WIND Mill Methodist church, that great redoubt of the old religion, marked its 150th anniversary – what clever folk call a sesquicentennial – two Sundays back. Not many came.

Four days earlier there’d been an anniversary brass band concert. Still fewer turned out. “I thought if they hadn’t come on Wednesday they’d come on Sunday,” said Joyce Simpson, who great great great grandfather helped pioneer the place.

Thus was the celebration slightly overshadowed, thus difficult questions demanded perforce to be put. “We have to face reality, everywhere is declining and none of us is getting any younger,” said Joyce, candidly. “No decisions have been made, but we have to keep our minds open to all possibilities. If we aren’t serving a relevant purpose, there’s no point in being here.”

Wind Mill’s a half-hidden hamlet, formerly called Pit Green, not far from the A68 in west Durham. Before the chapel was built they met in an upper room of the mill itself. We’ve been many times, loved the place – “traditional, nostalgic, as comforting as a winter coat,” the At Your Service column once observed.

Joyce, her sister Hazel Gaskell and their cousin Sheila Plant have faithfully attended and served the little church for almost half of its existence. Make sure you put “almost” half, said Joyce. Though it may only comfortably hold 40 or so, best seats by the pipes, the chapel teas might feed the five thousand.

The service is introduced by Joyce – “I think it’s a miracle that we’re still here in this little chapel,” she says – led by Gerald Bell, a local preacher from Stanhope and features the Centenary Singers, who could hardly be called the Sesquicentennial Singers, from Peterlee.

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Two scriptural thoughts occur: one’s the line about whenever two or three are gathered together – there are probably about 20, none under 60 – and the other the verse from the parable of the rich man’s feast about going out into the highways and hedges and compelling them to come in. The way it’s been raining, they’d get awfully muddy wellies if they did.

Mr Bell recalls other great events of 1869 – Sainsbury’s first store, the first council houses, the first edition of People’s Friend, the demise of the half farthing. “You could only put a farthing in the collection after that,” he says.

He also adds Charles Wesley’s great hymn And Can It Be to the playlist after gentle representations from the fourth estate. “We have to keep the press happy,” he says.

The choir sings everything from Dusty to Disney, Kylie to Ken Dodd, Edelweiss to Alexander’s Ragtime Band – just about everything except that Max Bygraves number about the windmill in old Amsterdam. They also sing Crazy, which incorrigibly recalls meeting notorious East End gangster Mad Frankie Fraser and his partner Marilyn Wisbey at a boxing club do in Spennymoor.

They’d met, said Mad Frankie, when Marilyn – daughter of one of the Great Train Robbers – was the cabaret at a night club he was visiting. “She sang Crazy. I fort is she getting at me or what?”

Post-service, the spread might again feed the five thousand. The mood’s quietly reflective. After 150 years of witness, who knows what’s blowing in the wind.

MUCH excitement in the Darlington Lions’ Club bookshop, that great purveyor of ten bob treasures, when someone brings in what appears to be a first issue of Dalesman magazine, April 1939.

There’s a welcome by J B Priestley, a piece by Ella Pontefract, a map on the back seeking to define the “Yorkshire Dales” – an area seemingly stretching from Darlington to Clitheroe, down to Harrogate and across to Kirkby Stephen.

“It’s a brilliant find if original,” says Lions king Tom Peacock, himself a son of the Swale, and thereby (of course) is the rub. New editor Jon Stokoe, only the seventh in that chair, confirms that it’s a facsimile – the shiny staples are a clue – produced to mark the magazine’s 80th birthday.

Tom remains leonine – and already it’s gone to a good home.

ORIGINALLY called The Yorkshire Dalesman, the monthly magazine cost threepence. These days it’s £3.30, but still much treasured in those parts and by exiles around the world.

Conspicuously absent from the 1939 edition, though ever present since 1953, is Old Amos – no relation, so far as reasonably may be ascertained – a pocket cartoon featuring a long-bearded Yorkshire sage.

Drawn by Rowland Lindup, continued by his son Peter, the first depicted Amos offering advice to a youngster: “Start courtin’ the boss’s daughter, it’ll save thi’ years of study.”

The December 2019 issue has the venerable old boy looking ever more like Santa Claus minus the red coat. It’s reproduced with permission.

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PERHAPS prompted, we head up Swaledale for a lunchtime pint at the Kings Head in Gunnerside – very much an open and shut case of late, but again resuscitated, and about to become the region’s latest community-owned pub.

Just two other customers, but an enjoyable pint of Black Sheep bitter, the paradoxically lugubrious Hallelujah on the music machine and a simple menu with good home-made soup and a baguette for £8.95.

The Little White Bus, championed by the late and locally much lamented John Blackie, maunders faithfully past. It’s been a mucky old autumn: as we used to say in Shildon, the Little White Bus is hacky black.

SO ends my penultimate column, after almost 55 years in journalism – and all with the same company. The final bow will be Saturday’s Backtrack. Old Amos has outlived the relative whippersnapper.

It’s mordantly coincidental that, just minutes before the thing was to be sent, John Briggs – among the great old faithfuls – should email news that the Apostrophe Protection Society has folded. If such things may be supposed of a speck, apostrophes became one of these columns’ leitmotifs.

John Richards, the society’s founder, is now 96. “Ignorance and laziness have won,” he says.

It has been the most memorable of journeys, more than half a century of being paid to have a good time and – now it can be said – never once waking up to a big white ocean with the words “He couldn’t think of anything to write” drowning, not waving, in the middle.

None of it would have been possible without a magnificent cohort of readers, correspondents and informants with whom the columns lived almost symbiotically. Numbers, sadly, have diminished. Many have died, their memories alive in the great electronic archive and in myriad North-East experiences. Many became, and remain, good friends.

It’s been a pleasure and a privilege. To every single soul who since 1965 has helped make it possible, a most sincere thank you.