Somewhat unexpectedly, the column finds itself in the middle of a Labour Party gathering

A DEPARTURE of which Mr Dennis Skinner might not wholly have approved, Newton Aycliffe Workmen’s Club – forever the Big Club – now has a room called the House of Gin.

There’s a drinks menu with “frozen cocktails” and “shots” like toffee apple and choc ice, there are homely little aphorisms on the wall (“Be thoughtful, be thankful”) and there are Friday evening Aycliffe lads intent on proving that nothing changes.

“Pint of lager and blackcurrant, please.” See,

We’re there for a Sedgefield constituency Labour party gathering at which a 95-minute film is to be shown about the excoriating Skinner – now 86, an MP for 46 years and known, largely affectionately, as the Beast of Bolsover.

Though these columns are strictly non-political, two things should perforce be said – the first that Sedgefield Labour party is perhaps not a natural habitat and the second that Dennis Skinner seems both a man of the people and of principle.

Described by the Guardian as “a gentle portrait of the Commons curmudgeon”, the film’s called The Nature of the Beast.

ABOUT 50 are present, conspicuously not including local MP Phil Wilson. Dan Draper, who made the film, is expected later in the evening to talk about his next one – a more ambitious job on the Durham Miners’ Gala – but has, it’s explained, seen this one more than 100 times already.

Little stalls urge “Stand up to racism” – an interesting thought in the current Labour Party climate – and “Unite demands period dignity”. That one’s manned by a feller.

The raffle offers everything from a signed picture of the Beast – who pronounces Bolsover with a ‘z’ – to what the lady thinks is either an inflatable grey elephant or a blow-up donkey. Inexplicably she can’t decide which.

Filmed on a budget of just £2,500, and with one camera, the film tells of Skinner’s impoverished upbringing as one of nine children of a Derbyshire coal miner – “we knew that Santa Claus wasn’t coming down our chimney” – and of his improbable affections.

He’s a former pub singer, still serenades dementia sufferers in his constituency, was a good standard cross-country runner, loves trees, Woody Allen and Ambrose and his Orchestra and absolutely loathes the Tories.

You knew that bit already.

His three guiding principles as an MP, he tells the camera, are never to visit the House of Commons bars (“it’s where the right-wing journalists hang out”), never to go on foreign jollies (“too many Tories”) and never to accept a parliamentary “pair”.

When leader of the local council in Derbyshire in 1966, he declined to wear the chain. “I told them to melt it down and put it into the housing revenue account,” he says.

He arrives in the Commons at 8am, partly to bag his accustomed place – the resurgent ScotNats tried almost physically to unseat him – and partly to get on with his work. The jacket seems long familiar, too.

Sundry Speakers have many times suspended him for unparliamentary language, ranging from “Dodgy Dave” (Cameron), “pompous sod” (David Owen) to “little squirt of a minister” (John Gummer).

“There’s pure hatred faces you in the Commons,” he says, “particularly for people like me.”

Dan Draper arrives on cue, says that he’s sent a copy of the film to Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell, doubts that they’ve watched it.

The raffle raises £81. The column fails to win the inflatable elephant – for pachyderm it proves – but goes home clutching a signed photograph of the Beast.

The next day the Big Club front benches its annual leek, flower and vegetable show. The frozen cocktails would probably sell out.

THE gathering, as might be supposed, is largely fraternal, the only discordant voices over the issue that long has divided North-East trades unionists.

Is it the Miners’ Gayla – pronounced, say, as in “jailer” – or the Miners’ Garla, as in parlour. Or should we just call it the Big Meeting?

Stephen Guy, son of the late Durham Miners’ leader David Guy, admits that it’s long divided opinion in Seaham. Like Dan Draper, he calls it the Garla.

At least one of the brotherhood’s not buying it. “In Cornsay Colliery,” he says, “it’ll always the Gayla.”

BEFORE frozen cocktails, probably before the Ice Age, me mam and dad would catch the Eden bus to Aycliffe Big Club on Sunday evenings, she for the bingo and he for a quiet life.

For the boys back home, the lucky-for-some bonus was that they’d bring back a couple of Jim’s Pies, an offering so greatly esteemed that an industrial estate factory was employed in their production.

Latter-day googling offers little else to savour, though the Eating Owt column supposed in 2009 that a meal at the George and Dragon in Heighington was even better than a Jim’s Pie.

Back in 1977, the Newton News not only reported that Les Kellett was wrestling at the Leisure Centre – admission 80p – and that Batchelor’s shop was selling Newcastle Brown for 27p with 3p back on the bottle but that when a national bread shortage brought long queues outside bakers’ shops a local woman went to Jim’s and was given a great basket full for 10p a loaf.

Whatever happened to Jim’s, and to his wonderful, world-class pies?

CHRISTMAS is coming: a suggestion. Last year, for £120, the lady gave me a “silver patron” ticket on the Wensleydale Railway, between Leeming Bar and Redmire. Probably they have gold patrons, too, but you know what they say about all that glisters.

Throughout August the line was worked by a class J27 steam engine, owned by the North East Locomotive Preservation Group, and in great good fettle save for a couple of late-summer spring problems.

The silver ticket embraces four “free” journeys for two, and we’ve been making the most of it – “watching the corn ripen,” she supposed.

The last-day steam running was a bit late into Leyburn. “This railway’s never been on time, never will be,” said the guard, but that’s all part of its appeal.

The Wensleydale Railway is timeless.

LAST week’s column returned to the subject of valuable vehicle registrations, and may do so again. In Redmire, meanwhile, we spot on a Land Rover the plate 3333 A. Threes a what? A crowd? You’d expect a five-figure sum, regardless.

…and finally, last week’s column also pondered the word “pesky”, much employed by Desperate Dan, prompting David Walsh in Redcar to wonder what happened to Little Bear, Dan’s native American amorata.

There was Danny and Katy, the Sheriff and Aunt Aggie, but goodness only knows about Little Bear.

Sunderland FC fan Paul Dobson, meanwhile, had reason to use the same adjective in last Saturday’s programme for the match with Fleetwood Town.

It was in the “Awaydays” feature, a reference to Burton Albion’s drummer and thus appropriately employed. The pesky varmints should ceremonially be drummed out of town.

The column returns in a fortnight.