Monday, 3 December 2012

What on earth have we done now?

16st 0lb, zero units. Yesterday we went for lunch to perhaps my favourite pub in the whole of Cheshire. I know this may seem hard to square with the claim that I consumed no alcohol during the day, but we had dinner guests at home on Saturday and I drank so much (just to be sociable, you understand) that today I couldn’t face anything stronger than fizzy water. So we can safely rule out boorishly drunken behaviour as the cause of our mysteriously increasing unpopularity as lunch wore on.

I should explain that this pub is located on a hilltop with stunning views and boasts such assets to the perfect pub as a real fire, excellent food, a fine selection of real ales and – up to now, at any rate – helpful and charming staff.

It all started so well. The young women who greeted us at the bar when we walked in smiled warmly enough, showed us to our reserved table near the fire and kept smiling as she took and delivered our order for drinks. By the time we had consumed our starters she wasn’t smiling. By the end of the main course her face bore a distinct grimace. When I asked for coffee I felt myself lucky not to have it thrown at me. And when I went to the bar to pay at the end and gave her a perfectly generous tip, out of sheer force of habit, she had developed a loathing of me so strong that she could not even bring herself to say “thank you”.

Now, to be honest, I am quite used to this sort of thing. I have an undoubted knack for rubbing people up the wrong way. But, on this occasion, it was clear from the way that she almost kicked them as they followed me off the premises that the charming Mrs H and our boys were at least as much the target of our ire as I was. And the really, really puzzling thing was that neither of us could even begin to work out what we had done to upset her so much.

We hadn’t failed to say “Please” and “Thank you”. We hadn’t shouted “Hoy, you!” or waved at her in an imperious sort of way. We had eaten up all our food and shown our appreciation, though admittedly The Boy, in particular, had taken rather longer about it than seemed to suit her. But when we booked the table for 12.15 they had warned us that they would “need it back” at 2.15 and we were off the premises very shortly after 1.30, so tardiness can hardly have been the critical factor.

Was it The Baby’s messiness? There was, I will admit, an unfeasibly large amount of crumbled bread under his high chair. We never appreciate just how messy he can be until we go out, since at home we have a Border terrier on permanent standby to hoover up anything edible before it even makes contact with the carpet.

Was it the fact that Mrs H borrowed a chair from a neighbouring table, in order to satisfy The Boy’s demand that she sit between him and The Baby? Not that anyone was sitting at said table at the time, so it didn’t seem a particularly heinous crime to us.

Or was it perhaps a horrible case of mistaken identity, caused by confusing me with one of those elderly child molesters that feature so prominently in other media’s coverage of the BBC these days?

I don’t suppose we shall ever know. The sad thing is that, until we do work it out, our favourite pub looks like being off limits, at least until staff turnover bears our waitress off on its ever rolling stream to a more appropriate niche, like looking down her nose at the customers at a high class boutique in Tarporley.

On the plus side there is still the pub in the slightly less stunning location where the food and ale are also excellent, and where the £100 tip I left on the huge bill for The Boy’s christening lunch three years ago is still remembered with such fondness that the staff all greet us as long-lost friends the moment we walk in.

Yes, I think that has to be the answer.

Thursday, 29 November 2012

Looking at the dead people

16st 3lb (I blame that columnists’ lunch – no, feast – at Caffe Vivo), 6.0 units. This morning after breakfast The Boy announced “Mummy, I want to go and look at the dead people.” So they went into the sitting room and Mrs H pointed out the two sepia photographs of my parents as small children, taken I would guess a little over 100 years ago when they were two or three. My father wears a sailor suit and “With love from Little Harry” is written in ink in a corner of the picture. My mother wears the sort of smock in which the Edwardians used to dress children of both sexes. The Boy thought his deceased grandmother was very pretty.

Then they moved on to a picture of my parents together outside their front door in Longbenton, taken a year or two before my father died in 1982. And finally a late snap of mother in her wheelchair in the front garden of my house in Northumberland, with a Border terrier on her knee. “She’s holding my doggie!” said The Boy, so Mrs H had to explain that it wasn’t in fact our current pet, but a predecessor called Arthur who was then just a puppy but is now, well, for want of a better word, dead.

The Boy nodded. He’s got his head around the concept now.

“She looks very like Daddy’s Auntie, doesn’t she?” he concluded of my mother. Both are, or were, octogenarians; and both have white hair. There the resemblance ends, really, and it could hardly be otherwise since they are completely unrelated; my aunt is my mother’s brother’s widow. Still, it left The Boy satisfied that one of life’s mysterious loose ends had been cleared up.

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Dead? What, like a fly?

16st 0lb, 6.1 units. While I was driving to Newcastle and enjoying an epic lunch with some of my fellow weekly columnists on The Journal, Mrs H was attempting to keep our children amused by taking them to visit their grandparents. Or, as The Boy calls them, Grandpa and Me.

Because, as he was learning the names of his nearest and dearest, the rest of us were careful to identify ourselves by our names or our roles, as in “Come to Daddy, Charlie”. Grandma alone made the mistake of saying “Come to me” and now has to live with the consequences. Quite possibly for the rest of her life.

It has taken him three and a half years to get there, but it has now finally dawned on The Boy who these older people (though, to be fair, only very slightly older than his Daddy) are. He sought confirmation of his suspicions on the way home.

“Mummy,” he began, “Grandpa and Me are your mummy and daddy, aren’t they?”

“Yes, they are.”

“Well, then, who’s Daddy’s mummy and daddy?”

We had been anticipating this question.

“You know those pictures of the old people in the sitting room?”


“They’re Daddy’s mummy and daddy.”

“But why do they never come to see us.”

“Because they’re dead.”

“Dead? What, like a fly.”

“Not exactly.”

“Dead? Like the mouse Melody deaded? [a reference to our beloved cat] Why are they dead?”

“Well, they were very old and they died. That’s what happens to people when they get very old.”

“Does everybody die?”

“Yes, I’m afraid they do.”

“Oh. Well who looks after Daddy, then?”

At this point Mrs H could quite reasonably have asked The Boy what he thought she did all day, but instead she clutched at the straw of the previous generation and drew his attention to my Auntie, a lady whose birthday we celebrated today. It would clearly be indelicate to reveal a lady’s age, so let’s just say that she won’t see 87 again. The notion that Auntie looks after me, in the regrettable absence of my Mummy and Daddy, seemed to satisfy him. Now I just have to break the news to her.

Monday, 8 October 2012

From dysentery to disbelief

16st 0lb, 2.1 units. The keen observer (if this blog possesses one) will note that I appear to have gained more than 8lb of avoirdupois in just one week. And so my bathroom scales attest. What the keen observer will be missing, owing to my failure to write this blog more regularly, is that I also lost the aforementioned 8lb in the course of the week before my last entry.

My exclusive dietary secret? Recurring stomach cramps and the more or less instantaneous and explosive ejection of anything I ate. This in turn encouraged a total loss of appetite. Precisely the formula for obesity reduction that I have been seeking for the last 25 years.

I was so pleased with the resulting weight loss that I resolutely ignored Mrs H’s advice to go and see a doctor. It was clearly some sort of bug. Or at least it was to me, even though those with a smattering of medical knowledge advised me that no known bug would keep coming back every other day for more than a week.

It is pretty annoying, to be honest, to have piled all the weight back on in the course of a single weekend of reasonably normal eating. Though, to look on the bright side, I still have stomach pains and feel distinctly under the weather, so perhaps it will all have gone again by the time of my next blog entry.

If I haven’t died in the meantime.

The aforementioned weekend of reasonably normal eating fell into two distinct parts. In the first, I stayed at home and read a book while the rest of the family went out to a third birthday party. This was the condition in which they returned home:

I meanwhile got through a whole book in the course of a single day. Once upon a time this would have been wholly unremarkable. But that was before my attention span came under systematic assault from having a young family and, much more importantly, from e-mail, Facebook and Twitter.

I was spurred on by historic acquaintance with the author and by total astonishment at the Marianas Trench-like depths of self-delusion on which his thesis was based.

Yesterday, Mrs H reactivated her Plan A for last weekend and we went out to play trains. First, at the pub near Wrexham where the local model engineering society offers free rides behind their miniature locomotives in an adjacent garden. Then on the Llangollen Railway, which I had not visited since I paid quite handsomely for a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to drive the Flying Scotsman more than a decade ago, only for that jinxed locomotive to be pronounced unfit for service shortly before my date with it rolled around. I spurned the BR 2-6-0 offered in its stead, though an ex-fiancée and her father took my place on the footplate and had, as I recall, a thoroughly satisfying day.

Mrs H always likes to give trains, boats and planes a sporting chance to leave without her, so we duly arrived at the station at 14.59 for the 15.00 departure, which was also the last of the day.

I was glad we caught it, because it is a pretty line and The Boy was clearly enthralled, particularly by watching the locomotive uncouple and run around at the far end.

Though he insisted on addressing all his many questions to Mummy, who knows as much about trains as I do about childcare, and accordingly had to redirect them all to me. I think I acquitted myself quite well.

At one point I was moved to observe that “When Daddy was a little boy, all trains were like this” as the living museum chugged and rattled along. But I could tell that no one quite believed me. I must make contact with the author of that book I read on Saturday, and assure him that there is at least one person on the planet who knows how he must feel.

Monday, 1 October 2012

Who knows where the time goes?

15st 6lb, zero units. I note, with little surprise, that it is three months since I managed to add so much as a word to this blog. My principal excuse is that I have been writing a book. Though this isn’t a particularly good excuse on two grounds.

First, it was only ever supposed to be a very short book. A “micro-book” as Mrs Doyle might well have called it, had Father Ted been invited to write it rather than me.

And, secondly, because I actually spent the first seven weeks of the three months available for the project thinking, “Oh God, why on earth did I sign that contract to write a book?” before putting in a single week of moderate activity which convinced me that I had more or less cracked it.

“It’s reached the stage,” I blithely announced to Mrs H, “of one of those child’s colouring books where the outline is all drawn. So the hard bit is done. Now I’ve just got to get my crayons out and do the colouring in.”

There was quite a lot of crayoning in the course of September. It was a bit like how I imagine a high level Liberal Democrat meeting to fill in the details of their next election manifesto, only with more chance of a successful outcome.

Then on Friday, which happily coincided with my publisher’s deadline, I pinged the thing off to my editor and prepared for a weekend of well-earned relaxation.

Only we made the mistake of involving The Boy in the decision-making process. And, despite my best efforts to sell him the delights of a sunny Saturday on a steam train, he insisted that what he wanted to do above all was to feed some animals.

Adding, when we were en route to a farm somewhere in the heart of England, that after that he wanted to go to a beach and build sandcastles.

We arrived at the farm in time for lunch, which was largely inedible. Quite an achievement on a working mixed farm, that.

The Boy said that he wanted a hot dog. Until it arrived, when he realised that it was the last thing he wanted. Mrs H read him the last of alternatives from the short menu.

“Is there anything else?” he asked, ever more plaintively.

He finally settled for a cheese sandwich. Processed white bread and Cheddar. He had to be bribed with the promise of an Oreo cookie if he got through a quarter of it.

The Boy enjoying his lunch
The Baby had a slightly better time, but then we brought his lunch with us

Then I was despatched back to the admission desk to buy a bag of animal food for what was, after all, the entire object of our visit. Only to be advised that feeding the animals had been banned on Elfin Safety grounds after the Great E.coli Scare a couple of years ago.

I naturally anticipated a meltdown on delivering this sad news, but somehow we got away with it through a process of distraction involving: (a) seeing a cow being milked

(b) making the acquaintance of a cart horse

(c) looking at some cute bunny rabbits

(d) playing in a sand pit

(e) watching some pigs racing and

(f) introducing The Boy to the concepts of:

(i) the space hopper and

(ii) the bouncy castle.

We got home exhausted and I bought fish and chips for tea, providing the cue for 36 hours in bed with a recurrence of the terrible stomach upset that had already ruined Monday and Wednesday of the preceding week.

It would be nice to be able to sue the owners of the farm on the grounds that it had been caused by contact with their animals, but in the circumstances I fear that it would be hard to make the charge stick.

Meanwhile The Boy went to bed “not happy”. Because he never got to feed his animals? No, because “there is a giant octopus in our garden.” At least that is one worry that will not be keeping me awake at night in the weeks ahead.

Monday, 2 July 2012

Can you ever have too much sin?

16st 4lb, 4.5 units. We had our younger son James George Frederick baptised on Saturday afternoon.

It was a very happy occasion, even for Jamie, who smiled contentedly throughout. And it was followed by an afternoon tea featuring a cake that can only be described as exquisite.

No one had the slightest interest in listening to speeches, not least because half those attending were under the age of ten and were too busy wolfing down sandwiches and playing boisterous games of hide and seek under the rather rickety trestle table on which the food had been placed.

Nevertheless, Mrs Hann and I made speeches anyway, because it was our do and we could do what we darn well liked. Rather than devising some new words for this blog, a lazy man naturally feels that it would be simplest to reproduce them below.  Mine first:

Good afternoon

I know many people think that the only thing better than a very short speech is one that never starts at all.

But I’m afraid you can’t really expect that view to be shared by those of us who write speeches for a living.

On the plus side, my business is writing speeches, not delivering them, which is by no means my favourite thing. So this may not turn out to be quite as bad as you clearly fear.

Though, as you can see, there are a few pages to get through, and the more noise you make the slower I will read them and the longer it will take.

Before starting to think about this BRIEF talk, I referred back to the few words I said on the occasion of Charlie’s christening. I don’t suppose I should say this, but I was pleasantly surprised by how amusing they were. Which makes the pronounced absence from my memory of gales of laughter throughout their delivery all the more puzzling. My recollection is of silence broken only by random barracking from inadequately disciplined children – much like today, in fact – the blowing of tumbleweed and the tolling of a distant bell.

I had also completely forgotten quoting Maral’s words, when we were struggling to whittle down the list of Charlie’s godparents to the conventional three, and I pointed out that there was nothing to stop us having more than that. I am sure my good friend Rick the Ex-Vic will confirm that the Church merely specifies a minimum of three, with no upper limit.

To which I received from my dear wife the chilling response: “Oh no, we need to keep some in reserve for the next one!”

The next one I had no intention of having on grounds of age, infirmity and terminal idleness.

The next one we have just had the pleasure of christening today.

So, unsurprisingly, Maral got her way on one more important thing.

She also got her way on the matter of this christening, which I was more than willing to shelve indefinitely in my towering “too hard” pile when the Bishop of this diocese, in his infinite and no doubt God-given wisdom, pronounced that our dear friend Rick might NOT christen Jamie in his former parish church, where Charlie was christened and Maral and I were married.

It may strike some of you as ironic that this christening should have taken place at the insistence of someone who proclaims herself to be a Muslim. But then she does only come out with that line when she is trying to persuade the Jehovah’s Witnesses to get off our doorstep.

So thank you, MARAL, for that. Thank you RICK for baptising Jamie, and for indulging my old-fashioned wish to use the 1662 Book of Common Prayer.

Much against the inclinations of the Rector of the church we borrowed for the occasion, who thinks that the old baptism service contains “too much sin”.

Some of us think you can never have too much sin. And I’m quite sure that it has not done any of us any harm to be reminded of it, and that the purpose of baptism is to wash it away. Thank you, in asbentia, Canon, for allowing us to use your church.

Thank you to our three splendid GODPARENTS. 

I hope that by now you have realised that you are not runners-up in the Hann godparenting stakes, but part of a carefully thought-through long term plan.

Though if there is anyone here counting on being called upon in our third round of godparent selection, let me tell you now that no such plan has been revealed to me.

Having said that, on past form I would almost certainly be the last to know.

And my thanks to ALL OF YOU for being here to support us and Jamie. It means a lot to those of us who are old enough to register your presence. And I am sure it will mean just as much to Jamie in years to come.

And rest assured, my boy, as a younger brother myself, that I will always have your best interests very close to my heart.

After the thanks, a toast. But first a couple of words of explanation.

First, you may already have worked out the answer to this one, but if you’re still wondering why anyone in their right mind would have a christening followed by a tea party 25 minutes drive away, the answers are:

(a) it is always a good idea in anything involving the Hann family to query that initial assumption of “in their right mind”;

and (b) this hotel is actually quite handy for Rick's old church, where we would have had the christening but for the helpful intervention of the Bishop. So thank you for that one, Bish.

Secondly, the names. James George Frederick. There was never any question that Charlie was going to be called Charles, because that was the name Maral had in mind for her son long before she met me. The fact that it also happened to be the name of my grandfather was an incidental bonus. Not that I can claim have particularly fond memories of Grandpa, given that he died in 1935. Of syphilis. Strange but true.

Since Maral and I both only have one name, we agreed that we should lash out and give our son a choice of several. And since my name was chosen precisely because it could not be altered (which must cause my parents to turn in their graves every time Maral calls me “Keitho”) we deliberately went for ones that can be mucked about with at will.

So Charles Henry (after my father, Harry) Danesh (Maral’s maiden name but also a perfectly good forename, which she tells me means “knowledge”).

My only niggling regret, as perhaps the world’s greatest fan of George Frederick Handel, was that we had missed a golden opportunity to bring into the world a George Frederick Hann.

So when the sonographer brought Maral and Charlie the disappointing (to them) news that we were having another boy, it seemed a bit of a no-brainer.

My first suggestion was that we call him George Frederick Xerxes, combining the name of the composer with that of one of his better-known operas, and also making a polite nod to the boy’s Persian heritage. For reasons still unclear to me, it did not go down well.

Then I tried George Frederick Darius, which went down much better, and that was our working title for quite a while. But it still didn’t seem quite right. There was something missing. Finally, the penny dropped. James. Jamie. THAT was the right name for this child.

It happens to be the oldest and most popular boys’ name of the lot in my branch of the Hann family. The very first person in my family tree, as far back as I can get, is a James Hann.

I had an uncle and two great-uncles called James. One, the elder brother of my grandfather Charles, died as long ago as 1891. Ironically drowned while swimming at Bamburgh in Northumberland not long after returning from a successful expedition to the most remote jungles of Dutch Guiana, about which he wrote a book. That’s pretty typical of our luck, but I’m quite sure it’s not an omen of any kind.

Secondly, and more importantly, because it is a name that has special meaning for Maral, too, and I know that she wants to say a word about that herself. Please don’t rush for the exits. I feel sure that hers will be a speech short enough to satisfy even those of you who don’t care for speeches. In fact, I can see from here that it only runs to half a page. It’s what Mrs Doyle in Father Ted would call a “micro speech”.

But before that, could I please ask to raise a glass to James George Frederick Hann and wish him long life, good health and much happiness. And if he proves handy at knocking out a tune, too – well, that will be a bonus. To JAMIE.

I paused for rapturous applause at this point, but there was just the sort of embarrassed silence you get after someone has loudly broken wind in church, so I handed the baton over to Mrs Hann, who spoke as follows:

As Keith has said, we’d agreed on George Frederick Darius Hann……..then he called me from Northumberland one day: ‘I can’t bond with George Frederick, how do you feel about James George Frederick instead? It would be a fitting tribute to your friend Jamie, don’t you think?’

I was really touched.

My friend Jamie died seven years ago and I hadn’t spoken to Keith about him much as they’d never met.

You see, he may come across as a grumpy old curmudgeon [quite rightly - Ed.] but he’s quite thoughtful!

A few words about Jamie Roddick then, those in the room who knew him would agree that he was devilishly handsome – his own words!

A real whizz when it came to boats and computers

Laid back, kind, funny, an amazing cook

Never too far from a bottle of Ameretto

And most of all good fun to be with.

So far our little man seems to be a laid back, happy chap who’s always ready with a smile.

Only time will tell if he develops an aptitude for booze, boats and parties!

One thing’s for certain, if he has half the qualities his namesake had, he’ll never be short of friends!

Please raise your glasses to absent friends.

Now that did get a round of applause, mainly because I led it with wild enthusiasm. Then we cut and devoured the exquisite cake, thanked the godparents, paid the bill and went home.

I meant to add at the time, but shall do so now as a footnote, that Mrs Hann is currently in training for this September's Great North Run, in which she is fundraising for Brain Tumour Research. Not least because it was a brain tumour that killed her friend Jamie. If you happen to feel like visiting her page at I am sure that she will be very grateful, particularly if you make a modest donation before leaving it again.

Thank you!

Friday, 22 June 2012

Now we are three

16st 0lb, 5.0 units. Not many people outside the North East know that Newcastle is blessed with its very own Sunday newspaper, the Sunday Sun. This has the great virtue of no doubt annoying Rupert Murdoch by compelling him to call his latest offering the Sun on Sunday. Much as the existence of the Scottish Sunday Mail meant that the Daily Mail’s Sunday counterpart had to be called The Mail on Sunday.

When I was a small boy back in the 1960s, I was a faithful reader of the Sunday Sun and used to marvel, even then, at the banality of its readers’ letters page. This was full of (a) endlessly repeated drivelling reminiscences, often relating to the production of something called “proggy mats” (40-odd years on, I still haven’t the slightest clue what those are); and (b) unlikely misunderstandings involving children. I think that they might even have had a sub-heading along the lines of “Kids Say The Funniest Things”. You can doubtless imagine the sort of thing, not least because Viz comic has spent the last couple of decades parodying it so well.

Every couple of months there would be one describing how Little Kevin in Jarrow had burst into tears because he thought Mummy had told him he was going to visit Grandma in Heaven when of course she had said Hebburn, the bit of Tyneside next door. Excuse me while my sides split.

In the circumstances, it is obviously a high risk strategy for me to turn this blog into from Bloke in the North into “Kids Say The Funniest Things”. But I feel strangely compelled to share the following exchange between Mrs Hann and my elder son in the wake of his birthday celebrations last Saturday, which I have described elsewhere:

"Did you have a nice birthday, Charlie?"

"Yes, I did."

"How old are you now?"


"That's very grown up, isn't it?"

"Yes, it is. Can I drive the car now?"

Ambitious. I like that in a child. I could now go on about how he might well be able to make a better job of driving the car than some other members of the family, but that would mean introducing details of an unfortunate incident that I faithfully promised not to go on about …

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Writing from my sickbed

15st 12lb, 4.0 units. I have been in bed all day. I should be in London, having an agreeable supper with an old friend. But bed won the toss (no pun whatsoever intended). I have a bit of a cold, and a depressed sense of uselessness so complete that, when I made it into my office yesterday, I found myself staring at sheets of paper and the computer screen, completely unable to make sense of them or work out what, if anything, I wanted to say.

This morning I e-mailed the 100-odd people to whom I send a copy of my weekly newspaper column, informing them that I would no longer be doing so. Partly because I was depressed, but mainly because I am conscious that it must be an awful bore for the 80 or so recipients from whom I never, ever hear to have it pinging into their inboxes each Tuesday. Though probably not, on the whole, because they will presumably have set their spam filters to weed it out long ago. Which in turn means that I will never be able to catch their attention again, in the admittedly unlikely event that I have something interesting or important to say to them.

Life, as someone once observed, is a bitch.

Imagine my delight when, lying in my sickbed earlier this evening, I received an unexpected bill for £30 by e-mail from some photographic agency I had never heard of, for the unauthorised use of one of their images in my other blog. It was a nondescript and apparently amateur shot of a closed off licence, used to illustrate a point about the effects of supermarket competition, which I had thoughtlessly copied as the result of a Google search. Naturally I have now removed it. I have also wasted two hours of my life going through both my blogs and deleting any other images that look as though someone might claim them as their copyright. What a bore. Though what an even bigger bore to be the sad twat at the photographic agency whose job it presumably is to trawl through the ravings of all the sad obsessives on Blogger to see whether they have inadvertently copied an image they are not entitled to use.

I suppose I shall just have to use my own photographs in future. If I have to start paying £30 a go for illustrating them, the writing of newspaper columns, already hugely unprofitable, will quickly become a loss-maker. (I was going to put “loss-leader”, but after eight years of non-recognition by the wider world, where could it possibly lead?)

So here are a couple of photos I took on a walk with the family on Sunday afternoon, just to brighten things up.

I was going to caption the first with “Swishy, swashy” as it reminded Mrs H and me of the long grass in the classic children’s story Bear Hunt, but I suppose that is copyright and frankly I can’t afford to take the risk.

One bit of cheering news for those who sympathized with my column this morning on the subject of Coronation Street of Dreams. According to tomorrow’s Newcastle Journal the producers have decided to postpone the rest of its planned tour, even though they claimed it received “standing ovations” during its two performances in Manchester. In fairness, I suppose it is all too easy to confuse a standing ovation with people walking out.

Sunday, 13 May 2012

The law of unintended consequences

I woke early this morning and raised the blind in the bedroom skylight to find myself looking straight at a Scottish saltire in the sky: quite enough to chill any Northumbrian’s blood.

Naturally the effect had faded a bit by the time that I had waddled to the other end of the house to find my camera, but you should still get the gist.

My fears of some supernatural portent were allayed when I spotted some twat in a fast jet happily at play creating similarly ephemeral artworks. No doubt some Jock in the RAF happily wasting my and other taxpayers’ money, but at least it made a decorative change from the usual waste of our money on Barnett Formula subsidies of Scottish roads, railways, welfare, education and health (both in the absence of prescription charges and paying for the consequences of a diet largely comprising deep-fried protein, potatoes and confectionery, washed down with Irn Bru). Not to mention building aircraft carriers that will almost certainly never carry a plane.

I must ask my friendly local MP whether this morning’s sort of thing is financed through the defence budget or the Arts Council.

Meanwhile, I am wondering whether the last two entries in this blog might have caused you a slight sense of déjà vu? If so, you are almost certainly one of my alleged “Friends” on Facebook. Or, rather, you WERE, as I have decided that Mr Zuckerberg can ram his new “Timeline” up his arse (that’s “ass” to you, Mr Zuckerberg) and have deactivated my account. It’s not what I signed up for, I don’t like it and I’m not having it.

What it is it with these geeks that they have to be endlessly “improving” things that their customers were perfectly happy with? Google has recently “improved” Blogger, with the result that posting blog entries is now around twice as hard as it used to be. But at least they haven’t yet arbitrarily changed the appearance and order of my blogs – though no doubt that will come. And, when it does, I fear that it will be “sayonara” from Bloke in the North, too.

Not that anyone is likely to notice, given the recent statistics on this blog’s reader numbers.

I had got into the habit of posting pictures on Facebook, partly because it is technically easier and quicker than posting them here, but mainly because I could control who looked at them, restricting the audience to my 70 or so alleged “Friends” rather than to the seven billion potential readers around the planet.

But I now realise that this is not really a risk at all, since no one reads my blogs anyway, so I have reposted my last couple of Facebook picture stories here, with some added verbiage.

I had been foolishly gratified by an apparent surge in readers of my other blog in recent months, until I drilled down the Sitemeter data to find how they had been referred to it. Around 80 per cent of them had come to it by searching Google Images for pictures, and around 90 per cent of those were looking for the picture of a lingerie model I used to make a point in one of my business columns.

So they are about as interested in my words as I pretended to be in the fascinating articles about cars in Men Only when I was a teenager.

I further noticed that a large majority of those seeking the picture of the lingerie model were doing so from countries in the Middle East. So it has come to this: I am running a blog in the no doubt vain hope of building an audience for my journalism outside the North East of England, and have instead created the nearest thing that Saudi Arabia will permit to Pornhub.

It is a prime example of the law of unintended consequences in operation. Plus a colossal waste of time that makes drawing vapour trail saltires in the sky seem positively Stakhanovite.

Having said that, here she is again, boys.

Because I may as well give a boost to Bloke in the North’s audience, too.

Monday, 7 May 2012

A Bank Holiday in England

As if it wasn’t bad enough being in England on a Bank Holiday, when the weather is inevitably crap, we made the critical mistake of asking The Boy how he would like to spend the afternoon.

“Go to the park and feed the ducks,” he said, regardless of the fact that we don’t live anywhere near a park full stop, never mind a park containing a duck pond.

The irony is that we did, once upon a time, live quite near a duck pond. And we haven’t moved, either. And yet our circumstances have changed completely.

When The Boy was a babe in arms a couple of years ago, one of the incidental pleasures of life was putting him in his buggy and pushing him along the serviceable concrete track to the local gamekeeper’s centre of operations, which comprised some pheasant breeding pens and a fenced pond positively teeming with mallards. The purpose of which became all too clear when we wandered along one day to find the numbers of birds quacking in the water substantially diminished, and pairs of shot corpses hung along the fence.

But at least they had a life of sorts before they were blasted from the sky, rather than being raised in some hideous indoor intensive duck rearing operation. For years I customarily ordered duck in restaurants, under the delusion that they enjoyed a year or two on a nice pond being fattened up with stale bread by caring handlers before they met their fate. They went off my personal menu when someone put me right about that.

Other attractions at the terminus of our walk often included a Larsen trap with a crow bait that we always had to pass off to The Boy as the gamekeeper’s pet. Plus an implausibly large cockerel that was housed, for no obvious reason, in one of the pheasant pens, allowing me to crack ancient jokes about “Lord D********’s huge cock” that mercifully went straight over The Boy’s head.

Before Lord D moved in and the cock-killing Big Freeze: on our way to the duck pond, November 2010

Then Lord D******** moved in next door to us and the gates to the track leading to the duck pond were chained shut. Which was fair enough, I suppose, given that it was never a public right of way in the first place. Though the other evening I did find them standing ajar and took The Dog for a nostalgic stroll. The huge cock was long gone – it succumbed, I think, to the exceptionally harsh winter of 2010/11. What was more surprising was to find not a single duck. I could not work out whether this was because Lord D******** does not like duck shooting very much, or is inordinately fond of it. But at least it ruled out trying to palm The Boy off with a bit of local trespassing in response to his Bank Holiday request.

So we drove getting on for 15 miles to a village duck pond containing really remarkably few ducks (perhaps Lord D******** had recently paid it a visit?), and those few clearly so stuffed with bread that they could scarcely be bothered to paddle their engorged bodies in our direction. In fact, only one bird really showed any interest in us, and that sadly failed to meet The Boy’s feeding criteria.

“Don’t give any more bread to that duck, Mummy. It’s too TOO BIG,” he kept saying, despite my best efforts to teach him the essential facts that (a) it was a swan, and (b) it was therefore likely to break his arm as soon as look at him.

We finally managed to dump our bread on a little clutch of ungrateful ducks, which looked at it with a singular lack of interest until it sank.

Then The Boy and Mrs H had a little go on the adjoining playground while I stood outside with The Dog in case he disgraced himself by crapping on the play equipment.

All in all, a pretty typical English Bank Holiday, then. Thank the Lord we don’t have more of them.

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

The wacky world of Elfin Safety

16st 3lb, 4.6 units. Puffing up Dean Street after a most agreeable lunch with a friend at the excellent Broad Chare pub, I was finally moved to take a snap of what has long struck me as one of the more fantastic flights of Elfin Safety lunacy: the apparently obligatory “What to do if you see a vehicle strike this bridge” notice screwed to the side of the bridge that carries the East Coast Main Line over the valley of the former Lort Burn.

For those unfamiliar with Newcastle upon Tyne, I append the following picture of the Dean Street Railway Arch, originally constructed in 1849 and, I find to my disappointment, only listed as Grade II by English Heritage, the same category as my own humble house. (I have been misinforming visitors for years that the Arch is listed Grade I, but now find that this honour is reserved for Robert Stephenson’s adjoining High Level Bridge, of the same vintage.)

As you can judge from the single decker bus helpfully included in the photograph for scale purposes, it will require a vehicle of some spectacular scale to strike the bridge before it will imperil any passengers on the railway line above. A starship, perhaps.

But, hey, in the wacky world of Elfin Safety you can never be too careful, can you?

Friday, 27 April 2012

It's all in the genes

15st 13lb, 1.8 units. I cannot swim a stroke. I always argue that this will prove very advantageous if I ever fall into the freezing North Sea, as it will ensure that I do not suffer for any length of time before perishing from hypothermia. The fishermen of the Northumberland coast traditionally did not learn to swim for this very reason.

Lucker churchyard contains the gravestone of my great uncle James, who drowned off Bamburgh beach in 1891 at the age of 26, not long after safely completing an expedition to the furthest reaches of Dutch Guiana. The lesson we clearly absorbed was that swimming was a dangerous business. Neither of my parents could swim at all. Nor can my elder brother. But I had the advantage of a private education (albeit mostly kindly paid for by the ratepayers of Northumberland through the old direct grant school system) which included compulsory weekly swimming lessons. I kept those up for at least six years, until I became totally proficient at forging my mother’s signature on the letters excusing me from the classes. And, as I said, I still can’t swim a stroke.

The Sutherland Swimming Baths. I gave £1,000 to the fund to knock them down, not realising that they meant to build a replacement.

But I concede that I might have had more fun in life if I could. In particular, it has been one of the four serious impediments that have always cropped up at social events whenever anyone has suggested that it would be fun if we all stripped off and leapt into a swimming pool.

The first and most critical of the aforementioned impediments is usually the absence of a swimming pool. Though there have been occasions when there were ladies present that I was so keen to see naked that I would happily have gone out and started digging one there and then. But for impediments two and three: my complete inability to swim and the fact that I possess a body best appreciated when it is completely clothed, and ideally (a) from a considerable distance or (b) through a stained glass window.

The fourth impediment is that I am profoundly antisocial, and so have very rarely attended the sort of social event that tends towards skinny-dipping in its latter stages.

However, I am keen for my young sons to learn from my mistakes, and am accordingly determined that they should be (a) comfortable in water, and (b) not excessively overweight. The Boy, now two and three quarter years old, has been going to weekly swimming lessons for as long as I can remember. As a non-swimmer myself, and a horrible sight in trunks, I naturally refuse to accompany him into the water, but I have twice gone along as an observer. When I could wrench my eyes away from the yummy mummies with their darling offspring, he seemed to me to be enjoying himself. (I also noticed that his mother’s feet never seemed to leave the bottom of the pool, so I probably needed to major on the “horrible sight” excuse if ever invited to stand in for her.)

Yesterday Mrs H took him to his swimming class and asked him at the end whether he had enjoyed it.

“Yes,” he replied.

“And what was your favourite bit?”

“Getting out,” he replied, after careful thought.

That’s my boy. As they say, it’s clearly all in the genes.

As for his weight, there is no sign as yet of him carrying a surplus ounce. And, with nearly every meal seeming to consist of a long battle to persuade him to eat anything at all, I cannot envisage it becoming a problem in the near term. But at least we have clear evidence of normal bodily functions in his twice daily calls: “Mummy! Close your eyes, I’ve got a surprise for you! TA-DAAAA!”

This is potty training as a form of variety show, with the emphasis on magic. I wonder whether I could fund a comfortable retirement by selling the TV rights to Simon Cowell?

Friday, 20 April 2012

A fox not holding its Mummy's hand

16st 2lb, 3.9 units. I started writing this blog again in February, with the aim of providing a vivid “real time” account of the scheduled arrival of my second son. But then said arrival, combined with my principal client signing a £1.5 billion management buyout deal the day after he was born, meant that I did not have time to write a single word.

Though I did, at least, manage to scribble a newspaper column setting out the essential facts of his arrival. On Valentine’s Day. As planned. A choice which I can recommend to any lady who hopes for the undivided attention of her hospital’s obstetrics team, because it is certainly not a date on which she is likely to face a lot of competition for an elective Caesarean slot. Given that it opens up a vista of many years in which 14 February will be associated with kiddies’ birthday parties and unseemly rows over the contents of party bags, rather than romantic candlelit dinners à deux. I must say that getting out of ever buying another Valentine’s Day dinner struck me as one of the major advantages of the arrangement. People kept telling me that there was no reason why I shouldn’t still go out for that after the birthday party was over but trust me: at my age I won’t have the energy.

Anyway, Jamie (a.k.a. The Baby) arrived at 10.44 a.m. on 14 February, and I am happy to report that it was an entirely painless experience. Well, apart from the humiliation of having to get togged up in ludicrous surgical “scrubs”.

Though given a straight choice, I would definitely go for that over Mrs H’s role of having her stomach doused in idione and then cut open by a group of bantering medics in what looked like the store room of a DIY shop, only with rather better lighting. I realised that the bloke in charge was a man after my own heart when he cheerily asked her “Any last requests?” when completing the paperwork before the surgery. Though being the bloke in charge he naturally wasn’t actually present during the operation, leaving that to his subordinates. Who, it is only fair to say, made a perfectly decent fist of it apart from the moment when a trainee made such a hash of putting a line into Mrs H’s arm that blood spurted all over the floor, prompting the anaesthetist to suggest that the lad might like to think about heading back home to New Zealand.

My initial reaction to The Baby was that he looked much more like his mother than The Boy does. She thought he looked exactly like me. I only worked out who he really looks like when I got home and started flicking through my iPhoto folder, and spotted that it is almost impossible to tell the difference between The Baby and his elder brother at that stage of his life.

Peas, pod. Son Number One ...

... Son Number Two

Given that The Boy seems to be universally regarded as a very handsome little chap, this can only be regarded as a promising outcome.

Mrs H was back at home in time for her own birthday three days after The Baby’s (what with that, Valentine’s Day and our wedding anniversary, February, despite its relative brevity, is sure to prove disproportionately expensive for the rest of my life). And then settled into a routine of breastfeeding that seems to occupy the bulk of her time. Much to the occasional annoyance of The Boy, who alternates between affectionately cuddling his younger brother and attempting to “squish” him, or “accidentally” knocking over the Moses basket with the baby inside.

A perfect mix of affection and utter terror

A fortnight’s “holiday” in Northumberland over Easter provided an opportunity to bond with my second son, as well as a further excuse for not blogging. The weather was epically awful, as one might expect of Easter in England, but we still managed to get out for a number of walks, with The Baby in a sling. Number One Son demonstrated his impressive development as a barrack room lawyer by repeatedly refusing to hold hands with an adult while walking down the road, stating pedantically “I’m not walking on the road, I’m walking on the grass.”

The Boy hides his face to avoid the paparazzi

Months ago, Mrs H managed to whip him into line by drawing his attention to the crushed remains of a fox by the side of the road, and pointing out that this had happened because the fox hadn’t been holding its Mummy’s hand, and had got squished as a result.

This lesson seemed to be well absorbed at the time. Then the other night a little voice piped up from the back of the car, “Mummy, let’s find a fox that isn’t holding its Mummy’s hand, and then squish it.”

Mrs H pointed out that that wouldn’t be a very nice thing to do, and received the rejoinder, “No, Mummy. It will be fun.”

We are consoling ourselves with the thought that he does not understand the concept of death, yet. Given that he is obsessed with tractors, agricultural machinery and animals, some sort of career in farming seemed to beckon, but now perhaps we should add Master of Foxhounds to the list of possibilities. It does not look exactly like a growth industry, but at his age I wanted to be the driver of a main line steam locomotive or a trolleybus, and I am prepared to bet that MFHs will be around for rather longer than either of those proved to be.

Sunday, 12 February 2012

Painful injections, hurtful comments

15st 12lb, 4.7 units. This morning I delivered Mrs H to hospital for her Date with Destiny on Valentine’s Day. Apparently she needs to be injected with steroids to give The Baby’s lungs a sporting chance once he is out and about. This is because they are not expected to have the benefit of being squeeze-dried by their passage through the birth canal, if that’s what it’s called in polite society these days. The steroids are delivered by injection in the buttocks and I can exclusively report Mrs H’s e-mailed verdict that “it f***ing hurts”, which is actually considerably stronger language than she ever used during the birth of The Boy two and a half years ago. So I think we may deduce that it cannot be an entirely pleasant experience.

It's being so cheerful as keeps her going

It is fair to say that the maternity ward we are honouring with our patronage does not inspire great confidence. As in every NHS hospital I have ever had the misfortune to visit, whether as a visitor or a patient, everyone appears to be frantically busy to the point of overstretch, yet it is never at all clear what they are actually doing. Rare instances of baby-snatching elsewhere have inspired them to lock the door to the ward, and make it accessible only by ringing a bell. The snag, as I remembered from Mrs H’s incarceration there following the birth of The Boy, is that there is never anyone around to hear said bell and respond to it. So you stand there, peering through the glass panel in the door, and every so often a uniformed member of staff wanders past and stares back, but makes no attempt to admit you. The saving grace is the high proportion of patients defiantly addicted to nicotine, so that eventually we were able to sneak in as one let herself out to add to the huge mountain of fag ends outside the building, directly beneath the notice prohibiting smoking anywhere on the hospital site.

We had been told to arrive around 11. Through our own disorganization, we were around 45 minutes late. Which was lucky, because we then had to wait for an hour while they “cleaned” a room in order to admit Mrs H. I have applied inverted commas to “cleaned” because I noted that there was still dried blood on the underside of the lavatory seat, which made me wonder whether anything else had received closer attention. Though, of course, there was a big notice on the door of the bathroom advising that it was STRICTLY FOR PATIENT’S USE ONLY and that ALL visitors must use the facilities elsewhere, so I suppose the cleaner would have been working on the safe assumption that a lady would never need to raise the seat and inspect the underside.

The light in the bathroom did not work, and the cord that was supposed to operate it had been ripped from the ceiling. I pointed this out to a member of staff, who regretted that nothing could be done about it as there were no maintenance staff on site on a Sunday. Nor many doctors, it would seem, to judge by the hours it took to find one to sign the correct prescription for Mrs H’s steroids. To look on the positive side, at least someone did spot that the original prescription supplied for her was completely wrong before the drugs were injected into her.

I read recently that being admitted to hospital on a Sunday increased a patient’s chances of death by 16 per cent. This is beginning to seem like a suspiciously low number.

The Boy accompanied us to hospital and thoughtfully munched a cheese sandwich in the day room while we waited for his mother’s room to become available. Then his grandparents arrived and whisked him away. I had asked him over breakfast whether he would prefer to be looked after by Daddy or Grandma while Mummy was away, trying to sell the Daddy idea by claiming that we could eat nothing but chocolate for four days.

He gave me a withering, sensible look and said, “No, Daddy, I have to eat my dinner first.”

He did not supply the rest of the sentence: “… and I don’t feel that I can really trust you to supply that.”

But then, to be honest, he did not really need to.

Saturday, 11 February 2012

Out and about with a loony dwarf

15st 10lb, zero units. Sometimes my son is the sweetest little boy that anyone could possibly imagine; at other times life with him resembles nothing so much as being in the company of a loony dwarf cloned from Mao Tse-tung or Adolf Hitler.

I am currently beginning to worry that our failure to pay for a Sky TV subscription, partly out of meanness but mainly because of my long-standing dislike of all that Rupert Murdoch stands for, has left him overexposed to the inevitably left-wing hippy standards of the BBC’s CBBC channel. I mean, Waybuloo: what the hell is that all about?

And if we continue to be able to afford to live in middle class rural England, it surely won’t be long before he starts questioning why there is such a marked shortage of the black, disabled and screamingly gay role models of which he sees so much on the telly.

His indoctrination with political correctness struck me forcibly in Sainsbury’s this morning. There was a buy-one-get-one-free offer on Cathedral City Cheddar, so Mrs H naturally tried to stick two of the things in our trolley. But The Boy hurled himself in front of her and announced sternly, “We only need one, Mummy.”

“Yes, but they’re on a special offer and we don’t have to pay for the other one, so it would be silly not to take it.”

“But we only need one, Mummy.”

So you end up in the middle of a busy supermarket trying to explain that we are, in fact, responsible shoppers who would never dream of taking up those pernicious BOGOF offers on fresh food that stands no chance of being consumed before it goes off and ends up being transferred directly from fridge to bin. But on stuff with a reasonably long life like cheese, which we were going to buy anyway, it is actually mad not to take advantage of the offer.

And then Mrs H did her, “Look, what’s that?” trick, pointing down the aisle, and sneaked the second packet into the trolley while he wasn’t looking.

I quite expected to be having this sort of conversation with my child at some point. Just not when he is two and a half. I dread to think what is going to happen when he finally discovers what goes into the sausages that have been his favourite food since he moved onto solids.

I tried to take his photograph eating some in the pub where we went for lunch after Sainsbury’s, but he threw a tantrum, putting his hands in front of his face and weeping “No, no photos now, Daddy!”

I had to sneak this one by pulling the “What’s that?” trick yet again. I wonder how much longer that will work?

As you can see, to say that he wasn't happy about it is something of an understatement.

On second thoughts, maybe he’s a loony dwarf cloned from Hugh Grant rather than Adolf Hitler.

Friday, 10 February 2012

I didn't do anything in my pants

15st 10lb, zero units. Back in 2008 I used to count down the remaining days of my life at the start of each entry in this blog. There were more than 1,200 of them left, then. It was hardly a worry. But if had got it right, I should have died last Saturday.

I thought it was in with a late chance when I developed a mysterious lump on my jaw in early January, which my GP considered worth referring to a consultant who in turn felt that it merited a scan and a biopsy, though clearly it would have needed to be a particularly vicious form of cancer to polish me off in just four weeks. As it was, the lump vanished completely before anyone could even take a sample of it, and I have decided to give up trying to predict when I am going to die. There is enough going on in life at present to keep me occupied.

Cue asteroid falling unexpectedly on head.

The main lesson I need to learn (and I have been working on this for decades, without success) is the importance of constantly reminding myself that we only live once, and not for long, and that it is therefore important to GET ON WITH IT. Like many, I have a nasty tendency to approach life as a whole as I do most individual days: with a stack of things to do, but plenty of time to get through them, so why not have a nice cup of tea and a look at the papers before I get started, then perhaps a glance at Twitter and Facebook and a check on one or two other websites? After which it is always good to go through my various inboxes and send what are supposed to be hilarious replies to my personal correspondents. Then it’s almost time for lunch, so it’s clearly not worth starting work until after that. And in the afternoon – well, I’m a bit tired now and I would undoubtedly get the work done in half the time if I started it when I was nice and fresh in the morning, so why not do a little more of that morning stuff? And maybe write an entry for a long neglected blog?

The net effect of which is that it is time for home and Coronation Street before I know it, with nothing particularly useful accomplished. Which is not how I want to feel when the tap on the window proves to be caused by a bloke in a black hood clumsily wielding a scythe.

But now let us turn to the current mood in the Bloke in the North household, which can best be described as “apprehensive”. Thanks to the entirely characteristic Hann stubbornness displayed by my forthcoming second son, who remains resolutely stuck in the breech position, Mrs H is scheduled to go into hospital on Sunday in preparation for a Caesarean section on Tuesday. Valentine’s Day. The reasons for this slightly bizarre choice of date were covered in my newspaper column on Tuesday, so I shall not repeat them here.

It would be fair to say that Mrs H is not looking forward to this procedure one little bit. But then she listened carefully as the professionals outlined all the various options for separating her and The Baby, and it would be fair to say that she did not fancy any of them in the slightest.

I was fully with her on that.

She asked me whether I would like to be with her in the operating theatre, so that I could hold her hand during the Caesarean. I enquired, in response, whether she would like to be in an operating theatre with me if I were having my appendix out, and we swiftly established that she would not. That summed up pretty much how I felt about being around for her. I have had a horror of operating theatres ever since I had my tonsils clumsily removed in one at the old Throat, Nose and Ear Hospital in Newcastle’s Rye Hill 50-odd years ago. The only half-persuasive counter-argument I have heard is the one advanced by male friends who have sat through both natural childbirth and Caesareans, and confirm that the latter is considerably less likely to put a chap off his breakfast. We shall see.

Meanwhile, The Boy is also showing clear signs of nervousness, despite our best efforts to get him feeling involved and enthused.

“What shall we call the baby, Charlie?”

“De brudder.”

“We think Jamie’s quite a nice name. Shall we call him Jamie?”

“No, I think we call him de brudder.”

Every now and then he picks up a clearly knackered toy car that is fit only for the bin, and generously announces that de brudder can have it.

On Tuesday I drove him into his nursery on my own for the first time, to get him used to the idea since I will inevitably be doing this rather a lot during the weeks that Mrs H is unable to drive as she recuperates from surgery.

When there are three of us in the car he usually keeps up a more or less constant flow of banter, commenting on passing vehicles (with special emphasis on trucks, tractors and Land Rovers) and the animals in the fields, and offering invaluable snippets of driving advice, such as:

“Go very slowly, Daddy. It icy.” (Tick.)

or: “Come on, Mummy. Catch the truck and go past it.” (No tick, as usually uttered on a blind bend, or when there is row of monster lorries approaching in the opposite direction.)

But when there were just the two of us, I was treated to 45 minutes of more or less complete silence, apart from one “Where Mummy?” and a couple of “Not that one”s to less favoured tracks on his Poppy and Sam story CD, which I now know more or less off by heart. (I reckon that Mrs Boot the farmer is having a torrid affair with Ted the halfwitted tractor driver, but have not shared that insight with The Boy. Yet.)

When we finally pulled into the car park he removed his seatbelt, looked me in the face with a very serious expression and announced “I didn’t do anything in my pants.” This is not something he has ever said before. It took me until lunch, which I shared with a couple of colleagues, for its true import to be revealed to me by the man who, before he discovered chartered surveying, was a professional racing driver.

It was, he pointed out, the finest testimonial to my driving skills that I was ever likely to hear, and one that he had himself been longing to hear for more than a decade, but for which he was still waiting.

I suppose I should have expected some such sign of intelligent appreciation from The Boy, whose growing vocabulary remains a daily source of fascination. A few months ago we acquired a cat (hereinafter called The Cat), as an inevitably inadequate replacement for Mrs H’s sadly deceased pair of moggies. She (The Cat, not Mrs H) had been languishing in our usual cattery / kennels for months, while a not very old lady with Alzheimer’s agonised over what to do with her. Or, more likely, kept forgetting that she (the cat, not the old lady, though in this case I suppose it could well be both) existed. She had certainly not been able to remember whether she had fed the bloody thing for quite some time, as a result of which it had ballooned to literally double the weight it ought to be. We have been systematically starving her ever since, under veterinary supervision. Meanwhile, to add to the joy of her life, she is barked at and chased by a Border terrier on a daily basis, and has a small boy periodically hurling himself on top of her and subjecting her to a bear hug. She has not scratched him yet, from which we may conclude that, whatever else one might say against her, and “fat” springs ineluctably to mind, she has at least got a sweetly forgiving nature.

The Boy holds her in high regard. “Melody, you’re amazing,” he announced the other morning, which will make more sense when I tell you that the not-so-old lady with Alzheimer’s named her cat Melody.

He clearly liked the sound of it, for he said it more than once.

Mrs H, in training for having two sons, looked to introduce a bit of balance, and asked him whether Craster (The Dog) was amazing, too.

He thought about it and declared, “Craster amazing – but in a different way.”

Such profundity at a mere two and a half. I do believe we have a genius in the making, or at any rate one whose gnomic pronouncements on the great issues of the day can be published to the delight of the gullible, ideally in return for ready money.