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City dwellers see North at its best.


IT could so easily have been a disaster; thankfully Saturday night turned into an evening of delicious surprises. I'm not referring to Kevin Nolan's hat-trick in the Toon's trouncing of Ipswich, or the removal of Richard Dunwoody from Strictly Come Dancing, pleasant as both incidents were in themselves. It was the fact that our party actually worked.

It certainly might have been a different story. Three months ago, on a particularly warm late spring day, Jo and I decided that as we were getting married in California, we should throw a little shindig back home for our closest friends and family. Dreaming of chilled pink champagne and strawberries in the garden, I unilaterally decided to write "4.30pm start" on the invitations.

As the months passed and we discovered that the promised "barbecue summer" was just a fantasy, Jo berated my absurd optimism. What on earth were we to do with 70 people in a windswept Northumbrian farmhouse in late September? As usual, I stubbornly refused to accept she might be right.

Last week, as the BBC weatherman was still insisting it was sunny and warm, we were lighting the Aga and bringing in the winter logs. I buttoned up my jacket against the drizzle and defiantly trudged round the local off-licences. Apparently there isn't much demand for pink bubbly right now. Eventually a nice man at Ponteland Wine Rack tracked some down in Sheffield.

Just in case, we'd booked heaters and a marquee. Then, to really warm people up, we ordered curry.

It wasn't just that we wanted fine weather for our party: it was that we'd invited so many friends from London who were utterly convinced we'd moved to the North Pole. This was their first sight of our new home and for some it was their first taste of our region. As self-appointed North East ambassadors to our unfortunate city cousins, we wanted the whole county to make a good impression.

We needn't have worried. We woke up on Saturday to blue skies and warm air. The September roses were at their peak, the sheep bleating in a major key, and the guests arrived with smiles, gifts, and a determination to party.

Theatre directors, TV producers and showbiz agents mingled with farmers, doctors and landowners. It was the most eclectic mix. But the highlight of the night was the curry. Our dear friends at Rasa pulled out the stops and threw us a full-scale Keralan wedding banquet, complete with musicians and dancers.

Even Jonathan Shalit, agent to stars like Myleene Klass, Jamelia and Kate Silverton, and hitherto a terminal curry-hater, was won over. Jonathan''s been a good friend since the day he offered me the opportunity of a television exclusive with his new signing - a 12-year-old Welsh opera singer that he thought was going to be huge. I politely declined the opportunity and the fact that I'd turned down Charlotte Church is a story he retells with great relish.

Jonathan had rung me on Monday to say that he simply couldn't take curry, so we prepared him a separate meal. But in the middle of the banquet, surrounded by the wonderful smells and sounds of Kerala, he couldn't resist.

It was one of many surprises that night. David Cottrell, my old schoolfriend and a top eye surgeon, discovered that the dancer performing exotic moves in front of him worked in his ophthalmology department at the RVI.

As I write this on Sunday, the weather is back to its gloomy chill and the garden is a forest of empty bottles. Ah well, back to reality.
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Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Date:Sep 28, 2009
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