TIMED at 8.43am last Wednesday, the first reaction to last week's column was a gentle rebuke from Eddie Roberts, a Welsh exile in Richmond, North Yorkshire.

We'd suggested, recklessly, that Llanfair PG was "just across the Welsh border" when, of course, it's across the Britannia and Menai bridges on Anglesey.

Eddie suspects the pervasive influence of the Welsh Assembly - "located in the south, of course."

North and South will unite next Tuesday, St David's Day, when the good folk of St Mary's church in Cockerton, Darlington, not only plan a party in the Welsh patron's honour but invite those attending to write a limerick with a Welsh flavour.

The Monday lunchtime pub had problems with this one, Mr Stahl only able to recall the verse about the policeman from Llandudno Junction and Mr Briggs reciting the five liner about the couple from Aberystwyth - ingenious, but no more printable.

In honour of St David, readers are therefore invited to come up with marginally less risque limericks with a flavour of the principality. Eddie Roberts has 8.43 to beat.

ANOTHER Paper, as we like coyly to suggest, carried a photograph on Saturday of an opencast coal mining protest at Stobswood, near Morpeth.

Amid the more predictable placards - "Enough is enough", "End filthy opencasting", "Our community deserves better" - stood a little girl, blonde haired and bonny, bearing the message "Stythe kills".

It's a term we'd not come across for so long that we assumed it to be not just a County Durham word but a Shildon word, and not just a Shildon word but one made up by me mam.

Stythe - pronounced not as in Blyth or Lythe, but as in Bruce Forsyth - was employed on the not infrequent childhood occasions when things in the kitchen being overheated, filled that confined space with fumes.

The Oxford English Dictionary, alone even in acknowledging its acrid existence, defines the word both as "foul air in a mine" and "a suffocating smell".

It also quotes Thomas Bewick, writing in Howdy and Upletting in 1865: "She thowt she wad be scumfished by the steyth."

Probably the nearest more familiar word is a fug. Saturday's, give or take a few miles, was the fug on the Tyne.

ONE or two eyebrows were raised at last week's gentle reference to Alan Milburn, Darlington MP and Labour election supremo. It's what you get for speaking at the Northern league dinner.

Though a columnist in one of the nationals had suggested that Mr Milburn was "never knowingly outstrutted", an admirer in Saturday's Times merely acknowledged that he walks "with a little swagger".

Even that, she said, was down to his winkle picker shoes.

NORSE code, perhaps, thanks are due to the single minded readers who have offered further information on the Norwegian village of A - written, as last week's column noted, "with a sort of halo on the top".

It's called a runding, says Margaret Jones, and it makes it one of three additional vowels in the Norwegian language - "sometimes written aa and pronounced 'aw', as in awful".

Bill Pearson in Stockton reckons the runding a Swedish invention, pinched by the Danes and Norwegians, and that A simply means 'river'.

"The Danes used it over here once pillaging became villaging," he adds - and the Great Eau river in Lincolnshire flows directly as a result.

THANKS also to John Rusby in Bishop Auckland who on the back of the Gadfly story about the Merry Hampton steam engine nameplate - gone for a song at Thomas Watson's auction house in Darlington - has sent a splendid photographic selection of other locomotive plates. "Your story has undoubtedly been the talking point among Britain's railwayana collectors," says John. Like an A3 on a good day, news clearly travels fast.

ANTICIPATING his 80th birthday last month, Dr David Jenkins told one of these columns that he was cutting down on travel, particularly through Birmingham New Street railway station.

For the first time since then, we were able to see on Saturday exactly what the former Bishop of Durham meant.

New Street is a place for souls in torment, the public address announcer maintaining a lugubrious litany of the conked out, cancelled and curtailed and of Virgin Pendolinos, simply pending.

There seems to be a New Street cred about these things. Up to 30 minutes late, the PA man is "sorry", 30-60 "very sorry", more than an hour damn near bloody heartbroken.

On any argument it's a regrettable business; it even costs 20p to spend a penny.

Most damning of all, consider the plight of passengers on the 9.12am from Darlington, 20 minutes late into Birmingham and told that because of timetable alterations it would wait there for another hour before proceeding, south-westward, "on time".

Doubtless the erudite Dr Jenkins has some pretty firm ideas of hell. After an enforced hour at New Street station, he might very well revise them.

AT last in the West Midlands, we enjoyed a couple of pints of Banks's Original - coincidental because Alan Archbold in Sunderland has sent one of that brewery's beer mats.

Is "Banks's" correct, he asks - and supposes, in common with his spellcheck, that it is not.

Though the use of the apostrophe after names which end in 's' is problematical, it seems from here that Banks' (or Thwaites' or even Vaux', God rest it) is an unnecessary nicety.

For that reason, we also disagree with the style St James' Park for the home of Newcastle United, though the club (and others) try to insist upon it.

Alan's letter arrived on Monday - a pity because last Thursday evening in Bishop Auckland Cricket Club we'd bumped for the first time in four decades into Geoff Hill, the English master who's fought valiantly to impress good grammar upon recalcitrant third formers.

Still in good form, he declined even a half by way of belated appreciation. We talked of old masters, though not from any Royal Academy, of subjects and subjunctives but never once of the perplexing possessive apostrophe.

Clearly, however, some of us still have much to learn. Unless scumfished by the stythe, we may be a littler wiser next week.