Sidelines - Andrew Martin finds Lincolnshire lost in limbo

Lincolnshire, it seems to me, is neither here nor there

When I first moved south, I was aware that the George Hotel in Stamford was the halfway point on the old Roman road between London and the north. The George, I resolved, would be my habitual staging post, the fulcrum on which my north/south persona balanced. Trouble was, I could never book a table there.

The whole idea of Lincolnshire fascinates me none the less. I regard it as a ghostly place - a place where things used to happen: my father, for example, had an operation for varicose veins in Lincoln in 1947, and our family went on a caravan holiday to Skegness in 1970. I remember this caravan shaking with the force of violent rain - it is a happy memory, but then I hadn't yet started reviewing holidays for the Daily Mail.

To me, Lincolnshire is ambiguous, not quite north, not quite south; bleak like the north, but flat like the south. In some ways, the county beats the true north at its own game - having even more rain (see Dickens on the waterlogged environs of Sir Leicester Dedlock's place in Bleak House), and even cheaper property compared with London.

Being so strange, forgotten and ambivalent, there's something about Lincolnshire that attracts humorists. Graham Fellows, whose comic alter ego is the retired Yorkshire security guard John Shuttleworth, lives there. In Shuttleworth, Fellows has so acutely depicted a certain kind of practical yet dreamy Yorkshireman (he agonises that, while motorways are harmful to the environment, they do afford swifter access to sites of outstanding natural beauty) that you feel he must live in Lincolnshire to find relief from all the tempting caricatures available in that more vivid county to the north. Lincolnshire also provides part of the backdrop for the funniest book I have ever read: A Half-Baked Life, nominally by one Claude Jenks, but in fact by one Brian Thompson. In this purported autobiography, the deranged yet decorous Jenks keeps having visions of famous people in unlikely circumstances. Encountering Elvis Presley in agricultural mode, he politely asks of The King: "What are you doing driving a tractor . . . And on the outskirts of Spalding?"

Andrew Martin's novel The Bobby Dazzlers is published in paperback by Faber and Faber

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