MORAG WAS LOOKING OUT FOR ME when I arrived. “There’s a gentleman waiting to see you,“ she said, “I think he’s the estate agent.“
Indeed he was. I turned through the outer double gate and into the private courtyard which houses several lovely old dwellings as well as the homely shared garden to see Andrew Aitchison striding towards me, hand outstretched. He had already refused a kind offer of coffee from the ladies in their garden; so did I, with gratitude but with no surprise that the offers had been made.
That was what made this possibly final visit to my late brother’s former home so sad: Low Greens in Berwick upon Tweed is that sort of friendly, old fashioned suburb where everyone knows everyone and behaves toward friend and neighbour alike in a way that says they care. Here Richard had spent the last, and possibly the happiest, ten years of his adult life coping with the difficulties surrounding a late-in-life diagnosis of autism.
Indeed, a bench inscribed in his memory now stands in the garden of his favourite pub, The Pilot, just a few doors down from his former home.
I showed Andrew around the three-storey mid-terrace as he made brief notes: the views of the rooftops down to the sea from Richard’s top floor bedroom; the monster television and assorted computer equipment in his middle floor lounge; the brand new kitchen he had not lived long enough to use, its installation completed after he had moved into the hospital where he died.
Locking the door and handing Andrew the keys was difficult. The house had never belonged to Richard: we bought it as his refuge from the difficulties autism had caused after our mother died leaving him to collapse into a chronic inability to cope with his life alone. Now he, too, is gone and the time has come to sell.
Sadly, that means saying farewell to Morag and Jean and Janet and ‘the other Richard’ who were his neighbours and who showed him such care and concern.
After a final kind offer of coffee we departed, me giving thanks for my late brother’s fine friends and Andrew secure in the knowledge that he wasn’t merely selling a handsome property but was offering some lucky purchaser admission to a cosy club of good neighbours.
Crisis? What crisis?
WHEN YOU READ in the Daily Torygraph that “an insider at the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) has declared that there is no pumpkin shortage” one thing is for sure: come Halloween there won’t be a single spooky, candle-lit orange head to be seen on a gatepost for miles.
Similarly, when our Glorious Leader insists that he is “not worried” by Brexit’s forced ejection of our European workforce causing petrol pumps to run dry and risking a mass pig cull and food shortages this Christmas, I ask myself:
Was it worth all this misery for a blue-bloody- passport ?
Enough with the argument that, if worst comes to worst, there will be plenty of pork joints to replace roast turkey on the Christmas table: under British law a cull involves either shooting the pigs on the farm or taking them to an abattoir and disposing of them in a skip, to be either rendered or sent for incineration.
Whichever happens, these animals WON’T go into the food chain.
It isn’t just petrol at the pumps and food on supermarket shelves that has run short in GB (Great Brexit). We clapped ourselves silly every Thursday evening for months to honour largely immigrant medical staffs who battled the coronavirus pandemic, before throwing them out on their ear; perhaps we should now start giving a weekly doorstep ovation to the HGV drivers of Europe on whom we depend, apparently, to distribute everything from petrol to pumpkins and from pigs to Christmas turkeys.
Amazing that they must now be begged and bribed to come to the aid of a nation which cast them out just a year or so ago and will do so again when the shelves are filled and the petrol is flowing.
Aren’t you embarrassed, you pro-Brexit Brits? I know I am!
Glad to know, sad to see go. . .
Life is all funerals these days. It’s more to do with my age than any raging pandemic, of course, but any week with a cremation in it is sure to increase my gloom quotient.
Not so with the most recent ‘fiery farewells’: my brother-in-law, Colin Miller, began his journey into the unknown to the toe-tapping strains of Everybody Hurts by REM and, after wonderfully uplifting and realistic eulogies from two of his four step-daughters (inherited and cared for from two different marriages) this loving, caring stepfather-twice-over was wheeled away to the strains of Stevie Winwood’s Higher Love. He’d have loved that: Colin was always the go-to pop and rock authority on any pub quiz team.
I was equally uplifted by my Berwick friend Jean Watts’ self-planned departure, choreographed and ‘compèred’ by husband Peter.
Jean, great hostess/cook and Liberal intellectual that she was, chose to exit to the stirring Ode to Joy from Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, a passage known better to anti-Brexiteers like her and me as the European anthem.
Jean and Peter looked back with fondness on the years they spent living in France which left them both determined pro-Europeans and instilled in Jean exceptional cooking skills.
So, two exceptional people. I will miss them as much as Jean missed a United Europe and Colin his pint at the Turf and Feather.
Contract or con-trick, LNER?
When is a contract not a contract? When you make it by buying a ticket and reserving a seat from Berwick to London with LNER, apparently.
My wife travelled last Sunday morning (perhaps unwisely, given Railtrack’s insistence on using that day of rest to rip up the rails in every corner of the land) and was only slightly dismayed to be told that the first leg of her journey would be made on an LNER bus service. No matter, she thought: a seat on a bus is the same as a seat on the train.
NOT SO! On arriving at Newcastle she sprinted through the concourse to see the train containing her reserved seat locking its doors and refusing to let the ticketholders from Berwick onto the service. Watched by its exasperated would-be travellers, away it sped. . .
WHY was the train not held for five minutes to allow its legitimately-booked passengers to transfer from one mode of LNER transport to another?
WHY had there been no contact between platform and bus driver to warn of a minor delay?
WHY was the driver not able to even inform his passengers of the platform number to save anxious scanning of the information boards, thus causing extra delay?
As ever, LNER blithely waved away protests and ‘advised’ passengers to hop aboard the next London-bound train with a warning that it would be rather crowded and that seat reservations could not be honoured.
Had I been the disgruntled traveller I would, at this point, have taken a wrecking ball to the stationmaster’s office. Mrs Banks, being the kindly, understanding creature that she is, merely gritted her teeth and accepted her fate.
She eventually arrived late in London, having found a seat for most of the three-and-a-half-hour journey without any proper apology from LNER, much less compensation or an invitation to a first-class upgrade the next time she travels.
Totally agree with you about LNER’s lack of real customer focus; rail replacements for a whole series of weekends and ridiculously expensive rail replacement bus fares any journey north of Newcastle; PLUS their temporarily aborted plans to emasculate services from Berwick and now attempts to reduce opening hours at the station travel centre to a miniscule level. LNER management seem hell bent on deterring potential customers while the actual station staff go out of their way to be helpful – perhaps they should be running the service?
You say : “Life is all funerals these days….”
Well, yes. But at the other end of the scale a lot of grandchildren are brightening our days … and we only have to hang a bit longer for some great grandkids. I hope.
Don’t YOU lose hope, David. It’s been a long and action-packed story. With many an adventure still to unfold. Just keep the missus OFF those blinking trains.
Sorry for the sad loss of your brother, Banksy. Can’t for the love of me understand your commitment to the EU. No trade unionist could possibly support workers coming here for Scab wages and suppressing our own workers wages. Takes all sorts I suppose.
Thanks for the condolences, Jim. On the subject of EU, a couple of things: first, I hate the idea of being a Little Englander without any sort of say in what one of the world’s big political blocs decides for us; secondly, isn’t your Brexit-loving government planning to issue ‘scab’ visas to get done the dirty work low-paid Brits can’t/won’t do? — BANKSY