AS WE sit in Sainsbury’s in Newcastle with tea and toast I think this might be a good moment for a little chat with Charlie about the dangers of drink and drugs. I reason that if you get in early enough – before the teenage hormones kick in and they stop talking to you for six years – with a few well-chosen words, at an opportune moment, they might just recall them when they’re tempted to that first slug of alcohol or little blue pill. (Or are they white? Are they even pills these days?) “You can ruin your entire life with just one wrong decision,” I warn. She gives me a weary stare and reminds me she’s still only 12. “Well,” I say “if you ask me you all grow up far too quickly these days. There’s no childhood any more. All this pressure to conform and be trendy.” Nobody did ask me, but I reckon she needs to be told.
Two and a half hours later we’re at home in Askrigg. Ian – under no pressure at all to conform and be trendy, or even to grow up, come to think of it – is in the model railway room with his chums from the Cumbria area group who’re having one of their regular get-togethers. (An hour’s chat and chin-rubbing as they consider the puzzle of the non-running trains, a two-hour lunch in the pub, another hour’s contemplation of the recalcitrant trains before a break for tea and scones, a quick fiddle with the wiring and then home). “Where’s Charlie?” I ask Beth as I come in with the shopping. “In the railway room with Ian,” she says with a deep sigh. And there she remains for the rest of the day, emerging bright-eyed and thrilled with the triumphant news that she can now re-rail a de-railed train and knows exactly how points work.
I think I need a drink . . .