July 13 2020: radio times

wilfredpickles8

Mooching around Grangetown, one of last week’s blogs – it might even have been the week before – recalled when the long-running radio programme Down Your Way was broadcast from that once-smoggy settlement between Middlesbrough and Redcar.

Former Tow Law Town chairman John Flynn remembers Radio Tees doing something similar in 1998, the wonderful year that the Lawyers reached Wembley, each interviewee invited to choose a record. Jenny, John’s wife, picked Thank You for the Days, which seemed wholly appropriate.

Down Your Way attracted more than 20 million listeners each week, as did Have a Go – remembered by John Maughan in Wolsingham – and Workers’ Playtime. All three programmes toured the land, creating considerable excitement wherever they plugged in.

Have a Go was hosted by Wilfred Pickles, a good Yorkshireman appointed OBE for services to broadcasting, and his wife Mabel – pictured atop the blog. Catchphrases like “What’s on the table Mabel?” and “Give him the money, Barney” became part of the national currency, though the money would never have made anyone rich.

For sharing what the BBC termed “intimate secrets”, listeners earned £1 19s 11d.

John Maughan remembers Have a Go coming to Bishop Auckland town hall. “We all huddled around the radio hoping we might hear someone we knew. I’m afraid we never knew a soul.”

Have a Go aired from 1946-67, Workers’ Playtime – conceived as a wartime morale booster – from1941-64, broadcast three lunchtimes a week from a works canteen “somewhere in Britain.” The venues were originally chosen by the Ministry of Labour.

Accompanied by two pianos, lugged laboriously around the land, Workers’ Playtime gave a stage to everyone from Julie Andrews to Morecambe and Wise, from Ken Dodd to Shirley Bassey. It once came to Shildon though, like John Maughan, I didn’t know anyone. Come to think, I’d not heard of any of the turns, either.

*Memories of Jack Charlton inevitably included the day in March 1974 that the big lad’s Middlesbrough side clinched the old second division title at Lutno Town with six games remaining.

Homeward on the train, players happily mixing with press and fans, Boro player Willie Maddren lifted Evening Gazette stalwart Cliff Michell’s hat, threw it down the train and – inadvertently – out of the window.

The incident was recalled in Willie’s book Extra time and now by blog reader Martin Birtle. Cliff, he reckons, was “inconsolable.” Willie bought him a new one.

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July 12 2020: Jack, no mean feat

The Sunday Times devotes eight tabloid pages to Jack Charlton’s passing, most memorably a splendid photograph of the big man taking a training break at Leeds United, happily puffing on a fag.

Yesterday’s blog talked of Jack’s love of cigarettes, if not of buying them, a theme to which we shall return. We also suggested that Jack could be greatly generous, a view which – despite Rod Liddle’s talk in the Sunday Times of “thrift to the point of obsessive meanness” – Grass Routes readers are happy to support.

Brian Bennison recalls bumping into Jack ten years ago at a leek show in Corbridge, near the World Cup hero’s Tyne Valley home, where he was presenting the prizes. They talked of Middlesbrough’s match at Luton, end of March 1974, at which Boro secured the second division title with six games still to play.

“We were drawing,” Jack recalled. “I told them to play for the draw so we could win the title at home, but the buggers didn’t listen and Millsy scored the winner.”

Brian recalls a lovely, approachable man – “no side whatever.”

Newton Ayciffe FC committee man Paul Trippett remembers Jack speaking at a sportsmen’s dinner for Trimdon Juniors, run by the late and indomitably dedicated Owen Willoughby. “Before he spoke he had a bit crack with a few of us and talked with real warmth about Bobby – ‘our kid’.”

Eddie Roxburgh – “long suffering Boro fan” – also recalls that 1973-74 season. “At last I could enjoy going to work on a Monday morning,” he says.

The last present he bought his brother, says Eddie, was Colin Young’s “authorised biograophy” of the elder Charlton. Jack’s dedication was at the front: “Enjoy reading this book as much as I’ve enjoyed living my life.”

Since he smoked for much of that life, Jack may be supposed to have done pretty well to reach 85. Keeping the tab end alight, the Sunday Times talks to former Leeds striker Mick Jones who recalls that Jack would come into the players’ lounge after a game, pat down his pockets in unavailing search of a packet of 20 and then turn to Jones’s wife, Glenis, in search of a fag.

Glenis would hand him the packet, at which point Jack would head for the bar and not return. “It got to be a habit but eventually she’d had enough,” says Mick. When next Jack tried to cadge a cigarette, she held tightly onto the packet and pushed out one.

*Unconsidered Trifles has now had nine reviews on Amazon, unanimously five starred. “To put it simply, this is a quite marvellous read,” says the latest. “The most wonderful sketches of ordinary and extraordinary characters. A terrific book.”

Some misanthrope will probably spoil the perfect ten, but the support’s much appreciated, nonetheless. As they say in publishing, the autobiography is still available.

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July 11 2020: Big Jack remembered

charltons

I didn’t really know Big Jack, never interviewed him, chatted once or twice and was greatly entertained whenever he pitched up as after-dinner speaker.

The last time was at a Spennymoor Town do in 2008 – Jack lived with dementia for several years thereafter – at which he not only talked football but recalled some of the ones that got away.

“It’s not about catching them, it’s about seeing them,” said Jack, explaining why many of his salmon fishing trips ended with an empty basket.

He was a natural raconteur, helped from the moment he opened his mouth by that authentic Ashington accent, his r’s not so much rolling as turning happy little somersaults. The smile also helped.

Blog reader Don Clarke remembers Jack’s talks, too – “No expletives whatsoever, just a genuine guy. I felt like I was chatting over a pint with him.”

If I’d not much talked to him, however, I knew plenty who’d worked with him and and much enjoyed the acquaintance. Usually, however, the conversation turned to Jack’s imagined tightness.

As with, say, George Courtney – a greatly generous man who almost enjoys the niggard’s name – Jack’s reputation was unjustified, save for the matter of tabs. At one time a heavy smoker, Jack would never have cigarettes of his own – or if he had, was reluctant to let on.

Long-time Northern Echo sports journalist Ray Robertson, who spent much of his working life covering Middlesbrough, never smoked but always had a packet handy for when the manager fancied one. (Whether Ray claimed them on expenses is unknown.)

Alan Keen, a future MP who scouted for the Boro for 18 years, always reckoned that of the seven managers he’d served, Jack was his favourite. “Probably he liked me because I knew the players’ names,” he once told me. Jack sometimes didn’t.

The wonderful image atop the blog – poignantly taken from the month of July in reader John Briggs’s calendar – shows the Charlton brothers on their rapturous return to Ashington after the 1966 World Cup final. They weren’t always so close.

I’d been up to Ashington about 30 years ago when their lovely mum, Cissie, produced an autobiography in partnership with local journalist Vince Gledhill. That Jack was the blue-eyed boy was inescapable.

As Northern League chairman I also got to know Jack’s son John, who’d been manager of Whitley Bay and of Peterlee Newtown but thought little of the Northern League and no more of football administrators as a whole. John hadn’t obviously inherited his dad’s effortless charisma.

John took a pub up Amble way, where Jack in more recent times was an ever-popular visitor.

The guy could charm the birds from the trees, if not the salmon from the river. Canny footballer, too. He will be greatly missed and no less affectionately remembered.

*Tony Duffy, Bishop Auckland FC’s admirable and endlessly energetic secretary, is in Darlington hospital following a pulmonary embolism. At first he was reading Graham Greene, now jettisoned in favour of Unconsidered Trifles. “Loving it, even better than Greene,” says Tony, kindly. Others, of course, have no need to take to their beds before buying a copy.

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July 10 2020: life story

A letter and cheque arrive, asking that a copy of Unconsidered Trifles be sent to an inmate of HM Prison Highpoint, in Suffolk, sentenced to life for the 1982 murder of a police officer near Bishop Auckland. Who said that life doesn’t mean life?

It’s slightly coincidental because yesterday’s blog had cause to mention Fannie Bay Gaol – as they called it – in Australia and, as hoped, we hear from former Crook Town FC secretary Dave Thompson on that subject.

Fannie Bay, says Dave, is a “beautiful” suburb of Darwin. Further coincidence, he’d been there this evening for his Fish Friday tea – “baked barramundi with prawn and garlic sauce and a pint of Little Creatures ale.”

The beer, adds Dave – now a senior prison service official Down Under – is brewed near the site in Fremantle of another “infamous” prison – like Fannie Bay, now a museum – built in the style of Pentonville, in London.

“I kid you not I’ve worked in worse conditions, including HMP Durham at one point,” he adds.

The correspondent who uses the moniker Ronshirt – and whose name I forget – also recalls, as did the blog a few months back, that Chopwell, near Gateshead, had a Fanny Bush Lane. “Some misery from the council changed it to Whittonstall Road.”

This all began with memories of Admiral Lord Nelson – whose wife, Lady Frances, more familiarly answered to Fanny and in whose memory an obelisk stands near the A1 at Swarland, in north Northumberland.

Ronshirt, who once worked for Parcelforce, also recalls dropping things off on David Plumpton, another Grass Routes correspondent, who kept the village shop and post office in Swarland. “His private door when opened revealed a passage covered with Sunderland memorabilia.

“As an Aston Villa fan I always felt there was an unspoken bond of hopelessness between us.”

They may know the feeling at HMP Highpoint, too.

*The blog three days ago noted a Zoopla survey attesting that the UK’s cheapest housing was to be had in Shildon, the cheapest of all in the appropriately named Primitive Street.

David Walsh recalls that in Coxhoe, near Durham there’s a row called Basic Villas – named, apparently, after the “basic” limestone once quarried nearby – while on the outskirts of Guisborough there’s an elderly row of two-up-two-downs called Mount Pleasant.

“For as long as I’ve known the road,” says David, “it’s been cheek-by-jowl with a landfill site and a waste collection yard (which local government speak disguises as a civic amenity.”)

In Cockfield, in the west of Co Durham, there’s even a Bleak Terrace – but though Right Move offers properties in Alpine Terrace, Model Terrace and Prospect Terraces, no Bleak houses are for sale at all.

*Unconsidered Trifles, sub-titled Memories of a jobbing journalist, runs to 390 autobiographical pages and thus constitutes a great many life sentences. Plenty of pictures, too, though.

The softback’s £10 plus £3 20 postage, the hardback £22 plus £3 80 postage. It’s available via Amazon, by Paypal or bank transfer – details from mikeamos81@aol.com – or by sending a cheque to me at 8 Oakfields, Middleton Tyas, Richmond, North Yorkshire DL10 6SD.

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July 9 2020: full Nelson

nelsonsblood

How on earth did we come to be aboard with Admiral Lord Nelson? Oh aye, Dean Street. The voyage continues and will tie up, improbably, alongside the A1 in north Northumberland. There’s a five-letter word, and a grog allowance, too.

Dean Street is both historic home to Shildon FC and a thoroughfare in Soho, London, where – apropos of little – blog reader Geoff Thornton recalls one of those old fashioned vinyl record shops at No 55.

That’s where, many years ago, he found his Scottish father-in-law’s birthday present, an Al Bowlly LP. (Before my time, honest.)

Nelson, at any rate, is said to have stayed in Dean Street on the night before sailing for Trafalgar and to have eyed up one or two coffins for size.

Killed in action, as he feared, he was laid in a temporary coffin filled with brandy to help preserve him on the long voyage home,  though David Plumpton exhumes the story that sailors drilled a hole in the cask and supped the stuff, brandy thereafter known as Nelson’s Blood.

Former Tow Law Town FC chairman John Flynn, our naval correspondent, doubts the legend – “his body had a Marine guard day and night” – and the Royal Maritime Museum’s not convinced, either.

John sings with the Silver Shantymen, for whom Nelson’s Blood remains a familiar part of the repertoire. nonetheless.

HM Matelots used to be sustained by a daily rum allowance, of course, but that bounty ended on July 31 1970 in the belief that it might – how shall we say – impair judgement. They called it Black Tot Day.

Anyway, back to David Plumpton, who lives in Swarland, south of Alnwick, where before retirement he kept the village shop and where, formerly alongside the old A1 and now 100 yards from the newish route, stands a huge obelisk in Nelson’s memory.

Lest anyone wondered, that’s what tops today’s blog.

It was the work of Alexander Davison (1750-1829) who had estates around Swarland and is reckoned to have been Nelson’s friend, confidante and prize agent and who after the Battle of the Nile in 1794 spent over £2,000 of his own money on medals for all concerned.

What’s less well remembered is that in 1804 Davison spent a year in the cooler after trying to bribe voters in one of England’s rotten boroughs and that five years later he got 21 months in Newgate for another fraud.

Davison is also said to have acted as intermediary, though with questionable success, when Nelson was dallying between his wife, Lady Frances – known as Fanny – and the comely Emma Hamilton.

Swarland  remains sufficiently proud of the connection to have a number of roads with Nelsonian connections. When the parish council sought suggestions for others, David Plumpton’s proposal for Fanny Close was inexplicably discounted. “Spoil sports,” he says.

Apparently there’s a Fanny Bay prison in Australia, though whether that owes anything to poor Lady Frances only former Crook Town secretary and Frankland Prison head lad David Thompson, now doing penal servitude in those parts, may know.

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July 8 2020: home cheap home

Here’s the intro (with thanks to West Allotment Celtic secretary Ted Ilderton) from a story on today’s Newcastle Chronicle website: “It may be the Land of the Prince Bishops, but you don’t have to be royalty to afford a house in County Durham.”

It’s about a Zoopla survey which reveals that the cheapest place in Britain in which to buy a house – set against the average salary thereabouts – is, wait for it, Shildon.

In Shildon, it says, the average house price is just 2.11 times the average annual wage. Ferryhill’s third nationally (2.47), Peterlee fourth (2.5) and Stanley tenth (2.8).

It’s coincidental, no more, that recent blogs have been banging on about the joys of Dean Street – Shidon FC’s long-time home – though, unsurprisingly, there’s nothing for sale in Dean Street (or Dean Gardens or Dean Close, either.) You don’t leave Paradise any more than you should pave it.

Perhaps more unexpectedly, there are also no bargains to be had on Cheapside.

This afternoon, at any rate, I took myself back home. The window of Martin Bage, the local estate agent ,offered several properites under £40,000, sometimes with perhaps euphemistic advice like “in need of modernisation” or “investment opportunity” or “FTB.”

A little reflection concluded that FTB had nothing to do with Newcastle United – that’s FTM – but stood for first-time buyer.

For some the most desirable property may part of the former Aged Miners’ Homes, where a foundation stone was laid by A H Doggart, founder of the Co Durham shop chain which long bore the family name and the man behind the once-ubiquitous Doggarts’ club.

Tales still abound from the Amateur Cup glory days of the 1950s of Bishop and Crook folk taking out a Doggarts’ club and then selling it at a nominal loss, in order to afford the train fare to Wembley.

The 17 shops are also remembered for their little green vans and pneumatic change dispensers. Doggart’s son, Graham, became FA chairman and died during the 1963 annual meeting; his grandson Hubert opened the batting for England.

The Aged Miners’ Homes are on the crest of Eldon Bank. Shildon fans, when they get a bit excitable, are given to singing “We all live at the top of Eldon Bank” to the tune of Yellow Submarine.

The four-bedroom bunaglow in question is on offer at £395,000. So far no one seems to have put his money where his mouth is.

These days the best way to assess the local property market is probably through the Right Move website which lists some very attractive housing in Shildon (one described as “sensational”) but a lot under £50,000.

Others are on a newish development where the roads are named after locomotive engineers like Stephenson, Peppercorn, Ivatt and Sterling.  It’s to be hoped that the developers could spell better than the estate agents. Sterling is pounds, shillings and pence – they mean Patrick Stirling.

The cheapest house on the site will be auctioned with a guide price of £22,500. It’s in Primitive Street, which seems quite appropriate, really.

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July 7 2020: Ways to an end

Down Your Way was a radio programme which aired from 1946-92, attracting ten million listeners in the 1950s and still the BBC’s second most popular radio show 20 years later.

Probably that’s why the Beeb decided permanently to switch it off, though the subsequent outcry brought a reprieve.

Regular presenters included Richard Dimbleby, Franklin Engelman and dear old Brian Johnston, before in 1987 it was decided to have guest presenters – usually on home turf – Anita Roddick from Littlehampton, Jimmy Hill from Hickstead, Simon Weston from Pinderfields Hospital in Wakefield where doubtless the poor chap had already spent much more time than he would have wished.

Then there was Wally K Daly.  Daly, whose death we noted last week, was a playwright born and raised in Grangetown, one of those once-teeming places between Middlesbrough and Redcar which grew up under great clouds of ferrous smoke.

All that prompted blog reader Brian Bennison’s “vague recollection” that Daly had presented Down Your Way from Grangetown – “some of it from then-demolished street corners”. So he did.

It was 1990, though the BBC website says that the recording’s unavailable. “My heart sank,” says Brian.

Grangetown has also had two Northern League teams, Grangetown Athletic in the early years of the 20th century and Grangetown St Mary’s from 1919-21 but then excommunicated because their Bolckow Terrace ground had “a peculiar uneven surface and poor facilities.”

The 14-team league in 1919-20 also embraced Auckland St Helen’s and West Hartlepool St Joseph’s but it was the Bishops who, customarily, came out on top. Scarborough, perhaps knackered by the time they reached anywhere else, were bottom.

Latter day, there are still saints who toil below.

*First time in four months, a pub lunch with our kidder. Meticulously following government guidelines, the Welly in Wolviston – near Billingham – has more staff than customers.

Conversation turns to Horatio Nelson’s coffin, mentioned in yesterday’s blog because Nelson is said to have inspected a few while staying in Dean Street – the London version – the night before sailing to Trafalgar.

Dave reckons it a wasted effort. Though Nelson did indeed fall at Trafalgar, he’s buried beneath St Paul’s Cathedral in a rather magnificent black marble sarcophagus intended for Cardinal Wolsey until, not for the first time, Wolsey fell from good king Henry’s grace. The poor chap rests in an unmarked grave at Leicester Abbey, instead.

The sarcophagus then lay around for nearly 300 years before someone was deemed worthy to occupy it.

*All this talk of Dean Street, long time home of Shildon FC, prompts Tow Law Town secretary Steve Moralee to note that there’s another Ironworks Road in Georgetown, Kentucky, “about 16km long and leading to the Kentucky Horse Park.”

Sadly that’s not the home of the Kentucky Derby. That’s in Louiseville, apparently.

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July 6 2020: pearls and Dean Street

Yesterday’s blog had two themes, the first the big news that the 2019-20 FA Vase and Trophy finals will probably be played at Wembley after all and the second a whimsical wander along Dean Street, the name of Shildon FC’s ground pretty much since time began.

The reverie was in turn sparked by Dean Street Doll, an also ran in yesterday’s 4 35 at Sandown.

The first and arguably weightier theme stirred not a breath of reader reaction, the second was much different. There’s even a Dean Street in Soho, which might be England’s second most famous, though it would never have had a chip shop as good as Lodge’s used to be nor staged am indelible Vase semi-final, either.

Unlike its London namesake, Shildon’s Dean Street never had – or needed – a pox hospital, for that matter.

Before proceeding, however, it’s necessary – as perhaps they did at the pox hospital – to admit an embarrassing mistake. Though Dean Street is undoubtedly the name of the ground, and the location of the entrance behind the goal, Pete Sixsmith points out that the opposite end is East View Terrace – not Brown Street, which is the side where the new stand sits. Garbutt Street is thus pushed further west.

Chris Kipling offers a possible etymology for Garbutt Street, links to a teetotal butcher, but none has yet suggested who Dean might have been.

David Walsh sends a link to the Wikipedia entry on Dean Street – the Soho home – which in turn links to the page on the former Dean Street subway station in Brooklyn.  Like so many subway stations, it was about 100ft in the air.

Among the reasons it closed, apparently, was that so many fare-dodging New Yorkers would jump the turnstiles, something which would never be possible at Shildon where the indefatigable Susan Clarkson so faithfully guards the gate.

Horatio Nelson stayed in Dean Street the night before setting sail for the Battle of Trafalgar, it’s said, spending the early part of the evening at a nearby undertaker’s to see what sort of a coffin he might like. It was to prove time well spent.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart gave a recital at No 21, Charles Dickens was a regular visitor, Charles de Gaulle established the unofficial headquarters of the French resistance there – now a pub called the French House – and sundry members of the Marx family lived on Dean Street, too, along with their fellow traveller Mr Engels.

Dean Street, Shildon, was home to Mr Peacock, the coalman, and to Joe Coates who had a game for Darlington Reserves.

David Walsh further reckons that Karl Marx was a martyr to his carbuncles, though it’s not recorded on Wiki, and that if he’d bothered to visit Shildon he might have learned more about the poor on whose behalf he professed to write.

A twinning arrangement may be called for, but – however well-heeled – Dean Street W1 will always by the poor relation.

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July 5 2020: is Wembley back on?

The Sunday Times, quite often on the money, carries a bold paragraph unequivocally headed “Non-league finals get Wembley date.” The FA wants to complete both the Trophy and Vase competitions, it says.

If true, it would potentially be great news for Consett and Hebburn Town,  – both Vase semi-finalists – and, of course, raise the possibility of a second all-Northern League final. But is it?

Let’s just say it’s a bit premature, that no decision has been reached, but that there may be an announcement later this week. The FA needs to consider how to play the semi-finals – Grass Routes understands that they’ll be one-legged, on a neutral ground – whether spectators can be admitted and what registration protocols will apply. Not least given the financial squeeze, it would be great if they can pull it off.

The blog sought comment from officials of both ENL clubs. Both calls went to voicemail, on which a message was left. Neither call was returned. That’s not great at all.

*It’s appropriate that this afternoon’s 4 35 at Sandown Park is the Coral Racing Super Series Fillies’ Handicap because Dean Street Doll, on whom my treasured fiver rides, runs like a lass.

Save on dominoes, in which victory is assured, I’m not a betting man. It’s the first for years.

Dean Street, it should be explained, is the name – and, indeed, the location – of Shildon’s ground. No Albert’s Artisan Artichokes Arena or Super Sausage Sandwich Stadium here. Shildon is forever Dean Street.

It’s the elder bairn, familiar with the dear old place since infancy and still loyal, who spots Dean Street Doll’s presence in a seven-horse field. If the crittur has form, it has form like Mad Frankie Fraser had form, and thus something best forgotten.

Dean Street’s where the entrance is, where the turnstiles are. Had they been behind the other goal it would have been Brown Street, along one side and it would have been Garbutt Street. None knows who Dean, Brown or Garbutt might have been, remembered in bricks and mortar and then forgotten again.

Nor is it wholly safe to assume that Dean Street Doll, for all its similarity to the Store horse, has a Shildon pedigree.

Though the London A=-Z surprisingly lists just two Dean Streets in the capital – one near St Paul’s – there are eight in the Manchester edition. The Tyneside and Wearside A-Z offers two, near Newcastle Quayside and in Low Fell, while the Teesside A-Z locates another, in Stockton.

Dean Street Doll starts at 8-1, finishes fourth. The lad loses a fiver, too. For all the memories the place has given us over the years, it doesn’t matter a jot.

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July 4 2020: a walk to the pub

The world’s first steam-hauled passenger railway service left from outside the Masons Arms in Shidon at 10am on Tuesday September 27 1825, hauling about 500 people, 12 coal wagons and another carrying flour. It wasn’t built for comfort.

Headed by George Stephenson’s Locomotion No 1, preceded along the track by a slightly nervous looking chap on horseback and carrying a red flag, the old iron horse sometimes reached 12mph. Never mind scaring the horses, some of those in the coal trucks were getting a bit worried, too.

It’s outside the former Masons Arms that about 15 of us gather at 10am today for a gentle four-miler following the route of the Stockton and Darlington Railway as far as Heighington.

Already the focus is on the bicentenary, a global event of great magnitude; already there’s gentle jostling over which of Shildon, Stockton or Darlington should be considered first among equals.

Silly, really, everyone knows it’s Shildon.

The Masons, closed for several years, has had several other names and was once what officially they called a fun pub. A more wrist-slashingly miserable place could scarcely be imagined.

Very soon it’ll re-open as Cairo to the Cape, Shildon’s – Co Durham’s? – first African restaurant. Someone suggests that the name’s reminiscent of Cecil Rhodes, though that gentleman should probably not be mentioned in polite blogs for fear of the iconoclasts.

The owner kindly lays on coffee. He’s from Newcastle, his wife from West Africa. She’s out the back making Great British bacon butties.

The walk’s led by John Raw, secretary of a heritage group called Brusselton is Great, or BIG for short. Brusselton, a mile west, is a hamlet which still boasts S&D nameplates on a couple of its houses. Though there’s not a picking on him, John’s Mr BIG.

Some of the walkers wear sufficient PPE to suggest a hard shift in the intensive care unit, others have scarves across their mouths like kids playing cowboys and injuns. Others simply keep their social distance.

It’s not what you’d suppose a quick march. One chap, indeed, suggests it may be the only four-mile walk in history for which it’s necsssary to book into a B&B half way.

Others are anxious to share their knowledge of the S&D, whether the sleepers were two-holers or four-holers and the quarried limestone magnesium or carboniferous. None mentions that the trackside between Shildon and Newton Aycliffe is home to the dingy skipper, one of Britain’s endangered butterflies, nor that it was great for brambling.

Someone does say that Shildon’s marshalling yard was reputedly the world’s biggest,  until the Yanks outdid them in Chicago.

The weather, if not exactly blowing in from the Serengeti, is a great deal more clement than the chap on last night’s television had imagined.

Heighington’s reached in two-and-a-half hours. Itself called the Locomotion, the pub next to the station is long abandoned. Instead we head homeward, the forecourt of the Shoulder of Mutton offering the first pint of real ale – just about the first pint – for almost four months.

If it may not yet be said that all’s right with the world, for a blessed hour it once again feels like it.

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