September 27 2020: Fairy story

Obscure even by Grass Routes standards, yesterday’s blog groped its way around the problem of steamed-up spectacles when wearing those pesky masks.

It’s what football folk used to call restricted vision, but in those days – especially at Wembley – it meant sitting behind a damn great stanchion.

Cloud trouble had occurred at Esh Winning v Heaton Stannington on Saturday, at once prompting an apologetic email from Neil McKay – a friend for 40 years – who’d also been at the match. “I just didn’t see you – or much else,” he says.

Others attempt enlightenment, both John Maughan and Alex Metcalfe recommending a gentle application of washing up liquid to the lens – hence today’s header – with a dry tissue.

John, in Wolsingham, had experienced similar problems in church – “I couldn’t see the service book; it works wonders” – while Alex, Darlington Cricket Club’s bespectacled No 6 bat, had even more urgent need of a solution.

“From bitter experience,” he adds, “there’s the danger of a nasty sting if it’s applied too liberally, or not rubbed in properly.”

Bob Rogers, grandson of Northern League founder Charles Samuel Craven, lives in Hong Kong where masks were familiar long before the virus. Similarly, he recommends “a little detergent” applied to the lens.

Playing misty, I also contacted Jean Foster, who with her husband Geoff was my Willington-based optician before retiring to the Scottish borders. Jean has the same trouble in shops, supposes it must be a “nightmare” at football.

“We used to have some excellent stuff that came in a solid stick, like a lipstick, but that was donkeys’ years ago and I haven’t seen it for ages. The sprays you can get are fairly useless in my experience.”

From her researches, however, Jean recommends shaving gel – the foam should work just as well, she supposes. “Just smear it over both surfaces of the lens and wipe it off with a tissue. I don’t know how long the effect lasts, but it’s worth a try.”

The plan’s to take in Newton Aycliffe v Billingham Town on Tuesday evening, but first with an application of Gillette Fusion Proglide (no less) to the essential eyewear.

Foam at last, a further report in a couple of days.

*Mention of Darlington Cricket Club prompts a further salute to dear old Jonny Barnes, described by Wisden as a “parsimonious dobber” and mentioned a couple of times recently hereabouts.

The truncated North Yorkshire and South Durham League season at last over, Jonny finds himself top of the league bowling averages – by no means for the first time – with the remarkable stats of 153.5 overs, 75 maidens, 216 runs and 43 wickets with an astonishing average of 5.02.

Mr Barnes is 50. He doesn’t wear glasses, though.

*Jean Foster, bless her, is also mentioned on page 25 of Unconsidered Trifles. During one eye test, she’d made the immortal observation that I was “colour blind as well.”

“As well as what, Jean?”

“As well as everything else,” she said.

It was a real bolt from the green.

Number of books sold (and paid for) 1,090

Number of books yet to see their way out of the garage 1,110

September 26 2020: head of steam

There’s a piece in today’s paper about Arriva bus drivers claiming they’re at increased risk from the virus, finger pointed not at passengers – very considerate of them – but management.

Mind, there are drivers who even in more normal times radiate the impression that they might catch something nasty from everyone with the temerity to board their bus, and there’s one today on the X1.

This guy cuts corners like a Mafia enforcer, mounts kerbs with the promiscuous zeal of a rabid tomcat. On top of that, the bus bangs and rattles like the proverbial outhouse door in a gale. How’s a chap supposed to sleep, for heaven’s sake?

The plan’s to walk the three miles along the autumn-wooded old mineral railway from Stanley Hill Top to Waterhouses, there to watch the Ebac Northern League second division game between Esh Winning and Heaton Stannington and to experience the tighter, yet more confusing, Covid regulations.

Others are headed to what is thought to be the last Wearside League match at Richmond Town’s Earls Orchard ground, voted England’s most scenic, but take away those magnificent castle ruins and Esh Winning’s bonnier by far.

I’m there by five past three and soon discover a real problem – though face coverings are now compulsory, windscreen wipers on spectacles have yet to be invented. Talk about play misty….

When the mask’s worn, the glasses immediately and comprehensively fog over. Truth to tell, an arthritic 0-6-0 tank engine humping querulous coal wagons up and down the old line out the back may never have generated as much steam as this.

Many are similarly caught short-sighted. How do myopic surgeons manage, or bespectacled bandits in cowboy films?

Closely – very closely – inspected, signs around the ground advise that face coverings are now a legal requirement “unless medically exempt.” Might being as blind as a bat be considered a medical exemption, or are the rules, guidance, advice and protocols now as impenetrable as the view over the Derwent valley?

The suggestion around the ground is that sticking a tissue inside the mask may help. Benevolent readers may have other ideas.

Not Hawk Eye at the best of times, I see nothing at all of the hosts’ opening goal shortly after arrival but, through a glass darkly, catch something of Channon North’s neatly worked second.

It’s 2-0 at half-time, travelling Tynesiders insisting that they’ve seen more than enough and a further problem at the canteen counter. It’s inside the clubhouse, vision in turn so restricted that I come within an inch of squirting hand sanitizer on me hot dog.

Heaton Stan have a much better second half. It’s possible they win 4-2, though best check, and a huge relief to unmask and head back down the line in time for the six o’clock bus. There’s much more that could be said, of course, but that’s the condensed version, anyway.

September 25 2020: Peter Hampton dies

Written indelibly in the folklore of the former King James I Grammar School in Bishop Auckland, more ephemerally in the muck on the side of Don Revie’s motor, is the story of the day that Don Revie signed Peter Hampton.

The blog alluded to the four-lettered fable on both February 24 and July 19 this year, returns to it because Peter has died suddenly while on a family holiday in Cyprus. He was 66.

Courted by Leeds United among many others, the young left back was so highly rated that it was Revie himself who called upon school headmaster Denis Weatherley in an attempt to persuade him that the lad’s future lay at Elland Road.

While they talked, a wretched Grammar School boy – Master Peter Sixsmith, legend squarely has it, aided and abetted by Master Colin Hurworth – crept beneath the head’s window to write SAFC in the grime on the side of the Leeds manager’s red Jag (though some say it was a Ford Zephyr.)

Worse yet, the “S” stood not for Shildon but for Sunderland.

Persuasion succeeded. Peter Hampton spent eight years at Leeds, made 68 Football League appearances and was on the bench for the 1975 European Cup final before a £275,000 move to Stoke City, his 138 appearances there followed by spells at Burnley, Rochdale and Carlisle United.

He managed Workington before spending 11 years as Carlisle’s physio and running a practice in the city. United chairman Andrew Jenkins talks on the club website of Peter’s”real dedication” to his work.

“He was trusted completely by every manager he worked with. His knowledge helped many an injured player to recover quickly.”

*Don Revie already knew his way to Bishop Grammar School. A few years earlier he’d also turned up – that may have been the Zephyr, the Jag came later – to sign Colin Smith, another young full back. It didn’t work out as well.

“The trouble was that the likes of Reaney, Madeley and Yorath were all ahead of me,” Colin once told me.

Freed at 19, the closest he came to first team action was when, in the days of just one sub, he was 13th man in the squad which faced Burnley. Leeds, unbeaten in 15, were three down after 20 minutes – much to the chagrin of the notoriously superstitious Revie who, unlucky for some, blamed the 13.

“That was me,” said Colin. “I was goosed.”

He became a teacher, played Northern League football for the likes of Shildon, Bishop Auckland and West Auckland, made a few appearances for Darlington under Cyril Knowles, was in the Wear Valley side – a Bishop Auckland pub team – which reached the All England Sunday Cup final and in the Brandon United team which in 1976 won it. He’ll be 70 in November.

*Harry Dunnington, a Shildon director for more than 20 years and a thoroughly nice man, has died after a long illness.

Born down the road in Eldon, he spent five childhood years in a sanitorium with TB vefore moving to Shildon. “He was a lovely man and a good worker,” says Shildon stalwart Norman Smith.”We’ve lost another member of the family.”

*Bishop Auckland director and former chairman Terry Jackson, an enthusiastic cyclist, is recovering in hospital after coming off his bike on Tuesday near his Teesdale home.

“I wouldn’t care, I can’t have been going much more than 6mph,” laments Terry, who believes he encountered an adverse camber. He has two broken ribs and a punctured lung but hopes to be home soon.

It may be a little while longer before the poor chap’s back in the saddle.

*Football continues, at least for now, though these are stressful times. Word arrives that Durham City Reserves have resigned from the Wearside League second division after just one game, though whether Covid-related is unknown.

The club’s Twitter account somewhat obtusely says that they’ve “stopped working with director of football John Woolnough” and that there’ll be further comment once they’ve spoken with the squad.

There’s confusion elsewhere, too. What’s advice and what instruction, not least in the matter of spectators wearing face masks? Where official edicts conflict, as so often they appear to, whose say-so is paramount? If spectators are “advised” not to attend matches, why are they still allowed to?

And if public transport journeys should only be for “essential” purposes, why have I spent half the morning studying the fixture list? More, with luck, tomorrow.

September 24 2020: Skye news

We’ve had four nights on Skye and, since they opened that magnificent road bridge in 1995, without need of bonny boat – or even one of CalMac’s ferries – in order to speed us there.

The last time we were on the misty isle, June 2018, the football season was in full vigour. On a midsummer night in Portree – cold, wet and generally dreich – I formed precisely half the crowd at a Highland goal fest.

At the end, I asked the ref the score. In turn – probablhy a teacher – he asked what I made it. “17-2,” I said.

The ref looked mighty relieved. “That’s what I make it, too,” he said.

No football now – winter comes early to Skye – while it’s feared that, because of the virus, the mainland Highland League may never even kick off. The West Highland Free Press instead devotes itself to shinty, that most brutal of pursuits, and news that the governing body is contemplating a restructure.

Clubs are said to be wary, as well they might be. They should look south, to the FA’s 20-year nightmare, and resolve to leave well alone.

*The weather has been mostly fine, and on Wednesday quite glorious. On Tuesday, when Skye’s heavens opened, we’d already booked a trip on the wonderful railway from Kyle of Lochalsh to Dingwall, home of Ross County FC. Things were much more clement there.

Dingwall at the 2011 census had a population of 6,545. Victoria Park, County’s impressive ground almost overlooking the station, has a listed capacity of just four fewer.

It’s a bit like St James’ Park holding a quarter of a million, and with only the sheep for hinterland.

In 1998, County had completed the improbable signing of Darlington lad Neil Tarrant – “I got a fair bit of flak for being English,” he once told me – after finding himself 342 miles from home.

In that first season he helped the Staggies to promotion from the Scottish third division and in the second hit 25 goals, winning the divisional player of the year award and, more improbably, five Scottish Under-21 caps. It was something to do with his old grandma in Macduff.

He joined Aston Villa for £250,000, never made the first team, wandered a bit, played for Northallerton Town and for Dunston UTS and now, aged 41, is manager of Richmond Town in the Wearside League.

Yet more improbably, there was once a Crook branch of the Ross County Supporters Club, run by a guy known universally as Tree. Until I met him, and marvelled at his size, I wondered why. Tree was a sequoia.

*Over a full Scottish breakfast this morning, I learn of the death of Sir Harold Evans, a man tiny in physique – unlike Tree – but immense in stature.

When I was a wet-eared school leaver in 1965, Harry was editor of The Northern Echo which advertised for a sub-editor. Possessed of three A-levels but no worldly wisdom whatever, I applied.

Most editors would have ignored the impertinence, or had their secretary send a tersely standard reply. Harry, who as a 16-year-old had himself written to every paper in the Manchester area in search of work, not only took the trouble to explain what a sub-editor did but arranged a job interview with the editor of the Durham Advertiser group of weeklies.

That gentleman in turn pointed me towards the Northern Despatch, the Echo’s sister evening paper and on August 30 1965 I first put pen to paper. It may not be his finest epitaph, but I owe much to Sir Harold Evans.

*That improbable starting point is outlined in Unconsidered Trifles. Even on holiday, Sharon has been packaging books ordered electronically and returning them to the south.

It explains why former Northern League referee Jeff Russell’s brother-in-law should by now have taken delivery of a copy posted from a wooden hut on the Sound of Sleat, Skye’s southermost extremity.

“The best birthday present we’ve even given him,” says Jeff, who already owned a copy. The rest, with luck, will be posted from Barton as usual.

Books sold (and paid for) 1,082

Earthbound (not Skye-ward) 1,118

September 19 2020: Ossie rules

In the days when such constabulary duties were familiar, the North Yorkshire village of Osmotherley had for 26 years a resident bobby called Norman Barningham. Osmotherley was known universally as Ossie, PC Barningham as Barney.

Chief Constable of Osmotherley, his autobiography, was published posthumously in 2007, the year after his death, and sold out on launch day.

When not chasing sheep stealers and the like, he also rustled up prize winning tomatoes at all the local shows and carved wonderful sheep’s head walking sticks, as well.

One evening about 40 years ago we were in the Three Tuns in Ossie, known universally as the Mousehole, when Norman, rotund and red faced, ambled in. It was getting on 11 o’clock, in those days after closing time, and none in a rush to leave.

“Come on you buggers, have you no beds to go to?” asked Barney. None moved, nor sought more speedily to sup up.

Barney – great bloke, brilliant policeman, awarded the BEM for services to law and order – headed off to rattle a few door knobs elsewhere. “You tell them and better tell them, what more can you do?” he asked, of no one in particular. “The buggers won’t even go when you’re rude to them.”

The buggers knew what side their bread was buttered on though.

Osmotherley’s half a dozen miles east of Northallerton. I’m reminded of that long-gone evening at today’s FA Vase match between Northallerton Town and Billingham Town, played on a glorious September afternoon. Why Indian summer, anyway?

Like every other Ebac Northern League ground I’ve visited this strange old season, Northallerton diligently follow Covid protocols, numerous social distancing signs augmented by frequent PA announcements.

Mostly spectators act sensibly. Outside the clubhouse however, both the Rule of Six and the social distancing guidelines are routinely ignored. Town stalwart Les Hood shrugs his shoulders. “We tell them all the time. After that, what can you do?” he says, and might have added that it’s no good even being rude to the buggers.

ENL chairman Glenn Youngman is among the 191 crowd, though prudently keeping his dtstance. There’s a multi-authority meeting on Monday evening to discuss what happens next. It would be good to be a fly on the wall.

It’s the second time this season that Northallerton Town and Billingham Town have met in national competition, the second time I’ve watched them. Billy Town won the FA Cup tie 4-1.

This is wholly different. Two wonderful first half goals by Nathan Stephenson – his dad with the video camera will regret missing the first – give Northallerton a lead that they never look like losing.

The second half offers plenty of Billingham possession but nothing to worry a resolute home defence. Before the end, the visitors’ dugout is pretty much reduced to silence.

You can tell what they’re thinking, thuogh, and the thoughts of PC Norman Barningham very much apply.

*For reasons without need of explanation, it’s now more than a year since I slept anywhere but my own bed. Much as I love it, that’s much too long.

Subsequent upon that, and each morning’s first job after raiding the Nescafe jar, there’ve been blogs for 378 days in succession – and that, some might say, is much too long, an’ all.

That it’s been possible, especially during a period when there were five months without football, is wholly down to a loyal and ever-growing readership and particularly to those who email on a vast range of subjects. Not one, memory suggests, has been female. Grass Routes won’t be winning a diversity award.

Now, however, it’s time for a short – a very short – break. The next blog will be dated September 24 and your presence, as ever, would much be apreciated.

*Unlike Norman Barningham’s book, mine’s still nowhere near a sell out – though the long-anticipated tipping point is close when Unconsidered Trifles has sold more copies than those which remain. It’s 390 pages, softback £10 plus £3 20 postage, hardback £22 plus £3 80 postage. Further orders welcome.

Books sold (and paid for) 1,076

Books still needing a break 1,124

September 18 2020: shelved?

The season’s first FA Vase day is usually eagerly awaited, not least by our nomadic band of train travellers setting out on the Railroad to Wembley.

Not this time. Issued today, a joint statement from Northumberland and Durham FAs sums up difficult days. “Football is hanging by a thread here in the North-East,” says acting Northumberland FA chief executive Andrew Ross-Cook.

“We know how important the game is to out football community and we urge urge everyone to stick to the guidelines. The alternative is that football will be suspended.”

Might that still be imminent? Though the Ebac Northern League upped its “maximum” advice from 150 to 300 in the course of today, local and football authorities will review the situation on Monday, when things are unlikely to look any rosier.

For the moment, those in the affected areas – much of the North-East north of the Tees – are “advised” not to attend matches and to make only “essential” journeys by public transport.

Where does that leave the likes of me? Northallerton Town v Billingham Town, very likely. The No 72 bus may on this occasion be deemed utterly essential.

*As the Vase progresses – which should perhaps read if the Vase progresses – might we yet manage a visit to some of those faraway places with strange sounding names, first recorded in song in 1948?

Several months ago I floated the possibility, still no more than that, of a book embracing some of the more exotic sounding clubs at steps 5-6, and thus contesting the Vase.

A nod to the Wessex League side based near an old Roman settlement in Hampshire, it would be called The Road to Tadley Calleva.

Entries from the natural world would include the gloriously named Bemerton Heath Harlequins, Swallownest, Daisy Hill, Heather St John’s, Coventry Copsewood, Odd Down and – of course – Mousehole.

A church team might congregate with Graham Street Prims – on Saturday playing Leicester Nirvana – and a whole canon of saints from St Martins to St Margaretsbury, from St Austell to St Blazey and not forgetting the seraphic Boldmere St Michael’s.

Further afield, for the Vase is nothing if not cosmopolitan, we may travel to Holland, Eversley and California, Punjab United, FC Deportivo Galicia and Sporting Bengal.

Will any of it happen in 2020-21, or will the dream remain what that old song supposes, far away places with strange sounding names, that I left in a book on the shelf.

September 17 2020: playing God

So what happens now, then? Much of North-East England seems again to be in a position where folk can’t meet family outside their own household but are free to go to the pub – so long as they don’t turn into a pumpkin after ten o’clock.

This appears also to include the freedom to watch football, though individual local authorities might have something to say, so long as spectators socially keep their distance.

Saturday sees the start of this season’s FA Vase, so the governing body has today added what might be termed Covid criteria to the competition rules, stressing mordantly that they may apply to “any alternative coronavirus or epidemic or pandemic affecting the competition during the 2020-21 season.”

Among the additions is that the FA’s National Game Board can decide that one or more Vase rounds won’t be played and (“at its sole discretion”) decide who goes through to the next.

Similarly, when only part of a round has been completed, the FA can declare completed games null and void – the phrase may be familiar – and decide who goes through to the next.

It may be little consolation that “winning” teams then chucked out would be allowed to keep their prize money.

We’ve long accepted, of course, that the FA are our lords and masters – but now they’re playing God.

*Recent references to Shildon’s railway history prompt blog reader David Walsh to wonder – “in an idle moment” – how far it’s possible to travel by train from Shildon (“or in my case Saltburn”) without using any other means of transport, save walking between terminii.

The answer, he reckons, is Ho Chi Minh City – “Saigon as was” – by taking the rattler to Darlington, thence to London and Paris via the Channel Tunnel, onward to Moscow, thence on the Trans-Manchurian railway to Beijing and then a series of journeys “through places I’ve never heard of” to Saigon.

The second furthest may be Pyonyang – “still spiritually twinned with the Boro after the 1966 World Cup” says David – with a direct train from Moscow.

Suddently he discovers that his idle moment has helped put in half an hour.

*Still with Shildon, Tuesday’s blog noted that in these troubled times the Dean Street clubhouse was closed but the tea hut offered cans of gin and tonic.

A spectator thought that at that price it should come with ice and lemon, and probably a cut-glass goblet as well. “Only a pund in B&M,” said his mate.

Blog reader Stuart Green now reports a further lowering of the spirits. “Tell him to try Barry’s Bargains in Consett,” says Stuart. “Only 75p there.”

*Finally, a couple of reader requests. Hibernian fan Steve Young, in Edinburgh, would love to get his hands on the programme from Hibs’ match at Horden – then in the Northern League second division – on February 13 1999. Someone may even know how the game came about.

Steve Roberts is anxious to discover what colours Redcar sported in Northern League days, either side of World War 1. In both cases we’ll pass on information.

September 16 2020: ode to joy

One of the schoolroom dictionaries – the dog-eared Collins’ Gem, very likely – had a glossary of foreign words and phrases that, insidiously or otherwise, had entered the English language.

French led the way, esprit de corps and all that, followed – multum in parvum – by Latin and with German a distant third. Germany did, however, contribute the most useful word of all – Schadenfreude.

It’s defined as taking pleasure from others’ misfortunes, from schade meaning hurt and freude, joy, and may rarely be better exemplified than in the usually friendly rivalry between supporters of Bishop Auckland and West Auckland football clubs, barely a mile apart on the bypass.

Take tonight. Bishops entertain Whtley Bay, for whom in mid-September it’s the first Ebac Northern League match of a Covid-affected season. West Auckland, conversely, have played three and lost three, scoring one and conceding 14.

“Whitley Bay haven’t kicked a ball and they’re still fower places above West,” says a Bishop Auckland fan before kick-off. That’s schadenfreude.

Whatever Bishops’ difficulties on the pitch – and a thumping FA Cup win at Kendal on Saturday suggests better times ahead – the ground grows evermore impressive.

The staircase to the historically fascinating function suite is itself now hung with wonderful artwork created by students of Bishop Barrington school imaginatively and ingeniously reflecting the Two Blues’ rich past (and its Subutteo team, too.)

Outside, a great gallimaufry of blue and yellow gazebos – is that the collective noun for gazebos, or indeed the plural? – and picnic tables complements the new Corner Flag bar and club shop.

Everything about the place speaks both of pride in the past and vision for the future. The Bishops Brewery Stadium it may temporarily (and doubtlessly lucratively) have become, but Heritage Park remains a perfect name.

The cloud, of course, is Covid-shaped. Breaking news suggests an imminent tightening of lockdown in the North-East north of the Tees. It may not yet mean no spectators at ENL level, but few doubt that there are huge challenges ahead.

It affects others, too. Former Bishops chairman Steve Newcomb, who breeds Highland cattle, has just come second – with a bull called Titan – in a “virtual” Highland show.

How does that work, then? “The judges know what to look for,” says Steve, enigmatically.

The first half’s pretty uneventful, the second sparked by a Bishop Auckland penalty and by a sweetly struck equaliser by Seahorses’ No 3 Jamie Dunn, a signing from Ryton and Crawcrook Albion who by all accounts is already attracting attention elsewhere.

It’s the second minute of added time when Matthew Weirs, on as a sub and signed this very morning from Ryhope CW, hits Whitley’s close range winner after good work on the left. His club before that? Bishop Auckland.

Among the yellow-clad Seahorses there are scenes of rapture; a mile up the bypass there may be schadenfreude unconfined.

*If not quite delirium, each sale of Unconsidered Trifles brings a little smile, too.

Books sold (and paid for) 1,066 (and all that)

Books waiting to raise a smile 1,134

September 15 2020: siege mentality

Ahead of tonight’s game at Shildon, Northallerton Town are top of the Ebac Northern League first division – and no matter what the stage of the season, for the first time that supporters can remember.

“I’ve taken a screen shot of the table,” says Lesley Clark, the impeccable club secretary.

Shildon follow the Covid protocols admirably and rigorously, which means that the lovely little clubhouse beneath the pagoda – and the adjoining toilets – are out of bounds to all.

Portaloos offset the latter necessity; the tea hut sells cans partially to address the former.

A spectator stares querulously, as well he might, at his can of gin and tonic. “At that price I expect ice, lemon and a goblet,” he says.

“Pund in B&M,” says his mate,

The goalless first half, in truth, might drive anyone to drink (if not necessarily to G&T from B&M.) Though Shildon see a bit more of the ball, visiting goalie Tom Dawson has no cause to mucky his knees.

“We deserve to be in front,” says another Shildon fan, either deluded or downright mendacious.

That it ends 3-0 to Shildon is down to two penalties and an own goal, former Northallerton chairman Peter Young anxious to seek consolation. “When we played here last season, we had three penalties given against us,” he says.

Visiting player John Howard also collects two yellows – his second red card of the fledgling season, the first suspension due to start the following day – while, right at the end, Town are reduced to nine. Shildon are top now.

It’s none of that which justifies today’s blog header, however, but the slight coincidence that this morning there’s an Unconsidered Trifles order from a lady in Plevna Mews, Shildon.

Plevna Mews? OK, any new housing development with an inside lavvy and a cat flap is these days called a Mews – when last was new housing called a Street? – but who, or what, was Plevna?

Older residents may recall that there was once a Plevna Street – perhaps on the same site – and, nearby, Mafeking Place and Alma Road. All three, it transpires, were named after 19th century sieges.

Mafeking and Alma had direct British involvement – the verb “maffick” swiftly entered the language, meaning to celebrate joyously and perhaps jingoistically – but the Siege of Plevna (1877-78) was part of the Russo-Turkish war in which even imperialist Brits had little obvious interest.

Had one of the wagon works lads nipped over there to earn a few bob on the side? Did Timothy Hackworth’s influence stretch even further than we Shildon lads had supposed?

Someone may have ideas. All the Mews that’s fit ro print when the blog returns tomorrow.

September 14 2020: the tops

Alan Hinkes is one of our greatest mountaineers, the only Brit to have conquered all 14 peaks over 8,000m – the Death Zone, they call it unequivocally.

He’s now 66, still upwardly mobile, lives about ten miles from here, enjoys a pint of real ale and once set himself the task of reaching the highest point in each of the 39 former administrative counties in England.

In Cumberland it’s Scafell Pike, of course, in Northumberland it’s The Cheviot (815m) and the Durham high point is Mickle Fell (788m), contentiously transferred to the dear old County Palatine under local government re-organisation in 1974. It says as much in Unconsidered Trifles.

Hill baggers may find some of the others less challenging. The highest point in the former Huntingdonshire is just 265ft above the sea, known as Boring Field becasue – as a guide helpfuly explains – that’s exactly what it is.

In Middlesex, no more vertiginous, it’s the traffic lights on Bushey Heath – just 200 yards from where blog reader Rodney Wildsmith was born and next to Stanmore Common, where he’d go conkering.

The area around the traffic lights is known locally as The Alpine, says Rodney, not because of any giddy heights but because that’s the name of the nearby pub.

These days he lives in Great Ayton, beneath Roseberry Topping, insists that no matter where his natal star may have rested, he’s a northerner and cites the Duke of Welington.

“If a dog was born in a stable,” said the Duke, “it doesn’t make it a horse.”

*Yesterday’s blog recorded a Sunday teatime visit to From Cairo to the Cape, a greatly agreeable – if somewhat improbable – African-themed cafe/restaurant in Shildon.

It’s in the former Masons Arms pub, from which the world’s first passenger railway – the Stockton and Darlington – began its inaugural journey on September 27 1825, but it takes Shildon FC director Norman Smith to explain the name’s nifty significance.

The Cape to Cairo Railway Project, intended to stretch 6,518 miles, was a late 19th century vision in which Cecil Rhodes – latterly in the news for other reasons – was chiefly prominent.

The aim was to link all those parts of the great continent which on maps were coloured red. They didn’t quite make it; it’s to be hoped that the restaurant does.

*The blog a couple of weeks ago lamented the passing of Arthur Stephenson, the Co Durham police officer ordered by his superintendent to haul nine youths before the juvenile court for playing hum-dum-dum – finger or thumb – outside Rinaldi’s Cafe in Coundon.

Obstructing the pavement, or something. That’s in the book, too.

Stivvie’s son David now kindly sends the order of service from his dad’s funeral at Stockton crem. They entered to Amazing Grace but left, at Arthur’s wish, to the strains of The Laughing Policeman.

*Awaking from a slumber of Rip van Winkle proportions, Weardale reader Clem O’Donovan notes the absence of sales figures at the foot of yesterday’s blog and wonders if it means the books have all gone. Hah!

Books sold (and paid for) 1,056

Books still at base camp 1,144