FIRSTLY, a little appetiser - an amuse-bouche, as they like to say in posh restaurants - from Chris Eddowes in Hartlepool. What, she invites readers to suggest, have the words banana, dresser, grammar, potato, revive, assess and uneven in common?

The common touch at the foot of the column. In the meantime, back on the road again.

ME back's bad. Positively incorrigible. The fool who invented speed bumps, and the local authorities which lay them like libertines amid absurd claims that they are for the greater good, should be made for two and a half hours to travel by bus from Darlington to Wearhead while similarly incommoded.

Thus it was last Friday evening, changing at Bishop Auckland and Stanhope and feeling every bump like a first-year phrenologist. "Traffic calming" may be today's greatest oxymoron.

That things became more bearable after Bishop was only partly because there are fewer sleeping policemen in Weardale, chiefly because the service westwards is operated by Weardale Motors.

Unlike the mournful and monosyllabic miseries who drive most buses these days - there are exceptions, of course - Weardale is run by smiling, friendly drivers who know both the dale and its people.

Unlike the standard fare and ever-increasing fares since the nation said Arriva-derci to almost all the small bus companies, the Weardale is happy, chatty and relatively inexpensive. When a woman passenger struggled with her luggage the driver was out of his cab in a moment. When a familiar face got on, he asked if she'd had a good holiday, when a regular was going to the Blue Bell in St John's Chapel, that's exactly - local knowledge - where she was dropped (and blow the Traffic Commissioners).

When a holidaymaker changing buses at Stanhope couldn't fathom the following morning's timetable, two drivers appeared at once to help. "Ten o'clock to Bishop, unless Tommy's driving, in which case it's five past." Tommy's a legend up there.

It was a long journey made altogether more relaxing. Ibuprofen helps, too.

WEARHEAD was to mark the centenary of the village football club, a many-splendoured evening the delights of which were recounted in yesterday's Backtrack column.

One other thing sticks in the memory - and however it came up, it wasn't on the number 101 bus - which is that someone was recalling how a Radio 4 commentator supposed former tabloid editor Derek Jameson to be so ignorant he thought "erudite" was a glue.

A pretty adhesive line, maybe, but Jameson - labelled Sid Yobbo by the "toffee-nosed twits" on satirical magazine Private Eye - was so upset he sued the BBC.

"Radio 4 reckoned I was an inarticulate yob," he wrote in the Brighton Argus a few years back, blaming his unreconstructed Docklands accent "and the stigma of being a school leaver at 14" for the problem.

"The extraordinary thing is that real villains from my patch usually try to appear posh and are noted for their immaculate suits, exaggerated manners and phoney accents. The Kray twins were thought by their neighbours to be polite young men." Derek Jameson didn't like jellied eels, either.

MAD Frankie Fraser, periodic guest at Spennymoor Boxing Academy's presentation evenings - "Frankie didn't want to come to Spennymoor, he thought we'd give him a bad name," said club secretary Paul Hodgson - wasn't Jameson's stereotypical East End villain at all.

One or other of these columns noted that he was about 5ft 4ins tall with a face like a consultant's scalpel. "He looks a bit like Harold Steptoe scrubbed up for a reunion, or the president of the Over 60s club, or Wilfred Pickles with an Elephant and Castle accent." Only the nose, we added, was Henry Cooper's.

Frankie - 42 years inside, reckoned by two Home Secretaries to be Britain's most violent man - entered to the theme from The Godfather, told tales of bread and water and of birch ("right on me deaf and dumb") thought himself a "rascal".

Before entering the Spennymoor ring, he'd been up to have a look at Durham jail from the outside, a reminder of many of those years at Her Majesty's pleasure. ("Well," he corrected, "hers and her father's.")

They parked near the prison, approached by a uniformed officer who recognised Frankie from his inside dealings and asked how he was getting on.

"What are you now, governor or sumfink?" asked Frankie, affably.

"Nah," said the other feller, "I'm the car park attendant."

He's now 83, has his own website, conducts tours of London's gangland from an open-top double decker.

That we felt safe so graphically to describe him was because of the immediate affinity - the lowest common denominator, some might say, the get-out-of-jail card others - between us.

"For a fellow Arsenal supporter," said Frankie, "anyfing."

HIS vices else, Frankie Fraser never smoked. "'Ad one when I was 15, sick all over the place, never bovvered again," he said.

A quick gasp into the ban, Elizabeth Sayers - coincidentally also from Spennymoor - is reminded of Nosmo King, who she believes was a black American singer and comedian either side of the war.

"I think," adds Elizabeth, "that he derived his name after seeing a No Smoking sign on a train. There weren't many in those days."

As may be said of a recently discarded tab end, she's warm. Nosmo King was in reality H Vernon Watson, a Liverpool bank clerk and stage mimic whose career failed to take off (as it were) until he changed his name.

It happened, it's said, after he spotted the scene dock doors open backstage. One half said "Nosmo", the other "king".

Stage identity notwithstanding, he found it immensely difficult to stop chain smoking cigars until someone suggested an alternative. Snuff said, Nosmo King finally lived up to his name.

ONLY Paddy Burton in Sunniside - up near Crook - has added to the list of what might be termed personalised North-East place names - Percy Main, Bill Quay, Stanley Crook, Haydon Bridge - floated in last week's column.

Billy Row's just a couple of miles from him. Grahamsley, also in the vicinity, is disqualified by virtue of being one word.

Peter Elliott in Eaglescliffe recalls the old Lincolnshire legend - "it sounds credible" - of the crossroads sign indicating "To Old Bolingbroke and Mavis Endersby".

Beneath it someone had added "The gift of a son".

AFTER Bill Quay, Bill's mothers. Noting that Dellwood in Bishop Auckland was on the property market for £675,000 - it appears not yet to have been snapped up - last week's column recalled the murkiest of etymological mysteries.

The phrase about looking black over Bill's mother's, they'll tell you in North-East sporting circles, owes its provenance to Dellwood and to Bill Proud, who lived there with his parents.

David Burniston in Darlington consults one of Nigel Rees's many etymological tomes but with little success save to find that it's been claimed all over the country and for several generations.

In any case, says David, the next saying explored is "Play with fire, pee in the bed". This may possibly be irrelevant.

SO, finally back to those seven words at the top of the column. If you take the first letter, place it at the end of the word and then spell the word backwards, it will be the same word. Spell checked, the column returns next week