Just as everything was more or less in place, a single phonecall resulted in a fairly fundamental change of plans. We still headed north, but stopped short at Newcastle to have dinner with author, academic and probably my oldest friend, Professor Andrew Ballantyne. Not having been into the city for many years it was great to get a feel for how it now is, eating and sleeping in Jesmond, just north of the city centre. By all appearances this is where cool people - and wealthy students - hang out. Great houses in very attractive streets, sprinkled with an ample supply of bistro's, cafes and cool shops. Having been watered and fed by Andrew in some considerable style, it was back to earth with a bit of a bump the following morning with a brief visit to the Gateshead Millennium Bridge and the Baltic Contemporary Arts Centre, neither of which were in existence when I last visited!
The bridge is simply stunning, but I have to say the Baltic and its surroundings - or lack of them - didn't really do it for me. These waterside venues really do need people and activity, both of which were sadly lacking on this occasion. Couldn't help feeling I would become very withdrawn very quickly if I was one of the gallery attendants there - but maybe it was just a bad day.
This one was buzzing with life. Art, colour, activity, food, drink - just fantastic and on the same day that not much more than a hundred miles away it all felt just a bit sad. Not just the Hockneys and not just hanging on the walls but percolating into the life of the place.
Whoever masterminds this should be very, very pleased with what they have achieved.
To round off this social whirlwind, we headed first to Northamptonshire for more food and friends and finally back to my roots in Warwickshire. Walking along the canal and then the banks of the Avon into the heart of Warwick was a timely reminder of just how good England can be at this time of year.