IT must be half a century, almost to the minute, and more of minutes anon, since last I covered a council meeting beneath the stained glass dome of Spennymoor town hall.

It might have been another fifty years, come to think, but for the marvellous efforts of Clive Maddison, the outgoing mayor, who last week presented a cheque for £10,000 – £10,000 and 75p – to our old, old friends at the town’s boxing academy, his mayoral charity.

Back in the 1960s it was an urban district council and it, and they, went on a bit. On the press table we’d dream of a two bob pint of Samson in the nearby Waterloo and of fishcake and chips – fishcake, chips and dottle to taste – from the Berriman brothers’ little van, immortalised by Norman Cornish.

They were good, civic-minded folk, understand, but to the uninitiated that meeting room sometimes became a torture chamber.

These days it’s a town council, powers and responsibilities much diminished, but little else seems changed. Still the photographs of the youthful Queen and her prince hang either side of the mayoral chair, still they talk of standing orders and of substantive motions, still for much of the time I’ve no idea what they’re on about.

Still, too, the town hall clock lugubriously chimes the quarters. Probably not for the first time, I wonder if they might not spend a few civic shillings on a carillon, attuned to Bonny Bobby Shafto.

This is the annual meeting, the outgoing mayor handing the cheque to boxing academy chief coach Robert Ellis and the chains of office to Elizabeth Wood, retired after 47 years in the Durham University chemistry department.

Clive, at 64 still an inveterate half marathon man, has raised that wonderful sum himself – “no Durham County Council quangos” – topped it up with an ascent three weeks earlier of Scafell Pike, accompanied by his daughters. “I got lost,” he admits.

He’s been in the paper 24 times, he reckons – “every page except the obituaries” – speaks of the boxing club’s impact around the town. “They don’t just teach youngsters to box and keep fit, they teach them good citizenship and respect.”

Robert’s delighted by the cheque, hopes that it might help fund an overseas trip for his boxers – “people don’t realise we’re a registered charity” – finds it a bit hard to shake hands. He’s 60, boxing for 14 years and coaching for the last 30, arm in a sling through a serious shoulder injury. “Wear and tear, all those years on the pads,” he says.

Hors de combat, as probably they say in the North-East ABA.

Thereafter things get a bit formal, a bit familiar, a bit bogged down. The council has no overall control, split like a frumpet’s frock. “In great need of good governance,” says Labour member Neil Foster.

The members in front of the public seats – the term “group” might be straining it a bit – seem particularly keen on abstaining, even on the formality of who should sign the checks.

It recalls the advice given by Hamlet to his mother when trying to persuade her to go a bit canny with his uncle. “Refrain tonight and that shall lend a kind of easiness to the next abstinence, the next more easy.”

This lot could abstain for Denmark.

We ask another councillor what they’re called. “A bloody nuisance,” he says.

The longest discussion is about who should sit on the Durham Crematorium joint committee. The fire authority – on my life – comes into it somewhere, too.

It may be advancing years, or failing eyesight, but I swear I see Prince Philip stifling a yawn.

Though it lasts little more than an hour, the meeting seems to take twice as long. Those 50 years, conversely, seem like five minutes.

Then as now, I long for a fishcake and six from Berriman’s van and the Eden bus home to Shildon. It’s back to the good old bad old days.