The pull of the tall, dark stranger that’s Mr Castle

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IT’S so rewarding for Beadnell to get regular mentions by Alan Castle. It’s as if we’re becoming family or something.

Mr Castle is not the only one who has a gift for second sight, nor is he unique in nodding off in front of the telly. I did a similar thing over New Year and my imaginary Gazette also took on a life of its own. The main headline that caught my eye was ‘Peace breaks out in Beadnell, and everybody snuggles up.’

Yes, peace had returned to the village but not because the Craster Arms had played host to a peace conference chaired by some Northumbrian noteworthy who banged heads together and insisted we get a grip but rather because all participants were so exhausted after two years (and bank accounts so depleted I might add) that everyone just wanted to get back to their normal lives.

You know, fishermen fishing, (if only) holidaymakers holidaying, residents residing and second home owners second homing. And of course, property developers doing what they do best, upsetting everybody.

But somehow the coastline was spared from development and the fisher folk were content that their heritage was secured and appreciated for future generations.

And the harbour, oh the harbour.

This tiny piece of North Sea breakwater that faces west contains little water for most of the time and is only disturbed these days by the indiscernible movement of nearby lugworms.

I particularly liked the feature highlighting the fact that tremendous gales had claimed only three Beadnell caravans. Bits of aluminium and broken hardboard had been found on Coquet Island but positive identification pointing to a Beadnell origin proved impossible.

Still, total disappearance was enough to enable insurance companies to pay out so no one was too downhearted. Caravanning on the North East coast demands certain qualities from very special individuals.

Make no mistake, sheltering in a tin box sandwiched between wind-swept sand dunes is no soft option. But we shouldn’t forget that these spirited people have a character that has been hewn by centuries of living in hill forts and stone enclosures and the modern lifestyle of too much cosseting and comfort gets unbearable.

The article on Northumbrians at play was fascinating. People in this neck of the woods are simple souls and don’t need much to keep themselves occupied. Give them a chisel, a big rock and a location that hasn’t seen a footprint since the last glacier slid down to the North Sea and they’ll work for countless hours carving random circles for no fathomable reason.

They’ve done this for thousands of years and the surrounding hills are awash with them. And with modern TV providing hundreds of different channels but nothing worthwhile to watch, I predict a big resurgence in this form of self gratification.

But what is it that attracts those from further afield who don’t have this instinctive ‘call of the Northumbrian wild’? Why would Australians, Americans, Europeans and many more want to come to a windswept corner called Northumberland.

Let us not forget that we are entering a land here where time moves slowly. Where the meaning of the word broadband is often interpreted as referring to a farmer’s waistline rather than anything to do with technology. This is a country that has yet to be penetrated by Waitrose and where a city is an alien concept.

A place that still has meat, vegetables and fish delivered to your door. Where the sight of the coal man is still common place and the concept of a smokeless zone refers to a shop that no longer sells Woodbines.

This is a territory that still has parts of it cut off at high water and where visitors think that the tide can be controlled by wishful thinking. They soon discover, no doubt reinforced by the yellow helicopter buzzing above them, that the term ‘fully submersible vehicle’ is not part of a standard BMW’s spec.

We are talking here about a place where a doctor’s or dentist’s appointment has to be planned with the same degree of precision as most townies would apply to an annual holiday.

A land where the local press launches a campaign not for gay rights or to eradicate land mines or to help ensure a clean supply of drinking water, nor even for a reduction in alcohol consumption by the young. They choose instead to concentrate on a major exercise to poop the scoot or scoot the poop or is it scoop the loot, I never can quite remember. Anyway, it’s got something to do with dog dirt.

But it’s great reading local news. I wouldn’t miss it. And we musn’t forget that the mundane nature of much of it illustrates just how civilised a country we are.

I’m reminded of a Bill Bryson anecdote when he was singing the praises of local newspapers.

He quoted a headline he’d read in some backwater weekly periodical: ‘Woman, 83, dies.’ You really can’t get much better than that.

But I have a sneaky feeling that some day the Gazette will trump it, and I’ll keep reading Alan Castle because, well, I’m always intrigued by a tall, dark stranger standing in the shadows.

Jim Norris,

Harbour Road, Beadnell