Ignore the bickering between Boris and Starmer and listen instead to my pub landlord!

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I BADE A SAD FAREWELL (hopefully temporary) to the lads at the Red Lion last week as Gemma and I took shelter once more behind my NHS ‘shield’. According to the scientific data, the north-east is a hotbed of COVID-19 cases and must be treated accordingly under the Prime Minister’s controversial three-tier system.

But is it? The all-encompassing term ‘Northumbria Healthcare Trust’ covers the whole of Northumberland and North Tyneside, an area of 500,000 people only a fraction of whom live anywhere near the Red Lion in the far north of the county.

This week Northumbria reported 53 new cases and six deaths across a network that covers the major hospitals at Wansbeck, Cramlington and North Tyneside as well as community hospitals and infirmaries in Alnwick, Berwick, Blyth, Haltwhistle, Hexham and Rothbury. In addition, numerous medical centres across the county come within its remit.

Most of those victims will, like me, be rather unfit over-70s with underlying chronic health problems. But it is ‘Northumberland’ that is tagged as a hotspot – a county SIXTH biggest in England by area but FORTY-THIRD biggest in terms of population. See what I’m saying?

Up here among the straw bales and sheep pens in Godzone we are not, in truth, the same county as our neighbours to the more densely populated south. Anecdotally (for no precise figures are readily available for the county council ward in which I and my pals live) we far-northerners are behaving sensibly, keeping ourselves shielded or self-isolated and resisting the temptation to mix freely. So why are we lumped in with the university-and-night-life city of Newcastle and the major hospitals north of Tyne?

The Red Lion powers on against unbelievable odds. Landlord Iain Burn is cooking up a storm of midweek takeaways (latest menu and contact details HERE) and fish suppers on a Fry-day but a dozen people dining will pretty well occupy his entire gastro-pub with little opportunity for ‘second sittings’ and no spare room for local sit-down drinkers.

“I just wish we knew where we stand,” he told me when I called to order our regular weekly meals. “As things are we can’t get enough custom to cover heating, lighting and staff costs.

“If I have a dozen people staying in our rooms and chalets wanting evening meals it can fill the pub, use all the dining tables. It means I can’t do a second sitting or find room for my regular drinkers.

“I’d rather the government made the tough decision to impose a short, sharp lockdown which would at least mean some compensation for us and our staff.”

More local input into the way areas are either locked down or loosened from the grip of regulations which suppress business in a tourism and agriculture economy. It isn’t a question of ‘wanting to get on the lash’ down at the local – I will maintain my safe and sensible distance while the risk ppl for me remains great.

But a miserable winter beckons without the comforts of friends in our homes and the fellas at the local.

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