Flying from the sunshine (and fierce mistral) of the south of France to face the chillier winds buffeting the North East of England, and the need to borrow long sleeves and pullovers from a friend, was no hardship.
It meant I could be present at the retirement party of a man I regard as one of the finest journalists in the world. Note to fellow pedants: I do not claim to be familiar with the work of more than a thousand or so other practitioners, but opinion pollsters judge such numbers to be a representative sample and so shall I.
Mike Amos is 65 today. His last column as a full-time employee of the Darlngton-based Northern Echo, where he worked for 46 years (if you include a few years on its now-defunct sister paper, the Northern and later Evening Despatch, beforehand), also appeared this morning. It was flagged on page one and stretched to two full pages inside, completing a remarkable week of reminiscence and valedictory.
And that devotion of generous amounts of space would surprise no Echo readers. As the current editor, Peter Barron, said in his farewell speech at the Hardwick Hall, a hotel set in sumptuous grounds near Sedgefield, County Durham, no one has made a contribution to the paper to match Mike's. It is not an exaggeration to say Mike Amos is the Northern Echo, the use of the present tense justified by Barron's sound decision to sign him up for two columns a week in his semi-retirement.
Hardwick Hall, which owes its development as a vast ornamental estate to the whims and considerable means of one John Burdon, a prosperous 18th century Tyneside merchant, has also served as a maternity hospital. It was there that Ernest Michael Amos, and his twin brother David (spot them in this 1958 school photo with David on the left) were born. To my shame, I neglected to wish David happy birthday, too, so do so now.
Mike grew up in the small town of Shildon, which was also my childhood home after my parents fled the grime and hunger marches of the Sussex coast to settle Oop North. He has wretched eyesight, famously describing a optician's stern announcement that he was not only short-sighted but colour blind as a "bolt from the green". He has also suffered throughout his life from a stammer. But his powers of observation and his way with words are exemplary; I have certainly never known a journalist with a greater ability to illuminate any subject matter with flair, substance and wit.
There is an interest to declare. Two interests, in fact. Mike is the only reason I was given my own start in journalism; he persuaded Arnold Hadwin, recently deceased but at the time editor of the Despatch, that this ill-educated, unkempt Shildon lad could be useful because his dad had contacts galore in local football, politics and the workingmen's clubs.
He also happens to be my elder daughter's godfather, having trekked heroically to western France to be present for the christening (and negotiate with catering staff to be served beer instead of wine at the subsequent banquet).
Mike was a superb reporter and a demanding chief reporter in branch offices of the Despatch and Echo before the high promise he had shown as an occasional columnist had its logical sequel. And for as long as I can recall, he has been contributing inspired columns on North-eastern life and people (the quirkier the better), regional sport, church services and dining out. He has an MBE for service to North-eastern journalism and has picked up numerous professional awards; in one of the farewell articles, he noted his regret that his weekly visits to churches of all denominations had brought only nominations but no prizes for the resulting column, At Your Service.
There has always been a sense of mischief in Mike's journalistic make-up. Kevin Maguire, well known to the public as a political pundit and to me as a fellow Sunderland supporter, was more than a little miffed to see reference in Mike column's from the 1992 Sunderland-Liverpool FA Cup Final to how much a tout had charged him for his ticket: "It knocked me back £450 but don't tell the missus." (Nineteen years on, I may have slightly inflated the price and even more slightly altered the precise words, but you get the gist).
But there has nearly always been warmth and humanity in Mike's work. He loves his native patch and knows it inside out; indeed, good as he is, there are those who are unsure that the mixture would have worked quite as well in Fleet Street. I am not with the doubters; Mike Amos is such a colossus of journalism that his gifts would have appealed to a wider public than the one he quite deliberately chose.
The promise of further columns makes retirement, in Mike's case, resemble a premature version of the pop groups who stage comeback tours soon after disbanding.
Dealers in pipes and slippers may have to wait a while yet for his custom. I am happy, all the same, to wish a valued mentor, confrère and friend as much peace and quiet as he wishes after nearing half a century in the severely endangered field of human endeavour that he has always called the inky trade.