On the eve of George W Bush's visit to the Sedgefield area, the column finds the perfect pub for the president.

WHEN pondering tomorrow's presidential lunch venue, did anyone consider the Bird in Hand - as in two in the Bush - in Trimdon Village?

It's just a brisk stroll from Tony's place, after all, it's in the 2004 Good Beer Guide - "large, friendly, 1950s locals' pub with spacious lounge/restaurant" - and it plays games like devil among the skittles (with which George W is doubtless familiar).

Best of all, however, the president could compare notes on the space programme with Nick Steggall, the landlord - a former trainee cosmonaut at Space City in Russia.

"I got in through the back door. I had some friends who were cosmonauts when I worked over there, " says Nick, a broad Yorkshireman.

Though mementoes of his head in the clouds days are scattered around the pub - "photographs, a bit of space scrap, a few specks of moon rock, things like that" - he is reluctant to talk much about the adventure.

"I just did a bit of training. It involved living with the cosmonauts and generally mingling in with them, " he says.

That he has now landed in Trimdon was because of a back injury which brought him unhappily back to earth.

"I just like County Durham. I'm very pleased to be here, " he says.

The Bird in Hand is also home to Trimdon Folk Club, at which the Prime Minister's Trimdon-based constituency agent John Burton is a regular performer, and to the world spoon playing championships, where our old friend Bert Draycott from Fishburn recently, reluctantly, relinquished his title.

"Bert's in deep mourning, " says John Burton. "Last I heard, he was doing altitude training in Tow Law."

Unable to explain the pub's unusual name - prehensile readers may have ideas of their own - John has nonetheless enjoyed many a happy night there.

"So far as I can gather, Nick was just interested in space travel and the Russians took him under their wing, as it were. He doesn't talk too much about it."

Nick says he doesn't know if the Bird will be welcoming the Bushes.

"Judging by the number of helicopters over here at the moment, I should think it's entirely possible."

Rocket science?

THE hugely colourful Wilf Scott, Shildon lad and prince among pyrotechnicians, hopes to make next year's opening of the National Railway Museum satellite in his home town a memorably spectacular affair.

"It would be brilliant if we could do a major display," says 56-year-old Wilf, made a Member of the Victorian Order by the Queen for his skylighting work on last year's Jubilee fireworks around Buckingham Palace.

Phil Ball, Sedgefield Borough Council's director of leisure, is enthusiastic. "The project is about linking with the local community. There's no better opportunity than this," he says.

Wilf, a baker's son, was raised alongside the railway, not half a mile from the new museum now rapidly taking form.

When Shildon wagon works closed in 1985, he tried to get financial backing - "I came very close to it" - for a last farewell involving a pyrotechnic steam engine and a 10ft inflatable Margaret Thatcher.

The Prime Minister would doubtless have come off second best.

Wilf also has a rather less well known connection - coupling might be the more appropriate word - with the existing Timothy Hackworth Museum in Shildon, now closed for refurbishment.

One of the exhibits - at least the last time he was there - was a trophy marked "Shunter of the Year, 1928." It's a fraud - the fireworker worked it himself, while at university.

"It's a model of a wooden coal truck bent through 90 degrees," he says. "It was always my ambition to get something into the Transport Museum by leaving it in a brown paper bag on the step.

"We chose a shunter because railway shunters at that time didn't get a happy Christmas from anyone else."

Wilf and fellow students, dressed for the period part and complete with shunting poles, even filmed the "presentation" on Reading railway station.

Phil Ball says he doesn't recall the exhibit but much looks forward to meeting its creator. "I don't suppose there's much chance of getting it in the National Railway Museum," says Wilf.

A truth that's set in stone

BUOYANT as ever, last week's column told the story of the Cretejoist, a concrete ship built in Stockton after World War I and still stubbornly afloat - explosives deleted - off the Norwegian coast.

"No need to go to Norway, " writes John Briggs. "There's another concrete ship on the River Wear that we used to play on as kids in Sunderland."

Incredible hulk? "Well, that's what it seemed like to us in the 1950s, " says John, now landlocked in Darlington.

This one was the Cretehawser, built for the Admiralty in 1919, dismantled in 1936 and beached later that year on a South Hylton sand bank.

What's really incredible is that it's still there - and that the rats haven't deserted. "I gather it's infested with them, " says Frank Major of the Sunderland Port Authority.

The 120ft Cretehawser and other vessels were made by the Wear Concrete Building Company, partly owned by Swan Hunter and Wigham Richardson, in a yard near Hylton Colliery.

Others included the Creterope and the Cratecable, which sank after hitting Yarmouth pier, was refloated but was wrecked three months later after a collision off Whitburn with a trawler called Lord Cecil.

"The Cretehawser has a folklore all of its own, " says Major. "I certainly wouldn't want to play on it, but I expect the kids still do."

The hulk, he insists, is no danger to other river users. "If it had been, we'd have blown it up years ago."

There is a pause. "At least, " says the Port Authority man, "we'd have tried to."

IAN Forsyth in Durham follows last week's note about Dulcie Lewis's latest work of lavatorial humour with the joke about two long serving Japanese sewage workers - one who worked days, the other evenings.

Ships that pass in the night?

Well, almost.

Ian also recalls a little ditty, beloved of the late Bill Oliver - once the Echo's Bishop Aucklandbased photographer:

A man fell in a sewer And in that sewer died, And at the coroner's inquest They called it sewer-cide.

DULCIE herself - up near Carperby, in Wensleydale - reports that "A Flush in the Pan" is selling so swiftly that, a week after publication, a reprint has been ordered.

She had misgivings, nonetheless.

"I had to be persuaded to do it as after the last two books on old RICHARD Franklin, a former Wensleydale resident also mentioned hereabouts last week - successively a committee member of the Conservative Association and chairman of the Liberal Democrats - is either tilting at windmills or trying to save the world. (Delete as appropriate. ) The Oxford educated former Dr Who actor, well remembered in Middleham, has written a 28-page tract called Forest Wisdom, proposing a new political movement called People For People - an answer to his "seething rage against those who so collectively corrupt our society".

There is much amazing and wonderful, Richard concedes, about modern Britain and the great majority of its people - "but that doesn't alter the fact that our glittering world is poised upon a dung heap of our own making."

Fellow thinkers can learn more from PO Box 383, Brighton BN1 3WN.