This weekend I went to Newcastle. I haven't been there for more than twenty years. You tend to follow well-trodden paths as you get older, dictated largely by family, holiday and business. It was only when New Writing North invited me to take part in a panel on "Writing About Music" at the magnificent Sage in Gateshead with a concert by Randy Newman thrown in on the Sunday evening that I had the chance to go.
One of the odder features about this kind of weekend away is the way you bump into people you've known for years (I met Tim de Lisle from Intelligent Life at the Randy Newman concert and we went for a drink at the Crown Posada, a wonderful pub recommended by a Twitter friend), people you think you know because you've heard them so much on the radio (Ian McMillan was the MC of the whole Words and Music event and proved to be an enthusiastic follower of the Word podcast), people you've never met before (I went for an Indian meal with Ivan Hewitt from the Telegraph and we found ourselves alongside a twelve strong party of Indian ladies who were whiling away the time waiting for their food by playing bingo) and a few Word readers who came up to say hello. It was a most civilised way to spend the Sunday afternoon and evening on the banks of the Tyne.
Contrast this with Saturday night when I had one pint in the Crown Posada and then an excellent meal at Oldfields before wandering round the City as the stag and hen parties began to muster. The women were wearing identical tee shirts and pink Deely boppers, the men in shirts and jeans apart from one member in demeaning drag; it all seemed to be driven not so much by hedonism as a weary sense of duty. I turned in early. Given the dimensions of my room not much else was feasible.