AFTER years of neglect in favour of the children, there are finally signs that my wife loves me after all.

First there was the romantic weekend in the Lakes for my 40th birthday. Then there was the Abba CD and the box of toffees that took my tooth out for Father's Day. And then came the best surprise of all for our 14th wedding anniversary - she'd got tickets for Wimbledon!

The kids were left with their doting auntie and uncle and off we set on a morning train from Darlington. Just the two of us: cuddling up, reading the papers, and having an unusually relaxed breakfast as the world flashed by.

Just after Doncaster, one of the girls pushing the refreshments trolley handed out questionnaires and asked my wife to fill one in. You know the kind of thing: Was your train on time? Yes. Did you book by phone or at the station? Phone. Is the buffet value for money? No. The last question made her think the hardest: Is there anything on the train you'd like to see improved? "Leg room," she wrote. And then I watched her pen hover over the form for a few seconds before she added "...and husband."

Marvellous isn't it? Presumably, someone somewhere down the line is analysing this market research and reporting back to the GNER board: "Yes, well, punctuality is better but there's always room for improvement. Customers certainly want action over the price of our bacon and tomato toasties. Oh, and there's definite dissatisfaction with Mrs Heather Barron's husband."

Or maybe women the length of the East Coast Mainline have written the same thing on their forms. Perhaps 'improvement to husbands on trains' is to become an integral part of GNER strategy - Maletrack they could call it.

By the time we'd arrived in King's Cross, I'd just about given up trying to work out what possible improvements she could want. A short tube ride later, Wimbledon was everything I'd dreamed of. MOBILE PHONES MUST BE SWITCHED OFF, ordered the signs as we made our way to Court One to see Tim Henman cruise through his first round match.

"Is your mobile off?" my wife asked. "Yes," I assured her. "Positive?" "Yes." Several mobiles rang during the afternoon, leading to dark looks from players and tut-tuts from spectators. My wife tut-tutted louder than most. She's an accomplished tut-tutter, my wife. "Wouldn't you think they'd have more sense?" she whispered.

As evening fell and the action on Court One came to a close, we adjourned for tea. "Can I have your phone, I'll give the kids a call," said my wife. Sadly, they'd gone swimming but she left a message and put the phone in her bag for safe-keeping.

The strawberries and cream having gone down expensively but nicely, we strolled around the outside courts and stood to watch a men's doubles. This time we were almost within touching distance of the action. The server bounced the ball, preparing to unleash an ace. At that moment the familiar, jolly jingle of a mobile phone rang out. My wife joined in a tut-tut chorus with scores of others.

The tune carried on... and on... and on. The players glared. The server bounced his ball for the umpteenth time, waiting for the distraction to stop. The crowd grew restless and looked in OUR direction.

Oh no! Please no! It was MY phone. In HER bag. She'd forgotten to turn it off! The kids were back from swimming and returning the goodnight call. Rapidly turning crimson, she rooted amongst the 'essential' rubbish in her bag for what seemed like an age.

Finally, mercifully, she switched it off. By that time, I'd walked off - disowned her. Sorry but I couldn't be associated with a strawberry-coloured mobile phone miscreant.

We weren't quite so cuddly on the train journey home. I just hope she had plenty of leg room.


HARVEY Craig, who popped over to say hello at the Silver Jubilee dinner of the Bishop Wearmouth Inner Wheel, had always assumed he'd inherited a family name.

"How come you're called Harvey?" a friend asked one day. "It's a family name," Harvey replied. "No it's not," interjected his mother from the other side of the room. "What do you mean?" asked Harvey, who'd arrived in his mid-forties before discovering the truth.

The story goes that his family once owned the Half Moon pub at Stakeford, Northumberland. The pub was at the bottom of a hill, with a river behind it. While his mother was waiting for the baby to arrive, her sleep was regularly interrupted by the sound of the milkman coming down the hill in his horse-drawn cart. As they approached the pub, and mindful of the river, the milkman used to shout "Whoah, Harvey," to slow down his faithful old horse. Harvey couldn't believe what his mother was telling him: "What? I'm not even named after the milkman - I'm named after his horse?"

It could have been worse, Harvey. The horse could have been called Dobbin.


NINE-year old Josh Peat passed the Big Issue seller in the street: "Bless you!," he said, kindly, thinking the man was having a bad sneezing fit. His cousin said he'd always wondered why there were people in the street shouting "big shoes".

Published: 04/07/2002