Paul S and I did a few great ‘arts for all’ nights at the Baltic arts centre on Tyneside. We couldn’t convince the company to do a ‘Tate Up North’ kinda deal so we had a smallish hospitality arrangement with the Baltic gallery which we loved to be honest. It was the combination of an iconic building (a former flour mill), a great location – over the beautiful blinking-eye bridge from the Tyne quayside, an extraordinarily free-form art policy and the brilliant girls who managed the commercial side of things then, J and F. They were just lovely. Plus, say it quietly, we really liked the Finance Director, AL, who was so supportive. If you’ve never been to Baltic go there. You’ll find the art fascinating. If you don’t like art, try the top floor restaurant; if you don’t like good food try the amazing high level bar; if you just want to meet lots of cool men/women try the ground floor bar; if you just like looking at something iconic – take some pictures from the Newcastle side of the quay; if you can’t be bothered with any of that, stay indoors and watch Brookside saddo.
This particular night we’d hosted an evening for our regional media contacts and significant local clients. It was a beautiful evening and I’d made an introductory welcoming speech with a throwaway joke about the sun which didn’t go down well. All I did was explain what it was for the unknowing. They all thought I was taking the piss out of being Northern – I was, but it was sardonically self-deprecating. Not part of the humour map I’m afraid. So we just got on with the event but I was a bit sensitive, having been sneared at like some Hoxton luvvie soul-mate of Brain Sewell.
I’m not sure, but I think it was the Susan Hillier exhibition that night which had some brilliant pieces on display. The guests seemed to enjoy it then we had a dinner in the top floor restaurant with Tim Marlow doing a talk about the show. Tim has virtually cornered the market for covering art on TV. I guess he does most work on Channel 5 at present. It’s very hard not to really like the guy; he’s great company, enjoys a laugh, he’s incredibly knowledgeable about a wide spread of art and artists, is good-looking in a Steve McQueen kind of way that even blokes can recognise, dresses coolly and can talk beautifully, passionately and eloquently about his subject without hesitation, repetition or deviation for considerably longer than just a minute. Needless to say we always got great feedback from our female guests about him (and more than a few male guests too). In short he made my pathetic attempts to be interesting and amusing look like the burial eulogy for the former leader of the Albanian communist party.
But never let it said I hold grudges. On the night we’d paid for Tim to wow our guests and he didn’t fail. I was delighted that the evening had gone well. Both Paul S and lovely Steph, who acted as our principal hostess and planner at many of these events, came back with great feedback from our guests (we were always systematic about gathering guest/BT host feedback to keep the hospitality programme relevant and successful). All apart from my ‘off-colour’ remarks it seems.
Hhmm this was beginning to piss me off. I felt like standing up after Tim’s standing ovation and shouting ‘OY you lot. Shut up and lighten up. You think nothing of taking your partners to watch Roy ‘Chubby’ Brown’s in cabaret but I make a gentle little joke about the frigging sun and I’m accused of poor taste. I’m actually from the north too you know’. Of course I didn’t stand up and say any of that, though I was seriously tempted. I stood there and thanked everybody for coming, wished them a safe journey home and made a pitiful little final comment about not taking me too literally. I was going to add ‘like Sir Bobby Robson’s pronunciations’ but checked myself and thanked them for their support and custom for a final time and wished them a good night. I have to say, that night it was through gritted teeth. It had been a lovely evening, very well-received, our relationships with customers and local media had been improved significantly but I had the grump because of some personally-directed mild criticism, probably justified.
I was re-acting like some bloody divo which is unlike me. But I was bit hurt and just wanted to go relax away from guests etc. I think anyone who’s been responsible for hosting events (and bearing in mind I’ve been doing this for 100+ days/nights a year for 20 years) will understand that sometimes it feels v much like a job and not a pleasure. My good friend L who’d come to the show had to get away early, sadly. Tim had an early train so Gilly, our key event co-ordinator, took him back to the hotel. But Paul S, Steph and yet another Paul (T. from our PR agency) were also in the mood for a drink. No clients, no BT guys (outside the team), no celeb guests. Just close colleagues. It had been a long day.
We found a bar on the quayside and secured a table next to a sailor and his ‘girl’ who were doing things with their tongues that a pair of giraffes would admire. We’d had a couple and I’d started to unwind – Paul2 and Steph were unrelenting in their sun, moon, stars, cloud, sky jokes which was great. Then it was my round and one of the guys asked for a change in drink from glass of wine to double g&t or something. Something just clicked and it was, see your double g&t and raise you glass of chablis. It’s a great feed because everybody then plays white wine poker, probably the best pub game, ever.
It’s not even really a drinking game – because it’s played too quickly for drinking, it’s a true game of brag. Paul T was out fairly quickly, followed by me. Steph and Paul S were left to gradually raise the stakes. Paul S saw a double sambucca and raised it to a pocket full of business receipts. Steph, a natural at the game, and holder of course of a woman’s hand bag full of gambling chips, raised it to a brass-covered hair brush and Mulberry key fob. Paul S semed to have pockets full of kitty. Very soon he was gambling 2 business cards from the Chief Inspector and Deputy Chief Inspector of Durham police (guests at our arts event) which was a great bet and almost stumped Steph for a second. But quick as a flash she grabbed the flexi-straws from her cocktail drink and having shaped them round her ear, offered herself as a BT call centre operator. It should have been a winning bet but from beneath the bar top dish of peanuts, Paul S produced a serviette which he shaped origami-style into an unconvincing elephant’s head. I mean that’s inspired but Steph saw his elephant’s head and raised the stakes with a bet of her high heels, which were strikingly high but which were killing her feet and were seriously smelly. He was virtually spent but from somewhere on his person Paul suddenly produced a membership card for St Albans Blockbuster. He was all in now and challenged Steph with ‘see ya’. She looked lost. She checked her pockets, nothing, another look in her hand bag, nothing. Was it the end game? Almost in slow motion Steph looked in one of those many side pockets that women have in their bags, she reached in and with an enigmatic smile slowly revealed the killer hand – a credit voucher for one free enema at her local health spa. Time stood still for a second as Paul realised that he’d been trumped by Cincinnati Steph. He couldn’t respond; an enema’s as good as a royal flush as HRH Diana used to say. He’d been taken by the white wine poker Queen
What a game of gambling we’d just witnessed. I’d completely forgotten the poor reaction to my sun joke and welcome speech, and life was good again. Next time you’ve had a crap day and are sulking over a glass of Pinot Grigio or two with some friends, remember Stephie and her voucher and challenge them to beat your semi-perished packet of 3. It’s a strong hand.