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Smallville: Testing Times

Peter B Farrell joins in a family re-union and goes castle-visiting in Northumberland. Just as well that he had something to take his thoughts away from the too-exciting-to-watch Test cricket series between England and Australia.

“I can’t take any more.“ After watching the Test Cricket match between England and Australia I turned down the sound from the TV and moved to the computer in the hall. What had seemed a walkover for England was now poised on a knife edge.

“Someone’s won.” After an agonising ten minutes my wife put me out of my misery. Pulse racing, I sneaked back to the TV and was relieved to see the England team celebrating victory by only two runs. One each and a week before the next Test. We would be away, as we planned on spending a few days in the North East.

We had booked a hotel for three nights and were looking forward to some sightseeing and being reunited with relatives, two of whom had made the long journey from ‘Saith Afreekah‘.

After a journey of over 200 miles we arrived at the hotel.

“Sorry, had problems. Your room won’t be available until tomorrow afternoon, but we’ve booked you into another hotel about half a mile away and you’re quite welcome to leave your luggage here.” This was code for “no room, we’re overbooked because of incompetence“ so we politely declined and drove off. We would find our own hotel after first phoning my cousin to arrange a day to meet up. The problem was solved when she insisted we sleep over at her small cottage in the Dales.

The cottage was packed with relations, some I had never met before. Luckily two were leaving that very day and we could see no difficulty in bedding down, provided I could prise everyone away from the TV, the bed-settee doubling as the sofa with the best view.

Following the bout of introductions; reminiscences and riotous memories of Uncle Tacker, Spion Kop, Maggy baggy, Backward glance and Nicobar went on way into the night. These old characters were long gone but thankfully not forgotten.

When everyone else had retired, we did the necessary with the cleverly designed bed-settee which extended across the room. Initiative was needed to use the bathroom and opportunism was the key. However, handy storage of clothes and belongings proved awkward without disturbing the other guests. The solution was simple and practical.

“I’ll bring the suitcase in from the car, choose what you need for tomorrow and I’ll store what you don’t need on hangers back in the car.” My reasonable solution.

“And the car is?” Sceptical wife.

“Just across the lane opposite the front door.”

“What about the neighbours?” My wife was not completely convinced.
“No problem, it’s very quiet here, and dark as there’s no street lights. Just remember to wake me very early in the morning.”

We were awoken from a deep sleep at daybreak by a loud thud from upstairs, followed by shouts of laughter.

A cousin passed through the lounge on the way to the kitchen.

“Just making some tea for everyone and you‘ll never guess; aunt Pauline‘s fallen out of bed,. A bit smaller than she’s used to.“

Now was the right time to occupy the bathroom, visit the outside wardrobe, quickly change and rearrange the furniture before the early morning news came on TV.

After breakfast it was decided by a majority that we drive up the North East coast to Lindisfarne castle. My wife had never been so far North and ever conscious of her travel sickness she sat on a pile of newspapers throughout the whole journey. This old wives’ tale seemed to work in cars but not at sea. Luckily the tide was out when we reached the causeway to Holy Island, with the castle a short walk away.

The local tourist shops proved a magnet for everyone; but my cousin Jennifer was keen to walk to the castle. Apparently castles were in short supply in South Africa. Unfortunately after climbing up to the ramparts we discovered it was closed until the afternoon.

“We could hang about for a hour.“ I suggested, but Jennifer seemed satisfied with the view from the outside and after recording the event on camera, we headed back to the small town which was by now packed with tourists like ourselves. Lunch in a local ‘pub was yet another first for the overseas visitors and the suggestion of visiting the nearby castle at Alnwick was met with enthusiasm.

Alnwick was only half an hour’s drive away and we were soon queuing up for entrance tickets. I had been unaware of the Harry Potter connection; the interest that the films had generated was obvious from the large crowds of visitors.

“ Robin Prince of Thieves was filmed here and the castle could also be hired for weddings and corporate events.” I quoted from the guide book. It was a magnificent backdrop and we enjoyed watching the Birds of Prey display. The castle interior was just as attractive and well staffed by loyal retainers with fascinating accents.

The journey home was made bearable - or unbearable depending on age - by a sing-along from the 100 best (?) tunes CD which my cousin had bought for me. Howls of derision followed any track pre-1960. Getting carried away by the good natured banter we missed a road sign and soon found ourselves lost in deepest Newcastle. After passing through the same vast housing estate for the second time we took a gamble and headed back towards the coast. After an hour we were back on track and joined the long queue for the Tyne Tunnel.

Arriving back at the cottage I had the nerve wracking experience of witnessing the end of the third day of the next Test match against Australia. Another nail-biter in prospect and after nervously watching England bat I volunteered to go out for fish and chips for everyone. By the time I returned perhaps play would have finished for the day.


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