Saturday 21 June 2008

The least influential person in the North East

No idea of my weight, but at least the old dinner jacket does not feel any tighter; 7.5 units of alcohol yesterday; 1,323; Loxford.

I don’t seem to have a lot of luck with taxis. Last night I was on the receiving end of a mild bollocking because the man who had turned up to collect me from Glyndebourne, absolutely bang on time, was kept hanging around twiddling his thumbs for a full five minutes. This was mainly because I hadn’t been warned to look out for an enormous people carrier, and was eagerly scanning the incoming vehicles for the same sort of modest saloon car that had brought me.

Today I was in trouble because my guests were not standing at the front door of the hotel when we called to pick them up. I wasted a bit of time trying to get a ditsy receptionist to ring the room to let them know we were waiting, but it proved to be beyond her, so I called them on my mobile instead. I relayed the reply back to the taxi driver: “He says that they will be a couple of minutes as they are right at the top of the hotel and have to get down from there”. Then we both looked at the hotel which, so far as we could see, comprised all of two storeys. Then we looked at each other and my taxi driver sighed and radioed a colleague to see if he could pick up the old bloke who was waiting for her outside Waitrose with his weekly shop. Clearly not relying entirely on the State pension, then.

We were both more than a little surprised when a beautifully turned-out young lady turned up first, reporting that “the king is still preening”. This conjured up a vision of him ripping off yet another bow tie that he had failed to tie perfectly, and hurling it onto a growing pile of rejects in the style of Beau Brummell. But shortly afterwards he arrived, looking immaculate, and we set off for pink champagne, canapés and the traditional Romantic Walk Round The Lake, with some of us protesting that the grass was a bit on the damp side for our high heels.

Toffs at play; though only one of these people is officially Influential

I am pretty sure that I came to see the classic Peter Hall production of Albert Herring in its opening year, 1985, and if my laziness did not trump even my anal hoarding tendency and my obsession with accuracy, I would go up into the attic and riffle through my old programmes to check. I have certainly seen it several times since, in a long series of revivals, and it is still very fine, even if the fresh-faced young lads I originally saw playing Albert and Sid have now graduated to the silly old fool character parts of the vicar and the mayor. I particularly cherish the ideal opportunity it provides for fat, old-style sopranos to take to the stage without having gastric band surgery or embarrassing themselves (and, more importantly, their audience) by cramming themselves into unsuitable costumes.

The weather was even more shocking than last night, so I had done well with my suggestion of dining in the restaurant. It was merely unfortunate that none of us seemed to have ended up with something we actually wanted to eat, so that much of the meal was spent looking wistfully across the table or playing “pass the plate”. At least one member of the party should benefit in the long term from the following learning experience: when ordering dinner some days in advance, it is always a good idea to remember what you have requested, so that you don’t then make the mistake of ordering precisely the same thing at lunchtime.

Towards the end of the meal, my male guest leaned back in his chair and asked whether I had been in the North East yesterday. I said that I had not, as I had been at Glyndebourne.

“In that case, you won’t have seen The Journal’s “500 Most Influential People in the North East.

“No. Are you in it?”

“Yes.” I swear that he lit a virtual cigar at this point, drew on it heavily, then waved it in the air to reinforce his next point. “I have it on very good authority, old boy, that you came Number 501.”

Ha bloody ha. Still, they won’t be laughing next year when I produce my rival guide to the “1,000 Least Influential People in the North East”, in which I fully intend to beat off [sic] a strong challenge from the tramps of the Heaton Park Al Fresco Self-Abuse Unit to secure the coveted number one feature slot.

I returned to my friends’ house in Lewes to find my 25-year-old godson sitting on the sofa watching the news on TV. He had shocked me this afternoon by revealing how little he earned as a graduate teacher of science in a secondary school; a job which apparently requires him to spend a fair chunk of his weekends sitting at a laptop computer, writing reports. There was an item on the news revealing that slobs in Dundee are being bribed with £50 a month to give up smoking, so I helpfully suggested that it might be worth his while to take up the habit and move up there in order to make a claim. He took it surprisingly well. At any rate, he did not hit me.

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