An 'authentic' day out: fish and chips at the Dun Cow, for a very reasonable £1m

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The Independent Online

The last time a fervent Christian leader clapped eyes on a Dun Cow in the rural depths of Co Durham, it led to sainthood for a man seen by all his contemporaries as deeply wise. Yesterday, for a famously God-fearing President it led to the most expensive alcohol-free lager in history and shouts from protesters of: "Go home Bush, you useless ornament."

The bishop St Cuthbert prophesied in the seventh century that his burial spot would be where his followers found a brown bovine. The Dun Cow for George Bush was the less spiritual surroundings of Tony Blair's favourite pub in his Sedgefield constituency.

Downing Street had billed the final hours of the American President's four-day state visit as an opportunity for him to relax in private and see a more "authentic" side of British life after an unrelenting schedule of banquets, military marchpasts and mutual transatlantic back-slapping in London.

What followed was what one protester, Jane Harmason, 37, from nearby Bishop Auckland, called: "Another painstakingly choreographed picture opportunity for American television audiences, culminating in a £1m lunch. All that was missing was Inspector Morse stepping out of his red Jaguar to share a very English pint."

For the Most Powerful Man in the World, an "authentic and private" trip to rural England was always going to be difficult when you travel with a 100-strong media entourage and your hosts lay on 1,300 police officers to ensure the good behaviour of a quiet rural community of 5,000 people and 300 protesters.

Durham Constabulary, one of the country's smallest forces, confirmed the security bill for the President's four-hour tour would reach £1m.

Mr Bush and his wife, Laura, arrived at 1.02pm in the freshly scrubbed surroundings of the Dun Cow, which sat behind a consignment of ornamental plants delivered at 8am yesterday to obscure sealed manhole covers and blocked drains. The couple were greeted by a carefully selected group of "regulars", mainly local Labour Party members.

Geoff Rayne, the landlord, who had been sworn to silence for weeks about the 60-minute meal, said afterwards: "Mr Bush just seemed thrilled with it. They talked for about 10 minutes to people, then they went in to eat. They were very appreciative."

So, after 72 hours of the highest of haute cuisine, it was time for the Texan ranch-living President to get down to wholesome fare. At a secluded table decorated with white linen and white hyacinths, the group ate cream of leek soup, fish and chips and mushy peas. After Mr Bush's alcohol-free Bitburger lager had been added, the bill came to £13.22. Critics said that, expressed as a share of the policing costs, the soup was £247,000, with £670,000 more for the fish and chips and £83,000 for the beer. The peas, not normally on the Dun Cow menu, came free, and, a witness said, were duly left on at least one of the plates in the presidential party.

Some 300 yards away on Sedgefield's picturesque village green, behind three ranks of crowd barriers and several dozen police, those who had come to protest against Mr Bush were doing their best to offer an alternative regional welcome.

Two 6ft-tall speaker systems were used to deliver some choice phrases, such as "Daft beggar Bush" and, confusingly, "Blair go home". No one, apart from a small number of children who rushed forward to tell Mr Bush he was "a really wonderful man", was allowed to get past the police cordons.

For Joan Smith, 81, a Labour Party member for 65 years and a Sedgefield resident since the early 1980s, it was a day of sadness. After haranguing Mr Blair and Mr Bush on the public address system from the comfort of a velvet-covered seat borrowed from a pub, she said: "I am absolutely heartbroken that Tony has joined forces with this man to prosecute a war without reason or justification. I used to be on kissing terms with the Prime Minister. Now I can't look at him."

The four-hour visit to Sedgefield had begun at 11.53am when the presidential helicopter, Marine One, landed on a football pitch in Trimdon Colliery, the former pit village six miles from Sedgefield where the Blairs have their constituency home. They were greeted by Mr Blair in an open-sleeved shirt, and his wife, Cherie, walking with a stick after twisting her ankle.

Anxious for Mr Bush and the first lady to meet their first "ordinary" Britons, Mrs Blair ushered over a young woman, 26-year-old Jemma Grieves, with the phrase: "Come and meet the neighbours." The encounter seemed to cause some confusion for the President, whose secret service chiefs had betrayed a lack of knowledge by asking how many acres of land were occupied by Myrobella, the Blair's modest detached home, which has a small back garden and some shrubs.

After spending so much time in the previous three days surrounded by royal footservants in Buckingham Palace, Mr Bush appeared to assume Ms Grieves formed part of the Blairs' domestic staff by hugging her and saying: "Thank you for your hospitality."

Before the Bushes climbed back into Marine One to head for the flight home on Air Force One, Mr Bush said at an impromptu press briefing in Sedgefield Community College, the local secondary school: "It is lovely to be here. The schoolkids here remind us of our solemn responsibility to protect people and create the conditions for peace ... I look forward to our weekly phone calls to stay on the offensive."


TONY BENN: "All the emphasis has been on the personal side of the visit, the pageantry, the ceremony, the Trimdon Labour Club, but the real story is the collapse following the Iraq invasion ...The visit has exposed the vacuum of thinking and the crisis created by the invasion of Iraq. I don't think we should concentrate too much on Blair and Bush because if they disappeared there would still be a problem."

SIR MALCOLM RIFKIND, FORMER FOREIGN SECRETARY: "Given the controversy I think the visit has turned out as well as could have been hoped. It was never going to be a normal visit because of the huge security required. The fact that the President of the United States has said that the United Kingdom is the closest friend of the United States in the world is a pretty powerful statement and it's useful that we are close to the country that has more influence than any other in the world."

LORD HEALEY, FORMER CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER: "I hope President Bush got the message that there is a lot of unhappiness at his Iraq policy. He must have got that message ... and he would have seen pictures of his statue being toppled. I think he was unwise to come because he has made himself the focus of the opposition. It has also made Blair that bit less popular.

ROGER LLOYD PACK, ACTOR: I'm really upset and offended by his visit. I don't see why he should have been the only American president to have had a state visit when it is just an attempt to bolster his election campaign. It is quite clear that the world is so much more a dangerous place and the war in Iraq has just destabilised the situation. I suppose the bombing in Istanbul ... made Bush and Blair look extremely foolish - all those empty words about winning the war on terror. His visit has just highlighted the invidious situation that Britain has put itself in due to our support for American policies in Iraq and the Middle East."

SHAMI CHAKRABARTI, DIRECTOR OF THE CIVIL RIGHTS PRESSURE GROUP LIBERTY: "If Tony Blair has persuaded George Bush to agree that the British citizens held at Guantanamo Bay can be tried in Britain then the visit will have been worthwhile."

MARTHA LANE FOX, OF LASTMINUTE.COM: "What amazes me is that the man who claims to be the leader of the democratic and free world spent the week kowtowing to the Royal Family, who couldn't be further removed from the principles of democracy and freedom. Whatever you think about the state visit nothing can justify what is happening in Guantanamo Bay."

ANITA RODDICK, FOUNDER OF THE BODY SHOP: "The good thing was that people divided their outrage at the Bush administration from their affection for America as a people. The protests were brilliant, exactly as they should be, there was joy in dissent. It cemented people?s feeling that this man and his right-wing administration are dangerous."