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Sunday, 12 May 2013

As any Yorkshireman would remind you, there are only five more weeks until the nights start drawing in.


What do you do in the springtime when it’s someone’s birthday?  Obvious. You look out the window, make quite sure it’s not actually raining, then stuff your back-pack with bread, ham, sausage, olives, tomatoes, cheese, pasta, cakes, fruit… and set off for the hills. There you find that the temperature has dipped to 8 C (46 F), the clouds are being whipped across the sky by a Force 5 wind, and showers are coming in at regular intervals. But they only last ten or fifteen minutes and there are moments of ephemeral brightness here and there. ‘Thank goodness it’s stayed fine,’ you say, and start unpacking.

While some of our number spread the feast on the grass, I prepared to enjoy the  occasion by donning the appropriate clothing. How does an Englishman dress for dinner al fresco? Well, if he’s any sense he does what I did, and puts on a T-shirt, a shirt, a sweater, a down jacket, a waterproof coat and a hat (with ear-flaps). And, if he’s any sense, a pair of gloves. Unfortunately, I’d forgotten mine.

Anyway, as you can see by the pictures, Nature has decided that spring is here, so who were we to cower at home and crank up the heating? I mean, five more weeks and the nights will be drawing in. Get out there and enjoy yourselves!

The site we’d chosen – a patch of grass on the lee side of a gorse thicket – was quite  comfortable; just these pesky nodules of what I took to be clinker all over the place.



I was right, according to our archaeological expert. They were lumps of clinker, but they hadn’t been left there after some 19th-century mining boom, rather by Iron Age man, several thousand years ago when these valleys (we were on the upper reaches of the river Tees) were first exploited for their ores.

As we walked along the riverside, squeezing through a series of kissing-gates, I remembered that I’ve been threatening for some time to make a photographic record of the many, varied gate fastenings we encounter on our rural walks.

I couldn’t resist snapping this one which, it seemed to me to, encapsulates both the value that our Victorian ancestors placed on solidity and durability - and the willingness to make do and mend of the average modern farmer.

Did we enjoy our picnic? Well, we certainly endured it - and I think we enjoyed the food. But as soon as we’d eaten that we made tracks for the car, hurried home and put the kettle on.

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They talk about burying bad news. It ain’t a bad idea, which is why I’ve left this item till the end. Friday I received an envelope from Ucross, Wyoming, and hurried up to my office to open it. I fully expected an invitation to spend eight weeks as a writer in residence there next autumn. Ouch. It still hurts. The buggers turned me down. My referees are suitably angry and bewildered, which is some consolation. For me, though, it’s back to the drawing-board. I really was hoping that that would happen. But... you win some and you lose some. And you carry on. Tomorrow morning I start on the 34 pages of notes I took when I spent the day with my former drug-smuggler contact in Newcastle. The agent smells a story. Me, I’m not quite convinced.

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