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Blair to Give Bush a Taste of Home

President Bush welcomed Tony Blair down on the ranch in Texas. Now the British leader is to return the favor by taking the world’s most powerful man - and a teetotaler to boot - to the pub.

The president, who hosted his Iraq war ally Blair at his Crawford, Texas, ranch earlier this year, is to visit Blair’s home in Trimdon, a sleepy former mining town of 5,000 people in the far north of England, after his state visit next week. "There’s nowt (nothing) to do round here, but he would get a warm welcome," said George Owens, 52, who works at the Trimdon Colliery and Deaf Hill Working Men’s Club. "I’d serve him a pint - I admire the way he stood up to Saddam," he added, referring to ousted Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

He could be in for a disappointment. Bush gave up drink almost 17 years ago on his 40th birthday and now sticks to water - even at state dinners. The Trimdon rumor mill was in overdrive Thursday over which lucky restaurant or pub would get the presidential seal of approval. "He was supposed to be coming here, but they changed their minds at the last minute," said a waitress at the Trimdon Constituency Labor Club, a no-nonsense pub and social club where Blair celebrated his 50th birthday in May.

"We don’t mind though - with Blair living round the corner, we’re not easily star-struck." One taxi driver said police helicopters had been buzzing the area and local newspapers said FBI agents had been seen, taking notes and photographs. Favorite for a presidential visit is the Black Bull pub, where the most popular tipple among the locals is a pint of dark beer called Trophy Special at a bargain $3.06. Bush might be tempted there to try a local specialty, the stotty cake, a type of flat bread roll.

Trimdon, which once helped power Britain’s Industrial Revolution with its "black gold" coal, is no stranger to state visits and the glare of the world’s media. Blair, who represents the political area of Sedgefield in parliament, had dinner with French President Jacques Chirac in November 2000 near his northern home. The pair ate local lamb and British cheeses and drank French wine. Chirac was pictured sipping the local beer.

The last U.S. president to visit the northeast was Jimmy Carter in 1977, who delighted locals by greeting crowds with the traditional soccer cry of "Howay the lads!," which roughly translates as "Come on team." Local newspapers said the president would spend time at Blair’s house, a heavily guarded four-bedroom house called Myrobella, surrounded by simple terraced houses and rolling fields dotted with horses and sheep.

"George and Laura Head North," screamed The Journal’s super-sized headline, with the warning in smaller type: "Region’s taxpayers to foot the security bill." Bush might even find himself at home in the area. Not far away is Washington Old Hall, once home to George Washington’s ancestors — and Sedgefield Race Course, at a pinch, might just offer him a distant reminder of Texan ranch life. Bush skeptics, too, are eager for the president to come. "We are ready for Bush," said protester Annette Hudspeth, 44. "We are against the growing American influence in this country."

Peter Griffiths

Reuters - 14 November 2003
 
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