THIS IS THE HOME of the world’s most unlikely conspiracy theories, but what the hell? Everyone loves a good conspiracy theory, don’t they? And without conspiracy theories all we’re left with is wall-to-wall Harry and Meghan, and you wouldn’t want that, now would you?
Actually, today’s offering is more algorithmic cock-up than conspiracy, but it still beats royal tittle-tattle and, as it only affects the good people of north Northumberland, Oprah Winfrey wouldn’t touch it with a bargepole.
Reading about my recent COVID vaccination, a young friend (‘young’ to me is anyone under 60) moaned that she had recently applied for a vaccination only to be offered ‘the possibility’ of an appointment at a clinic in Brighton, a 400-mile journey by public transport that she feared presaged only infection and subsequent death.
I thought little of it until I saw a letter in one of the posh papers from a reader in Northumberland whose experience was exactly the same. Then, when a friend of a friend came up with the same story the wheels began to turn. . .
Have you ever booked a train from Berwick to London online? The site will offer a choice of TWO Berwicks, one of them ‘-on-Tweed’ and the other ‘Berwick (Sussex)’. The site then employs a computer algorithm to decide the location of your nearest vaccination clinic with vacant slots, and if you have simply typed in ‘Berwick’. . .
See where I’m going with this? Berwick-on-Tweed might be 400 miles from Brighton but Berwick in east Sussex is only 17 miles away, practically around the corner!
But not a word to Oprah! If she hears I have a story with a Sussex connection she’ll have me on her sofa quick-smart!
Picking you way
through the litter
OUR FORD PARISH BOASTS THREE of the loveliest little villages in Northumberland: Etal, with its whitewashed cottages, ruined castle and the only thatched pub in the county; Ford, created by the wealthy Victorian philanthropist Louisa Anne, Marchioness of Waterford, whose Lady Waterford Hall is an Arts and Crafts treasure trove; and Crookham, with its Peace Garden and welcoming village hall.
From this last village three pairs of volunteers agreed to combine walking pleasures with a practical pursuit: picking up litter. The first duo, my wife Gemma and her friend Mary Lockie armed themselves with bin bags and long-handled litter grabbers and sallied forth on the comparatively short circular walk between Crookham and Ford (Mary is walking 11,000 steps per day throughout March to raise money for Prostate Cancer UK, if you’d like to donate) and what they discovered on their ramble horrified them.
“We filled four big bags with rubbish and STILL had to return to pick up items that were too big to fit in the bags,” said Gemma. Top of the heap were plastic crisp packets, soft drink bottles and cans, McDonalds wrappers – though the nearest outlet is 14 miles away!), cigarette packets and empty wine bottles.
Horrifying to think that visitors (surely not locals?) would despoil such a beautiful area; and frightening to think that we’re still months short of the summer tourist season.
LETTER OF THE WEEK [from The Times]
Sir, Further to your article about Lord Coe and his voice problem [identified by a retired GP who heard him on Radio 4], it is often the unknown stranger who provides that prompt to better health. Booked to meet a cruise ship excursion of elderly US citizens, I took them on a tour, organised lunch and conducted a walk to the Greenwich Observatory. As they left, one of the party put a handwritten note in my pocket with instructions to show it to my doctor: it proved to be a diagnosis by “a long-retired cardiac surgeon” who had spotted my flushed cheeks and breathlessness. Surgery soon followed.
London tourist guide