We’re in a taxi in Gateshead, four of us, Gaynor and me and our two closest friends, Caroline and Paul. We’re up here from Bradford for a weekend. We’ve come to sightsee, have fun, take a break.
Tonight’s gone wrong. Having downed a couple of drinks apiece in Newcastle pubs, we’d walked for almost two hours thinking – mistakenly – that a small comedy club was nearby. A great bill of top comics at Gateshead’s premier venue, The Sage, had been sold out. So I’d had the less than brilliant idea of finding another comedy gig.
The venue, when we finally found it, was an old suburban library that doubled as an art gallery. It was shabby, out-of-date, unwelcoming, unsuitable and utterly uninviting.
Knackered after the long walk, we then endured a wait of more than an hour for the show to start. The chairs, perfectly designed for small aliens with unspeakably distorted bodies, offered comfort similar to that of a second Spanish Inquisition. The ‘comedians’ provided that of a third. We witnessed the slow deaths of the first two acts and left when the third was wheeled out, already on life-support.
Hungry and in need of a drink, we tried several restaurants. All were fully booked. Then we found a hotel-cum-pub that told us they’d a wedding on, but grudgingly gave us a corner table in a dingy deserted room and took our order. We bought drinks and waited. Ten minutes became twenty. No food. ‘Coming soon,’ we were told in a tone that scolded us for our impatience. After forty-five foodless minutes, and a couple more pints each, we left. No-one noticed us go.
Just down the road, we found a nearly-empty Asian restaurant which looked good and proved welcoming. The service was friendly and fast, the lager okay, the food crap… which probably explained why it had so few diners.
So now we’re taxi-ing back into central Newcastle for a final crawl round the late-night bars. Having been there a few hours ago, when everyone was just getting into their stride for a Tyneside Saturday night, we know that the whole place will be crawling with stag and hen parties. We’d witnessed them, gathering at dusk, like loudly flocking swirls of starlings, already drunken, demanding kisses, fights and rights of way… each fancy-dressed in matching plumage: mad gangs of Elvises, milkmaids, burglars, nurses, pirates and witches.
The four of us are, by now, equally drunk. As our taxi takes us back through Gateshead towards Newcastle, we pass a throng of people in the street. ‘Oh, look,’ exclaims Gaynor, ‘another stag party… all dressed as cowboys!’
We look at her, then at them, then back at her.
‘What’s wrong?’ she slurs.
‘Gaynor, it’s Saturday. We’re passing a synagogue. They’re orthodox Jews.’