We’re back at last in our beloved North Northumberland, after an absence of some three months: the longest, I think, we’ve ever been away from it. A family wedding conspired to keep us away at Christmas, and other things, both joyous and sad, afterwards.
I’m writing this on or around the 20th anniversary of finding our cottage. It’s a larger now, more comfortable – and warmer, now we’ve refilled the oil tank which had run dry, leaving us distinctly chilly on arrival. Above all, though, it’s just wonderful to be back.
Back to the future: Boulmer 1989
We “discovered” Northumberland in 1989, our first holiday taken with our very young family without the support of relatives. We chose, blindly, a holiday let in Boulmer, then fairly down at heel, and very different from the prosperous and chic seaside destination it is now. Nonetheless, we fell in love with the county’s glorious, irresistible castles and beaches, returning every summer until we could no longer bear the annual parting and bought our own place in 2000.
Last Monday, finding ourselves in Alnwick to collect a parcel from the sorting office, we decided to revisit Boulmer. We remembered its Fishing Boat Inn as sad and almost deserted. No longer! Even on a Monday lunchtime it was bright, busy and welcoming. As we paid for a modest sandwich and a pint, I commented breezily that we’d last visited 31 years ago.
The landlord’s reply came quick as a flash: “Ah, well, it’s the returning business that gets us through the lean winter months”.
Northumbrians: they’re something else. In his superb book, The Northumbrians, which I’m in the middle of reading, Dan Jackson seeks to identify the truth behind the many contradictory opinions of Northumbrians/Geordies (I’ll lump them together, because he does). Are they “stark, unforgiving, masculine and wild” (quoting George RR Martin’s Game of Thrones view of his imaginary North)? Or “kindly, roguish, tough but not nasty, bluff but warm” (Henry Mess, 1928)? And why? I hope Jackson will reveal all.
Still in Northumberland, I understand Wylam Brewery has made the top hundred breweries in the world, coming 44th. Richly deserved. What I remember of my retirement party there in 2017 was magnificent!
Surgeons on the fiddle
Here’s an old musicians’ joke.
Patient: “Will I be able to play the piano after the operation, Doc?”
Patient: “Oh good: ‘cos I couldn’t before.”
Wednesday’s Times reported a violinist asked to play her instrument while surgeons removed a brain tumour under local anaesthetic: this to allow them to check they weren’t damaging the fine motor skills essential to her playing. This isn’t the first time such tricks have been employed. A singer was asked to sing during an operation (opera-tion?) around his vocal chords, a guitarist to play… And so on.
I suggested to Mrs Trafford that, during back surgery a couple of years ago, I might have been asked to play the trumpet. She declined to comment beyond suggesting that everyone was already in enough pain.
We creative types live with such negative reactions. Our friends in Godzone swear that the best Burns Night supper we enjoyed was the one when I’d lost my voice, so couldn’t add my usual selection from the Ploughman Poet’s songs to the festivities.
Still, people were pleasant about the Scots-themed wedding anthem I wrote for our younger daughter’s wedding at the end of December. It was a church wedding, but bride and groom announced that they didn’t want “too much God” in the anthem, while insisting on the inclusion of their favourite places on the West Coast of Scotland.
Unsurprisingly, no suitable text existed, so I had to write that, too. How do you weave an appropriate religious/nuptial message in with such names as Knoydart, Eaval and Beinn Eighe (let alone pronounce them correctly)?
Here’s a clue: when spoken properly, Bealach na Bà, that famous pass linking Loch Kishorn with Applecross, rhymes with the word Hallelujah and shares the same rhythm.
Bet you’d never spotted that.