BUSINESS has been quiet in all kinds of walks of life over the past year – but when your job happens to be dependent on making lots of noise, it must be especially frustrating.

Peter Stemmer doesn’t like it quiet. That’s because he’s spent the past 13 years making his voice heard above the crowds as Darlington’s first official Town Crier for more than a century.

“I’ve really missed it,” he says. “Normally, I’d have been out and about at all kinds of events, but lockdown’s put paid to all of that.”

The former Army Sergeant Major loves nothing more than being asked to get dressed up in his Town Crier costume and have a bloomin’ good shout.

And he took little persuasion to make a special appearance in the Market Square last week to publicly announce that, at 69, he’d just had his first vaccination against Covid-19.

Oyez, Oyez,

Good people of Darlington,

Have no fear,

I was vaccinated yesterday,

And I’m still here!

“It’s just my way of encouraging people and getting the message out that nobody should be in the slightest bit worried about having the jab,” says Peter, who ran Mowden Post Office in the town before he retired.

A small, socially-distanced crowd had gathered to hear his vaccination declaration, with one chap getting his camera ready and requesting a repeat performance: “Hey, that was great – would you do it again for me?”

Entertainment’s been hard to come by in locked-down Darlington, so a man ringing a bell, and hollering, while wearing a funny black hat, scarlet cloak and white socks, is well worth having on video.

Peter, along with wife, Marilyn, had his vaccination at Feethams House, in Darlington town centre, and both were full of praise for the way it was organised.

“The vaccination programme across the country has been a fantastic team effort and it was actually a really pleasant experience,” said Peter. “It was like clockwork and everyone was so chatty, friendly and reassuring from start to finish.”

The summer before coronavirus, Peter had been in his element, proudly hosting 15 of the country’s finest Town Criers in the British Championships in the market square, but 2020 turned out to be a far cry from that splendidly noisy occasion, with every competition in the UK cancelled.

Peter had also been due to perform as part of Darlington’s big plans for the 75th anniversary of VE Day, on May 8, but Covid-19 got in the way of that too.

Instead, he had to make do with recording a “cry for peace” for the council’s website. Then, in August, there were also cries for peace across on Teesside to mark the 75th anniversary of VJ Day.

Other than that, the only other time Peter’s booming voice was called into service was at Christmas when he was cajoled into making virtual appearances as Santa Claus in aid of the Food For Thought Darlington charity.

Not only did he wear the costume and white whiskers, he built a grotto in his attic, and raised £840 in the process.

So far, this year’s calendar includes a Zoom talk on the history of Town Criers, to Stockton Probus Club, on March 3, and there’ll be a virtual cry from home to mark St George’s Day, on April 23.

“He’s been practising on me!” smiles Marilyn.

Further ahead, there are hopes that restrictions will be lifted in time for an annual Town Crier gathering in Knaresborough on the second Sunday in August.

On a personal front, 2021 is a big year for Peter and Marilyn. May 15 is their golden wedding anniversary, then Peter will be 70 on May 29. There are plans to celebrate both with a family trip to Spain and a party on the beach, but no one’s feeling very optimistic that it will be able to go ahead.

“It’ll be a shame if it can’t happen but what will be will be – there are lots of people who’ve been having a harder time than us,” says Peter.

“Hopefully, we’ll be back to normal soon, and we can all get back to enjoying ourselves,” he adds.

Oyez, oyez to that.

BEFORE Peter Stemmer, Darlington’s only other Town Crier – or holder of the ancient office of Bellman – was John Donnison, who died in 1981.

The position, also known as Macebearer, was created on the granting of the Charter of Incorporation to Darlington Borough Council. The mace used by the council today was purchased by public subscription, largely due to the efforts of Donnison.

DID you know, a collective noun for a group of Town Criers is “a bellow”?

ANOTHER ancient office is celebrated through the High Sheriff Awards, staged annually by County Durham Community Foundation, to recognise outstanding projects supporting young people.

During the 11th and 12th centuries, High Sheriffs were appointed by the King to support criminal justice. They had the power to make judgements in court cases, were able to “raise a hue and cry in pursuit of felons” within their shire, and collect taxes.

Last year’s County Durham High Sheriff Awards were due to be held just as the pandemic was taking a grip and had to be staged online. Sadly, due to Covid-19 proving to be more stubborn than expected, this year’s awards will also have to follow the same format, with yours truly again compering from home.

Nevertheless, we’re doing our best to ensure the event does the winners justice. Filming took place yesterday, and the event will be streamed on the Foundation’s Facebook page, at 6pm on March 23.

Nothing can match the atmosphere of us all being in the same room, but I promise it will still be an inspirational celebration of young people in our communities and the projects that bring them together.

ON a far less positive note, how desperately sad and utterly appalling to hear how Captain Tom Moore’s family had to hide online trolls from him in his final days.

Sick people who sit on their backsides, achieving nothing and spreading hate, compared to a wonderful old man who achieved something priceless, spreading nothing but goodness and love.

No contest. They lose.

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FINALLY, a very happy 75th birthday to the man known as Mr Darlington, Alasdair MacConachie, for next Tuesday.

A well-deserved tribute will be paid on this page next week.

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