ATTENTIVE readers will know that these columns’ favourite word is serendipity, a five-syllable construction meaning jam.

Thus at the George and Dragon in Hudswell. As we enter by the front door, a livener on a Saturday stroll, the local government minister walks through the back door having officially opened the netties.

And just when today’s column thought it had nothing to go on…

Hudswell’s a tranquil village a couple of miles outside Richmond. The community-owned George and Dragon, structured ten years ago and now a model for pub rescues throughout the land, was the Campaign for Real Ale’s national pub of the year three years ago and continues to win awards.

The minster’s local MP Rishi Sunak, 39 last Sunday and tipped for yet higher things. The new toilets, with special facilities for the disabled, were visited along with the bee hives and a recently planted 200-tree sapling plantation. Bees, trees and wees as the more vulgarian among the clientele suppose.

“It’s very important to us, as a community pub, that everyone should be able to use our facilities,” says Martin Booth, the company secretary.

So had the honourable member opened a toilet before? Mr Sunak, the most conscientious of constituency MPs, recalled that he had – at Hackforth village hall, west of Bedale. “They’d had a fund raising campaign, gush with the flush or a clever name like that. I got to press a button and that started some fireworks,” he said.

No such pyrotechnics at Hudswell, though there was a huge cake, some excellent ale, an encouraging little speech from the minister and – when the rain stopped – lovely views over the valley.

Particularly Mr Sunak liked the apiary idea – “this government is massively focused on pollinators,” he said, if not necessarily the bees’ knees – and the notion that it was all community led. “The whole country is aware of you,” he added.

The community pub’s 2018-19 annual report reveals a booming business with almost 200 shareholders. Despite regicidal problems with a queen, the four hives produced 40lbs of honey which were snapped up in the little shop that’s part of the pub – there’s library, allotments and community orchard, too – and won a first prize in the Richmond Beekeepers’ annual competition.

Buzzing, or what?

Though it was the day after the local government election results, Mr Sunak seemed pretty much on a high, too. Didn’t he find that a bit hard at times? “Most people who know me say I’m a pretty cheery chap,” he said. “In the past year or so I’ve had to dig into the reserves.”

Then he, too, had to go.

RETURNING for another reason from Ripon – more of that next week – we look into the region’s newest community-owned pub, the Green Dragon at Exelby, a couple of miles south of Bedale. It’s impressively transformed, log fired, greatly welcoming. From May 24 (5pm) to May 26 there’s a beer festival with 20 ales and what folk now like to call street good. Enthusiastically recommended.

IF not strictly serendipitous, then here’s an astonishing coincidence. Extending a penal thread begun with memories of Northallerton Prison, last week’s column told the story of the 200-year-old mulberry bush inside the walls of Wakefield jail.

Themselves involuntarily incarcerated, children of female prisoners would dance around it by way of a breath of fresh air. It was the origin, it’s widely believed, of the nursery rhyme.

That very night, as several readers kindly pointed out, the BBC website reported that the mulberry bush had been chopped down, falling victim to beetle infestation and canker. “Rotten all the way through,” said Tom Wheatley, the governor, a reference to the poor mulberry bush and not to some of that high security establishment’s more infamous inmates.

They now hope to take a cutting from a mulberry tree, itself grown from the original, and again to propagate within the prison walls. Perhaps, it’s now mooted, they’ll have two trees. What goes around comes around, as probably they say in Wakefield.

UNLIKE the turn-up at the George and Dragon, our attendance at the Ripon Cathedral Beer Festival on a chill bank holiday Monday may not be supposed spontaneous.

Nor should it be imagined that the festival was held within those hallowed precincts – as, in truth, we’d imagined – but in the Dean’s walled garden across the road.

Scriptural allusions to money changers and them that sold doves – or pork pies, at any rate – have at once to be abandoned.

The dean’s the Very Rev John Dobson, formerly the hugely energising vicar of All Saints in Blackwell, Darlington and clearly having the same invigorating effect south of the Tees. The beer festival’s heavily sponsored programme talks of “the dean’s development plans for a 21st century Yorkshire cathedral.” Much else is going on.

In the magnificent cathedral itself, maybe 20 visitors are pottering about, reminded that the building’s upkeep costs £1,500 daily and invited voluntarily to donate £3 a head.

In the dean’s chilly garden and in the rocking marquee there are maybe four or five hundred, charged £5 admission – including a “free” plastic glass, that well known contradiction in terms. A pint with which to fill it is £4.

Few ales appear to have religious significance, though there’s Whitby Abbey and there’s Theakston’s Lightfoot, which may or may not be a nod to a late-Victorian Bishop of Durham of that name.

The Black Dog Brewery in Whitby also offers something called Rhatas, which may not be falling down beer. Rhatas was Dracula’s dog, or something.

The dean’s busying himself behind the bar and welcoming folk, innocently supposing that they seem less to be noticing the cold as the afternoon wears on and no matter that the relevant Bible story may be more Noah’s flood than Garden of Eden.

The band’s jumping jack flashing rather than songs of praising, only the poor chap vainly trying to sell farmhouse ice cream looking like he in turn might catch a cold.

It’s reported that the beer festival made £12,500 for cathedral funds. That’s an awful lot of three quids.

DEERBOLT young offenders’ institution outside Barnard Castle is itself – just – in the Ripon ecclesiastical area. In some prison sentences a couple of weeks ago, we recalled a Christmas service in which lines of Once In Royal David’s City had been changed to “Mary’s mum and dad went wild, when they heard about the child.”

We attributed the re-working to “the boys of Deerbolt”, which is what they claimed.

Not so, says John Biggs in Bishop Auckland. It’s from an updated version – “Once in Judah’s least-known city” – written by John L Bell and Graham Maule with the Wild Goose Worship Group of the Iona Community. “It presents the words of the traditional carol in a slightly more modern way,” says John.

Those Deerbolt boys, eh? Tea leaves, or what?

…and finally, Northern Cross – the diocesan newspaper for the North-East’s Roman Catholics – reports the death of Fr Jim Keane, long-serving priest of Scotswood, Newcastle.

Though obliged to celebrate Mass while sitting, Fr Jim continued faithfully. “He dodged the bishop when he saw him in case the question of retirement came up,” says the Cross.

We’d last seen him on St Patrick’s Day 2006, 600 largely Irish Catholics jigging their way through Mass at the neighbouring St Michael’s in Elswick before heading to the Tyneside Irish Centre – the only problem with the patron saint’s day, of course, that it always falls in Lent.

The late Bishop Kevin Dunn, a charming man, declined to be drawn on whether episcopal blind eyes were turned to a temporary suspension of penitential fasting – but whatever else the faithful gave up for Lent, it sure as shamrock wasn’t St Patrick’s Day.