Wednesday, 25 February 2009

From Darkest Northumbria I greet thee.

So here I am in Northumberland. I was going to write "stuck in Northumberland" but that is neither fair nor true. I'm actually having a lovely time. The countryside is truly beautiful, and Fisher and I have not been idle during our stay. We've seen and done many things, mostly based on enjoying the outdoors with the pooches. Baffie and Bridie have to be locked away in our bedroom whenever we're in the house, as we don't want them upsetting Will the cat, to whom we are acting babysitters. Therefore we've been spending as much time as possible out and about, finding walks for them and letting them share our company in the car. Whether they thank us for this is debateable. I have a feeling they couldn't give two shakes of a lamb's tail as to whether we're with them or not.

Anyway - we've had a jolly good explore. On arrival we went into Morpeth and did a spot of food shopping at M&S. Morpeth is a picturesque town, and we returned the following day as I went in search of a bookshop. I've decided to resurrect my novel, in totally different form, and therefore need much information about Celtic myths. I told several different booksellers that I was particularly interested in Scottish myths and legends, and had to tell each and every one of them that no, Scotland is not part of England, and therefore books on English myths are not particularly helpful. In fact, that's a little snooty of me, because the Celts are basically British and so English myths and legends are very much aligned with those you find all over continental Europe. Anyway, I won't bore on about this, but my search for specifically Scots material has been pretty fruitless, but I'm up to my elbows in the Irish legends - which form the root of those found in Scotland and Wales. I'm also revisiting Mr Yeats, who I find both appalling and riveting in equal measure. One thing's for sure - if Blarney doesn't lull her wean to sleep to the sounds of Irish folklore, I'll be taking on the responsibility myself. There's so much beauty to be found in these ancient stories - even if most of them seem to be depressing as hell. Certainly all the love stories are pretty miserable. And it also appears that, after the onset of Christianity, women became much more ridiculous. One minute I'm reading all about the Mórrígna - three war-goddesses called the Mórrígan, Badb and Macha - and the next I'm ploughing through the turgid misery that is the story of Deirdre and Noíse. I'm sure there's a reason Deirdre became Deirdire in Nova Scotia. Dire she is indeed - and wetter than a truckload of sponges, to boot.

Fisher shamed me into going for a run (basically by going for a run herself, leaving me wallowing in my pit like a beached but o-so-comfy whale) so off I dutifully went. I did 5k in the horrendous time of 38.01 - but there was a heck of a lot of uphill, and the uphill was against the wind. I tried to go faster on the way down, but found it so jarring to my joints that I chickened out and slunk (slinked? slank?) home like the cowardy custard I am. Anyway, I was glad I did it, despite feeling like shit on a shingle for the rest of the day. I don't think I was fully recovered from my horrendous hangover from Saturday night.

Ah yes - Saturday night. That was graduation. It was fine. We met at the Tontine Hotel in Peebles, where we got ourselves a room. There was food (poor) and chat (fine) and rather a lot of drink, in the Scottish tradition. I stayed up until 3.30am, until it was only me and the tutor left in the bar. She was then dragged off to bed by her husband - a rugby playing meathead who thought it necessary to tell me how much he hates animals, and relate a hilaaaaarious story about a policeman friend of his who kicked an Alsatian in the face. I'm only astonished that he got them a taxi, and didn't just club her over the head and drag her back to his cave.

The net result of all this frivolity was that I awoke with a stonking hangover, mainly focused on my churning stomach, and would have given a hundred pounds in order to stay in bed. Still, it was nice to celebrate the end of a hefty course. I exchanged addresses with no-one, which either shows the state of socialising in this country (i.e. no-one bothers) or shows how low anyone rated my potential as a friend (which is highly likely). Not that I asked anyone, either. They were a nice enough bunch, but I can't see lasting friendships emerging from the experience.

What else? We've been to Hexham, where Koi and I once spent a happy time discovering games for a Cheeseboard holiday (the immortal Who's In the Bag being one of them) but where Fisher and I bought books and had tea. We've walked around a pretty lake, been to Newcastle (more books, equally disappointing, but also a new pair of trews - itchy - and new trainers - dull) and gone to the beach to walk the dogs. Bridie is becoming an increasing liability off the lead. She is no longer going to be allowed loose until we've taken her to training classes. I've also vowed to do 10 minutes of training with her a day (dubious), after the final straw today.

We went to a gorgeous wee nook called Lady Well. It is, as the name implies, a little walled area in which stands a crystal clear pool with a stone cross in the centre and a statue of some bishop who allegedly baptized 3000 Northumbrians on that very spot. Now there's a little plaque giving no information about the well, but telling us not to disturb the surface of the pool, as it provides water to the nearby village. I sheepishly yanked Baffie out and spent the rest of our visit trying not to let her pee in it. It was truly beautiful, and the little walk through woods and fields was suitably free of roads and sheep for me to suggest we let Bridie off the lead. Fisher had refused to do so on the way to the well, but Baffie had romped free, and I thought it might be a good time to give Bridie a final test.

Off the lead she went.

Off through the trees she vanished.

She ignored our calls, whistles, commands, demands, shrieks, tantrums, shrieks, demands, commands, whistles and calls. Eventually we saw her emerge on the path behind us, and called her encouragingly.

She fucked off in the opposite direction.

Retracing my steps, I eventually had the honour of her attention and she came to me, crouching before me and trembling as if I were about to lay into her with the nearest branch. I resolutely ignored the temptation to do just that and praised her for returning. I then clipped her on her lead and had her walk to heel all the way back to the car, while Baffie romped free and stuck her tongue out.

So, as you can see, she's in much need of a firm hand and some obedience. Yes, I can hear an almost universal shout of fat chance emanating from every corner of the globe (well ... two, anyway) but I'm determined. Progress reports to follow.