AFTER spending the long months of lockdown catering for others, Kim Clark has finally had the tables turned on her – and no one deserves it more.

In June, this column shone the spotlight on the magnificent job the mum-of-two has done for the elderly people of Evenwood, and surrounding villages, in County Durham.

When her events catering business, Kim’s Kitchen, was brought to a shuddering halt by the coronavirus pandemic, she wiped away the tears that initially flowed, and dedicated herself to making sure the old, the lonely and the vulnerable in her community didn’t go hungry.

She has now delivered more than 12,000 free meals during lockdown after appealing to the local community for food donations, and using her culinary skills to turn them into nutritious offerings.

Kim’s story was enough to move former boxer, and now high-profile businessman, Francis Jones, owner of the Sparta Security Group. Francis might have risen to prominence as a nationally ranked professional fighter – reveling in the name of “Fearless” – but those who know him will testify he’s soft-hearted.

So, having just acquired a luxurious black Bentley Mulsanne for use in his flourishing business, Francis arranged to pick up Kim from her home, along with her sister Claire, and personally chauffeur them to the upmarket Headlam Hall Hotel, where they were treated to posh afternoon tea.

“What Kim has done during lockdown is incredible – serving up 12,000 meals for people who might otherwise have gone without,” said Francis. “I just thought it was high time she had a bit of VIP treatment for a change.”

What made it even more special for Kim is the fact that she was married to her husband, Chris, at Headlam Hall 14 years ago.

“I started delivering the meals because there was a real need, and the response was overwhelming, but I didn’t expect anything like this to happen,” said Kim.

“I’ve never been in a car like that before – I felt like The Queen – and I’ve always loved Headlam Hall. It was just a lovely surprise and I felt really spoilt.”

The Bentley, which has the personalised registration plate 1 FCJ, will be used to add a new dimension to Sparta’s security services – for “executive protection and hospitality” – but Kim and Claire were its first VIP passengers.

Francis has already proved the doubters wrong by establishing Sparta has one of the biggest security companies in the North-East since it was launched 12 years ago, and now he wants to move into the VIP market.

“The business is flying because, quite frankly, we’re the best at what we do, and the Bentley isn’t a status symbol, it has to pay its way by attracting new business,” said Francis, whose company now employs around 100 staff.

Francis has also kept himself busy by completing the 3 Peak Challenge – Scotland’s Ben Nevis, England’s Scafell Pike and Wales’ Snowdon – in 24 hours, with former soldiers Dean Marsden, Craig Macks and Adam Kemp, to raise funds for the County Durham and Darlington NHS Foundation Trust’s appeal to create a centre of excellence for cancer care. It’s a cause close to his heart because his mother died from cancer ten years ago.

“Life’s so short and unpredictable, and as a Christian, I know God wants us to help others,” he said. “That’s why it was so nice to be able to give Kim a nice time because she deserves it.”

For the record, Headlam Hall laid on such a fabulous feast that Kim and Claire were unable to finish all the cakes…so Fearless Francis promptly had them packed up to take home for his tea.

“Well, it would be wrong to let them go to waste, wouldn’t it?” he smiled as he placed them – securely – in the boot of the Bentley.

TERRORISTS are reported to be planning a new tactic by packing explosives into tins of alphabetti spaghetti – police have warned it could spell disaster…

And so began Reverend Colin Jay’s eulogy at last Wednesday’s funeral of John Steel. As Rev. Jay said, it’s not very often a eulogy starts with a bad joke, but it was a fitting part of his tribute to a man known for them.

John, pictured below, who died too early at 66, loved making people laugh – and occasionally groan – in his various community roles, which included being President of Cockerton Prize Silver Band, and a former chairman of the much-missed Darlington Show.

More of his favourite jokes were included in the service. They included one about John announcing he’d had to go into hospital after swallowing a vacuum cleaner. The good news was that he was picking up nicely after the operation.

But now the jokes on me…in covering the funeral, I managed to get egg on my face by making a schoolboy error. Cockerton Band had played John into St Edwin’s Church, at High Coniscliffe, with a lovely rendition of Share My Yoke. Inexplicably, I gave the hymn the new title of Share My Yolk.

Sincere apologies, although I have no doubt whatsoever that John would have made a yolk of it.

The Northern Echo:

IT was a privilege at the weekend to contribute to The Northern Echo’s excellent supplement to commemorate the 75th anniversary of VJ Day by telling the story of Jack Scullion.

Jack, pictured below, was an ordinary Darlington lad, a hod carrier, who signed up for The Army ahead of the war and ended up suffering years of agony in a Japanese prisoner of war camp, with his weight dropping from 14 stone four to six.

Having survived his years as a prisoner, Jack was killed when he was hit by a car while walking his dog back home in Darlington.

The response to Jack’s story has been heartwarming, with lots of messages, including one from Iain Garth, which simply said: “I read it with tears in my eyes.”

As hard, and as tragic as the coronavirus pandemic has been, we should always keep hardship in perspective.

A POSTSCRIPT from Jack’s son Andrew, prominent Darlington Football Club fan and owner of Durham Blinds.

He tells me that his dad was an avid dog-lover who enjoyed training greyhounds for the track. His training secret? Letting them sleep on the end of the bed, and feeding them eggs and sherry.

“I think they must have been the most spoiled greyhounds in history,” said Andrew.

One dog – called A For Albert – managed to get as far as the final of The Greyhound Derby but came second last.

Who knows what would have happened had it not had one sherry too many?

The Northern Echo: