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  • In one of these houses, the object of my (then) obsessive research was born.

    I'd moved house, to a place where I knew no-one. I had a new job, where I was trying to fit in, and a new house, where I lived alone.

    Then I discovered my dead rector. I sort of fell in love with him.

    And so I found myself driving up the A19. I booked a room in a rather dubious Bed and Breakfast establishment in Berwick-upon-Tweed. I drove up the coast, pausing at Morpeth (where my rector went to school) and noting the way the local accent modified from Yorkshire, to Geordie, until I got to Berwick and it was virtually Scottish. (Unsurprisingly, because Berwick is the most northerly town in England, and many times has been in Scotland. Hence it retains its own local archive.)

    I had booked a time slot to research in the archive, where I serendipitously met a wonderful old man who was obsessively researching the family of my rector's mother.

    Then I wandered around the churchyard (where many members of the family were buried) and the barracks where my rector's father and grandfather were stationed. This was around the time of the Battle of Waterloo.

    Then I wandered along the Parade. As I said, in one of these houses, my rector had been born.

    At this point, I was approached by a batty old lady, all in black, with a big hat.(I should explain that I was "dressed down", and was wearing my favourite new acquisition, a rather strange knitted hat from a charity shop, which my young male colleagues at work thought was absolutely hilarious.)

    "Do you know where to find the Salvation Army?" she asked, putting a kindly hand on my arm.

    "I'm terribly sorry, I don't," I replied politely.

    "Oh," she said, looking puzzled. There was a bit of a stand off. She removed the kindly hand.

    "I'm trying to find a house," I explained, "I've just been to the archive and I don't have a full address, just "The Parade". Do you want me to help you to find the Salvation Army? I'm not in a hurry..."

    "Oh, no, that's alright, I see. I misunderstood," she said. She left me to it, occasionally glancing back at me as she hobbled away. I felt I had been unhelpful. She was a batty old lady in need.

    Walking down another street, I found the Salvation Army. It was a drop-in centre for down-and-outs, and she had been nobly prepared to lead me there. Bless her kind heart.

    I've never worn that hat again.
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