The year turns; the column reflects upon the good, the bad and the other thing

PROBABLY for reasons beyond his control, the Stokesley Stockbroker was born on December 27, 1943. It’s unfortunate, nonetheless, that the birthday bash at the Royal York Hotel coincides with the Christmas gales and with fearfully overcrowded trains.

Once it was the Royal Station, one of British Transport Hotels. Still there’s a departure board above the reception desk, still absurd prices.

Pint of Black Sheep, £4.50.

The do begins in the Tempus Bar – “tempus” as in tempus fugit, which as any first-former knows is Latin for times flies. It doesn’t seem five minutes since his 60th.

When last mentioned hereabouts, the Stockbroker was slightly apprehensive about a forthcoming cataract procedure. Job done, he exults like so many more. “The clarity’s wonderful,” says the birthday boy, unfestively. “You’re even uglier than I thought.”

THAT night, and with just four days remaining of that nook and cranny institution’s 225th anniversary year, we treat the younger bairn to Cinderella, at the Georgian Theatre, in Richmond.

It’s a wonderful and a unique little place, intimately suited to family entertainment, though surprisingly few youngsters are in the full house.

It may explain what might be termed a reverse spoonerism on the name of Robin Hood’s padre.

We’re in a box, or part of one. Were it a telephone box, the Guinness Book might seek some sort of record.

The downside is the backside: Georgian theatres may not have been built for comfort.

The show’s brilliant, all manner of clever touches and a few contemporary references. There’s a Baroness Parker-Knowles, reclining, the dogs Gove and Osborne – “Osborne likes to urinate on the poor”. A hobby horse is called Nigella, the Ugly Sisters are Cystitis and Verruca.

Sensibly, however, there is no reference to the Foreign Secretary. Mr Hague remains much admired in his constituency.

The Northern Echo:
Charlie, the pantomime horse in the Georgian Theatre’s Cinderella

None is a familiar name, all are splendid. Gary Bridgens, the doughty Dandini, is back in Richmond despite falling through a trapdoor and breaking a rib during Babes in the Wood last year.

The month’s run is now over, the cast returned to their families throughout Britain. Readers are thus urged to book early for 2014: you really should go the ball.

CLEARLY Richmond enjoyed the festivities. Theo Hutchcraft, raised in the town but now half of a greatly successful pop music duo called Hurts, returned to his native hearth – and to the town’s pubs – on Christmas Eve.

His Wikipedia page reckons that he and music partner Adam Anderson met while their mates were fighting outside a night club, they themselves being too drunk to join in.

No trouble at all at Christmas. The younger bairn reports that Theo was both personable and patient, particularly as the queue for photographs lengthened. He ponders with the wisdom of a venerable 29- year-old. “I still preferred Cinderella, though,” he says.

FOR no better reason than that it is by the sea, an uncomfortable proximity in 2013, we welcomed the New Year at Saltburn.

There, as in so many other places, New Year appears old hat. Where the revellers, where – tall, dark and handsome – the first foot, where Skelton and Brotton Silver Band to serenade the lads in Lune Street club?

The Spa Hotel is half empty and since the hand pumps are turned to the wall – not even Spa bar Black Sheep – we decline its company. The Marine, on the promenade, is uncommonly quiet, too. We leave after a couple, drawn by the lights at the end of the pier showing.

The lady wonders if it might be fishermen; a return to rum smuggling, perhaps? The latter sees more likely. In truth it’s midnight firework folk, and there are more to enlighten the telescope in the promenade gardens. Couples on the seaward benches pop bottles of champagne.

2014 arrives happily.

IT’S coincidental that David Walsh, once a Saltburn lad himself, should draw attention to an ad in the New Year’s Eve paper for something described as “pre-owned”. Just before the bells, in a shop near the railway station, wee spot similar goods labelled as “pre-loved”. Formerly, they were second-hand.

BACK on Christmas Eve, the column told of the timeless “shortest day” service at Gunnerside Methodist chapel, in Swaledale.

It stirred memories for Shildon lad John Littlefair, 55 years a Methodist local preacher until his retirement – “save for illness and emergencies” – in 2012. “It’s amazing how much illness and emergency there’s been,”

says John.

He recalls Sundays when car loads from the Shildon circuit would be sent to take the word to the dales’ scattered chapels.

An afternoon service would be followed by a handsome home-made tea, after which the preacher would be ferried to an evening gathering elsewhere. For John, it was particularly memorable because his grandfather was a Calvert, a tin and lead miner who moved to hew coal in Shildon when the dales’ mines were exhausted. Still plenty of Calverts up there, though.

His travelling companions included well-remembered Shildon men like Harold Budden, who managed Barclay’s Bank, Stan Mitchell – the Mutuality Man – and Jim Percival, who ran a milk business. I worked for him pre-school, 2/6d a two-hour morning, but that’s a different story.

THE Christmas Eve column mourned the passing of Ethel Dobson, retired Bishop Auckland head teacher, indomitable fund raiser and stalwart of the North Eastern Co-op: a Methodist connection – connexion, they would say – there, too.

Ethel was born in Chilton Moor, near Houghton-le-Spring, where still folk talked about the notorious case of George Scott, manager of the Newbottle, Philadelphia and Houghton-le-Spring Co-op and himself a Methodist local preacher.

One dark day in 1893, however, both manager and takings disappeared simultaneously, the gentleman reportedly seen soon afterwards in the company of a young lady on a cruise ship to America.

“The Newbottle incident was followed with great interest across the Co-operative movement,” the Co-op News reported, though the locals might have seen it coming – or at least the manager going.

Three weeks earlier, the text of Scott’s Sunday sermon had been “A little while and ye shall not see me”.

The following Sunday, it was “Ye shall seek, but not find”, and the morning before his scandalous disappearance, “The day of my departure is at hand”.

The following year, the Christian Herald reported that a beggar woman of the same name as Scott’s paramour had been found dead in a New York street. £4,000 was stitched inside the lining of her coat.

ETHEL’S funeral was at St Andrew’s, South Church, last Thursday.

“She was the very embodiment of Co-operative values,” said retired North Eastern executive Steve Warren in his eulogy. They carried the coffin in to the tune of Silent Night, out again to Alan Price singing The Jarrow Song. Arrangements – of course – were by the Co-op.

WE’Dalsonotedthedeath,at90, of Jim Reid MBE, much respected personnel officer at Shildon Wagon Works for the 17 years until its closure and a pillar of Cockerton Methodist Church, in Darlington.

Jean Beadle reports that the funeral was well attended, that they sang Jim’s favourite hymns – Thine Be the Glory and What a Friend We Have in Jesus – and that the coffin departed against a CD background of Amazing Grace on the bagpipes.

The Northern Echo:
John Littlefair

Proud Scot, he’d have liked that.

The December 24 column recalled Jim’s leading role in the church refurbishment, right down to suggesting that they use National Lottery money.

Didn’t the Methodists frown upon gambling? “Och,” said Jim, “they make exceptions for Scotsmen.”

Jean confirms that the church had decided not to apply for Lottery funding.

“As Methodists, we trusted that the money would be raised in other ways. It was.”