Thursday 13 March 2008

The oxymoronic Tory working men's club

Climbing, probably; 5.5 units of alcohol yesterday by my scientific reckoning, though it felt like an awful lot more; 1,422; Doncaster and Dunston.

Long ago I bought two tickets for a Tory dinner in Gateshead this evening, in the mistaken belief that, by the time it came around, I’d have found a lovely lady to take with me. I even advertised the event on this blog, to precisely zero effect. Ah well, I thought, at least I can now forget about it and drift quietly home to recuperate from my week of overindulgence in London. Until, that is, one of the organisers rang me yesterday to say that she had found me a “hot date”. Even though I accepted this statement with a very large pinch of salt, it seemed to me that it would be impossibly rude not to put in an appearance.

So I set off bright and early this morning, tired yet resigned, only to have my already fragile spirits lowered by the cabbie who took me to King’s Cross. He described with all too evident relish the horrible scenes of chaos that I would encounter when I got there, and my train was indeed cancelled, along with every train hoping to progress beyond Leeds. On the other hand, the dire warnings that customers should travel only if their journey was essential seemed to have suppressed demand most successfully, and I had a perfectly comfortable journey to Doncaster, even more infested with trainspotters than usual as a result of the ghoulish delights of “major disruption”. Then, after an acceptably short delay, we boarded a diesel train which made its way slowly to York by some mysterious back route, then sped on to Newcastle and ultimately Aberdeen.

I had booked a long overdue haircut this afternoon, which proved to be considerably delayed because some early stage Alzheimer’s sufferer had turned up for her appointment 24 hours early, and my soft-hearted hairdresser could not bring himself to send her away. All very commendable, I suppose, and I’ll no doubt be grateful for similar understanding before too long. But I do wish that he would extend the range of reading matter in his waiting area beyond superannuated hairstyling magazines, and the worst volume of amateur poetry it has ever been my misfortune to pick up.

Someone in Tory High Command with a wicked sense of humour had decided to hold this evening’s bash in the Lancastrian Suite, a grim, gigantic working men’s club attached to the former Federation Brewery in the middle of an industrial estate in Dunston (not the smarter end of Gateshead). As usual, my PR man’s sense of propriety was offended by the fact that everyone arriving at the event chose to congregate immediately inside the door. So I grabbed a glass of orange juice and fought my way through to the hall itself, where I took up a position in a corner of the bar to do a bit of people watching. I was surprised to be joined there shortly afterwards by a neighbour of mine who has latterly done an excellent impression of hating the sight of me, and further surprised by his apparent affability. Until, that is, we started comparing notes on our attitude to the Conservative Party, and he remarked that he rarely attended events of this sort any more.

“Well, apart from that Ball at Alnwick Castle in September,” I said, cheerily.

“Excuse me?”

“That Ball we were both at in Alnwick in September.”

“I wasn’t there.”

“Well, you were actually, because I talked to you and …”

“I have never been to a Ball at Alnwick Castle in my life,” he asserted with surprising vehemence, which was odd since we not only spoke at it, but bid against each other in a silent auction. Still, things seemed to calm down after that and we had a further period of rational conversation about matters of mutual interest like music and dogs. Then he made to walk off, before turning on his heels like Columbo with one last question. Only it was not so much an enquiry as an assertion that I must be terrifically pleased to have got rid of the enormous ash tree outside my house. My real feelings, as described elsewhere, are mixed, though if it had been my property I would have left it there on the grounds that its right to life was at least equal to mine, and that it was arguably both more decorative and more useful than I am. However, my expression of mild scepticism about the need for the whole Elfin Safety anti-tree campaign was taken as the cue for a tirade of foul-mouthed abuse which left me reeling. Derangement is regrettably common in my part of Northumberland, usually caused by alcoholic excess, but this was a bit of a stunner even by local standards. When Sir John Hall remarked that I was looking “forlorn” as I stood alone by my designated table shortly afterwards, he hit the nail squarely on the head.

My “hot date” either did not turn up at all (there was an empty seat at the table) or turned up with someone else and failed to introduce herself to me. However, all was not lost by any means, as a very beautiful and charming blonde lady provided a perfect demonstration of traditional Conservative good manners by taking pity on me and engaging me in conversation throughout dinner. (For this, when the party is returned to office, I trust that David Cameron will recommend her for an OBE at the very least.) Sadly for me she was happily married to a gentleman on the opposite side of the table, who bore a truly astonishing resemblance to Boris Johnson in both physical appearance and mannerisms.

William Hague made a speech containing some good, but well-worn, jokes about the likes of David Blunkett, John Prescott and Hillary Clinton, though the best laughs I had from the evening came when someone introduced the diminutive Alan Duncan as “the shadow miniature for Teesside”, and later when the Boris Johnson lookalike shared with me a most inappropriate text message joke about the late Chief Constable of Manchester.

There were some excellent bargains to be had in the auction for party funds, in which I would undoubtedly have participated if I had not been stone cold sober. Looking around the room, I noticed a number of well-known multi-millionaires, all of whom kept their hands firmly in their pockets. But then that, no doubt, is how they got to be multi-millionaires in the first place.

The auctioneer sadly misjudged his audience when he tried to raise interest in a bottle of House of Commons whisky signed by Margaret Thatcher by quipping that “It’s the one that Denis did not drink”. One of those silences ensued that Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer would have filled with the tolling of a bell and tumbleweed blowing across the set. Jolly unlucky, I thought, as any other room full of drunks in the North East would have been guaranteed to fall about. What’s more, having once met Denis at a similar event, I feel sure that he too would have seen the funny side.

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