Tuesday 23 March 2010

The mouse and the Hitler moustache

In a week full of surprises, the mouse running out of the restaurant kitchen was only narrowly trumped by the chauffeur sporting an Adolf Hitler-style toothbrush moustache.

He claimed to have done it for a bet – the chauffeur, that is, not the mouse. And, when I told my wife how much he stood to make if he kept ignoring the jibes of angry passers-by until Christmas, she vowed to grow one herself. Now all we need is someone to wager that she cannot do it. I would step up to the plate myself, but that would rather defeat the object of enriching us as a family.

My first surprise came before all that on Monday, when we arrived in north Norfolk for a few days of rest and recuperation. I have long been fond of the area, since in my years working in London something about its remoteness and emptiness evoked memories of my beloved Northumberland.

Now, however, Sleepy Hollow has become the Klondike. The excellent Crown Hotel in Wells-next-the-Sea had commissioned a large extension to its restaurant since I last passed by, and on an out-of-season weekday I anticipated no need to book. But the place was busier than I had ever seen it, with many of the tables occupied by parties of middle-aged males. Had it become the unlikely setting for a greybeard gay encounter group?

Discreet enquiries soon established that this was not the case. The men were pioneers constructing the massive Sheringham Shoal offshore wind farm, to service which a dredger was industriously creating new berths in the quiet harbour. A local property owner told me that all concerned in the project were so awash with cash that they were happily paying double the going rate to rent his house.

I pointed out that this was because they were being drenched in public subsidies to create this ludicrous “saving the planet” PR stunt, an analysis with which he readily agreed. “But it’s like getting a tax rebate,” he said. “You know they’re only giving you some of your own money back, but it’s still nice.”

My own happiest surprise came on Saturday morning, when I surfaced from my Norfolk sickbed after 24 hellish hours sharing it with a winter vomiting bug, and my nine-month-old son nodded at me and distinctly said “Dadda”: his first intelligible utterance. Admittedly he has been rehearsing the sound to himself in his cot for weeks now, but hitherto all invitations to repeat it at an appropriate moment had been greeted with his all-purpose response “Guck”.

The mouse incident occurred during a brief visit to London on Tuesday, when I had lingered over lunch for long enough to be prepared to dismiss it as a Burgundy-induced hallucination, until another rodent appeared by our table to give us a close inspection. The management dismissed it humorously; we were in a very old building, right by the river, so what else did we expect?

Very fair points, though I could not help thinking that if we had been in a commercial establishment rather than the dining room of the House of Lords, Elfin Safety officials from Westminster City Council would have had it closed down and sealed with “scene of crime” tape before you could say “men in tights”. Still, as we know through every story from the smoking ban to the expenses scandal, different rules apply in the Palace of Westminster.

I was just glad that Mrs Hann was not with me, as she would undoubtedly have leapt onto her chair and screamed in the style made famous by the maid in the Tom and Jerry cartoons. In the unlikely event that I am ever invited back after this, I must remember to try to take her so that I can report whether the experience sets her new moustache bristling.

Originally published in The Journal, Newcastle upon Tyne.

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