back, I ignored the bloody signs and Followed Sat Nav Not Diversion, and it took no time at all. As you would expect.

After Auntie had inspected our house, mainly to satisfy herself that we really did not have any spare beds (luckily she did not look in the garage – only joking) I drove her to her hotel. I was feeling reasonably confident as we approached the reception desk, given that I had both made and confirmed the booking, and Auntie was clutching a typewritten letter of confirmation (which admittedly, on closer examination, managed to misspell every single word in her address, but at least bore the right dates).

We had to hang around for quite a while so that a harassed-looking receptionist of a certain age, who bore more than a passing resemblance to Sybil Fawlty, could laboriously explain to a merry, wine-drinking couple what their options were for obtaining a taxi to their party venue that evening and for returning to the hotel in the early hours. It was like the “Yes No Interlude” on Take Your Pick with Michael Miles (a popular television show from my childhood) except that the obvious words that she was forbidden from using on this occasion were not “Yes” and “No” but “You’ve no chance” and “You’re f***ed.”

Finally she turned to us, read Auntie’s letter, consulted the computer and … no, I’m sorry, we have no booking for you. None at all.

Subsequent prolonged investigation established that a Mrs F*** was indeed booked into the hotel for three nights, but from tomorrow.

On the plus side, they did have a booking for her dinner tonight.

And, perhaps even more importantly, they did have some rooms available, so she would not have to come back to our house and curl up in the dog’s basket. But actually booking her into one appeared to be a bureaucratic challenge that made cancelling a parking ticket look like a piece of piss.

The receptionist attempted to make us feel sorry for her by telling us that she had only got back from holiday in Egypt that morning and it had been one bloody thing after another all day because you cannot get the staff.

We didn’t actually care, but at least one of us was much too polite to say so. Instead we clucked sympathetically, and I somehow restrained myself from swearing as I explained for the third or fourth time that we did not want to book an EXTRA night, but to bring the whole booking forward one day to the arrival and departure dates originally agreed and confirmed by them in writing.

We stood there pretty stoically, all things considered, waiting for a registration form to be printed and presented to us. Eventually the receptionist conceded that it was beyond her and just handed over a key. Thinking of my blog rather than my aunt, I was rather disappointed when her allocated room proved to be clean, warm and comfortable. While always wishing the very best for her, it would have made a much more amusing story if I had been able to report a huge heap of manure in the middle of the floor and a dead farmyard animal in the bath.

Much the same story prevailed in the restaurant. It all started most promisingly. The bar was staffed by an old bloke who made Basil Fawlty look positively jolly, and was constantly muttering under his breath as he worked the beer pumps and optics. The young maitre d’ was clearly run off his feet. He handed me a wine list and I ordered a bottle of red wine which proved to be unobtainable, because he had given me completely the wrong list (though he assured me that this was technically impossible, as they had only ever had the one list. I was so glad I had consulted Mrs H about my choice and therefore had a reliable witness, otherwise I might have thought that it was me who was going round the twist.) The remainder of the bar and waiting staff had an average age of 12.

And yet … here is the surprising thing … dinner was absolutely, faultlessly delicious. All three courses of it.

Don’t you just hate in when you are trying to tell a funny story and some things turn out right?

Friday 23 October 2009

Same old same old

14st 12lb, 1.7 units. Just like old times! I’m definitely feeling better. Indeed, there was a point, sitting at my desk this afternoon, when I was conscious of feeling positively well. Which worried me more than a little, given that in my experience an intense feeling of wellbeing is usually the result of the body’s defences staging a last, hopelessly unsuccessful rally before they succumb to something dreadful. You may recall that the legendarily convivial sometime TV chef Keith Floyd famously remarked that he had never felt better very shortly before he dropped dead the other week.

I read The Boy (previously known as The Baby) a story before bed last night. It’s about the most hands-on bit of parenting I’ve ever done. No-one believes my true story about the number of times I’ve changed a nappy, so I won’t even bother repeating it here. I did have him in the bath with me once but one of us disgraced ourselves by peeing in the water. Luckily Mrs H thought it was him. Even so, I thought it best not to repeat the experiment in case I got to like it, and started wanting to share my bath with young people on a more regular basis. I’m already in enough potential trouble, given the yawning age gap between me and my son. My best hope is that I will be nicknamed “Grandpa” when I come to wait for him at the school gates, and not “The Paedo”.

Anyway, I read him this story, because Mrs H told me to. She also told me, with some exasperation, that I did not need to read him the bit at the front about the author having asserted her intellectual property rights and the thing being printed in China (which made me wonder if there was anything at all we were capable of doing for ourselves any more). The Boy looked very grave as the story unfolded. I’m not sure whether that was because he took it more seriously than I did, or because he thought I was insulting his intelligence. It wasn’t much of a tale, to be honest. All about a puppy that was lost and – you’d never have guessed this – on the last page it turned up again.

Well, blow me down.

I’m now wondering whether writing children’s books might be the way forward. It can’t be that difficult, surely? I’m skint, I can write (after a fashion), and I’ve got a child to support. Maybe I should scrap Wife in the North as my role model and think more along the lines of J.K. Rowling. There’s a café in the high street where I could hang out with my notebook, stretching a single cup of coffee out all morning and looking sorry for myself.

Now all I need to work out is the Next Big Thing in children’s fiction. I had a colleague who wasted months writing this great book, all about a boy wizard, which he genuinely dreamt up before Ms Rowling had her first volume published, but unfortunately ended up touting it around publishers after her sales had started to take off. The word “plagiarism” was bandied about. It was really bad luck, with hindsight, that he had chosen to call his hero Barry Trotter.

On the other hand, I also have a friend who wasted months, at a publisher’s suggestion, converting a film script about a boy visiting an alien spaceship into a children’s novel, only to have it rejected because sci-fi was now dead and all kids wanted to read about was magic.

Maybe I'll just stick to what I know, then. A picture book about a rather sleazy, overweight, 50-something PR man from the North of England trying unsuccessfully to get his leg over with his PA. All I need to work out now is how to make it suitable for age group 5 – 8. Or 25 – 88, for that matter.

Thursday 22 October 2009

A bit wobbly in the saddle

Blogging, it seems to me, is a bit like riding a bike. Or sex. Do it regularly and it seems totally natural and easy. Have a break, say after a nasty accident (a tumble over the handlebars into the hedgerow, or a sharp kick in the bollocks administered by that young lady whose signals you misread) and taking it up again becomes rather a mountain to climb. Over the weeks since my last entry, said mountain has gradually increased in size from a large hill around the height of Cheviot, via Ben Nevis and Mont Blanc, to something now roughly on the scale of K2.

So it can’t get much worse, at any rate.

But I feel that I really must make an effort to break my silence and get back in the saddle now, or there is a good chance that I never will. I am still a bit wobbly, and I’m afraid we’re going to have to dispense with a few niceties like checking the tyre pressures or foreplay (so no change there, I can sense Mrs H mouthing) but here goes:

It’s lovely to be back.

I’ve not been well, but I ran into The Baronet in London’s Ludgate Hill yesterday, after a rather fine lunch in Fleet Street provided by my bank (I wonder who will ultimately end up paying for that?) and he assured me that I was looking much better than when he last saw me at the Alwinton Show a couple of weeks ago. The Baronet, I should perhaps explain, is the bloke from Essex who thought he was buying my lovely house in Northumberland, until Mrs H and I went up there last month to start clearing it out and I got so ill that I could not raise a finger, and felt obliged to call the whole thing off.

His statement that I looked a lot better at least suggested the possibility that I had looked reasonably ill when our paths last crossed. Which in turn might have meant that he accepted that there was a genuine reason for my change of heart, rather than merely a tendency to dither and generally dick people around, in the style made famous by our much-loved Prime Minister.

I found this strangely comforting. I never like to think that my behaviour might be confused with that of Gordon Brown.

The Baronet reiterated how keen he was to buy my house, and I promised to think about it. I explained that I was still waiting for a letter from my friendly local NHS hospital to tell me whether I was dying or not, based on the results of some tests I had done shortly before I left the North East. He said that he was not a doctor, but I could take his word for it that death was not imminent. For a second or two I wished for a piece of space debris to strike me down, just so that I could expire with the word “Ha!” on my lips.

Since The Baronet is an English gentleman of the finest sort, he almost certainly means it when he says that he still wants the transaction to proceed. Though I am conscious that, if I were the buyer rather than the seller in similar circumstances, I might well sweet talk the vendor into going to a lot of trouble clearing out his house just so I could have the pleasure of pulling out at the last moment, saying as I did so “Now you know what it feels like. Disappointing, isn’t it?”

Anyway, where was I before I was so rudely interrupted? Oh yes, shrews in south Cheshire. We haven’t seen one since, so perhaps The Cat accounted for all of them. I can only hope that they weren’t an unusual variety that had been specially reintroduced to our garden by the South Cheshire and North Shropshire Rare Breeds Survival Trust.

Consulting my diary to find out what the hell happened after that, I see that The Dog injured himself by jumping off our bed, then we went to a Wedding, which was nice. Shortly after which – and, in case our hosts at the Wedding should happen to read this, I should stress that I am sure that the sequence of events was completely coincidental – I began to feel distinctly unwell.

A classic wedding portrait, with no nonsense about a groom

Not the groom, either

First I went to see Mrs H’s doctor in Cheshire, who recommended that I take my chest pains to the nearest A&E Department without further delay and have them checked out. Instead I drove the 235 miles to Northumberland and went to see my own GP the next afternoon, where an ECG was run that apparently showed nothing untoward. A few days later the chest pains recurred, fortissimo, and this time I took my own doctor’s advice and went to A&E. Slowly and reluctantly, of course, but go I did.

An encouragingly pretty doctor ran another ECG on which she said she could detect tell-tale signs of a heart attack, but not signs big enough to interest the region’s specialist heart hospital when she faxed the trace through to them. Nevertheless, she recommended that I remain in hospital (a) because if I went home and dropped dead it would be marked down as her fault, and (b) because she wanted me to have some further tests which could be arranged much more quickly if I was actually on the premises.

So I spent a night in a bed in the Medical Admissions Unit. The bed furthest from the door, which is always encouraging, though not a place I could conscientiously recommend to anyone in need of a good night’s sleep, as former miners with breathing difficulties continued to be admitted and “processed” into the early hours. I was relieved when another ward took the huge, tattooed man who had been sitting brooding by the door, complaining at steadily increasing volume about the lack of his nightly diazepam and temazepam; without which, he warned, he was highly likely to have a “funny turn”, the probable consequences of which struck me as almost certainly less than hilarious. But I still enjoyed the company in the next bed of an elderly lunatic from the local asylum, who spent his time coughing and retching loudly in those short intervals in which he could be coaxed between the sheets, rather than shuffling around the ward gawping at his fellow patients.

They let me go home the next afternoon. No further tests were carried out, though they did summon me back by letter to have them done about ten days later. I mentioned this to the lady conducting the first test, who assured me that there was absolutely no waiting list for it, and the only reason it would not have been done while I was actually in the hospital was that no-one had bothered to pick up the phone and request it.

Still, mustn’t grumble. Clean building, nice people, edible food. AND I’m still alive at the time of writing.

See also

After that there was the Alwinton Show, for which see Luckily I took the succession of people who admired The Baby in his sling, and addressed me as “Granddad”, as a sort of compliment. The Dog was beside himself with delight at the terrier racing, in which we refused to allow him to participate on the grounds that he was still recovering from an injured shoulder (though the real reason was that neither Mrs H nor I could face the hassle of trying to recapture him at the end of the race).

A Border terrier not in the lead, as usual

We finally made it back to Cheshire the following Monday and I have spent the last 10 days or so steadily recuperating. I even managed to drive to London and Brighton at the weekend for an afternoon at the opera at Glyndebourne. So things are clearly on an improving trend.

Meanwhile The Baby continues to grow, and to smile and chuckle rather appealingly.

Who could ask for more?

A happy baby: wouldn't you like him to advertise YOUR product?