The conversation in the Black Bull in Matfen on Thursday soon turned to house prices.
They are high in the pretty little village, typical of those that dot the rolling Northumberland pastureland from here, near Hadrian's wall and 20 minutes from Newcastle, all the way up to Berwick.
Except that the homes – £500,000 for a house, £240,000 for a two-bedroom flat – aren't shifting. And people wanting mortgages are having to wait, as deals become more expensive and leading lenders such as First Direct suspend all loans.
It is no wonder that Adam Applegarth, 45, the man whose expansion of the Northern Rock building society helped to usher in the credit crunch and cost the taxpayer £25bn, isn't at home.
He lives a stone's throw from the Black Bull, in a mansion set in private grounds. It is easy to imagine him there, like Toad of Toad Hall, sitting on his £760,000 pay-off, announced on Monday, and £2m pension, in defiance of the opprobrium heaped on him by the nation's media and the 2,000 people who lost their jobs following the run on the bank in September.
Only he's not there. All is quiet at the Applegarths', as the blue tits work their way through the stockpiles of birdseed left near the garden gate, the woodpecker bashes his head against a tree, the sheep bleat for their lambs, the crows caw, and the Applegarth intercom buzzes away unanswered.
He's here in spirit, though. A neighbour has spotted The Independent on Sunday reporter, and noted his car number plate and model before striding up to point out the private nature of the road. Asked about Mr Applegarth, the neighbour says he "knows nothing about him".
No one seems to know much about him. Few want to speak. Mr Applegarth, who started as a graduate trainee at Northern Rock and rose to chief executive, was rarely spotted in the village. But he dropped into the Black Bull once or twice, where the feeling towards him is forgiving. One local believes that he was left "holding the baby".
Another thinks he has moved out. He certainly hasn't been seen recently.
But he, or his eye and ears, must be somewhere: an hour after leaving the private drive, The Independent on Sunday's crimes have escalated, according to Mr Applegarth's lawyers. Not only has a Fiat Punto been staking out his home, but his post and bins were sifted through, and the Punto "aggressively pursued" Mrs Applegarth.
It wasn't quite so Hollywood; while waiting for a response to the intercom buzzer, a glance at the open recycling bin outside the gates, stuffed with pizza boxes, was interpreted as a rifling through the bins; a look at the stockpile of birdseed, seen through the fence, as an inspection of his post, and a slow drive back to the village after being asked to "wait somewhere else" by the neighbour as an "aggressive pursuit" of an unnoticed Mrs Applegarth.
It is thought in the Black Bull that perhaps Mr Applegarth spent most of his time in Newcastle, or at Matfen Hall.
This is a Gothic pile, owned by the Blackett family who are now on their 11th or 12th baron. The former barons are buried in the churchyard, along with one Robert Lowe, who died in 1989 aged 92, "an odd-job man at Matfen Hall for 70 years". It used to be that kind of place.
Matfen Hall is now an exclusive health centre and spa, with a golf course where Freddie Shepherd, the former Newcastle Football Club chairman, has his own buggie and Newcastle players unwind.
Mr Applegarth's home has views over the golf course. Only a golf fanatic, perhaps, would like to sweep back his curtains and look over the tamed undulations of a golf course. Mr Applegarth, however, is no golfer, say the people at Matfen Hall.
"He must move in a different community," says a man in the Black Bull, where it is revealed that Mr Applegarth also has a flat in one of the many new developments with views over the Tyne, Baltic Gallery and Gateshead Millennium Bridge in Newcastle.
He has said he does not wish to speak, however, so his solicitors say any attempt to contact him could be considered harassment. A lot of bother when all we want to ask him is what his plans are for the future.
Somehow though, looking at the suited men and women walking home from work along the quayside, the throngs sitting outside the bars and cafés with their cappuccinos and after-work pints, with the kittiwakes that nest on the famous Tyne bridges in full cry, having just got back for the breeding season, and with the early spring sun shining down on this side of the river, glinting off Mr Applegarth's windows, you somehow know he's going to be perfectly alright.Reuse content