Welcome to 2003 and, by way of first footing, a meal which may still be the Bargain of the Year 51 wandering weeks from now.

The liver and onions and the Cumberland sausage and mash were £2.50 apiece, both accompanied by a flower box-sized dish of crisply cooked cauliflower, carrots and peas.

In appearance the sausage resembled the Lambton Worm, which wrapped itself ten times round Pensher Hill, though doubtless its taste was much superior; the mash might for want of a better term be called potato mash - none of this poncified passion for chive, chutney or chorizo mash - and was all the better for it; the gravy was luscious.

The liver and onions were so aromatic, so simple, so traditional and so utterly delicious that The Boss considered it the best fifty bob's worth since decimalisation.

Many chefs, of course, wouldn't even put on a pinny for £2.50. Many would charge more for a strawberry jam sandwich. Most could learn plenty here.

The vegetable soup - thick, spicy, manifestly home made, perhaps a degree or two under - was £2.25 with warm roll and butter. The pudding, same price, was the best since Mary Littlefair's weekly spotted dick master class in the dear gone days of King James I Grammar School.

It was fresh from the oven, said Patsy the friendly waitress, a spotted dick from which great hunks had been hewn and around which piping good custard clung like a top coat in winter, and no less warmly appreciated.

We are talking about the Dog and Gun at Etherley, and it should be made clear that - other than at Christmas - the two for a fiver is only available Monday to Thursday. Other dishes might be as much as £3, the salmon in white wine sauce was £4.25, gammmon with all the trimmings touched £6 and almost shot off the scale, or scales.

Dog and Gun hitting the target? Absolute, dead centre, bullseye.

Etherley is just off the A68, a couple of miles north of West Auckland, and should not be confused with Toft Hill, which is about three yards away.

Previous landlords have included Charlie Browne and Charlie Raine, both once well known in south Durham.

Charles Verdun Browne was a deep digging journalist who knew of 1960s pit closures - there were rather a lot - before word had penetrated to the shaft bottom. Charlie Raine, Shildon lad and former LNER boxing champion, was a concert party troubadour until well into his 80s and is remembered with much affection.

Offence unintended, the coincidence of their Christian name prompted desultory debate over the origin of the term "proper Charlie".

Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable suggests that the phrase may stem from "the unfortunate reputation of the many kings named Charles." Readers may (as usual) know better; the Prince of Wales may have enough on his plate already.

Julia Welsh, who runs the Dog with her partner Stephen Kerry, used it as her local when she lived up the road in Windmill. "People kept saying what a nice pub it used to be. I wanted it to be again," she says, simply.

Proof, were it ever needed, of this column's even handedness may be had in the fact that Stephen has a season ticket to Manchester United.

Chatty and cheery, it's the sort of welcoming old pub where folk are still called "Honey", where within ten minutes you might be related by marriage to half those present and where the atmosphere is enhanced by a pint of well kept John Smith's cask bitter or the familiarly strutting Old Speckled Hen.

The fifty shilling feast could also have been eaten in the cosy restaurant at the back, though we chose to share the lounge with the Saturday lunchtime racing crowd.

A punter in Stockton-on-Tees, it was announced, had won £165,000 on a multiple bet, briefly exciting speculation that it might be the column's twin brother who lives in that borough and is known to like a weekend wager.

In Dave's case, however, flutter seldom leads to windfall. "Not the sort of bet he makes," we said.

"Not the sort of horse he backs," corrected The Boss, unkindly.

The Dog and Gun, conversely, seems an odds-on winner. Shoot along and see.

* Dog and Gun, Low Etherley, near Bishop Auckland (01388 832448). Meals every lunchtime, 5-9pm Monday to Friday and all day Saturday. No problem for the disabled - Julia's mum's in a wheelchair, too.

George Tempest's cafe in Thirsk, the dog days after New Year. Catering pack soup, ordinary omelette, decent chips, horrible weather, music machine playing Beethoven's Ninth, the Ode to Joy. "Is that a Yorkshire song?" asks someone two tables away. Probably not.

AN altogether more convivial lunch a few days earlier at the Uplands Hotel, lost somewhere above Crook, about which we have previously enthused.

They should be aware, however, that whilst there is nothing as welcoming as a bar with a coal fire there is nothing more disappointing than a fireplace without flame.

Our guests, old friends, are both Canons of Newcastle Cathedral - he a dedicated country priest in Northumberland, his wife an author and nationally acclaimed authority on prayer.

The conversation turned towards Rowan Williams, the new Archbishop of Canterbury, about whom (and previous primates) the Rev Peter Mullen had written in that morning's Echo. We asked for a copy of the paper.

He bristled. She read it, half choked on her chicken salad, flung the paperonto the bench and said - God's honour - "Bloody hell".

In 30 years, it was the first time that we have ever heard such an expletive pass the lady's lips. It was possible almost to believe that she did not even know such expressions or had locked memory of them in the church safe.

It is not the Rowan Williams effect, but that of Peter Mullen.

Brian Madden, globe trotting former landlord of the Ball Alley in Stanley, e-mails from America to report that his 56th birthday has been spent splitting a cord of firewood - "I bet you and your readers don't know what a cord of firewood is" - before heading off to whatever masquerades as an Irish bar.

What he's really missing is Taylor's pies, from Darlington. "There's nowt like that over here," bewails Brian. "If it hasn't got tomato in, they don't eat it."

...and finally, the bairns wondered if we knew what you get by crossing a juicy fruit with a sad dog.

A melon colly, of course.