Thursday 9 October 2008

So, farewell then

I dread to think what I weigh after last night’s splendid meal, which was accompanied by 7.0 units of alcohol (though that description, while technically correct, does not really do justice to the wine); 1,215 days to go; Newcastle upon Tyne.

The brilliant plan for this week was that I would drive across to Chester on Tuesday and the LTCB and I would both travel to London on the train together tomorrow morning. Only some fat berk had forgotten that he had accepted an invitation to a retirement dinner in Newcastle this evening, and therefore had to backtrack most of the way home again. In the unlikely event of anyone reading this in 50 years’ time, I would like to extend a personal apology for my contribution to the global warming which has now made your life unbearable. What, you haven’t heard of it? Oh, it was all the rage in 2008. A bit hard to swallow for those of us who lived through the great scare about the New Ice Age, which was apparently the overwhelming threat to the future of humanity in the 1970s. So what IS making your life impossible in 2058, then?

Blimey. We never even thought of that.

At least I made the journey on the train rather than in my gas guzzling car. It was quite a civilized trip, but then it bloody well should have been given that a first class ticket from Chester to Newcastle cost me far more than I normally pay to travel first class from Newcastle to London, which is about 100 miles further. Though, as a waggish Virgin guard pointed out several years ago, when I queried why the first class fare from London to Liverpool had risen so outrageously that it now exceeded that from London to Newcastle, the distance may be shorter but you do get to spend longer on the train.

There were two changes of train involved in this case, at Manchester Oxford Road and York, but in each case the next service pulled into the same platform as the train I had just left, after a wait of no more than ten minutes, so even I felt hard pressed to find grounds for complaint. My only disappointment came after I had watched a fat, blonde scratter sidle into my first class compartment at Leeds, and wander up and down it looking furtive and guilty before sliding into a seat as unobtrusively as a person who is at least 100% overweight can manage. I greatly looked forward to watching the ticket collector sling her out, but when he came through she turned out to be in possession of a first class ticket. It is surprising how often this happens. Where does the guilty look come from, then? A bad conscience about consuming more than her share of the planet’s resources?

The retirement dinner was being held in perhaps my least favourite hotel in the world, where I was also staying overnight. My hosts were very kindly picking up the bill, so no doubt it should not have mattered to me that they were being stung £175 for my night in a tiny, dark, gloomy room with a close-up view of some uninteresting trees and located immediately above the kitchen. Nevertheless, I felt a distinct stab of referred pain when I attempted to check my e-mails and discovered that, despite charging all that money for the use of what was little more than a beautifully appointed broom cupboard, the place still had the cheek to sting punters another £12 for access to the internet, through a clunking “system” which required their valued guests to ring reception for authorization before logging on.

Dinner was edible and the portions less insultingly small than when I last dined here, and the evening was distinguished by the presentation of a retirement gift chosen by someone with a fine sense of humour. There were also some amusing speeches. Not including my own, as I had seriously overestimated the number of those likely to be present and concluded that I would be doing everyone a big favour by keeping schtoom. As it was, I felt moved to say something to acknowledge my genuine appreciation of having been included on such a select guest list, even though this had to be balanced against the consideration that I am completely useless at speaking off the cuff. I am quite sure that I did not constitute a good advertisement for my services as a speechwriter. On the other hand, rising unsteadily to my feet, totally unprepared and unrehearsed, seemed only fair on the guest of honour since that is exactly how he had approached every presentation to City analysts and investors over the previous 25 years, in glorious defiance of my advice on the matter.

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