On Saturday I read Jo a news report, which claimed that Tynemouth not only boasted one of the ten best beaches in Britain, but was also at that very moment the warmest place in England at 2° Centigrade.
“See,” I said, “Who needs California when we’ve got the Geordie Shore Riviera?” The flying hot water bottle missed my head by millimetres.
We were supposed to be coming back this weekend from a month in Laguna Beach. Sadly, Jo’s slipped disc had other ideas, so instead we’ve been hunkered down in our ancient farmhouse with its four-foot-thick walls and enormous fireplaces, pretending we live in a nice snug medieval castle.
Jo, wrapped in layers of blankets and with a woolly hat permanently welded to her head, has been spending the days emailing me with links to properties for sale in California. She attaches the weather forecast to each one: Avocado Farm in Santa Rosa Valley – today’s weather 76° and sunny; Our farm in the Wansbeck Valley – 32° and sheets of sleet, or I think that’s what she meant to write.
At least she can’t complain that life here in Northumberland has been dull. Boots, the new puppy, keeps everyone endlessly entertained. On Friday night he wandered into the sitting room doing a credible impersonation of the Elephant Man: face and nose twice its normal size, eyes swollen shut. He was twitching, scratching and turning in circles; we thought he was dying. Luckily our lovely next-door neighbour is a vet.
“Unusual,” he said. “Dramatic, even; absolutely fascinating.”
Jo was having palpitations with fear; I was frantically looking up the number of emergency animal hospitals; meanwhile Dick, our ever-calm neighbour-vet saw our elephant puppy as a medical curiosity.
“Very weird,” he mused, then, realising Jo was beginning to get hysterical, he said, “it’s just an allergy – nothing to worry about.”
Dick reckoned Boots had inhaled something strange. We peered out through the sleet to the garden to spot the source of the problem. Nothing at all was growing – even the snowdrops had shrunk back into hibernation. Then Dick spotted the flowers I’d bought Jo for Valentine’s Day. We removed the bouquet, and the swelling started to go down. Well, at least that’s saved me a few bob on Mother’s Day.
With puppy face restored to its normal dimensions, Boots clearly decided he wanted to stay in the limelight, so he has spent the last 24 hours being violently sick in strategic locations around the house. Who said long winter months in Northumberland could be dull?
Mind you, no one could be bored with the news right now. It’s as if Scoop, the god of journalism, had decided to cheer up our frozen lives with a string of increasingly outrageous stories. In the last week we’ve read about accusations of inappropriate behaviour from both cardinals and liberals; rumours of gay abandon in the Vatican; the downgrading of our nation’s financial status; more horsing around with our spaghetti bologneighs; a severely deficient jury; and confirmation of quite extraordinary ineptitude at the very top of the BBC. The incredible has followed the unbelievable: I don’t know how the headline writers have kept up. I’m convinced someone is inventing all this stuff to keep our minds off this wretched winter.
Frankly, I don’t blame Jo looking at houses in the sun; personally I’d be happy with a long weekend in the real Riviera. Much as I like the Cote de Tynemouth – after all, I did spend my entire childhood on Les Sables Longues – a gentle stroll down a warm Croisette would do me fine right now.
However, to my delight, yesterday afternoon France came to Newcastle to rescue my chilly disposition. It wasn’t just the red-white-and-blue-painted faces in the crowd at St James’ Park, or the strings of garlic round the exuberant fans, but it was the new, French-infused team called L’Newcastle Unité that caused Spring to arrive early in the city. They even played Jean-Michel Jarre to the crowd at half time. And, what a result, we won convincingly, 4-2. Enough to warm the coldest February night.