Tuesday 13 July 2010

The mad axeman becomes a reality

In the mid-1980s I lived alone in a totally isolated cottage, a mile up a grass track out on the moors north of Alnwick. Having moved from central London, I felt totally secure there. But people kept calling me brave, and asking what I would do if a mad axeman came to call.

The answer to that is short and almost certainly unprintable, but I never saw it as an issue. Because, as I kept pointing out, there simply weren’t any maniacs lurking in the remoter parts of Northumberland, where potential victims were in such short supply.

I now live in a small hamlet some eight miles from Rothbury. It seems positively metropolitan compared with my previous home, but my wife will not stay there alone overnight because she fears that no one would hear her scream if the local murderer came to call.

My reassuring mantra about there being no lunatics on the loose in Northumberland had little effect, even before there was one. Ironically, I had joked that Raoul Moat would be heading our way when the story of his first attacks broke. I little thought that he would.

Perhaps fortunately, work called us away from the North East just over a week ago, so we watched the unfolding saga on TV with the wonderment we all reserve for totally unexpected events taking place in terribly familiar surroundings. I was glad when it ended, not least for the typically selfish reason that Mrs Hann had decreed that I was not allowed to return home until it did, and I feared for the welfare of my house plants.

I should add that she is not quite as paranoid as I may make her sound. She just knows the sort of luck I usually enjoy.

If I had been home alone, I might have slept a little uneasily, though I doubt whether my terror would have reached the heights of the most uncomfortable night I have spent in Northumberland to date.

It was all the fault of this column. I was single in its early days, and a plaintive appeal on Valentine’s Day provoked a sympathetic response from an attractive young lady who, after a couple of what I suppose we must call “dates”, enticed me back to her remote cottage after a night at the theatre in Newcastle.

She plied me with wine over a late supper, and invited me to stay the night. I foolishly accepted. Only at that point did she mention that she already had a boyfriend, an ex-SAS man who now practised his people skills as a sort of admissions tutor for the nightclubs of the toon. She said he made her feel secure. Which was ironic, because he had precisely the opposite effect on me.

“What are the chances,” I asked, when I had finally recovered the power of speech “Of this boyfriend of yours kicking the door down and finding me here in your bed?”

“Absolutely none at all,” she replied, “You can put your mind at rest on that score. He’s got a key!”

Looking back, I have to say that it was a piece of comic timing to rank alongside the best of Eric Morecambe or Tommy Cooper. But as one whose “fight or flight” reflex is set permanently to “flight”, it kept me wide awake all night listening intently for the sound of his key until I felt confident that I could pass a breathalyser test.

It took me a few days to get over that little adventure, just as the residents of Rothbury will no doubt require time to come back down to peaceful normality. But they will get there in the end, no doubt fortified as I was by the wisdom of experience. Let us hope that the same can be said of our police.

Originally published in The Journal, Newcastle upon Tyne.

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