Beneath the cap, his narrow face is pale, his cheeks cratered with dark hollows. The overall impression is grey, like the storm clouds topping the boggy moors that rise around the village.
The thin man shuffles to a corner and chooses an upright chair with its back to the wall. He’s with a minder, of contrary dimensions, who stands over him while he settles.
The minder’s beach-ball belly stretches out in his maroon, v-necked sweater. His face is pale, his bald pate shiny in the harsh light.
His eyes? Well, there’s the thing.
His eyes belie the bravado implied by his comfortable bulk. From my perch across the room I sense that something’s amiss. Is it sorrow? Worry? The stress of caring for this gaunt old man, now resting his white stick against the pub wall?
So far, perhaps so clichéd. We are, after all, in the far north east of England. In a land that has seen more prosperous days. In a landscape that’s at once both glorious and scarred.
Despite, or even because of the grey gashes of quarries. Or the odd contours of hills that once were waste mounds, now grown over, grass-golden, thanks to years of benign neglect.
A Roman altar, a Saxon font, a fossilised tree trunk. An above-average haul of interesting items tucked away in its Christian corners.
Next door is the pub we’re in.
One room – not particularly large – is half denuded of furniture.
Brave diners cling to the remnant tables, hoping to finish mountains of mash, chunks of carrot and turnip, short, fat sausages and vast Yorkshire puddings laced with rich brown gravy, before the band gets going.
And this is where the clichés begin to fall apart.
The thin old man, still in his cap and raincoat, sits between the audio deck and a table, picking at a bowl of hot chips while a relative – I can’t tell of what degree – mixes the sound for the band.
It’s a family affair. Grandad and dad – maybe an uncle, too – sup from soft drinks in pint glasses, watching the younger generation making their bid for fame.
They’re good, the band. The backdrop they stretch cross the windows is black and white.
The drummer, long-haired and skinny, wears a black t-shirt bearing a white skeleton image.
The singer – a stocky chap with a shock of coarse platinum hair, wears a black shirt, white belt and tight black trousers. I guess it’s de rigeur.
They do two test runs, the first Pink Floyd’s Brick in the Wall. And they’re good – very good.
After a second song I don’t recognise (the singer wrote it) they wander off and pick up drinks. Settle down to wait for 9 o’clock. The pub doesn’t want them to start, yet.
We’ve already downed a bottle of wine with our meal and we know – we’ve past form on this – that if we stay for the band we’ll drink yet more and regret it on the morrow.
The vocalist is lounging around the door as we leave.
‘I really enjoyed that,’ I say, meaning it.
‘Well, why don’t you stay,’ he says, ‘we’ll be on soon?’
‘We’ve had too much to drink already,’ I say, sort of meaning it.
‘Suck it up!’ he laughs. ‘Stay and have some fun.’
We wander home as night falls. A bold owl hoots again and again from the trees across the road. The river rattles the stones as it rushes under the bridge.
We open the door to our 900-year old bed and breakfast establishment and pick our way across the stone flagged entrance.
As we pass the kitchen, we collect a tiny bottle of fresh milk for our morning tea and thank our pleasant hostess, who’s just said she’ll serve us leaf tea at breakfast – Assam, no less.
Climbing the creaking stairs I mention the cliché idea for a blog post to my ever-tolerant companion. I outline the general concept, throw my bag on the bed and take off my coat.
‘I thought you meant you were the cliché,’ he says.