Tuesday 12 February 2008

Hope triumphs over experience yet again

February is the cruellest month, whatever claims the well-known Cats lyricist T.S. Eliot may have made for April, and this Thursday is its cruellest day. All over the North East, male readers will now be scratching their heads, wondering why, then consulting their diaries. Shortly afterwards, they will be frantically scrabbling for the Yellow Pages, looking for florists and restaurants where there might be the faintest chance of swinging a table for two on the busiest night of the year.

All this togetherness seems frightfully cruel to those of us who can only look forward to a supperless evening on the sofa with a Border terrier and Ashes to Ashes on the telly. On the other hand, it’s probably like Christmas. We hermits get all maudlin around mid-December, thinking of the loving, fun-filled family gathering we are about to miss. Then afterwards we experience intense relief as we hear the annual horror stories of ghastly relatives and blazing rows.

One of the incidental pleasures of writing this column is that it has brought me back in touch with several people I have not spoken to since we were boys at school together 35 years ago. When we compare notes on how we have filled the intervening time, my old friends always express surprise at the fact that I have never married, then make a tactless enquiry about whether I am gay. Having established that the answer is a most definite negative, their faces become suffused with naked envy before they utter a three-word phrase beginning “You lucky …!”

Still, it seemed needlessly cruel of Tom Gutteridge to point out last week that I was always likely to win our weight loss challenge because I don’t have a gorgeous partner who is also a brilliant cook, making a hearty evening meal unavoidable. I intended to take him further to task for having lost touch with his Tyneside roots to such an extent that he no longer calls that evening meal “tea”. However, I’ve just worked out that his description of my weight reduction plan as “the no-D [for Dinner] Diet” will allow me to patent it as “the Keith Hann Iet™”, finally providing the launch pad for the best-selling book I have been dreaming about for years. “Diet” without the “T” seems to have rather negative connotations.

In reality, going easy on food after dark requires no special effort after two decades in public relations, where I like to think that I raised what Tom would call “lunch” to something of an art form. I am certainly not “starving”. This will soon put me in a select minority among the aspiring classes of north Northumberland, following the shock announcement that Roseden farm shop is to close down on Friday. Ann Walton’s pies, pastries and patés were far more than a local legend, and over the years I have enjoyed many superb meals centred on a Roseden joint, and parties made bearable only by her excellent canapés.

With no-one obviously lining up to fill the gap, and the nearest Waitrose more than 40 miles away, I foresee hungry middle class refugees streaming southwards. It could be the biggest population movement since the partition of India. As a handy hint to my male neighbours, I wouldn’t try to fill that tearful gap in your Valentine’s dinner by saying “Never mind, darling, you’ll just have to learn to make your own pies.” Your partner may not be able to cook with a Le Creseut pan, but she is almost certainly capable of deploying it as an offensive weapon.

Yet, despite the theoretical joys of singularity [sic], hope always triumphs over experience in matters of the heart. So any half-presentable lady who expects to be at a loose end on Thursday evening is warmly invited to get in touch. Enquiries from individuals who like dogs and Ashes to Ashes will be particularly welcome.


Originally published in The Journal, Newcastle upon Tyne.

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