BANKSY’S WEEK: (un)Happy Valentine, G’bye grandad, The Byreman’s amuse-bouche, saving lives with water

My (un)Happy Valentine. . . and only four weeks married!
The author, in happier days

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, Valentine’s Day, 2020

IF ONLY MUM HAD HELD HER WATERS for another six hours I’d have been born a romantic, svelte, handsome young feller instead of the unlovely barrel of lard that presents itself in my shaving mirror each morning.

No cards, of course. ’Er In-Love and I gave up all that old malarkey almost the instant we were married, and here’s why: my birthday being February 13 I received a discouragingly poor scattering of greetings in the post and then, the morning after, a single envelope obviously bearing a card popped through the letter box.

“Huh!” I grumped, ever the ingrate. “You would think whoever this is from would at least have got it here on the right day,” I grumbled, slicing open the envelope with my eggy knife. “And look! They haven’t even signed it! ‘All my love xx’ indeed! And totally anonymous!”

It was at that point that she left the breakfast table to begin “packing a few things to take to mother’s” as I pleaded with her – and not for the only time – not to be hasty.

It was, of course, Valentine’s morn; not only had I failed to send flowers, chocolates and a card to my bride of four weeks but I had even rubbished the love token she had sent. Oh woe!

After 45 years things are a little better between us now, (although the first 42 were a bit touch-and-go).

And the unspoken rule Chez Banks is. . . No Valentines!

Sunday, February 16

It is always good to know when something one has written has had some good effect, whether chasing BT over broadband delays (success story!) or hounding our MP over county councillor who claims to represent north Northumberland while living in the Isle of Man (failure so far!).

Today an email from my friend and neighbour Annette bearing news of the success of a memorial service I publicised [CLICK HERE for the original tale] brought with it a wee glow of satisfaction.

“What an incredible day it was,” Ulster woman Annette wrote of the service of remembrance on Redcar seafront for her grandfather and other victims of a tragic ship sinking off the east coast. [CLICK HERE for the full story] “Amazing weather, so many people and then the unexpected and very  moving gift of the ship’s lifebuoy. 

“We were also given a cap band found on a nearby beach a week after the sinking; as it belonged to an officer there is a one-in-three chance it belonged to my grandfather [second officer]. I will treasure it always. The two men who had kept them for the last 50 years said they had always hoped for a chance to return them to the families. 

“Thank you for setting the ball rolling. Never in my wildest dreams could I have expected such a result. It was such an honour to shake the hands of the brave men of the RNLI who tried to help that night, and it was moving to see how upset they still are by the incident. I am sure my late mum and my granda would be pleased that the memorial took place.”

 Truth is, I did little beyond publicising the event but it worked and made many people happy; what more could one ask?

Wednesday, February 19

THE FRIDAY CLUB IS A GATHERING of aged golfers at Goswick Golf Club, most of whom have in common their handicap. . . golf.

Actually, they spend a lot of time conversing and carousing over excellent food in their wonderful club bar, the Nineteenth. So much so that prising them out of their chairs and into their golfing togs and buggies on a wintry day is nigh impossible.

So today, albeit a Wednesday, a dozen or so Clubbers led by the redoubtable JJ – great racegoer and cricketing legend of years gone by – abandoned all thought of golf and held an inaugural midweek lunch at my stamping ground, the Red Lion in Milfield.

Although no golfer, I was invited along by the bibulous old Byreman, who often takes me to Goswick to pay for his drinks, and I in turn invited my neighbour The Undertaker, without whom I rarely travel any great distance these days. One must be eternally prepared.

Food and drink were as good as always although when the chef’s amuse-bouche of whitebait arrived at our table The Byreman let us down by declaring that he saw ‘nothing funny about eating a plate of deep-fried sticklebacks’.

Thursday, February 20

THROUGH MY LETTERBOX COMES A THANK-YOU addressed to all who attended a charity coffee morning I helped organise last weekend. 

Our  small village hall collected £310 for Water Aid, a charity which aims through the provision of standpipes, wells and communal toilets to rid the developing world of deadly diseases brought by dirty water.

The money we raised, we are told, could provide six accessible toilets in Bangladesh or  go two-thirds of the way to digging a well and pump serving 120 people in Malawi.

In other words, great good can come from a cup of coffee and a slice of cake with friends. 


  1. The best of luck in trying to get anything out of our MP, or local councillor. Don’t let the frustration get to you, though.


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