You know you’re getting old when you not only lose track of the time of day but even of the day itself.  Throughout this morning - during which I was happily helping my neighbour assemble his new IKEA bookshelves - I could have sworn that today was Monday…

Which is why, uncharacteristically, I arrived at the AGM in Saltwell Towers a little late.  Well OK - very late.  A previously unheard of phenomenon, I know.

But my flagging faith in human nature - especially my own - was fully restored when I discovered (once again) that not everyone has my appalling record of tardiness; Brenda, Linda, Keith and Sid had been there since the appointed hour.

As usual, it was good too see them.  AGMs are thin on the ground these days and I reckon we all enjoyed catching up, as we always do.  There was plenty of laughter around, which is always a good sign!

And Saltwell Park is looking positively ravishing!

There’ll be another AGM in June, all other things being equal and if my memory is up to it.

And apologies again for my lateness to Brenda, Linda, Keith and Sid.
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(that is to say...GT4)

Now then....before you go any further, PLEASE NOTE...

Whatever date you think it is today, you're wrong.  It's Thursday 16 April.  I am only three days into my fourth Grand Tour and I'm sitting at the table in a smashing bed-and-breakfast in Ribe, in south-west Denmark.  And I'm bemoaning the fact that something's gone horribly wrong.

For the first time ever, I'm drafting this blogposting on my brand new,  all-singing, all-dancing iPad. In fact, it sings and dances so well I've called it Mata Hari. 

Unfortunately - and perhaps inevitably - it shares that sad lady's propensity for perfidy, too.  I can't find a way to upload photographs onto the blog.  She simply won't let me do it.  In fact, she won't even let me post any kind of blog at all, photos or not.

I know perfectly well the breathless anticipation you feel ahead of each blogposting.  I also know that ogling the photos I take on my Grand Tours is what makes most truckshunters' lives worth living.  Right now, though - on Thursday 16 April, in deepest rural Denmark - all I can do is take the photos and write the words.  I'll have to wait till I get home to regale you with tales of my adventures...

So, if you will, think yourself back to that Thursday evening in Ribe...
Speaking of Ribe...

It's only a small town - and a fairly remote one, at that.  So it's unlikely that there are many people here who play the saxophone.  In fact, I'm prepared to wager that there's only one.  Namely, Torben Iversen.

Torben is a fine-looking middle-aged fellow who plays his instrument with gusto and verve, whenever he is asked to.  And he was asked to this evening, as part of the 25th anniversary concert of the Ribe Town Choir - my attendance at which is about as esoteric and as local as you can get on a 'Grand Tour'.

I'd arrived here mid-afternoon and had spent a seriously blissful few hours exploring this amazing little town.  Its beauty is not of the 'chocolate box' variety but instead transcends conventional assessment and forges a new scale of its own.  Ribe's beauty verges on the truly serene.

Endless tangles of narrow, cobbled, car-free streets; hidden corners, courtyards, twists and turns. Half-timbering, hotch-potch rooflines, Danish stepped gables.  They told me it gets busy during the summer months - but this is April.  Brightly sunny but still cold rather than just cool.  Which means I had the whole town centre almost to myself.

No kidding.  The best set-designers the trade has to offer could never dream up a mediaeval Scandinavian townscape quite as luscious and as sensually evocative as this one.  I was in heaven for the whole afternoon.
My B&B is the low yellow building halfway down the street; it's where this blog was drafted

And it was while I was thus floating several inches off the ground that I noticed a bunch of grey-haired bearded Danes gathering outside the church round the corner from my sumptuous B&B. Never one to miss an opportunity (of whatever kind), I asked what was going on.

And that's how I ended up in the capacity audience tonight.

It was a great concert - their rendition of Lloyd-Webber's Pie Jesu was the only one I've ever actually liked.

But I'm sorry to say that the saxophone was a mistake.  Saxophony, however heart-felt, just don't sound right trying to be serious and sacred...

By the way, Ribe is pronounced ree-buh, just in case you were wondering.

I'm typing this on my fourth evening in Denmark and my first away from Copenhagen.  And whatever else I have to say about my first visit to Denmark, my Danish hosts would never forgive me if I didn't start my narrative by saying that today - April 16 - is the 75th birthday of Her Majesty Queen Margrethe II.

When I walked through Copenhagen city centre from my hotel to the station this morning, the streets were bedecked with Danish flags, banners and pendants, the tv and radio crews were taking up their positions for the royal parade and everyone was smiling.  So much for Danish reserve.

 Part of an enormous video-wall dedicated to the Queen

Like the Dutch, Danish people have an obviously deep-seated and sincere love and affection for their royal family.  To be honest, it's not difficult to see why - they're a talented, approachable and highly-educated bunch.

They sculpt, paint pictures, play musical instruments with skill and passion and even conduct whole orchestras.  According to my old friend Brian, the Queen herself designs sets for the Royal Danish Ballet.  They are keen on - and knowledgeable about - both art and science, give interviews freely and without prejudice, travel around the country a lot, are highly visible, enjoy a good laugh and suffer fools graciously.

What's not to like?

So (all together now)....

En meget tillykke med fødselsdagen til Hendes Majestæt!
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I've always wanted to visit Copenhagen and now that I've been, I can see how right I was to finally make the effort to get there.  Even when it's cold and damp - like now - it's a charmer of a place; more self-consciously monumental than Amsterdam but a lot less smug and wrapped up in itself than, say, Paris or Berlin.  Copenhagen seems to be happy knowing that it's important - but not that important.

Sometimes, in fact, you get the impression that it doesn't really know how to welcome the many visitors and sightseers it gets.  For a start, you need a Tourist Information Office to find the Tourist Information Office, which (I remain convinced) does not actually exist.

And natural Danish reserve can easily be mistaken for po-faced disinterest.  At first, it seems that all they want you to do is go and see the Little Mermaid (a temptation I resisted with surprising ease), buy a Danish pastry - then go away.

Copenhagen is the only place I've visited where explanatory map-panels in the street or in parks and gardens don't include a 'you are here' sticker, thus rendering them a lot less informative for confused visitors than they ought to be.  (I have since discovered that this unhelpful phenomenon exists all over Denmark.)

But Copenhagen has a lot more to offer the ageing traveller even than its own citizens might suppose. On Tuesday, for example, I was able to have a first-in-a-lifetime experience that wasn't even on my bucket list.  I travelled in a paternoster lift.  My Secret Copenhagen book told me about it and it seemed like too good an opportunity to miss.

Stepping into, and off of, an open, moving lift is unnerving enough.  Holding on, fingers crossed, when it gets to the top (or the bottom) and changes sides is even more unsettling.

I enjoyed it so much that I went round four times.

Everyone in Denmark seems to speak grammatically correct, word-perfect English with a cut-glass Home Counties accent.  Which is just as well, as everyday Danish is as impenetrable and as booby-trapped as I discovered French to be.  A bog-handel is a bookshop, a tog is a train and mad is food (with its final d pronounced like the th in the).

I never found out what 'skindleggings' are but at £144, they must be pretty special

There was a language school just across the street from my hotel, opposite the large, friendly graffito you see at the top of this blog.  On the lobby window, another linguistic mystery emerged.  Amongst the list of tongues taught there - engelsk, fransk, russisk - was tysk.  I had to ask a student what language tysk was.  For some utterly unfathomable reason, tysk is what the Danes call German.

There are only two things you can't escape in Copenhagen - the Danish weather and Hans Christian Andersen.

Every country has its unassailable heroes, of course; historical figures of one kind or another against whom nothing even remotely critical can be uttered.  Think Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill, Joan of Arc, Kemal Atatürk, Garibaldi...

Well Denmark has Hans Christian Andersen.

The 'Hans Christian Andersen effect' is all-pervasive.  It's as if every step he took is marked with a blue plaque.  Boulevards, parks and shopping precincts are named after him.  No doubt the airport will be next, a la John Lennon.  He is everywhere.

Which is where another of my new experiences comes in.

Totally by accident, I walked out of the housewares department on the third floor of one of Copenhagen's blue-chip stores and straight into a preserved attic room once occupied by the Man Himself.  It was as if I had done something mysterious and magical from one of his own fairy tales and I'm sure I wouldn't be able to do it again, even if I tried.
Hans Christian Andersen wrote his first poem - 'The Dying Child' - in this meagre room in 1828

As I sat on his bed and looked over at the tiny stove, I couldn't help remembering a literary guest we chatted to once on the Blue Bus.  He told us that Hans Christian Andersen was, in fact, a dreary old bore whom even Charles Dickens - who knew a thing or two about being boring - found utterly insufferable.

Er...perhaps it's just as well that, the day after tomorrow, I'll be leaving Denmark and crossing the Skaggerak to Norway...
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A big Thankyou to Brenda’s son Tommy, who took this picture outside a cheese shop in Morpeth last week.  Just in case you can’t read the splendidly florid copperplate, it says…

Sweet dreams are made of cheese
Who am I to diss a brie?
I cheddar the world and the feta cheese
Everybody’s looking for Stilton…

It’s good, isn’t it?

And it reminds me of the inventive ways used by some of the traders of Leicester in order to cash in on the city’s new-found fame - or even notoriety - as the re-burial place of Richard III.  One of them - a camping shop - proudly displayed a poster which said…

Now is the winter of our discount tents!
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Having proclaimed the death of the world’s oldest person in my last posting, I seem inadvertently to have brought down a curse on her successor.

Five days after assuming the ‘title’ last week, Gertrude Weaver, of Arkansas, died aged 116.  Our condolences to her family.

I think it would be better all round if I didn’t mention the name of her successor, just in case.

(NB:  The curse of pedantic Victorian grammar...
I can't make up my mind about the infinitive I felt compelled to leave unsplit in the first line of this item.  'I seem inadvertently to have brought down a curse...' looks and sounds clunkier than its ungrammatical counterpart:  'I seem to have inadvertently brought down a curse...')
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Please don’t forget that our next AGM - the 46th - will take place in the cafe of Saltwell Towers, Gateshead, at midday on Tuesday 28 April.
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And so, all other things being equal, I’ll be drafting my next blog in that characteristically lilting Scandinavian accent.  Tomorrow, I set off on my fourth Grand Tour and, as with the first three, I’ll be exploring a part of the world unknown to me (which is most of the world, when I come to think of it).

So, brace yourself Denmark, Norway and Sweden…
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The combined ages of myself and my brother, whom you see arrayed in the full regalia of Championship Jarpdom in the previous posting, is 134 (for the moment, at least).  Which means we pose no threat at all to the Tweed family, who have achieved a worldwide record of which I was previously unaware:  they are apparently the oldest sibling group on Earth.

Take a deep breath…
Cynthia isn't in this photograph.  Perhaps she was taking it.

Elsie is 95, her brother Reginald is is 92, their brother Robert is 91, their sister Cynthia is 89, their brother Ralph is 87, their brother Noel is 85, their brother Eric is 83, Their brother Ronald is 82, their brother Malcolm is 81, their sister Valerie is 79, their sister Phyllis is 78 and their sister Eunice is 76.

If you include odd days and months since their respective last birthdays, their collective age (as it were) is 1,019 years and 342 days.

They were all born and raised in and around Coventry, which makes their achievement even more remarkable.

On a sadder note, though…

The world’s oldest person - a Japanese lady called Misao Okawa (above) - died last week, aged 117.  At her birthday in March, she said she owed her longevity to ‘eating delicious things’ and getting plenty of rest.  Which should stand me in good stead.

The oldest person in the world is now Gertrude Weaver (above), who lives in Camden, Arkansas.  She will be 117 on July 4, fittingly enough.

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Here are the answers to Ross’s pub quiz that was featured in blogposting 559.

1  White
2  Heathrow
3  George
4  Queen Elizabeth II
5  Birmingham and London
6  Petrology
7  A motel
8  Thin Lizzy
9  Glockenspiel
10 Arsene Wenger
11 Socrates
12 The player playing as Miss Scarlet
13 Trigonometry
14 Everley Brothers
14 Oslo
15 Mystery
16 Irvine Welsh
17 Angel Falls (which is what the blog photo was of)
18 The Fruit Bat
19 White Marble
20 Dundee United
21 The Ozone Layer
22 SpongeBob SquarePants
23 Stanley Cup
24 Pan Haggerth
25 All types of cake
26 Excessively thin fashion models
27 Kanye West
28 Spartan
29 Twickenham
30 The Hub



How well did you do?  Or not.

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Our next AGM will take place at midday on Tuesday 28 April at the cafe in Saltwell Towers - which is, of course, in Saltwell Park, Gateshead.

A splendid time is guaranteed for all.

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Another Easter Day has passed through - and  it’s turned out to be a highly memorable one for me and my family.
It was good to see so many people out in the Easter Day sunshine to roll their eggs down Penshaw Hill this afternoon...

Until quite recently, it had been a decades-old tradition for us to gather at Penshaw Hill on Easter afternoon - along with dozens of other folk - to roll ‘paste eggs’ down its lumpy slopes.  But then, for reasons none of us is really sure about, the tradition faded and seemed to have died out in our family about (we reckon) 7 or 8 years ago.

This year, however, my niece Anna and her husband Mike decided they wanted to revive it.  And such are the vividly happy memories that each of us has of this hallowed tradition that everyone immediately agreed that it would be a sensationally good idea to crank it up again.

And that’s what happened today.

The eggs are not made of paste, of course; that’s a corruption of paschal, ‘passiontide’.  They’re real eggs, hard-boiled with onion skins wrapped round them to give them a lovely, mottled-brown appearance.  The skins of red onions make them look particularly striking - deeply, darkly crimson and luscious.

This is how it works.  Or at least, this is how it works in our case.

We don’t use the main bulk of Penshaw Hill to roll the Robinson eggs.  We use the gentler rises and falls of the old quarry area immediately to the east.  Once there, we claim the territory we’ve used for as long as I can remember and the assembled Robinsons divide into two groups - one at the top of the slope (the ‘hoyers’) and one at the bottom (the ‘keppers’) and Part One of the ceremony begins.

One by one, eggs are hoyed down the slope and kepped at the bottom (if the keppers are sufficiently skilled).  The two groups swap places when half the eggs have been rolled.

Eggs that make it to the bottom with their shells intact are stored safely for Part Two of the ceremony.  The others are kept, too; they are the first to be eaten later.

Near our slope is a small circle of bumps in the ground and this is the site of the second part of the ceremony:  jarping.

We each choose a bump to stand on and an egg from the intact pile.  Then the oldest person there stands in the middle of the circle and chooses whose egg to jarp with.

Jarping is either a matter of consummate skill or pure luck, usually depending on whose egg cracks.  Almost totally concealing your egg inside your fist seems to work a lot of the time, but is no guarantee against an operator like my brother - our Barry - who seems to have an uncanny, even paranormal, influence over the staying power of his egg’s shell.  Either that or he cheats.

The jarping round continues until there are no intact eggs left.  The Supreme Champion is the person who cracked the most shells with his/her eggs.  Today - as on so many other Easter Days - that person was our Barry.
The Supreme Champion, surrounded by his adoring family - and two dogs.

I want to put it on record that I do not resent him for this.  I bear neither grudges nor suspicions of foul play.  I am perfectly certain that he wins because of some innate skill he has honed over the decades and not because he overtrains or has developed an underhand ability somehow to mesmerise his miserable victims into relaxing their egg-grips.

In any case, nothing can ever be proved either way because he always makes sure that all the eggs are eaten when the ceremony ends and brings salt and salad cream to make sure of the matter.

Anna's simnel cake, decorated with three marzipan eggs and a crouching rabbit - 'not to scale', as Anna helpfully pointed out.

And today’s revival of our family tradition was made all the more special because my niece, Anna, cooked a simnel cake.  I’ve never tasted one before.  It was utterly, completely and totally scrummy.

Yes, another Easter Day passing through…
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It's worth noting that egg-rolling at the beginning of Spring takes place at many other places in Britain and elsewhere in Europe - specially in Scandinavia.  It pre-dates Christianity by unknown centuries and has no demonstrable links with God at all.

Even the date of Easter Day itself is calculated in an ungodly, surprisingly secular, way.  It falls on the first Sunday after the first Saturday after the first full moon after March 21.  Unless the full moon falls on March 21 itself, in which case Easter Day is the day immediately afterwards.

No mention of God there...
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