Is a man ever too old for jeans?

geoffTHE other day a glance in the mirror revealed I was wearing Geoff Hamilton’s jeans. Maybe it was the stance. It certainly wasn’t the belt or snags from rose thorns or anything.

A little context may be useful here for some of you. Not for my wife the gardener, who worshipped Hamilton more or less, and felt on his death in 1996 as if a favourite, slightly muddy, uncle had died.

Geoff was the presenter of Gardeners’ World, an everyday sort of green-fingered guru. And he often wore jeans, not as a fashion statement so much as a practical choice for the job at hand. Perhaps you could call them dad jeans comfortably cut for the middle-aged body.

Anyway I looked in the mirror and saw Geoff Hamilton’s jeans – my jeans, obviously, but reminiscent of what Geoff used to wear. And it must have been the stance as I wasn’t carrying a rosebush or anything.

A more up-to-date denim reference point for the no longer exactly young man might be Jeremy Clarkson. But if I’d looked in the mirror and seen myself in Clarkson’s jeans, it would have been a ridiculous sight. The former Top Gear car bore is a lot taller than me, and a deal fatter round the middle, so his jeans would swamp me in unnecessary folds of car-creased denim. But Clarkson is a useful example as he usually still clads his smart arse in denim.

These thoughts arise from a nasty little worry worm about the wearing of jeans. Is there ever a point where a man becomes too old for denim? I think the answer to this question has to be ‘no’, mainly because it begs another: if not denim, then what? Jeans just seem to do the business. They solve without fuss the daily problem of what a man should wear. And most of the alternatives are lacking in something. For me the jeans are always Levis. I usually have a few pairs on the go, running from ‘best’ to falling apart at the yellow-threaded seams. A recently abandoned pair had a wallet-shaped hole in the back pocket.

So jeans it is, unless I am out on a work visit. I never wore jeans in my old job, although lots of people to go to work in their Levis, Wranglers or whatever.

Women probably have more worries about what to wear at what age, but such insecurities do buzz around a man’s head too. The other night we were watching the Hairy Bikers off being silly somewhere chilly, Finland if memory serves. At one point the pair stripped naked and jumped into a cold lake. I asked my wife for reassurance that I didn’t look like that from behind. The good news is that I don’t.

Years ago there was a line of dialogue in the great American cop series NYPD Blue. Veteran detective Andy Sipowicz was being teased about his lack of fitness by a male colleague who pointedly said he went to the gym because he didn’t want cottage cheese for a butt. Well we now know that those hairy bikers are plentifully supplied with cottage cheese.

Male vanity also arises over baldness. For instance, did my wife really have to take that holiday photograph displaying the top of my head quite so prominently? To everyone else that is just what my scalp looks like. To me it was an unwanted reminder of long-lost glories. Although I should be used to this depletion as there has been more pink than brown for pushing 30 years now.

As for the jeans, I’ll be sticking to the Levis for a while yet, however often Geoff Hamilton invades the mirror.

An outbreak of schaden-facebook-freude

SCHADENFREUDE is a good place to start, but we need a new social media coining, schaden-facebook-freude perhaps.

The original word means finding pleasure in the misfortune of others, or ‘harm’ and ‘joy’ creamed together as the sour sauce in a German sandwich. Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase & Fable offers the translation “a malicious delight in the bad luck of others”.

Playful malice was much in evidence yesterday when Facebook crashed for the second time in a week. Twitter was awash with jokes at its mightier cousin’s expense, with outbursts of self-mockery too, as people complained that they would now actually have to talk to their partner. Or they would go to bed without knowing what their friends had for tea. Or whether they’d gone for a jog. The streets would be filled with people carrying photographs as they sought approval, maniacally asking for those they passed in the street to ‘like’ what they’ve been up to.

Some of the Twitter quips were quite funny. “Twitter,” someone tweeted, “has agreed to take in 30,000 Facebook refugees.”

The site crashed for 40 minutes, following a similar disappearance last Thursday, and Facebook shares fell by nearly four per cent.

Once all this would have passed me by, but now I am one of the nearly 1.5 billion people worldwide who use Facebook. I’ve been on it, or whatever it is that you do with Facebook, for a while but only started visiting every day after being made redundant.

Facebook has been both a comfort and a mild nuisance to me on this ledge. The comfort comes with the support of other people, including rediscovered old friends; and the nuisance lies in the twitchy obligation to keep having a look, the needy urge to stay in touch.

Yet without Facebook, no one much would read this blog. Despite my longer term loyalty to Twitter, my blog statistics show that Facebook is the most common link to these ramblings. So all power to Facebook, until someone invents a better way to fritter time. On second thoughts, please keep that invention to yourself.

The sense of connectedness does help when you are sitting at home alone batting out words – helps and distracts, too. Yet the links of modern life can be a bind. We spent the last week in Devon and then Bristol. My laptop ledge came with me and I carried on as normal, tapping away early in the morning before anyone else was up.

That’s the sort of thing I do for fun, or one of them, so I was happy with that. Less joyful was the need to check everything I normally check, Facebook, Twitter, the statistics for my blog and my two email accounts. The emails were irksome, one or two especially. I kept checking for a reply to one email to do with freelance work, and there was no reply at all. This left me irritated when I should have been happily unaware of the failure to respond.

On the plus side, I did receive an email about an application form that hadn’t been filled in properly, and was able to sort the minor mistake as the toast browned.

In the past I have departed without a thought for home or work. This was the first holiday where I took the cares with me, and it’s not as relaxing as casting off completely.

A while back now, I went on a press trip to Bordeaux for the wine festival. Lots of food, plenty of good wine, an outing or too – and not a care in the world for three or four wine-soaked days. That was me anyway. One of my companions was the deputy editor of the Scottish Sun. He was on his mobile the whole time, trying to sort out problems on the paper. And he left a day early. Sometimes not knowing is the way to go.

We had a good break, but being in touch made for a different sort of holiday. Maybe next time I’ll sever the links and leave the laptop at home. Along with all those likes.

The best and worst of Bristol

BRISTOL did not make a good first impression. We drove from Wells on a road that dipped and rose through verdant hills. And the last hill dropped us into the middle of the traffic jam that was Bristol.

I’d been talking about returning to my birthplace for years, and here we were, bang in the middle of an endless queue. We ground our way to a multi-storey car park. Then we walked beside a road clogged with diesel-rattle buses and inch-by-inching cars.

Everywhere looked grubby. It was hot, smelly and unpleasant. The buses sported signs boasting that Bristol was the European Green Capital 2015. That seemed like a sick joke.

We found our way to the harbourside. Too crowded and too full of students, it seemed to us. We wanted somewhere local to eat, but ended up having an average meal in an Italian chain restaurant, an anyplace pizza in any-townsville. After that we returned to the car and drove to our Airbnb.

It hadn’t been a happy homecoming.

I was eight when our family left Bishopston. We lived in Long Mead Avenue in a house where, at the age of three, I fell from an upstairs bedroom window. I carry a small Bristol dent in my head to this day. One set of grandparents lived nearby, not far from the prison and the nearby allotment where my grandfather had his refuge. I can still see the gate to the allotment now, and the plots rising up the hillside. My childhood memories of Bristol are all happy. Well, apart from the fall and I don’t recall much about that.

The next morning we caught the bus into the city centre, ready to explore. Perhaps today would be better. Well, the sun was shining from a blue sky. Market stalls were lined either side of the water. We walked to Clifton Suspension Bridge. Away from the rammed busyness, the riverside walk began to show a better side of Bristol, with interesting modern buildings slotted between the remnants of the old dockside, and a feeling of space, somewhere to breathe at last.

We miscalculated with Brunel’s great creation, ending up hot and bothered beneath the bridge rather than on it. There wasn’t time to put that right, so we walked on the other side of the harbour, looking over at the brightly coloured houses that hang from the hill like cards on a string. The steeply falling gardens behind the houses brace their knees against the slope.

After that we made our way to ss Great Britain for more Brunel. There isn’t space here to do justice to this museum, among the finest we have visited. Perhaps the highlight was standing in the dry dock next to the huge curving swell of the hull, with the sunlight falling through the glass ceiling with its covering of water that throws shimmering patterns over everything. The rescue of this great ship from its abandonment in the Falkland Islands was a tremendous achievement, and no visitor will leave unhappy.

We ate our sandwiches by the harbour as young members of a sailing school looped around in the lazy breeze. The sun still shone and the sky was blue. Bristol was putting on a show for us, hanging out the bunting.

Our next stop was the Arnolfini gallery and its Richard Long exhibition, Time And Space. The Bristol landscape artist goes on long walks and rearranges stones, photographing those he has placed in straight lines or gathered in circles. It might not sound much, but the exhibition is wonderful, especially the gigantic cross made from thousands of pieces of slate that fills one room.

Cider from the gallery bar then sustained us, as we sat outside listening to the buskers, with our legs dangling over the dock. Below us people were learning to balance on giant surf-board things, kneeling and standing as they paddled. Rather them than me.

Refreshed, we wandered round the St Nicholas Markets, visited the cathedral just before chucking out time, then retreated to a pub round the corner from the Arnolfini, which we left long before chucking out time.

Earlier we had passed a restaurant, the Olive Shed,on Princes Wharf. It looked good so we went back at 6pm. The waiter raised a quizzical eyebrow when I asked about a table. It was a very popular restaurant, he said in admonishment. He said he’d let us in if we agreed to scarper by 7.30pm.

We had a table in the window. The sun dipped, throwing new patterns on the darkening water. The food was good and we ate up in time. A happy end to a short return.

We’ll be back, for there is much more to see. Next time we’ll reach Clifton and walk across the bridge. Visit Blaise Castle, perhaps – where I remember having family picnics.

If only Bristol could sort out the bloody traffic. And empty some of those overfilled litter bins.

At one point I joked with my wife that I was offended that nobody recognised me at all. Well, it has been 50 years.

A laptop lecture from a stranger’s bed

I AM propped up in a stranger’s bed, laptop on my knee, thinking about Nigel. Thoughts of Nigel Farage were in my mind when I came to. And if that’s not a waking nightmare, I don’t know what is.

A day on the move kept me away from newspapers and the TV news. But there was news on the car radio and later in the day I plugged in the laptop.

It is conference season and Ukip have been having their fruitcake and eating it at Doncaster racecourse again. Nigel Farage is still leader, having bounced back from personal election defeat and his party’s failure to secure more than one MP (despite winning four million votes, to be fair, even if being fair can sometimes stick in the throat).

The trouble is that the one MP, Douglas Carswell, is a former Tory MP who seems out of step with Ukip and Farage on many things.

Yesterday there was a colourful falling out over Europe concerning rival campaigns to quit. The millionaire backer of one lot of quitters laid into Mr Carswell, calling him “borderline autistic with some mental illnesses attached”. The attack came from millionaire party donor Aaron Banks, who is also bank-rolling the Leave.EU campaign. Carswell supports the rival cross-party For Britain campaign. Banks is said to have later apologised. Some apologies, you suspect, are not worth the breath they are written on.

Anyway the septic ins and outs of which unpleasant person said what during a Ukip shindig do not make for a wholesome start to the day. And the rows between different factions of the quit brigade hint at what a messy, squabble-some and internecine business the Europe vote will be.

One thought came to me while listening to the car radio. Nigel Farage said that winning the Europe referendum was now dearer to him than all other causes. Yet at the time of the election – when Farage failed to win a seat, just in case you’ve forgotten – he and other Ukippers kept insisting that they were not a one-issue party, and that Europe was only one of many matters that concerned Ukip.

And now Nigel is rattling down the same old helter-skelter with a fag in his mouth and a We Hate Europe hat set at a jaunty angle on his overheated head. This just goes to show that you can’t believe anything he says unless it’s the often fluttered line about leaving Europe.

Well, there you have my laptop lecture delivered from the soft pulpit of a stranger’s bed. The stranger isn’t in here with me. Nothing so salty. This isn’t a one-night stand or anything. No, it’s a two-night stand. We are experiencing Airbnb from the other end, as guests this time. The room is clean and pleasant and the only minor inconvenience is that we couldn’t open the window last night. As for breakfast, that’s not been eaten yet.

Accidents waiting to happen to Channel 4…

‘ACCIDENTALLY’ displaying documents while walking into Downing Street seems to happen so often that there must be a policy about it somewhere.

Advice is surely available on exactly how to display a ‘secret’ document so that the ‘hidden’ words are visible to the photographers, and therefore to the world.

Sometimes such inadvertency might be by mistake, but it is hard not to suspect that this has generally been done on purpose.

The latest whoops moment concerns the future of Channel 4. An official has just been photographed carrying a document into Downing Street. He is holding this in such a way that the words can be seen. Part of what is visible reads: “Work should proceed to examine the options of extracting greater public value from the Channel 4 corporation, focusing on privatisation options in particular.”

The author of this paper was apparently identified as a senior civil servant in the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, which is run by culture secretary John Whittingdale, who is suspected of wishing to flog off Channel 4. In recent weeks he has made several speeches in which he appeared to deny any intention to privatise Channel 4. And by the loud protestations of ministers shall you know the truth behind their words.

Whittingdale has already started to attack and assess the BBC; now it seems he wants to have a go at Channel 4 as well. The background to Channel 4 is confusing: the broadcaster is state-owned but commercially funded. This non-for-profit model, according to Channel 4, allows it to “deliver significant public value to viewers and the UK economy with a unique remit focused on innovation, diversity and new talent”.

Channel 4 is also a good and interesting station, quirky and odd at times, but innovative too. And Channel 4 News is generally the best TV news available: less old-fashioned than ITV, less dully mainstream than the BBC, and willing to take chances more often. All that and the splendid John Snow with his trademark jazzy ties, too.

The station’s remit is to cater for minority audiences and some channel insiders believe the risks it likes to take could make privatisation difficult.

Sadly, the Treasury just eyes the potential £1billion it could raise from the sale. So as with the BBC, now Channel 4 has Chancellor George Osborne’s finger-marks round its neck. That man will do anything in order to shake out an extra quid or two.

I guess these things are a matter of taste, but to me our national TV mix would only be worsened by a watered-down, tamer version of Channel 4. As it would be too if the Government insists on downsizing the BBC in some sinister form or other.

As for accidentally displaying what you are carrying, people sometimes do such things in order to be noticed. Here is a memory emerging through the red mists of embarrassment. I was on a three-month post-grad journalism course in Harlow in 1980 or thereabouts. Not long since podded from my English Literature degree, I loved what I was doing, but clearly felt a higher calling too. I walked round Harlow with a copy of the Times Literary Supplement shoved into my pocket. The title was on show so that people would know what I was reading. What a twerp I must have been.

Dave at the shallow end… and a woman’s revenge

NEVER mind the initiation rite whereby David Cameron allegedly placed a private part of his anatomy in a dead pig’s head, at least according to the Lord Ashcroft biography. This is really serious. Mrs Thatcher once said something I can agree with. This is just about the most upsetting news imaginable to an old leftie Thatcher basher.

Early on in my newspaper column days, I took to using the nickname Mrs Hacksaw whenever Thatcher was mentioned. Infantile perhaps, but it cheered me up.

Yesterday the Daily Mail continued its serialisation of Lord Ashcroft’s Tory-kicks-a-Tory book. And it turns out that Mrs Thatcher thought David Cameron was shallow – shallower than a pool of spilt Pimms. Well, the image is mine, not Mrs Thatcher’s, although she might have shared the sentiment. What she said, according to the book, is summed up as follows:

“Thatcher’s friends confirm that she never did warm to David Cameron.

‘She thought he was shallow, really. She’d say: “If you’re leader, you’ve got to believe in something,” ’ says one of her former confidants.”

Well he is shallow and Thatcher was right about that. That sound you can hear is teeth being gritted.

A photograph from Thatcher’s later days shows her standing at the door to Number Ten with her replacement as Tory prime minister. As a courtesy Cameron has just shown her round her old lodgings. She is holding onto a rail by the steps, looking frail and bad-tempered, and Cameron, looking hail and fleshy, is pointing away from the door, as if showing the way out. The subtext is: “This is all mine now and you can shove off for a start.”

The other Thatcher snippet revealed yesterday was her disdain for Cameron’s first manifesto. You may recall that this ludicrous pamphlet took the form of an ‘Invitation to join the Government of Britain.’

On being shown a copy, Mrs Thatcher is said to have spluttered: ‘What is this? What is this? People don’t want to join the Government of Britain. They want to elect the Government of Britain, for it to govern!’

The batty baroness was right about that too. It was a ludicrous gimmick, although it did the trick. But I like the notion of Mrs Thatcher being made to splutter. There is a fitting circularity to this, as she made plenty of people splutter in her time.

Anyway, fie on politics for now. It would be a shame to let the day pass without mentioning that personal billboard poster by the roadside in Sheffield. A woman paid for the giant sign as an act of revenge on her cheating husband.

It read: “To my cheating husband Paul. You deserve each other. When you get home I won’t be there. Enjoy your drive to work! Lisa.”

The sign was placed next to the Sheffield Parkway, a busy dual carriageway which runs from the M1 into the city. The avenging wife is said to have paid hundreds of pounds for the advert to be displayed yesterday morning between 6am and 9pm.

The poster surfed onto social media and was discussed on yesterday’s Loose Women, according to the Sheffield Star website. So that spurned woman seems to have got value from her investment.

Your cheatin’ diesel heart…

IT WAS Pete the mechanic who tipped me off about the Volkswagen emissions scandal. Well I say that but mainly he wanted to talk about the clutch on our ageing Volvo estate.

The old car had sailed through its MOT or perhaps scraped through, surviving another year anyway (praise be to the old church of Swedish metal). But there was a problem with the clutch. Without getting all technical on you, let’s just say that it was no longer doing much in the way of clutching.

We were having one of those conversations in the little tin-hut garage that sits between a bend in the road and a bend in the river behind.

‘I wouldn’t drive to Scotland,’ he said.

‘I was thinking of driving to Devon.’

‘I wouldn’t drive to Devon.’

‘Well, I might  pop over to Halifax.’

‘I wouldn’t drive to Halifax.’

Pete gave me one of those mechanic looks, a bit like an oily hanging judge. Although he could arrange a reprieve, he hoped.

The car was booked in for a new clutch that ended up leaving a £680-shaped hole in the family finances (God damn that old church of Swedish metal). We talked cars when I cycled over to pick up the resurrected beast.

‘I’ve always fancied a Golf,’ I said.

‘Good cars,’ Pete said.

We’ve had the conversation before, but each year I trundle back in the V70, now so old it will soon need walking sticks.

Pete said modern cars were too complicated. Diesels were the worst offenders, as all sorts of mechanical trickery was built into the cars to keep emissions down. And it was often this that went wrong. One of his customers had to spend more than £1,000 on repairing a diesel filtering system on a Golf just out of warranty – which is pretty much a brand new car in my book.

What Pete didn’t then know was that VW was about to be exposed for using its legendary mechanical nous to cheat emissions tests in the US. How it does this is really rather clever. The car knows when it is being raised on an inspection ramp, and alters the flow of emissions to fit the test – running at a ‘clean’ level which could not be achieved during normal driving.

This is the equivalent of a banker fixing the market. Or it recalls all that twisting and turning tobacco companies went through while trying to dodge the evidence that smoking caused cancer. And the smoking parallel is a good one, as the fumes from diesel engines can affect people’s lungs too.

Once diesel cars throbbed loudly and left black fumes behind their rattling tin arses. You didn’t need to be an expert to suspect all that acrid smoke wasn’t good for you. Then diesel engines took over the motoring world, but it wasn’t a problem, so we were told, because these were modern diesel engines. Now we learn that some of these diesel engines are fitted with anti-interrogation technology. In short these cars know how to tell lies about how much they pollute.

This is going to cost VW billions and could affect the whole motoring industry. And green-minded people who don’t like cars will have something to rub their clean hands about. The thing is, I quite like cars. They are certainly useful. And as I told Pete the mechanic, I’ve always fancied a Golf. I still do. That’s the thing with all those shiny new cars in the adverts: they pull you in, winking at you with their headlamps and flaunting their bodywork. Yet underneath they are up to all sorts of tricks.

I am prepared to compromise, however. When my luck turns, I won’t touch a VW diesel or any diesel come to that. Heavens, no. I shall just make do with a new Golf GTI instead.

This little piggy tells a political parable

BEWARE your former friends would seem to be the lesson hidden in Call Me Dave, the unauthorised biography of David Cameron, written by Michael Ashcroft and the journalist Isabel Oakeshott.

Along with that famous old saying about never placing a private part of your anatomy in a dead pig’s head.

Of those two sentences, one possibly demands a little more context. Having said that, the common phrase “you don’t want to go there” might also have its uses here too.

Lord Ashcroft was once pally with Cameron; now he is perhaps less so. Once he donated around £8 million to the Conservative Party. His money allowed him to flirt with the inner Tory circle: another place most of us wouldn’t want to go. Any one of Dante’s hellish circles might well be preferable to that.

Ashcroft has admitted he has a grudge against Cameron for passing him over for a significant government job, but apparently denies that he is trying to settle a score. I think that is called trying to throw your custard tart and eat it too.

The dry political part of this scandal concerns exactly when Cameron knew about Ashcroft’s status as a ‘non-dom’ in tax terms. Ashcroft says the prime minister knew about his tax status all along, including presumably when he was handing out fistfuls of dough to the Tories. Cameron maintained around the time of the 2010 election that the matter was between Ashcroft and the taxman.

But enough of that brittle old controversy, what about the dead pig’s head? Ashcroft’s book is being serialised in the Daily Mail – so this is a real bit of Tory infighting. Pedigree dog eating pedigree dog. Or pedigree dogging weeing up against the front door of his old friend’s manor house.

Quite how that newspaper’s readers felt when reading about the pig’s head allegation hardly bears thinking about. Especially if pig was on the breakfast menu.

The book alleges that while at university Cameron was a member of the decadent Piers Gaveston club and he placed “a private part of his anatomy” into a dead pig’s mouth as part of an initiation rite. Unsurprisingly, a prime ministerial press spokesman has denied that Cameron ever belonged to such a club. And wouldn’t you love to have been present when the answer to that press question was put into pained words.

In the book an anonymous MP says he has seen photographic evidence of the incident. This is problematic. If the witness is unnamed, it dents your faith in what is being said. And then there is this: does the photograph even exist?

Photographs did once exist of the young David Cameron dressed up to the snooty nines as a member of the room-trashing Bullingdon Club. All copies of that photograph mysteriously disappeared a long time ago. So just imagine the effort that would be put into destroying all copies of the young Cameron being intimate with a dead pig (allegedly).

Meanwhile, George Osborne is in China where he has just agreed a £45 million deal on pig semen – this is true, by the way.

As you might expect, Twitter has been aflame with pig jokes, pork remarks and bacon puns of the sort I won’t repeat here (well, my mother does read these jottings from the ledge).

Another allegation is that while at university Cameron sat around smoking weed and listening to Supertramp. Now that truly is shocking, but just the sort of thing people get up to at university.

In a sense all of this is a distraction from more important matters about what David Cameron is doing now, rather than what he might or might not have done with a dead pig’s head while at university.

Mind you, all this could give rise to some salty political slogans at the next election. Labour can have this one for free: Vote Tory? I’d rather stick my… well, you can imagine the rest.

Doing the Drogo..

IT takes a while for us to get in. There are only so many times you can say you don’t want to join the National Trust. A bit too costly. Too many places to visit. All those shops selling tasteful stuff you don’t really need, even if you think you might. All that jam, for heaven’s sake.

Not that we say any of this, being too politely English.

Castle Drogo isn’t a castle and has nothing much to do with Drogo. The owner, Julius Drewe, just fancied they were related, so chose the name. Described as the last castle to be built in England, it has seen no battles, apart from the one that raged between Drewe and the architect, Sir Edwin Lutyens, over the leaky roof.

Drewe was a retail tycoon who was so successful he retired at the age of 31. In his back pocket he had £60,000 to build his splendid folly, a copy of a Norman castle with Tudor touches and modernist additions. His sixty grand would be about £20 million today. Much of that money he made importing tea, the rest from founding the Home and Colonial Stores.

The roof leaked from the start. Drewe and Lutyens stormed about the place shouting at each other, and the only reason that Kevin McCloud wasn’t there to film it all was the careless oversight of not yet having been born at the time.

The castle took 30 years to build and when Drewe died in 1931, it had only been completed for a year. And the roof leaked already.

Now the place is part-way through an £11 million project to finally sort that roof out. They’ve got the builders in big scale, having erected a massive scaffolding hangar around the castle. The stonemasons and builders work inside a mammoth tent, which you can enter by climbing a scaffolding tower. This is well worth the effort, for the view from the top and the gasp as you emit as you step inside a cathedral built from steel poles.

The other reason to visit is more surprising. Too often in these places, you pass from room to room and feel a yawn rising. All very fine but do we have to look at another old plate or read more about whatever rich person once owned this place?

Drogo is different – or it is for now. As most of the rooms are darkened so that the windows can be repaired, and as the place is basically a building site, the National Trust has done something unusually smart. The castle has been turned into an art installation built round the history of the building and the family.

The clever fun starts outside in a hut where you can learn about the argumentative ‘build’. “Will Julius Drewe ever finish on time and on budget?” as Kevin might ask, frowning in that way he has. “And will that roof ever stop dripping?”

Many angry letters were exchanged. You can read them here on an old typewriter with a digital screen attached. Press a button and the typewriter springs into noisy, clattering life and a copy of an original letter slides into view, as if being typed before your eyes. Much of this theatrical fun has been orchestrated by a company called Codsteaks, which worked with Aardman on the Pirates film.

Inside, each room is a fun puzzle or a smart and light-hearted artwork, with different artists taking charge of the displays. Everywhere is cleverly lit and wandering around the place is dreamlike, a bit like you’ve tumbled into a fairy story. And it’s all very amusing. The National Trust has a sense of humour – who knew?

In one room, there is one of those old-fashioned communications systems linking the different parts of the house. Press a button and voices emerge from the rooms, including Drewe having a rant. In the corner a jokey teasmaid-cum-radio broadcasts weather reports from inside Drogo, detailing the latest leaks.

There is much more inventiveness, including a display case containing a giant glass drip, the first one spotted by Drewe, it is said, and you go from room to room excitedly. Some rooms are imagined as if the place had really gone to rot; one contains a huge Char de Triomphe tapestry suspended from the ceiling so you can walk round it. Another room is stacked for storage, with puzzles and a hunt wrapped up in what’s on show.

No yawns here, and you leave feeling that you have connected to the place and the people. And that doesn’t always happen.

A bit of fluff about a Ribston pippin…

I ATE an apple yesterday. Hardly surprising, I know, but there was more to this apple than some. It came from a tree I had planted. The apple was very good and I felt absurdly pleased with myself. Well, you have to try and feel pleased about yourself sometimes, even if it is an uphill struggle at times.

The tree was a birthday present two years ago. It arrived wrapped in cardboard and swaddled in straw. With advice from my wife the gardener, I carried the tree down to the vegetable patch. I dug a hole, popped the tree in, filled the soil round the roots, attached the tree to an old stick for temporary support, watered the tree, and then left it alone.

There were no apples last year but the tree has fruited this year. A scattering of apples rather than a boxful, but clearly the most remarkable apples known to man. Or to this man.

The variety was Ribston Pippin, described as a famous Yorkshire apply variety and probably the parent of Cox’s Orange Pippin. And you can’t beat a Cox’s Orange Pippin. Or you couldn’t until now. According to Apple-tree-pedia, my tree was grown in 1708 from one of three apple pips sent from Normandy to Sir Henry Goodricke of Ribston Hall, near Knaresborough. The original tree lasted until 1835, before setting out a new shoot and living on the same root until 1928.

Sorry to go all Monty Don on you, but it was quite an apple, the tartness undercut by sweetness, the flesh only just yielding. Incidentally, in our house we play a game called What’s Monty Wearing This Week? That man may know his onions and much else besides, but he dresses like a peasant from a Thomas Hardy novel – a peasant, what’s more, who got drummed out of scruffy peasant school for being too slipshod in his choice of clothing.

Anyway I like the idea of those pips being sent from Normandy centuries ago and, in effect, growing into a tree in our back garden. From that pip came the apple I sliced up while having a picnic in the car at a horrible service station. If only Sir Henry Goodricke had known where all his careful stewardship would end up.

As I do like an incidental, here is another. In the Sherlock Holmes story The Adventure of Black Peter, Arthur Conan Doyle describes a character as a “little Ribston pippin of a man, with ruddy cheeks and fluffy side-whiskers”. It is now my ambition one day to be a Ribston pippin of a man with ruddy cheeks and fluffy side-whiskers.

I just tried looking up anything of further interest about Sir Henry Goodricke, but it was dusty territory, long corridors of unnoticed nobility, the stuff English history is made of when nothing of note is happening. Nothing need detain us further than that apple.

Not everyone leaves an apple for future generations to enjoy. So well done, Sir Henry. Some of us just leave an apple core at an over-crowded and unpleasant service station on the M5. And that isn’t going to grow into anything.