The Independent, 27 August 2013

For many years, Blackpool has enjoyed its reputation of being the Las Vegas of north-west England, but with seagulls, chips and rain. This objectively makes it better than Vegas, which is why the Nevada resort rarely boasts of being the rubbish Blackpool: the Blackpool which tries to distract you from its pathetic lack of tower and ballroom with a stupid pyramid, and then tries to make up for the aching chasm that is no Little & Large end-of-the-pier show with some white tigers mauling Siegfried or, possibly, Roy.

But now, Blackpool is more Los Angeles than Las Vegas, having experienced not one but two earthquakes over the past weekend. Throw in a wild-fire from a barbecue which set a shrub alight in someone’s back garden (before a damp tea-towel was thrown over it and order was restored), and the two places would be virtually interchangeable.

Sure, the tremors were relatively small (2.4 and 3.2 on the Richter scale), but that’s Blackpool for you: they don’t need showy earthquakes to make the news. Even the man from the British Geological Survey could only bring himself to describe these quakes as ‘quite alarming’, which is one up from ‘mildly unnerving’ but not as bad as ‘was that a bus going past at this hour?’.

The really worrying thing is that the epicentre of each quake wasn’t in Lancashire itself, but just off the coast. You don’t need to be a natural-disaster buff to know that can only mean one thing: the world’s smallest tsunami hitting Wicklow tomorrow (move those sand-castles up the beach a bit! Set out that deckchair six inches further back! But it’s not all bad news: extreme surfing!).

As we’re told to expect more dramatic weather events in the coming decades, it’s nice to remember that, geologically at least, we’re still a mild-mannered temperate country. Arthur’s Seat is not about to erupt and turn Edinburgh into Pompeii. Lava will not rain down on Leith and the only pumice to be found in Morningside will be in an independent pharmacist. The last time our volcanoes could have grounded flights was some 55 million years or so before the Wright brothers got up in the air. And those probably didn’t even worry the pre-historic pigeons.

Admittedly, this means we lack the landscape grandeur of a Niagara Falls or a Grand Canyon. But who needs such things with Fingal’s Cave up the road? It’s practically the same thing. And if the price of those things is to have fault-lines running through our major cities, we’d rather have tectonic plates that don’t make such a fuss. Who needs the Colorado River when we have Cheddar Gorge? Take that, Grand Canyon. This is why no-one named a cheese after you.

In my house, nothing says ‘staycation’ like watching the entirety of Columbo in chronological order (I know, it’s lucky we found each other). Last week we made it to Any Old Port In A Storm, starring Donald Pleasence as a wine producer and Julie Harris as his watchful secretary. 24 hours later, the news came that she had died, aged 87.

Harris was a hell of an actor: she was brilliant as Nell in The Haunting and appeared alongside James Dean in East of Eden. I missed Knots Landing somehow, though I’m sure she’s great in that too.

Because film and TV cast-lists are often better preserved online than theatre, I had missed what a huge Broadway star she was: nominated for more Tonys — ten — than any other performer. So if any channel decides to screen the TV movies of her great theatrical roles (St Joan in The Lark, for starters) I’ll be tuning in.