Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Proclaiming Independence

Rain instead of snow this winter? I know which I would prefer: at least you can move snow with a shovel and stay in your sitting room without wellies on. For those poor folks in the south, my heart goes out to you. But can we really blame global warming for all this watery mess? So-called experts say we can, and they should know, shouldn’t they? Although, apparently, the Ozone is only one theory among many, with others putting the blame on local planners, builders, government, otters or the Russians. One rather twisted MP for the UK Independence Party even blamed the flooding on gay marriages! But in Scotland, of course, there is only ever one direction to point the finger of fault – directly at the English. Today I got a whole newspaper through our Scottish letterbox telling me to vote ‘Yes’. In it Mr Salmon and Mrs Sturgeon (Scotland’s fishy ministers) promise me the earth in return for a cross in their box, come September. According to this rag, I will get tax bonuses, better schooling & housing and infinitely better weather without the Sassenachs in charge of Scotland’s well-being. All of this I dismiss as blatant lies until, on page ten I note that The Proclaimers are inviting me to share their ‘yes vote’. Well, that instantly swung it for me. If an Independent Scotland means I will have to listen to those two monotone morons droning on, I am off down the A1 faster than Richard Hammond on-fire!
Actually, we will be off down the A1 again quite soon, back to the land of milk and honey that is South West France.  Except, even that haven hasn’t managed to escape the rain this time, with local towns flooded and our sheep paddling about up to their bellies. Hopefully it will have dried up a bit by the time the lambs start dropping and the grass will be up to our knees once more.
Talking of Hammond, it was quite nice to see BBC Top Gear’s Three Stooges in Worcestershire last month, tearing up Shelsley Walsh, even if it was in a shamelessly irresponsible way. Preceding that we got the weekly drivel that is Countryfile in the home district too, depicting the ‘northern blonde-bird’ irritatingly twittering away in Wyre Forest! The things you see without a gun! I did enjoy seeing Witley Court on our national screens though and am sure the publicity will do it no harm. It reminded me of a tale that my grand-father once told me. Seemingly Herbert (Piggy) Smith had a number of outstanding invoices for chickens he had been purchasing from HS Frazier. By this time, Smith was short of money and instead of paying up, invited Grandpa to dinner. In his best tweeds, he was met at the door by a butler and shown into a massive dining room with a table as large as a football pitch. Old Harry was seated at one end while Piggy Smith was at the other, so far away he was even out of shouting range. While he ate his bangers and mash in silence (served on a silver salver), he was convinced that at the far end of the table, Smith was eating something far more sumptuous.  He left that evening, still with his debt unpaid, and a few days later, the whole place mysteriously burned to the ground, leaving Smith a rather handsome insurance payout. Father remembers, as a child, being bundled into the back of the car that night and driven to Great Witley so they could watch the flames. The things they did before television!
This month has been one of travelling for us, firstly to the snowy alps for some apr├Ęs-ski, then Stirling for the annual bull sales for some beefy business. Following that, I found myself in Makem Country and I was pleasantly surprised what lovely beaches Sunderland has - well, apart from the evening storm throwing waves at me over the seawall. On a sunny morning, I took the dogs for a long walk along Whitburn cliffs which, incidentally, the sea seems to be eroding at an alarming rate. If I possessed one of those spectacular sea-facing houses (which I suspect are all owned by football players), I think I would have it on the market before it slips silently down into the depths by the end of the decade. Anyway, I am used to walking the dogs along the coastal path in Scotland and generally I say hello, and even pass away a few minutes of idle conversation, with total strangers that I meet on the way. So I was quite surprised, and even upset, that whenever I so much as nodded to people along the Wear coast, not even one returned my acknowledgement, let alone a greeting or a smile. Is this typical of folks from the North East, or was I not addressing them correctly? All I said was ‘Howay, man, marra, let's gan doon the pub for some beltas scran?’
Then, just last weekend, we found ourselves invited to a weekend at that home of decadent opulence, Gleneagles Hotel. Oh my, how the other half live. The bedroom was bigger than our own apartment, and the bathroom could have housed and hosed the entire Scottish rugby team (except we are not mentioning that sore point, bless them). Also included in our overnight stay was full use of the spectacular spa facilities. Having glimpsed at the brochure, I determined that they were situated not too far from our room so instead of heading there fully clothed, I donned the fluffy white dressing gown provided, and padded down in my bare feet.  What I had failed to ascertain was that, in order to reach said pool complex, the route went directly through a dining room and then a shopping arcade! With every barefoot step, while wealthy visitors giggled at me from behind their hands, my face grew redder and near exploded when I bumped into one of my customers. Not just any customer either, by Lady Double-Barrelled Title from one of Scotland’s largest stately castles, whom I had recently interviewed for my latest book. Despite my best attempts at hiding my face, I am pretty sure she recognised me, even without my clothes on! On the way back, in a desperate effort not to meet more rich and famous clients, I took a detour through the kitchens and back corridors, now dripping with saline, and got hopelessly lost. After twenty minutes, I eventually found a lift which took me from the basement back to my room, only to find that my key-card no longer worked and I was locked out. Honestly, you couldn’t make this stuff up. So here I now was, sitting outside my room, wearing just a dressing gown, for twenty minutes until a smug porter arrived with a new key and frown as wide as the Forth Estuary. To cap it off, I inevitably bumped into Lady DBT at breakfast who raised her eyebrow at me before admitting, ‘I thought that was you in bare feet outside Prada!’ If you listen carefully, I am sure you can still hear them laughing! Oh, the shame. Thankfully I can never afford to go back again.
Finally, I would like to wish you a belated welcome to the Chinese Year of the Horse! How ironic that Tesco had one of those just last year?