Wednesday 4 June 2008

Another day, another club, another opera

No reliable data is available on either my weight this morning or my alcohol consumption yesterday, though I guesstimate 18.0 units (but then it was my birthday); 1,340 days left (though perhaps fewer if I keep knocking it back at that rate); Grainger Town.

I travelled back to Alnmouth on the 09.00 from King’s Cross, then drove home to open this year’s crop of birthday cards, some of which proved to be of quite staggering obscenity. The most touching was a from an elderly lady who is one of the few fans of my newspaper column; she had already sent me a birthday card, but had been moved by my piece yesterday to send another thanking me for the entertainment I provided and containing the suggested gift of “folding money” – a five pound note. I can’t remember when I last received a banknote inside a greetings card. It is not quite as thrilling as it was when I was ten, but still a very pleasant sensation.

In the afternoon I drove to Newcastle and checked into my club there before going for an early supper at an Italian restaurant in Pilgrim Street, with a fellow columnist and the business editor of the paper. The only other customers were an elderly retired accountant type and his wife, clearly like us heading for the opera at the Theatre Royal. I don’t think our comparative boisterousness and my regrettable taste for profanities did anything to enhance their evening. My friend the connoisseur raved about the authentic Italian food, but I must have chosen badly as everything I ate was bland in the extreme. The alternative explanation, that Tom does not know what he is talking about, is clearly inadmissible. He told us that he had severely admonished another top Newcastle restaurant at lunchtime because they had proudly presented him with a new menu majoring on fresh, local ingredients. From which he had duly ordered the “seasonal vegetable risotto” only to find that it was mushroom. When, as Tom asserted, any fule kno that the only time when you simply cannot get wild mushrooms in England is in May and June. He had asked sarcastically whether the chef was by any chance Australian, but feared that this witty gibe had gone some way over their heads.

We did have a bottle of very fine Italian red wine, but the prolonged pantomime of retrieving it from the specially secured cellar, wheeling it in on a trolley, sniffing the cork, decanting it and preparing the glasses to receive it meant that we were quite close to the end of our meal before we actually got to taste it. Then we sprinted round to the Theatre Royal with seconds to spare, if the curtain had actually gone up on schedule, and I promptly fell asleep for most of the first act of Opera North’s Macbeth. It’s probably not a good idea for me to eat or drink before an opera, on the whole, though I am not sure that I missed all that much. It was an extremely grey and modern production – rather like the excellent Glyndebourne one I saw last autumn might have been if it had been totally drained of colour. However, I did like the striking Lady Macbeth of Antonia Cifrone and the obvious echoes of the contemporary tragedy of Gordon Brown were naturally cheering. At the interval I was surrounded by people moaning about the production, and many of the cultured Geordies sitting around us laughed uproariously when the second act started with the witches attending a multiple stillbirth, which was surely not the reaction intended. Yet it got an absolutely ecstatic audience reaction at the final curtain, including much whooping and cheering from the upper circle. Odd.

I went to the Bacchus afterwards for a pint and a half of real ale, then helped myself to a large single malt from the bar of my club as I made my way up to bed. This helped me to fall into a deep and dreamless sleep despite the sounds of mild rioting outside the nightclub on the opposite side of the street.

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