13st 13lb; zero alcohol (yesterday; definitely not today); 1,402; The Oxford Ballroom, R.I.P.
This was the day of the paper’s Quinquennial Columnists’ Lunch. Actually, I don’t think anyone ever sat down and planned that it should take place every five years, but the current editor has been in place for four years and has never held one. Nevertheless, folk memories of this event lingered from the distant past, and clearly no-one had bothered to ask why it had fallen into abeyance. Could it have been because it racked up a huge bill for drink, exceeded only by the resulting bill for damages?
I again woke up feeling unwell and decided that I might as well drive to Newcastle as I definitely wasn’t going to drink. Then I thought I might be able to face just the one, so left the car in Morpeth and completed my journey by train. I was the first to arrive apart from our host, who was laying in stocks of wine in a restaurant empty apart from two ladies who lunch, who were shovelling down their food in a frantic effort to get clear of the place before the trouble started.
As the party assembled, I got off on the wrong foot with the lady who also writes a Tuesday column by praising for her mastery of the soundbite. This almost always guarantees that she rather than I features as the key commentator highlighted on page two of the paper. My comment was meant as a genuine compliment, but as usual my unfortunate tone of voice led to it being interpreted as sarcasm, and she marked me down as a moaner. Which was a little unfair, particularly as she went on to demonstrate her mastery of the soundbite with a superb dissection of the North East character: “They’ve got no time for you if you’re an outsider. And if you’re not an outsider, they’ve got no respect for you because you’re just from round here.” Perfect.
Still, it was greatly reassuring to find that the longest serving and highest profile of all the columnists present was also the most insecure, repeatedly probing the “hidden agenda” behind the lunch and asking how many critical letters from readers were suppressed in the average week. (Answer: none.) I thought Monday’s columnist held the record, having provoked a letter suggesting that he was a name-dropping nobody after his very first piece. But Friday’s columnist capped that because he had been attacked before he had even written his first contribution, on the strength of an interview in which he made the mistake of mentioning fox-hunting (about which feelings run high in these parts, creating real difficulties for the likes of him and me who don’t particularly like the sort of people who go hunting but could not give a stuff about the welfare of the fox).
We tried holding a name-dropping contest but had to give up after a couple of minutes because we were so comprehensively outclassed by Mr Monday. So we talked about past columnists on the paper who had gone on to greater things, notably Heather Mills. It was around this time that Mrs Tuesday added “Oh, so he’s a misogynist, too” to my charge sheet, though I don’t think that can have been specifically Mills-related. If it was, then there are a surprising number of female misogynists around these days. Mrs Tuesday claimed to feel some sympathy for Heather’s “guts”, which is an original approach since most people seem to hate them. I just contented myself with doing my sub-Peter Cook imitation of the judge delivering his verdict, inevitably concluding “in short, Miss Mills, I regretfully conclude that you do not have a leg to stand on”.
I stupidly ordered the most fattening things on the menu – fishcakes and fish pie – which also suggests a regrettable lack of ability to think originally or even laterally. I have recently noticed that I am losing my ability to grip things with my right hand, so my sex life is doomed. It also meant that I was unable to squeeze a slice of lemon over my fishcakes without losing hold of it and projecting it onto Mrs Saturday opposite. Fortunately I had already earned some brownie points by telling her that she looked much younger and more attractive in real life than she did in her photo in the paper (and I never, ever lie). What’s more, she became progressively more attractive the more I drank. Remarkable stuff, wine.
The editor told us that his main claim to fame was “discovering” the deep-fried Mars Bar, in the sense of being the first person to bring this iconic [sic] Scottish culinary delicacy to the attention of the world’s media. It’s something to be remembered by, I suppose. I promised to ensure that he won the fame he clearly deserves, hoping against hope that a mention here would suffice as it will be picked up every time someone types “deep fried Mars Bar” into a search engine. The only snag is that it comes up against my self-denying ordinance against mentioning people’s names in this blog. Knackers. I see that I shall now have to go and write the Wikipedia entry that I promised him in the first place.
One by one the weaklings peeled off, until there was just the editor, the ex-editor and me. The ex-editor brought all his years of experience to bear by suggesting that it would be a much better idea to go for another drink than for the editor to go back to work. I staggered off to the Central Station just in time to catch the 5.15 to Morpeth, and sat down heavily next to a pretty girl who was reading a novel by Sebastian Faulks. This time next year, if all goes to plan, she will be reading a novel by me, and I shall be able to twiddle my waxed moustache as I lean across and enquire whether she is enjoying it because I wrote it, dontchaknow. I expect I’ll get precisely the same reply as my author friend who tried that particular opening gambit on the tube: “Piss off, Granddad.”
After some fortifying tea and simnel cake in Morpeth, I somehow made it back home and spent the evening staring blankly at the television. The highlight was Hughie Green, Most Sincerely on BBC4. How a completely unfunny man came to feature in a season called “The Curse of Comedy” is a total mystery, but his impersonation by Trevor Eve was quite uncannily accurate. More importantly, it confirmed my childhood impression that the host of Double Your Money and Opportunity Knocks was a thoroughly nasty piece of work. The one person they couldn’t imitate at all was the guy who won Opportunity Knocks week after week by manipulating his muscles to music. The bald bloke playing him was shite. Funny how things from the 1960s stick in my memory, even the things which were completely horrid and which anyone would be grateful to forget.
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