Sunday, March 29, 2009

Kippers and the new world order

So there's the G20 when as Gordon Brown put it "the world came together, to fight back against the global recession", and there's Northumberland where we're fighting it one job at a time.

This is the story of an ordinary man.
Once upon a time, there was a man (let's call him Andy,) who had two kids to look after on his own. Working as a single parent can be difficult, so he got hold of a catering van and a licence to park it in a village (let's call it Craster) and serve food. Craster is famous for kippers so he served hot buttered kippers in buns, and haggis and bacon in rolls, and home-made cranberry scones. He gave away fresh fruit to the health conscious, and dog food to dogs and those with strange snacking habits. He brought in tables and chairs for the weary to rest while they ate their haggis baps, and primroses in pots because there can never be too many flowers in the world. He worked for two years feeding the lads in the kipper yards, and the fishermen who work the harbour, and of course the walkers in woolly hats and laced-up boots. Andy made a living, not a fortune, but enough to feed the kids and feel himself a working man.

But heroes of stories never have it easy, their paths are never smooth and dragon-free. Time moved on and it came to pass that Andy rang the council (let's call it Alnwick District Council) and asked whether he'd have to tender again for his pitch. Six weeks passed as Andy rang and rang again. He got a councillor involved to find out what was going on and word came back (bearing in mind Alnwick district council was to be swallowed up in a new unitary authority on April 1st) that his licence would be extended for another year.

(Let's have a time line shall we. Let's not stint ourselves on time at least in a recession such as this.)
* On Monday March 16th, a council official confirmed his licence would be extended - there'd be no tendering. Huzzah. Huzzah. Thrice times huzzah. But wait. Oh No! Our hero is in peril yet.
* On Tuesday March 17th, another official explains the council does want him to tender. A sealed bid please to be in by Monday 23rd March.
* On Thursday 26th March at 4.30pm, an official left a message that Andy had been unsuccessful with his £1001.50 bid. An ice-cream van wins. Such a shame - Andy cannot trade past Tuesday 31st March. Game over for our working man.

And this could have been the end, would have been the end had bureaucracy triumphed, as bureaucracies are wont to do, when pitted against the Honest Joes and Andies of this world.

But what bureaucracies forget are the people they're supposed to serve. Local people outraged at the treatment of this Honest Joe sign his petition - 300 of them in a weekend, and the media gets involved to film Andy lamenting on his bagpipes (an unusual weapon of choice for a hero agreed,) and letters are written, and councillors think "Hmmm?" and an MP says "I don't think so." And there are meetings where Andy's friends (let's call them Sarah and Jeremy) explain in no uncertain terms how this hero needs a happy ending. And eventually, bureaucrats who'd said he had a "gripe", agree he has a point, a case perhaps. Andy gets his licence (the ice cream man does too). There's a new world order don't you know - thank God for the G20 is all I can say.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Lamb stew

I know it's spring in Northumberland - not so much because of daffodils' blare, nor that the chill air is rinsed in gold before you breathe it in, then out, then in again. Nor even because a woodland close is carpetted blue in stars enough to wish for winter's end a thousand times and more.

How I know it's spring is that a friend made me lie on top of a sheep while she did squishy things at the business end, pulling out three long and slimey lambs. They lay there tumbled, bloody in the straw while their triumphant mother licked them clean and woolly, persuading them to breathe. Sprawled across the ewe, trousers wet with sheep pee and waters from the floor, I enquired: "Can I get up?", and glancing at my three-year-old just stopped myself from warning: "This - this here - is what happens if you ever kiss a boy."