Today our little ecosystem has received a severe blow; the departure of the Geordie Embassy to a run-down farm in the environs of New Pitsligo (there is only one thing to be said about New Pitsligo. Don’t go there.) This is the final result of the old quarrel with Barnyards which has been blogged on more than one occasion. The ‘not enough land’ issue continued to bulk larger and larger in the Geordie mind as the year ground on until they upped and moved. What this means to us is something we can hardly bear to think about; apart from the major building works, for the last three years, the Geordie Embassy has provided not merely free-range eggs, but a babysitting service for the foolish Labrador if we both need to go into Aberdeen, to say nothing of someone who understands roofs, gutters, water-systems and the myriad horrid problems an old house can produce, to say nothing of sheep, chainsaws, strimmers and other impedimenta, accessible within five to ten minutes. On a merely human level, the Ambassador has interrupted the construction of yet more fiction on an almost daily basis, strolling down for a cup of tea and a natter; while on occasion this has been mightily irritating, far more often, I have been pleased to see him. So, this cannot but be a wrench, but even apart from all that, comparing notes, we find we both have the deepest misgivings about where Geordie optimism has taken him. The key points are the following: the new homestead consists of a farm, and a farmhouse, in poor order, in a particularly bleak and nasty corner of northern Scotland. The GA has gone into this with his oldest brother, a nice, rather gentle countryman at least ten years his senior, who is in very fragile health (emphysema I think). The brother has a much younger wife, a daughter (query: stepdaughter) now about eighteen, and another daughter who is five; when I say he is poor health, I mean that a persistent question mark hovers over whether he will live to see little Becky into double figures. The GA’s Missus is, to say the least of it, not a woman of judgment; in fact she is one of the not uncommon people who has no power of imaginative projection, i.e. she can’t think what something’s going to be like when she has actually got there. It has been striking me over the last few months that she is precisely the sort of woman who caused blood-feuds in Icelandic sagas: she has been going on and on and on and on about how they couldn’t swallow the insult Barnyards had offered their sensibilities, and so on and so forth till the GA, goaded beyond endurance, took a flying leap from frying pan to fire – since when, naturally, she has been squeebling about how she doesn’t want to move. Anyway, the iceberg which the Northern Professor and I see heading inexorably for the Good Ship Geordie Embassy takes the following form: the GA has been ominously vague about who, when it comes down to it, owns what. Are his brother and family living, so to say, under his patronage? Or have they gone halves? We don’t know. But the GA’s Missus has taken up an attitude of patronage to the Brother’s Missus which would drive any normally constituted person round the bend – and the Brother’s Missus does not, on short acquaintance, strike one as a particularly sensible or patient individual. She has, at the moment, an air of unnatural eye-rolling deference; like a collie just before it suddenly goes berserk and bites someone in the leg. How long these two women can live with each other is anybody’s guess. And if the two households are financially interplicated and living cheek by jowl, as they almost certainly are, they are not going to be able to get out of it. Farmland, even in the Howe of Buchan, is desirable stuff, but the words ‘mucky landholding’ strike terror into the heart of the potential purchaser – anything, nay, even a croft in Sutherland — is preferable to a set-up where you have to cross someone else’s yard to get to your own front door. And what the hell is going to happen if the brother does pop his clogs? I have a dreadful feeling that the widow will be heading back to Geordieland as if attached to a bungee rope about a minute and a half after they get him underground, demanding to be bought out. Oh, well. It would be so nice to be wrong.