Ghana to Godzone is seven flying hours plus one warm wake-me-up shower and one scrummy fill-me-up breakfast in BA’s Heathrow business lounge.
Oh, and there’s broadband as soon as you step off the aircraft. And no power cuts. And England is properly chilly, the way the world SHOULD be. So, awaiting my onward flight to Newcastle, I do the Catching Up Thing.
Emails a-plenty await replies. One or two are of a delicate nature.
“Have you come back with Ebola? If yes, I won’t need a lift to the pub, thanks – Byreman.” Lawnmower asks whether or not I’ve brought back sticks of rock for the domino players. If so, could I wash his and leave it in the landlord’s fridge? Just in case?
Klondike, whose wind turbines are apparently being erected faster than the blades will ever turn, is excitedly planning his champagne switch-on and wonders whether or not I have “any friends at the Met Office who could use their new super-duper computer to forecast a date in early 2015 which guarantees the ‘right’ sort of weather?”
I have no pals at the Met Office, I tell him, but advise that he should choose either of the 2015 May Bank Holiday Mondays when the traditional weather will be perfect: a howling, rain-lashed gale that will spin the turbines like roulette wheels and force us off his blasted heath and into the marquee to seek shelter with the bubbly.
My customary two-stop homecoming – Cornhill Shop for the papers, Red Lion for a thirst-quencher – provide rude awakenings: the shop has “had to let your Weekend Telegraph go” to a celebrity visitor fishing the Tweed. I am furious.
“Paxman?” I demand, jealously aware that when television’s Torquemada is in town the girls at the shop bow and scrape to his every whim. They are typically discreet and won’t say.
“I don’t care, anyway,” I tell them, flouncing out with my copy of The Journal. What I said is true: I don’t actually read the Telegraph but it has a decent crossword and provides sufficient newsprint to light the stove every day for a week.
Heading for the pub to cool off I find the garden laid waste and the construction of four luxury chalets underway. “For the fishermen and shooters to lodge in,” grins landlord Iain. “Hrrrrmph!” I snort. “Bloody Paxman, I suppose.”
I am upset. I manage just three drinks before summoning the village’s only taxi to take me home. My driver is as chatty as a Berwick barber, yammering on about the tourist influx that’s expected.
“They say that Jeremy Paxman might put up at the pub. . .”
Ugh! Home, James!
:: Education is a fine thing, but when the cheeks are puffed and purple with fury and the eyes glazed with indignation fine learning takes a back seat, even unto those who occupy high seats of learning.
Take the headmaster of the Royal Grammar School, my fellow columnist Bernard Trafford, driving his prized 23mpg Mercedes from his weekend place in Godzone back down to Newcastle and scowling at the petrol prices charged by successive main road garages.
With his gauge getting dangerously low, Bernard slows as a neon petrol price hoves into view. “Dammitall, I will NOT pay those Powburn prices!” he roars and cautiously nurses his ever-lightening load down the A697 towards the A1.
At Morpeth his eyes glow green: the Shell station is 5p cheaper. He parks at the pump, leaps from the car and proceeds to fill up his ageing gas-guzzler. He pumps away, filling first his enormous petrol can with fuel for the lawnmower and then his car. But with the tank half-full it dawns on him that the price is far more than he would normally expect to pay, even to fill the Merc.
The reason, dear reader, becomes apparent as The Man of Great Learning tracks his fuel hose back to . . . the Super-Expensive Premium Unleaded pump!
Rarely has a dose of righteous indignation and downright avarice yielded so valuable a lesson to so chastened a pupil.