Gone but not forgiven: Morebottle has shut up New Year shop and scuttled off to Spain

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Chest heaving, still sneezing: a portrait of the artist as a grumpy old patient

NEW YEAR WASN’T THE SAME THIS YEAR. I took to my bed on Auld Year’s Night and didn’t take my seat at the fireside until the Undertaker  dropped round with a bottle to first-foot us. . . and that was at teatime on January 2nd!

Even so, there was the usual nervy misunderstanding that occurs whenever the neighbour in black top hat and tails turns up at the door.

“I heard you were poorly so I brought my wee measure round,” he said with a thin smile.

“N-n-no,” I stammered. “I’m not  that bad!” Production of a reassuring bottle and NOT a tape measure meant a momentary difficulty was overcome, allowing a relaxed consumption of the bottle’s contents. But I have noticed he’s been keeping an eye on me ever since I started coughing. I hardly dare fall asleep.

It has been that kind of a year already. My illness? Nothing that this lad, born west of the Pennines where the constant damp air and smoke-laden, lung-blasting smogs gave rise to the cotton spinning industry (cotton thread didn’t break in the damp, y’see) and the resulting bad chest every Christmas since the desperate winter of ‘48 has been cheerfully endured as a badge of pride. It is like having ‘Made in Warrington, Bronchitis Capital of Britain’ stamped on your forehead.

No; the great gloom descended on the Godzone since first The Byreman skedaddled to Australia and then Farmer Morebottle announced to a crowded pub: “No New Year’s Day open house at my place this year, lads. I’m whisking Wonderwoman off to Alicante for the holiday!”

You could have heard a jaw drop; no open house at Campie Farm meant no barrel of Black Sheep, no constant hot-and-cold running tapas buffet cooked and catered by the man himself. Gloom descended.

But if we boozing buddies were disappointed, spare a thought for the family. . .

“What!” you exclaim. MORE Morebottles?”

Certainly there are: his mum, the Dowager Lady Morebottle, is a regular attendee as are the sisters who never miss – I mix up their names but content myself by using the nicknames he bestowed: ‘Skinny Sis’ and ‘Thirsty Sis’ – one of whom (Thirsty, I think) sent me a rather sad email which read:

“We missed seeing you today at Morebottle’s formerly annual – and now defunct! – New Year’s Day gathering. What does Alicante have that Campie doesn’t, eh? (No need to answer that!).” Actually, one of our mates has a cute suggestion.

“Alicante on New Year’s Day,” tut-tutted a disbelieving Johnny Odd Job. “Mark my words, well be needing our best suits soon.”

SAD REPORTS REACH ME of further problems besetting the refurbished, reopened Black Bull at Etal. The new tenants at the wonderful old pub, the only thatched tavern in Northumberland, have handed back the tenancy to Ford&Etal Estate.

The estate manager, Guy Sampson of Savills, is therefore seeking new tenants and a new strategy with the (no doubt costly) assistance of a pub and hotels consultant.

Meanwhile, the pub struggles on with a skeleton bar staff, no kitchen and reduced winter opening (which included a sign announcing the pub would close at midnight on New Year’s Eve, presumably calling “Last Orders” as the countdown to 2019 started and “Everybody Out!” during Auld Lang’s Syne).

Thank the Lord I was ill.

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