Tuesday 12 October 2010

Alwinton helps me to live in the past

April may be the cruellest month, but I still reckon that October holds it to a photo finish.

Mists, mellow fruitfulness and wood smoke may be all right for some, but for me the rapid shortening of the days invariably sets off a small avalanche of seasonal depression.

It has taken me the best part of half a century to work out that the early signs of this are that I stop living in the present. I may look like a sad, grey-haired bloke sitting ineffectually at a desk in 2010, but in my head I am a short-trousered schoolboy swaying down Benton Road on the smoke-filled top deck of a trolleybus, or an aspiring young PR man enjoying some of the admittedly infrequent personal and professional triumphs of the 1980s.

Nothing about Alwinton Show on Saturday was calculated to shock me into the present, and the rich fug of cigarette smoke that greeted me as I walked into the beer tent almost induced a Proustian return to the Tyneside pubs I began frequenting in about 1970. To this day, one of my proudest moments came as I was slinking out of a favourite Jesmond boozer with a crowd of other youngsters who had just been expelled for rowdiness, when the landlady suddenly called “Not you, Keith! You’re a regular.” I was 16 at the time.

This was the first time I have ever been to Alwinton Show and recognised absolutely no-one, though at least that favour was returned several thousand times over. And I suppose it was an improvement on last year in that no-one congratulated me on my handsome grandson, then laughed when I pointed out that he was actually my son.

I took with me a couple of Australian friends who were devoting less than 24 hours to seeing Northumberland, en route between the ruined abbeys of North Yorkshire and Berlin (don’t ask). It was either Alnwick Castle or Alwinton. Luckily they adored it as it helped to widen their already substantial knowledge of sheep breeds, though they weren’t really with a guide who could help with such tricky questions as “What’s a gimmer?” I only really felt on sure ground when we reached Class 44: black sheep.

They were also greatly impressed by the prize-winning ginger cake and dressed sticks, though concerned that, in many classes, one person seemed to have scooped nearly every prize. They took this as a sure sign that shows like this must be on the way out. Who of the younger generation is going to bother making their own jam or chutney when they can order it online and have it delivered?

I set a very poor example, having long intended to grow my own fruit and vegetables, stock up my freezer and fill my cupboards with preserves and pickles, and always proving far too lazy to do any such thing. It is probably too late to start now, but perhaps I could train the boy Charlie to be more use than his father (which is, after all, a pretty low bar to clear).

He certainly looked interested as he was tottering around the display tents on Saturday. For a short while I found myself living in the future as I day-dreamt about his early entries to the children’s classes, but the seasonal mists soon came rolling back. I am currently watching steam engines shunting rows of coal wagons at Little Benton sidings while I wait for an Edinburgh-bound express to come puffing up the bank.

Only such reminiscences seem to offer me any comfort this October, so it is lucky that my long-term memory has not yet vanished down the gurgler that has claimed my ability to remember what I am supposed to be doing today. Oh yes, writing a column for The Journal. Now what could that be about?

Originally published in The Journal, Newcastle upon Tyne.

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