SO many miles have been traversed these past ten days that this is travellers' fare, really - the column, as a spin doctor might prescribe, for people on the move.

There is not even an account of a romantic Valentine's Day dinner, since the Northern League - don't ya just love it? - chose to have a disciplinary meeting that evening though not (necessarily) of the thong at twilight variety.

There are compensations in all this gallumphing, nonetheless, and none is greater than the recently award-winning GNER breakfast whilst crossing the gravely flooded Vale of York.

At busy times it is a pleasure restricted to the posh end of the train - first come, first served - but more widely available on the 8.14 from Darlington. The peasant hour, as it were.

We sat opposite a chap who looked like the town clerk in Dads' Army - he on the continental breakfast (£7.50), we the complete works for £13. Breakfast champagne was £24.95 extra and whilst it was Pancake Tuesday and a little pre-Lenten indulgence might have seemed permissible, it's doubtful if, shriven, they'd have signed the expenses.

Though it is common knowledge that cornflakes should be eaten only by consenting adults in private, we ignored one another's table manners and listened to other people's conversations instead.

On one table a chap was trying (optimistically) to ring the Chicago office, on another an alarm clock rang incessantly, though to what end it was impossible to ascertain.

The full English was terrific - fried or scrambled, back bacon, well seasoned sausage, "field" mushrooms, hash browns, fried bread, "black pudding" that might have been haggis in disguise. The butter was "free range", the marmalade Frank Cooper's, the coffee excellent.

The town clerk of Walmington-on-Sea glumly eyed his croissants, or whatever it is with which caffy-hearted continentals choose to salute the morn. He was the very picture of envy.

The service is as admirable as the breakfast: one attendant with the main course, another with mushrooms and beans, a third with HP, and with the bill (no credit).

It must have been getting on Peterborough before the column reluctantly remembered its place, and swayed satisfied back to standard class.

IF breakfast were among the upper echelons, then at lunchtime we were living like Lords - Lord Dormand of Easington, to be exact, now 82 and (as he said) getting along quite canny.

The Palace of Westminster has several eating places, mostly shielded from public gaze. This was the self-service "Terrace Cafeteria", however, MPs and their guests divided from the workers by what elsewhere might be called a snob screen.

Lord Dormand, for 17 years Easington's MP - even the tea ladies still call him Jack - qualifies for all areas, unlike the Law Lords who (to his little disguised pleasure) must remember their place and sit in the public gallery.

"They'll be over there now," he said, enthusiastically.

It's probably a bit like an up-market boarding school, pancakes - they remembered - from silver dishes with golden syrup, atmosphere clubable, terrace outside with views across the Thames to the unblinking London Eye. Unlike most boarding schools, however, it appears heavily to be subsidised.

The daily changing menu last Tuesday included white bean soup with croutons (45p), abundantly fresh aubergine and potato pie (£1), turkey escalope with cranberry relish (£1.85) and poached skate wing for £2.90. A selection of vegetables is 35p, puddings 85p.

There were newspapers, too, for those constitutionally unable to afford them.

Lord Dormand, a former chairman of the Parliamentary Labour Party, eats well despite (or perhaps because of) a double heart by-pass last summer.

All that marred a highly convivial lunch was that the Coke machine was bust. "I'll see someone about that," he said, as if sorting a blocked drain in Dawdon. Easington, they reckon, lost a very good MP.

THREE days earlier to Lewes, county town of East Sussex, where Harvey's have been brewing since 1790 and in no way appear to have lost the knack.

It also offered the chance to cross off a couple of pubs (and another in London on the way back) on the epic voyage of the Ship in Middlestone Village, near Bishop Auckland, second in CAMRA's national pub of the year awards.

Staff and regulars, it will be recalled, hope to visit all 5,000 Good Beer Guide listed pubs within a year. Seven weeks adrift, landlord Graham Snaith has rather lost track of the total after a short holiday in Derbyshire.

He and his wife Liz showed loyalty to the cause, nonetheless. They visited 40 listed pubs in a week.

THE column was itself in Derbyshire on Friday, though sadly unable to add to the Ship's ports of call. Nor, alas, was the Virgin train to Derby able to offer any of their rather more-ish breakfast ciabattas. "It's been a busy morning," said the buffet attendant, shortly after leaving York. It was 7.50am - so much for the all-day breakfast.

The following lunchtime, however, we were able to tick off the Horse and Cart at Scawby Brook in Lincolnshire, a pub which not only won a "highly commended" in last year's Meat and Livestock Commission's "Steak Pie of the Year" award but which now brews its own ale in the cellar.

Beers include Honest Lawyer, the brewery is called the Faint Hope Brewing Company. (These two items must not be connected, nor construed as reference to any solicitor of the column's acquaintance, living or dead but especially the former, Your Honour.)

SINCE recent columns have discussed the Arabic word "mufti", it should also be recorded that Lewes Football Club - whose ground is called The Dripping Pan - sells Pukka Pies, £1.60.

"Pukka", says Chambers Dictionary, is an Anglo-Indian word meaning out-and-out good, complete, full weight and one or two other things.

Whether Pukka Pies are out-and-out good, especially at £1.60, is - of course - a matter of opinion.

A LOT closer to home, last week's column quoted a CAMRA publication's comments on the Shakespeare, in Durham. Whilst praising (not burying) the pub, the book claimed that the Shakespearian connection was about as genuine as the "brewers' Tudor" outside. Pat Woodward, also in Durham, knows better.

The Globe Theatre stood behind the pub, says Pat, its foundations laid with great pomp by the local Freemasons' Lodge on July 6, 1791.

"The theatre staged many Shakespearian productions, its earliest 'stars' being the great Kemble, said to be able to play Falstaff without padding, and his sister Fanny, later Mrs Siddons."

It became a furniture store, demolished in the 1970s to make way for university accommodation. Once when the walls were stripped for redecoration, Pat recalls, he noticed the door through which strolling players hurried to wet their whistles, between acts and behind scenes.

He also recalls, whilst walking down North Bailey for an evening's refreshment, bumping into the then Dean of Durham (who was headed for the railway station.)

At the Shakespeare, Pat and his friend excused themselves. "Ah yes," said the Dean, "the immortal bar."

... and finally, the bairns wondered if we knew what you have when 2,000 strawberries try to get through the door together.

Strawberry jam, of course.

Published: Tuesday, February 19, 2002