Tuesday 21 July 2009

Celebrating a true North East Winner

This week's column will probably make considerably more sense if it is read AFTER the previous day's column by Tom Gutteridge, which should be accessible on http://blogfromthenorth.blogspot.com/ unless it has been taken down as the result of threats of legal action from the restaurant he was so rude about.

Few things are better calculated to lift the heart on a Monday morning than the emergence of a new North East winner. Though in truth what grabbed my attention in yesterday’s paper was not so much the Government’s carefully stage-managed leak about the expansion at Nissan as the unveiling on this page of our very own Michael Winner, Tom Gutteridge.

First there was his remarkably acerbic restaurant review, closely mirroring Mr Winner’s weekly contributions to the Sunday Times. Part of this at least earned a smug nod of agreement since, not so long ago, when I was lamenting the demise of GNER’s excellent restaurant cars, Tom sent me a spirited defence of the maintained quality and superior convenience of the National Express at-seat service. I was glad to read that he now agrees with me.

Always a generous host, Tom was once kind enough to treat Mrs Hann and me to one of those South Indian meals about which he wrote so enthusiastically yesterday, and it was indeed delicious. However, it seems only fair to add a warning that this cuisine can have less than desirable after-effects for some of us. I struggle to think of a way of describing these without causing offence, but if the “save the planet” cash-in merchants had erected one of their turbines in our vicinity, the Hann family could probably have powered a reasonably sized village for the next 24 hours.

But all this pales into insignificance compared with the statement that Tom is soon to get married wearing a cream suit a size too small for him. Not so much Four Weddings and a Funeral, then, as a comedy remake of Saturday Night Fever with Mel Smith in the title role, in the regrettable absence of Benny Hill. Time to think again, surely. Let me put on record that I am more than willing to lend Tom the black morning coat I bought in John Blades’ retirement sale for my own wedding. This would at least have the virtues of being appropriate wear for an Englishman and just about fitting him.

Sadly I shall not be able to provide an eye-witness report on how the Gutteridge nuptials turn out, but I sincerely hope that they go rather better than the ones for which I wrote a speech on Saturday. My client reported that it had gone down “like a lead balloon … I ploughed through it in disapproving and stony silence.” He was at least kind enough to conclude that this had more to do with the nature of the guests than the quality of the writing, but it still added to my general depression about my prospects.

Over the years I have enjoyed some modest success as a public speaker, carefully confining myself to occasions when the audience was likely to be sympathetic, on the basis of shared experience, and so howling drunk that they would laugh at anything at all. On the strength of this I have occasionally written speeches for others, which have also reportedly gone down well.

The news that I am apparently losing my touch comes at the worst possible time, when I scrabbling around with increasing desperation for some way of supporting my family in the beautiful Whittingham Vale. If it goes on like this I may have to fall back on doing some actual work. Perhaps I should dust off my talk on “The meaning and purpose of financial public relations”, which at least had the crowd-pleasing quality of being almost incredibly short.

Meanwhile my Monday counterpart can simply look forward to the original Michael Winner dropping off his perch, and then picking up the cheesy insurance commercial contract to go with the outspoken restaurant reviews and the distinctive dress sense. Sometimes life just isn’t fair. I wonder whose shoes I could aim to fill?

Originally published in The Journal, Newcastle upon Tyne.

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