Wednesday 23 April 2008

Cry God for Harry (not you, Ginger)

13st 9lb; 1.0 unit of alcohol yesterday; 1,381; actually Newcastle Quayside, looking out over the “iconic” Gateshead Millennium Bridge but, in spirit, Cappadocia and Agincourt.

In the course of having tearful (theirs not mine) sex with a series of well-brought-up and therefore guilty young Roman Catholic ladies, in the distant past when I did that sort of thing, I often toyed with the idea of converting to their faith. I liked the spectacle of High Mass at Brompton Oratory or Westminster Cathedral: the music, bells and incense, the well-choreographed swinging of censers and raising of birettas, and the challenge of keeping a straight face through sermons delivered by priests with such plummy accents that they thought “Mass” rhymed with “Arse”. The idea of confession also appealed quite a lot, to be honest, particularly as it was free and at the time I was paying some bloke in Harley Street a fair old whack to hear me rambling on about myself for an hour every Wednesday afternoon.

I wonder who heard Tony Blair’s confession when he signed up? They probably had to do it in relays, over a period of several weeks. Or maybe it was a marathon under the supervision of the Guinness Book of Records, with “continuous” interpreted as allowing a ten minute refreshment and comfort break every four hours.

Anyway, strangely enough none of the young ladies in question ever encouraged me to join them in the faith. Presumably the thought of having to see me again in this life was quite bad enough, without the prospect of being lumbered with me for all eternity. So it did not happen, though after attending a christening at Westminster a few years ago, I did have a private interview with Britain’s number one celebrity priest. After a bit, he asked me whether I’d ever considered becoming a Methodist.

But the point towards which I was painfully working is this: confession really is good for the soul, or would be if I had one. I feel so much better since I got all that heavy stuff off my chest yesterday.

I also forgot to mention one bit of good news. When I took my car into the garage yesterday morning, they gleefully announced that their £200 estimate for the repairs had turned out to be a bit on the high side. Then handed me a bill for £199.10. The playful little scamps.

Today, being St George’s Day, I did exactly what it said on the tin of my weekly newspaper column and put on my increasingly ill-fitting (but still decent, thanks to powerful braces) suit, and drove to Newcastle for lunch. En route, I stopped to search for a suitable rose for my buttonhole at a village shop which has won an award for being the best in the whole of England, and then at the biggest garden centre in the North East. I drew a complete blank at both, but finally obtained a small bouquet at a garage whose chief recommendation, apart from its world class collection of top shelf whacking material, is its name: Tyred & Exhausted.

The roses were a rather peculiar orange colour, which seemed less than ideally traditional; but then I reasoned that beggars can’t be choosers; and, in any case, it would eliminate the risk of being mistaken for a Labour Party canvasser. Though my three piece suit and watch chain would probably do that anyway. Dungarees and body piercings are more the mark, in my experience. Though I haven’t actually spoken to a Labour Party canvasser since April 1997, when one approached me in a shopping centre in Bristol and asked me whether they could count on my support. “No, I only look working class and stupid,” I replied, which threw him for an instant. Then my fiancée of the time pulled me off, which was an unexpected pleasure in a retail mall.

Having got myself properly kitted out at last, I completed the drive to Newcastle and strode purposefully along the Quayside in the rain, singing “For he is an Englishman” from HMS Pinafore in a manner somewhere midway between lustily and softly. I am disappointed to report that I didn’t attract so much as a single funny look.

When my friend the top TV producer kindly invited me out for a celebratory lunch, he had asked me what I fancied. Something traditionally English, I said, like steak and kidney pie followed by spotted dick. Washed down with a glass or two of English real ale.

So he booked Malmaison.

It’s clearly a favourite of his, since he has already formed a relationship with the maître d’ that is almost as close as his long-standing one with Fernando at The Ivy. Though rather less useful, it has to be said, since we were just about the only customers. Still, I’ve no doubt it will prove a good investment for the future, when the imminent revival of world class TV production in the North East, which my friend is spearheading, will mean that one isn’t able to enter a Tyneside restaurant without falling over the likes of Jordan, Jade Goody, Christopher Biggins and Lionel Blair.

I’d set my heart on the mutton I enjoyed so much the last time I ate here, but they had rationalized the menu, so I had to settle for fish and chips. Which were, it is only fair to record, very good indeed. Then I drove home, still singing, and tried to arrange an evening out in the pub so that I could raise that elusive glass of English ale to our patron saint.

But in this, as in so many things, I failed completely.

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