OUR elected representatives may be poles apart amid the wretched pig’s ear of Brexit, but it’s nice to see lasting European friendships are still being forged in at least one North-East town.

Indeed, Darlington has been playing a blinder – and winning awards – thanks largely to the dedication of the evergreen Tom Nutt, chairman of the Darlington Town-Twinning and International Association since 2004, and his able deputy, Lukasz Samek.

Seventy-five this year, and about to retire as a councillor after 16 years’ service, Tom’s a man with a gift for making friends. That’s despite being a lifelong Sunderland fan and with a taxing 30-year career in Customs and Excise behind him. 

One of Tom’s more recent international missions was to visit the beautiful Polish city of Krakow with 20 other town twinning representatives from Darlington. The party included the likeable Lukasz, who has made his home in Darlington but hails from Niepolomice, a 30-minute drive from Krakow.

When the Mayor of Niepolomice heard about the distinguished visitors from Darlington, he was quick to extend an invitation. “We expected a cup of tea, but it turned out to be a three-course meal in a grand place that used to be the King’s Hunting Lodge,” said Tom. “We were treated like royalty.”

The meal was followed by a further invitation to Tom and a few football-mad others to watch a Polish first division football match between Niepolomice and Opole, which ended in a 1-1 draw. There was also a visit to a grassroots football club called KS Dab and Tom knew he was among friends when he saw a Sunderland shirt hanging in the changing room.

“You must come over to Darlington,” declared Tom, on impulse and, to his surprise, he received a message a few months later saying KS Dab would love to accept the invitation.

And so, last May, a squad of Polish junior footballers, accompanied by six adults, were guests in Darlington, with the 12 to 13-year-olds playing four matches against local teams. The five-day trip also included a trip to the Stadium of Light to see Sunderland play Wolves, with the Black Cats providing cut-price tickets, and star players having pictures taken with the Polish youngsters.

Before the game, Tom showed them the delights of Seaburn – the first time many of the youngsters from landlocked Niepolomice had seen the sea. Darlington Railway Museum was another port of call, and a visit to St James’ Park, in Newcastle, was squeezed in before the flight back to Poland.

The result of all of this – made possible with financial support from Darlington Building Society, Darlington Rotary, and Premier Inn – was that Tom and Lukasz were invited back to Niepolomice the other day to be presented with an “Initiative In Sport Award” in recognition of the unforgettable experience the Polish youngsters  had been given in the North-East.

Tom also signed an “agreement of friendship and co-operation” with the town’s Mayor, Roman Ptak, with the promise of a continuing educational partnership between the towns.

Darlington has been twinned with Amiens, in France, and Mulheim, in Germany, since 1953. Now, a new friendship has been cemented in Niepolomice, Poland.

“We were given so many gifts – pennants, scarves and other souvenirs – we had to buy an extra case to bring it all back,” said Tom.

Oh, and by the way, Tom signed a similar friendship agreement in Lake Bracciano, in Italy, three years ago when he  was holidaying in Rome with wife Gill and discovered that Darlington’s Hummersknott Academy happened to have a badminton team playing there.

In view of his passion for town-twinning, and the countless international exchanges he’s arranged over the years, it should come as no surprise to anyone that Tom is a committed Remainer with a belief that Brexit is an embarrassing own goal.

During his career with Customs and Excise, he was serving on the Irish border when The Troubles began, so he’s well-placed to have a view on “the backstop” that has become a symbol of the Brexit stalemate. But he remains determined to continue forging cultural and educational friendships with Europe through his invaluable town-twinning work.

“I’ve seen the benefits and the opportunities it has brought so many young people in Darlington,” he says. “Whatever ends up happening with Brexit, we’ll carry on making friends.”

And that, in the current circumstances, seems to me to be a goal well worth cheering.

STILL on the subject of Europe, it was a pleasure to go to Theatre Hullabaloo in Darlington last week to see comedian and impressionist Matt Forde perform his “Brexit Through The Gift Shop” show.

His descriptions of the utterly bizarre state of the political scene were hilarious yet disturbingly real. There’s no need to make it up – it really is that ridiculous.

Matt got lots of deserved laughs, though apparently not in Bannatyne’s Hotel, where he was staying. As he was leaving for the show, he gave the reception staff a Bannatyne-style glare and announced: “I’m oot.”

There wasn’t a flicker of a smile. Just guessing but they might have heard that line once or twice before.