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Monday, 28 July 2014

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You know you’re local when the pong’s your own

Leaning too far over the harbour wall, like a couple of fishwives who’d just lost their menfolk’s catch, we were breathing in deeply... and coughing rather a lot.

“Nowhere in the world does the seaside smell this way,” I said in my haughtiest, alarmingly husky, experienced traveller’s voice.

“You’re right,” she spluttered. “It’s very, er – special.”

“Seaweed and salt, wet, pungent moss and... is that onion?”

“Don’t go any further,” she said.

It was good advice. The potency of uniquely English coastal odours was throat-burning. Salt in the air was making us both cry real tears. It was probably best we’d no idea what else was wafting past on up-drafting thermals. We might not have liked it.

We were at Seahouses, in Northumberland. A bonny little spot from which boats take trippers to look at seals on the Farne islands – whether the seals want to be looked at or not.

Taking advantage of a perfect autumn weekend of balmy breezes, warm sunshine, clear blue September skies – and savaging midges – we’d headed east for a change of scenery and were clocking up Northumbrian road miles like Phileas Fogg on a staycation.

“If you could bottle that smell though...” She couldn’t help returning to the subject. I could tell she had her fantasising, make-cash-quick head on.

“You could sell it abroad as the true ethnic scent of a Great British seaside.”

“There’d be EU rules and regulations, trading standards laws, hygiene and bacterial control issues – all of which would have to be overcome before you could fit a vacuum-sealing stopper into the neck of your super-sterilised bottle,” I said.

“No but...”

“There are no buts.”

I was right, of course. Just look at what’s happened to the humble sausage.

All right, so I’ll grant there’s nothing very humble about the mighty Cumberland. But the rules that regulate it... they’re enough to make you turn veggie. Nearly. If you’re not a butcher with an aversion to watercress soup, that is.

As reported elsewhere in The Cumberland News, a vegetarian defender of Melton Mowbray pork pies (!) has pointed an accusing finger at foreign pretenders to our sovereign sausage’s throne.

He’s thrown down the gauntlet on our behalf.

That in itself is a bit of a mullock. And it raises all kinds of teatime imponderables.

Can a Cumberland sausage be traditional, if made in Milton Keynes or Islington, sold in a Carlisle supermarket and accused of employing cunning disguise by a vegetarian pork pie man from the Midlands? Mind-boggling.

Should a Yorkshire pudding, eaten with a Cornish Sunday roast be called a Padstow pudding? Does any of it matter when you’re just plain hungry? And where does that leave Aunt Bessie’s puddings – which are so much easier than the genuine article?

Apparently it does matter. All of it. And by extension of the what’s yours is mine and what’s mine’s my own local identity theory, is the Penrith pong genuinely a Penrith malodour if it hasn’t yet been registered in the EU Commission’s protected status directory?

What if some scoundrel were to pinch our pong when we were looking the other way – to breathe some fresher air, maybe – and make undeserved profit from it?

Passing it off as a stink from Strasbourg, for instance.

Could we ever be that lucky? Or would we wish we’d laid legal and formal claim to protect our pong as one of special scientific and truly Cumbrian interest?

Rules and regulations, see... baffling. They’re everywhere; making a messy tangle of everything.

Those pesky European ones are the worst. European rules ordering the length and curve of a cucumber at Brampton’s farmers’ market but taking no account of who pays taxes in Greece or keeps the prime minister occupied in Italy.

So long as her legs are long, curvy and young, it doesn’t appear to register on any regulatory radar.

“I was only agreeing with you about the smell of an English seaside,” she said. “You do go on!”

She probably had a point.

“And what on earth is a Penrith pong?”

How I do love it when an innocent walks directly into a trap.

“On the way back, I’ll drive you through it. You’re going to love the Penrith pong!”

“Cool,” she said, smiling through her coughs.

Yorkshire women... so endearingly gullible. I used to be one, you know.

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