Wednesday 28 October 2009
Lonely and only in Newcastle
15st 3lb, zero units. Would I still be entitled to call myself Bloke in the North if I no longer lived in Northumberland? It wasn’t the critical factor in deciding not to sell my house to the nice Baronet, but it is the sort of thing I mull over when I wake at 4, as I did today, and fail to get back to sleep. Cheshire is still in the North, is it not? Though admittedly we have settled in a part of Cheshire that is less only about three miles from the border with Shropshire, which is definitely in the Midlands. On the other hand, we are also only about two miles from Wales, thanks to the border lurching east from the natural boundary of the River Dee, and taking a bite out of England that can only have been designed for the convenience of manufacturers of jigsaw puzzles. At least it is definitely NORTH Wales. I suppose as a last resort we could always move a couple of miles west so that I could legitimately call myself Bloke in the North (of Wales), with the (of Wales) being silent. The price for this, if we sent The Baby to a State school, would be having part of his education conducted in gibberish. But I dare say that Welsh would prove no more incomprehensible and useless to him than trigonometry and algebra did to me in my day. Anyway, this is all academic because I am in Northumberland, as it happens. The day started gloomily with the arrival of my builder, to explain that the small areas of rotten wood we had identified in my windows were actually far more extensive than he had predicted, and that many of them are reaching the point of being beyond economic repair. Which either means removing them to a workshop for prolonged and uneconomic reconstruction, or having new “like for like” replacements made to the high standards demanded by the authorities who keep an eye on listed buildings. It is, of course, entirely typical that a house which has demanded minimal expenditure on maintenance since I had it comprehensively renovated 21 years ago should become a money pit as soon as I turn down an offer to take it off my hands. Similarly, the estimate for repairing my shed roofs, slumping due to dry rot in their supporting timbers, ran into thousands rather than the few hundred pounds I expected. After spending the morning at my desk I drove to Newcastle for a lunch with some of my fellow contributors to The Journal – an occasion intended to be so convivial that I had taken the precaution of booking myself into my club for the night, in the hope of being unfit to drive a car for at least 24 hours. The first disappointment arrived as I walked out of the car park on my arrival, in the form of an e-mail and voice message from our editor apologizing for the fact that he could no longer join us because of a hastily arranged and unavoidable meeting. The second occurred when, after a decent interval waiting at the table with the one guest who had actually turned up, we rang the missing columnist to find him still sitting at his desk 65 miles away, happily composing his next piece. “Oh dear” he said. “I completely forgot. I really am a dickhead.” It was hard to disagree. Though it could be argued that I was the dickhead for forgetting, despite my 26 years in PR, that professional journalists are chronically unreliable and can be more or less guaranteed to forget to turn up for lunch unless they are reminded an hour or so before the appointed time. Even this does not necessarily work, for example if one is forced to rely on a colleague's assurance that “It's in her diary and I'm sure she will be there.” I once fell for that and had a rather sticky lunch a deux with a fuming Chief Executive, who had travelled from the other end of the country to improve understanding of his business (from a low base) with the sector specialist on one of the key national dailies. She turned out, on the strength of a slight headache, to have decided to enjoy a “duvet day” instead. Still, my non-professional journalist friend and I had a perfectly decent lunch in Newcastle’s nearest equivalent to The Ivy today, and I was able to catch up with another Journal colleague over evening drinks in the Crown Posada. What could be more agreeable? Well, technically speaking, the Crown Posada under slightly less pressure from other bores, particularly the hugely fat “life and soul of the party” type who held court for a while with a group of younger acolytes at the table next to ours. But at least they lacked our staying power. We finally prised ourselves away to eat in a chain pizza restaurant further up the street, which looked in dire need of a visit from a team of professional cleaners. I took a detour on my way back to the club to check that my eyes were not deceiving me when I thought I saw a group of hairy-arsed men on a stag night queuing to get into a club. From a distance, it looked as though they were wearing only see-through pink leotards over tiny black thongs. Unfortunately I proved to have perfect vision when I got close-up, too. Only in Newcastle? One can but hope.