Tuesday 7 May 2013

My prayer for a summer as glorious as the Northumberland scenery

Legend has it that the mandrake plant screams if it is uprooted. I know just how it feels.

I descend from a long line of non-travellers. The only complication in researching my family history is an occasional, regrettable tendency for ancestors to sneak across the Scottish border, so that the relevant records end up in Edinburgh instead of London.

My father only left the country once, in 1944, at the absolute insistence of His Majesty the King. My more adventurous mother waited until widowhood and old age to try her one and only day trip to France, from which she returned with the fascinating discovery that “they eat frozen peas, just like us.”

As a boy, I was desperate to see the world and had a particular passion for old buildings. My father assured me that there were no finer castles than those of Northumberland, and that I had the greatest cathedral in the world just down the road in Durham.

I thought he was making excuses for his own laziness and lack of experience. Sadly he died before I realised that he had been bang right all along.

Now I find myself advancing similar arguments about the delights of Northumberland to my own family. After four years of marriage and workaday residence in Cheshire, “home” for me remains my bachelor house in the North East and I enticed my wife and sons over for the bank holiday weekend on the Met Office’s promise of stunning weather.

Typically, the strongest sunshine beat down upon the car on the way across.

I was reminded that two years ago we spent a whole August fortnight here watching the rain tip down, while a two-year-old agitated to go to the beach and build sandcastles.

True, it was reasonably pleasant, if breezy, on Sunday at the Milfield Festival of Heavy Horse, which failed to live up to my cynical expectations by actually featuring several horses.

Though my tractor-mad elder boy was a mite disappointed when the commentator’s magnificent build-up to a parade of vintage machines was followed by the sheepish confession that it would not be taking place after all, because the tractor drivers were in the beer tent.

Where I had no need to join them because we had just been treated to a truly magnificent lunch in the adjacent Red Lion by Fleet Street legend David Banks, author of the unmissable J2 Friday column.

I naturally hoped to meet at least some of the huge cast of fascinating characters with which Banksy populates his column, but sadly they all proved to be otherwise engaged. Even Mrs Banks had suddenly felt an urgent call to go for a long walk in the Cheviots, which would have been more understandable if she had ever met me.

By the time Banksy exclaimed “You’ve just missed the Byreman!” as we took our leave at the horsefest, I was beginning to experience distinct echoes of my father’s favourite James Stewart film, Harvey. With the obvious difference that Harvey the invisible white rabbit actually existed.

My family are on their way back to the North West as I write, while I am going to try and prune a large holly tree, with potentially fatal results. As I do, I shall pray not to fall off the ladder and that once, just once, my family will return to Northumberland on a perfect sunny day when it is not blowing a hooley, and say, “You and your dad were absolutely right, this really is the most wonderful place on Earth.” 

The late Michael Winner told a story of a man who prayed each eek for a big lottery win. Eventually the voice of God boomed: “Help me out here, Hymie. Buy a ticket!”

Lord, I have invested in a lovely house, so please help me out by sending us a summer in England this year. Otherwise I am going to have to succumb to a ghastly fortnight on some foreign shore and sell the home I love because keeping it is economic lunacy that would make even Gordon Brown blush.

Meanwhile, I really must explore the possibility of adopting a second name by deed poll. Mandrake has a ring to it.

Originally published in The Journal, Newcastle upon Tyne.

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