For several years I wrote a column for The Journal, Newcastle, based on retirement from Big City journalism to my current rural idyll in ‘Godzone’, far north Northumberland. When the column disappeared, I realised how much I missed writing it, even if they didn’t miss reading it. So, it’s back. . .
Friday February 7, 2020
WHAT IS IT ABOUT DISABLED lavatories that we stick walkers, frame pushers and wheelchair charioteers are made to jump through hoops when we want a pee?
Okay, so it was my mistake popping a water tablet instead of a painkiller when we left our hotel outside Warrington this morning. “Anyone can make a mistake,” I wailed to ‘Er Outdoors as I clenched my knees down the M6 and prayed for Lancaster Services to appear.
At last: salvation! But when we did eventually roar up the slip road and into the car park my troubles had only just begun there was a disabled loo all right, conveniently sited next to the disabled parking bays. But there was no easy way in.
While my brain was telling my bladder to ‘get on with it’ the sign on the lavatory door was instructing me to go get a key from WH Smith’s, where the counter assistant had to shut up shop to accompany me to the toilet.
The same thing might have happened 50 miles later at Southwaite Services near Carlisle (by this time I had, of necessity, developed a Two-Services-Gap bladder) but, ironically, the able-bodied gents loo is passed before one ever reaches the keyholder’s shop and my call of Nature – by then a blood-curdling scream – demanded that I forego the pleasure of queuing for admission to that palace of disabled delights.
But why is this tortured embarrassment visited upon disabled motorway users? Do the owners fear a toilet takeover by a family of illegal in-continentals?
Or should the WHS stationary chain consider changing its name to WC Smith?
Saturday February 8
STELLA ENJOYS PLAYING dinner party games: Monopoly, Scrabble, Cluedo. . . that sort of thing. Her husband Brian, the ukulele player, is not quite so keen but while wine is all that I have contributed to Diane’s dinner party, Stella has brought a hefty boxed version of Articulate. So the tipsy consensus is that we should play the game.
My friend Nigel, ironically the only guest avoiding alcohol, unwittingly turns Stella’s well-meant entertainment to a shambles. The aim of the game between two teams – boys versus girls in our case – is to guess the word on the card against the clock from a definition created by teammates who take turns to ask and answer.
“What follows ‘chrysalis’?” asks the ukulele player.
“Boxing Day!” roars my deaf and daft pal Nigel. While the uke player and I howl with laughter and fall about the egg-timer runs out on us. Null points! Meanwhile our sober, serious-minded female rivals set about scooping up multiple points and an unassailable lead.
It might not have been unassailable had Nigel not developed a taste for amusement. . .
“What are red or grey and love nuts and climbing trees,” I ask when it’s my turn to be quizmaster.
“Smarties!” roars the suddenly un-funny funnyman.
“You idiot!” I hiss, unsportingly and unforgivingly. “They’re SQUIRRELS!” A row breaks out. The time runs out. Null points again! As a result, we lose.
Not for nothing is he called Nigel. . .
Wednesday, February 12
I LOVE THE GUY, really I do. And I’m certain Mrs Banks would willingly offer the Tory-turned-Independent politician Rory Stewart a bed at our house any night of the week. But his latest campaign caper is surely a political stunt too far.
“Sorry I was late today” tweeted journalist Bethany Dawson to her workmates (and every other Twitter user in the world!) “but Rory Stewart was hogging my bathroom.”
“So sorry,” responded Rory in a later tweet. “I thought you were still sleeping.”
Goodness knows what his wife makes of it all. Don’t worry, I’m not coming over all tabloid, outing the recently deposed MP for Penrith and The Borders’ all-nighter with Ms Dawson. After all, he’s made no secret of the fact that he’s been sleeping around all over London recently.
It’s one of Stewart’s off-the-wall campaign ploys in his bid to become mayor of London. On Twitter he labels it #ComeKipWithMe, asking Londoners “to invite me into their homes and show me the city through their eyes. I want to know your concerns and your ideas”. He promises to bring a sleeping bag and (presumably, ‘all because the lady loves Milk Tray’) some chocolates. And it seems to work, if you don’t mind being ‘outed’ the following morning by your host.
It isn’t as though he doesn’t have form for this sort of thing: remember his walking tour the length and breadth of England which hallmarked his unsuccessful campaign to win the Conservative Party leadership? Now that was novel: begging a bed for the night is a blag too far. And if the Twitterati are anything to go by it makes a serious politician into a laughingstock.
“Don’t forget to count the towels,” wrote one, following Bethany’s online apology. “Did he leave the toilet seat up?” asked another. And they were the friendly comments.
Last word from a mutual friend, former Sunderland South MP Chris Mullin, who took one look at Rory’s #ComeKipWithMe launch on Twitter and commented: “Oh Rory, please stop. This is beyond parody.”
Thursday, February 13
I WAS BORN 72 YEARS AGO TODAY. Only family, close friends and a few million multi-platform readers of The Guardian knew that. Until today; now you do, too.
But about The Guardian: it would be self-serving mush to say I was not pleased, even flattered, to see my birthday – “David Banks, former editor Daily Mirror, 72” – recorded alongside those of Robbie Williams (46), Liam Brady (64), Kim Novak (87), Hugh Dennis (58) and several others. On the other hand, it is moderately embarrassing to be yoked to such lustrous company for long-forgotten work I performed not terribly well 25 years ago.
The same goes for Who’s Who?: each year my name appears, alphabetically pleasingly placed towards the front of the book; each year, some months after publication, I am emailed for updates and corrections which I have long since become too embarrassed to append. Death, apparently, is the sole means of escape. And then only for inclusion in a volume titled Who Was Who? which I have an uneasy feeling should read ‘Who Was WHOM?’ But I don’t argue, particularly about the passing years.
As the Irish comedian Dave Allen once famously said: “I don’t mind getting old, particularly when you consider the alternative.”