Harriet Walker: Someone saw a dapper fellow from US Vogue nipping to Greggs to buy a pasty

 

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It's that time of year again when I say goodbye to my friends, family, social life and duvet, and join the circus circuit of international fashion for a month.

Don't get me wrong, it's fascinating to see this stuff close-up. I'm very lucky to do it. And it's fun. But it's also far from glamorous. In New York, my hotel bedsheets gave me a rash and I fell into a 3ft-deep puddle. In London, one of my toenails came off. In Milan, my phone stopped working and I spent three hours switching it off and on again.

The fashion industry is decried for being an ivory tower even at the best of times, but it isn't the rampant snobbery and ubiquitous thinness that binds you all together every February and September, as the right-wing, left-wing and centrist media are wont to assume. It's that you've been in each other's pockets for the best part of a month.

You've forgotten how to talk about anything even vaguely current, because you haven't seen any news for three weeks that isn't tinged by whatever country you're in. For a while I was completely unaware of the storms in Britain because US news channels and papers were focused on the snowstorms in New York and a redneck who shot a teenager in a car park for listening to rap music.

So it was quite the shock when, having narrowly escaped JFK between blizzards, my plane was caught up in crazy, rollercoaster banks of wind over Heathrow. Our pilot tried to battle them, only to have to nose the plane vertical once more, 10ft from the ground, and inform us we were diverting to Newcastle.

In that moment of terror, when blankets and Sunday supplements started rolling down the aisle and people began to cry, I had switched my seatback telly off, not wanting to die watching populist tat. The moment after, when we learnt our new destination, was for some people infinitely worse a prospect.

I've always liked Newcastle. It was the bustling metropolis near my nana's house, more cosmopolitan than the city I myself grew up in, and full of smiling, coatless people always ready with a little witty badinage. While I'd much rather have gone home instead, Newcastle didn't fill me with dread.

"It's basically Scotland," I heard one passenger explaining to an American who looked utterly perplexed.

"I've no idea where it is," admitted another. "But nowhere's more than two hours' train ride away from London, is it?"

Although southerners are more usually thought of as worldly and sophisticated, at least northerners know where London is. Reverse the roles and those from the Smoke would have as much luck finding Azerbaijan on a map as they would Accrington.

It wasn't until I got to baggage reclaim and saw Anna Wintour and a Kardashian staring disconsolately at the travelator that I realised how far we were from Kansas. Someone said they'd seen the European editor of US Vogue – a dapper fellow who matches his shirt to his socks and is rarely seen without a cravat or a nosegay – nipping to Greggs to buy a pasty.

I was annoyed, off-chart and tired, but at least I wasn't so entirely defamiliarised as this lot. I wanted to explain Newcastle to them – about its singular local delicacy, the Parmo (a chicken escalope covered in melted cheese, topped with bacon and pepperoni, and served with chips); about the rollercoaster inside the Metro Centre. But I knew I couldn't. For one thing, they wouldn't understand anything past the word "escalope". And for another, unless you've seen these things with your own eyes, anyone talking about them sounds like they're taking the piss.

I ended up making my way to a hotel room in the city, where I enjoyed a solitary egg mayonnaise sandwich brought up by a man whose accent sounded like a cuddle, and contemplated the Corby trouser press.

At four in the morning, I left to take the first train back to London. It was stuffed full of Durham University yahs returning from a night out raving in "the toon". And just as I thought I'd reached my peak of hatred and they began playing some tinny house music out of the speakers on their phones, I realised that at least here were some southerners who had chosen to come to Newcastle, and who had enjoyed it for the lovely city that it was.

I saw Anna Wintour again the next day, on a front row; her sunglassed stare betrayed no whisper of the trauma she'd been through. It was as if it had never happened.

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