Marigold Says...

Random thoughts on travelling and life in general.

Marigold Says... York, What a Shambles

We took a giant step and went out for lunch. The menu was interesting, mushroom something or other, scallops and many other fish dishes. The meat scoff sounded a bit pretentious with sauces I had never heard of. Willing to give it a go we asked the waiter what he recommended. Off he went on a tangent and said they matched the bread which was made ‘in house’ to each course. So it seems bread has taken over from wine and now needs matching to to the food. A basket is not brought to you to choose, they choose for you.

We found it all too stressful, left and had fish and chips instead which we ate sitting outside on a wall. No bread was in evidence. If there was it would have been cheap white sliced. We also had an Irn Bru as we were pushing the boat out.

G didn’t let up about the cost of fish and chips. We didn’t get much change out of £20.00. I think it was the Irn Bru that pushed the price up. G hasn’t been going on about having ‘4d of chips in newspaper’ lately, but this might set him off again.

The only thing we had for afters was a Rennies each.

Talking of bread, I had a go at making sourdough in lockdown. A friend gave me the ‘mother’ and off I went. The end result was very heavy and could not have been matched to any course. We gave up trying to chew it to death, and put a lump of it in the toaster. It got stuck and caused a lot of smoke, the smoke alarm went off, and that put an end to bread making. We put it out for the birds. It was still there, after 4 days.

Made and ate the most sublime bacon sandwiches. I know I am always on about food, so be it, but I am so thin I don’t care. I cooked the bacon crispy, fried the bread, bacon overlapped and was plentiful, with tomato and mushrooms. Served with a cup of tea for me. We both declared them 10 out of 10. We were so hungry after walking around town we grunted in appreciation. G said I was the love of his life with brown sauce on his chin. Food brings it out in him.

Our dentist closed down and moved somewhere where they only wear false teeth, big money maker, or screwed in teeth with a Hollywood smile. I started phoning a list of local NHS dentists time and time again until 10 o’clock. All I got was answer phones.

G came in, with me carrying on about how ridiculous it is.

He said “well it is Saturday”.

I said “is it”. I thought it was Friday. Whoops.

He has a private dentist appointment in a couple of days. Through the post came a list of their “procedures”. What a horrible word. G has a broken irreparable front tooth, plus another one at the back which has had it. I suggested having them out and putting a tic tac in the socket.

After looking at dentist’s list I really don’t know what he will suggest to G, who will say “I will have to discuss it with my wife” which is a cop out meaning we will try somewhere else.

By the way the wife isn’t very interested.

Before he goes into dentist he will have to be pinged in from the car park, do a handstand outside and sing God Save the Queen whilst playing a triangle before they will let him in. G can sing and whistle at the same time through his broken tooth.

John Smiths of Tadcaster

Toast Cafe

G Says...

As we were leaving the rather splendid Country House Hotel outside Leeds in which we had spent the night, a man wearing tartan trousers and a pink sweater barred the way, holding up a hand while standing in the middle of the drive. I came to a halt and we waited patiently while three other men, also wearing mismatched primary coloured clothing, waddled across the road towing golf trolleys. Their leader gave us a peremptory acknowledgement of thanks, heavily leaning towards an assumption of privileged entitlement. I looked in the rear view mirror at half a mile of empty driveway.
‘Couldn’t they have waited a few seconds longer?’ Marigold wondered. ‘If I had their dress sense I would have hidden in the bushes until it got dark.’

Ah well, golf attracts more than its share of oddballs.

We were bound for York, a city we know quite well, but were determined to seek out fresh objects of interest on this trip. We were so busy chatting about our hopes for the day it was quite a surprise to find I had driven several miles off the intended route. Going ‘off piste’ is something we’re prone to, either deliberately or, as in this case, inadvertently. Many of our best ‘finds’ have come while ‘lost’ – not that I ever admit to being anywhere but where I always intended to be. Marigold isn’t fooled by the deception, but goes along with the claim on most occasions.

This time we were on the road to Tadcaster where John Smiths have been brewing beer since 1758. It’s a big concern, but the yeasty smell that I have always noticed hanging over Burton on Trent, another town indelibly linked with beer production wasn’t evident. Maybe there are better filtration systems available these days.

We went for a coffee. Well, we’d been on the road for over half an hour! On the edge of Tadcaster, in the middle of a housing estate is Roast, a little gem of a café. Lovely people and a clientele of regulars who made us very welcome. We soon got into conversation – the familiarity of folk in the North of England suits us very well – with an exotically dressed retired estate gardener who told us he’d worked for ‘most of the toffs around here’ and his last job was as green keeper at the hotel where we spent last night. He entered the café wearing a vivid pink face mask, a pair of trousers held up by a double layer of ‘hairy twine’ acting as a belt and a voluminous lumberjack style shirt that must have been XXXXL, at least. It swamped him and could easily have kept Marigold and I warm and cozy both at the same time.

Leaving aside his dress sense and former gainful employment it was very evident that we were chatting to a professional Yorkshireman. Everything here was bigger, better and tastier than anywhere else. He grudgingly accepted I was a fellow Northerner, although not from Yorkshire so second division at best, but Marigold failed the test the moment she opened her mouth.

Fourth class.

He was very well spoken, even allowing for the broadest of broad Yorkshire accents and said ‘hello, good day to all’ as he sat down at the table next to us.

‘Be right with you, Eddie,’ called out one of the waitresses.

‘They brew a good coffee here,’ affirmed our chatty neighbour. ‘When I’m off the booze I bring a flask and they fill it up for me.’ There was no sign of a flask so we drew our own conclusions and confirmation soon followed.

‘I’d describe myself as an occasional alcoholic,’ announced Eddie. I’ve known many hardened drinkers, most of them in denial over the ‘alcoholic’ label, but describing oneself as an occasional alcoholic was new to me.

The explanation soon followed. ‘I love booze, in any form, love it to distraction, but I also quite like the idea of staying alive. I worry about the state of my liver, worry so much I stop drinking. There’s the quandary.’

I must have looked baffled and suspect Marigold was still lagging three sentences behind as she was obviously struggling with the lingo.

‘When I’m not drinking,’ he continued, morosely, ‘I fret about how long I’ve got left, what irreparable damage has already been done, it’s constant stress, building up and up with every sober day. In the end, the stress is so great there’s only one solution: I go back on the grog again.’

‘Ready, Eddie,’ the same waitress shouted, evidently a familiar routine as he leapt to his feet and made an extravagant bow. ‘I thank you,’ he boomed, ‘and good day to all.’ The café felt diminished after his departure.

‘Just coffee for Eddie,’ the waitress said, scribbling on a sheet of paper. ‘He’s reached the bottom of the page now.’

The other woman, who we presumed to be the owner, pursed her lips. ‘I’ll have a word tomorrow,’ she said. ‘He always pays up in the end but every time it’s a struggle.’

‘Like getting blood out of a stone,’ agreed the younger woman, ‘if I mention his tab he threatens to go and find a Costa.’

‘They wouldn’t let him through the door,’ the owner said. I suspect she had a point.

We hadn’t seen much of the owner until now, but had heard her carrying on a conversation in the back room. When she appeared we very soon realised we had been hearing a monologue, not a conversation as such, as she continued to mutter to herself while preparing coffee.

An eminent scientist once told me that talking to yourself improved cognitive function and increased brain capacity. Albert Einstein apparently often talked to himself and also repeated his sentences. As a child, he was initially classified as ‘slow’ and thought to be on the autistic spectrum or even schizophrenic. His habit of talking to himself probably contributed to that. I’m not aware of him claiming to hear voices, but his early life showed no signs of what was to come. I very much doubt a 21st century genius is currently spreading butter on toast in Tadcaster, but best not rule it out just yet.

We eschewed the offered Park and Ride on this occasion. York is relatively compact and we have been here many times. I parked near the railway station and as we walked away were faced almost immediately by one of the sites I had hoped to see on this trip. The cholera burial ground is a small grassed area close to the station, ignored by just about everyone who passed by. It’s not very big and very low key, but what a slice of history, remarkable even in this city steeped in the past.

The ground was specially acquired for the burial of some of the 185 victims of a plague of cholera which lasted from 3rd June to 22nd October 1832. There are 20 surviving memorial stones, all of sandstone. The accompanying sign gave no indication what happened to the others. Will there be similar monuments to COVID-19 to engage the interest of future generations of visitors?

We walked over the river, surprisingly not in flood (!) into the city, managing to avoid visiting the Perky Peacock tea rooms on the river bank where I was attacked by a golden eagle on a previous visit. Marigold insists it was ‘only’ a pigeon but I distinctly remember its wingspan completely blotting out the light as it swooped towards me.

There's More, Ar' Tell Thee...

Into the heart of York we went, the interconnected warren of narrow streets with The Shambles as its centrepiece. The Shambles – an Old English word for a slaughterhouse – is the perfect example of a well-preserved city in the 21st century. Many buildings date back to the 14th century and still have butchers’ hooks out front. The design is unusual: top-heavy timber-framed buildings in narrow streets but inclined inwards so they are even closer together at roof level. The resultant overhang actually has a practical purpose: to protect the ‘wattle and daub’ walls below from wind and rain and also keep out sunshine, thus prolonging the shelf life of the butchers’ meat in the shops below.
That’s Town Planning at Genius Level.

We’ve always treasured isolated snatches of conversation overheard in passing and the relatively crowded nature of The Shambles gave us a true gem: ‘she’s fifteen stone if she’s an inch.’

We couldn’t identify the speaker, but the words brought a smile to both our faces. Yes, we know what the woman meant, but it was the mangling of weights and measures that made it memorable. Ever since then I have muttered to myself as I get on the bathroom scales something along the lines of, ‘twelve stone twelve, give or take half an inch.’

An insignificant remark, utterly lacking in context, overheard in the street, the ramifications of which will probably stay with me for life.

With more attractions per square mile than any other city in the UK, as the Tourist Office proudly proclaims, we were never likely to be short of things to look at, but this trip was supposed to be an exercise in ferreting out undiscovered treasures. Undiscovered by us, obviously – we aren’t archaeologists. Sadly, we failed to locate anything earth shattering. Maybe next time?

We liked the street entertainment. A male opera singer, no more than eight stone wet through (give or take an inch) was bellowing lustily to a largely disinterested crowd of passers by.

‘He needs to sing Sweet Caroline or something else that they know so they can sing along,’ mused Marigold. As if he’d heard her the tiny tenor began to sing Nessun Dorma and several of the crowd applauded. Obviously the opera aficionados of York like to hear music they actually recognise.

Sing along to? Rather unlikely, even in Milan.

The Mini Pavarotti had a voice that belied his stature. As a woman remarked to Marigold, ‘he fair gives it some welly for a little ‘un, don’t he?’

Elsewhere there was a distinctly pulchritudinous young woman accompanying herself on the guitar to what I assumed were her own compositions. She couldn’t sing, couldn’t play the guitar very well and her songs were dire, yet only Marigold getting a bit stroppy persuaded me to move on.

‘She’s got something,’ I insisted. Marigold just sniffed.

We came across a man apparently dressed in kitchen foil who was walking in slow motion for 100 days for charity, trying to set a new record for the slowest ever walk. Marigold gave him some money, but when she offered to accompany him on his slow walk he noticeably speeded up. He would have been travelling faster than Usain Bolt if Marigold hadn’t taken the hint and abandoned the plan.

Gin is now the opium of the people. It seems to be everywhere we go lately, but gin used to be so cheap it was considered a working class drink. In much the same way as oysters were far from a delicacy in the Victorian era.

‘Drunk for a penny, dead drunk for two pence, clean straw for nothing.’

That was the enticing advert intended to lure gin drinkers to London’s Gin Lane in 1751. Hogarth’s famous engraving vividly captured the scenes of depravity that ensued. It’s fair to say gin didn’t have the best of reputations at that time.

It’s very different now. We’re awash with fancy bottles of gin, different flavours seem to come out every week and the ancient buildings of York offer up several temples to ‘mothers’ ruin.’

The Royal Navy changed the fortunes of gin from Hogarth’s day. Sailors serving the British Empire often found themselves traveling to destinations where malaria was prevalent, so they brought along quinine rations to help prevent and fight the disease. Quinine tasted notoriously awful, so Schweppes came out with an “Indian Tonic Water” to make it more palatable. London Dry gin invariably accompanied sailors on these voyages. It ‘kept’ better than beer and those sailors may have started a craze by combining their gin ration with tonic water. Limes were also added to ward off scurvy and the Gin and Tonic of today probably made its first appearance aboard ships of the Royal Navy.

We discovered the Evil Eye by accident. At first glance it’s a small and rather dingy shop front, basically an off-license, but claims to have over 1,000 different brands of gin in stock. I lost count at 903.*

*as if!

There’s a deeper, almost secret area, tucked away behind the off licence. We almost missed out on a real treat. It’s an odd little lounge, serving cocktails, mainly gin based of course, and the food smelled wonderful. We had already decided where to go for lunch, but the heady spiced aroma of what was in essence a tiny piece of Thailand plonked down in a back room in the middle of York brought us to the brink of changing our minds.

A member of staff told us this bar and The Trembling Madness were owned by the same man and that was to be our next port of call. The House of Trembling Madness (what a great name) is set up in similar fashion to the Evil Eye with a ground floor off-licence greeting visitors.

Not gin this time, here it’s beers, well over 600 different beers in stock which is pretty impressive. I no longer drink alcohol, but still love visiting pubs, especially when they’re crammed with character and this place is awash with character. Most of the attraction lies upstairs – very steep stairs too - where a bar is tucked into the exposed eaves of a 12th-century Norman house, decorated with animal skins and ancient taxidermy, some of it being very strange indeed.

Marigold declined the challenge of drinking a yard of ale. She’s such a wimp. Toilet facilities were buried in the basement, it’s completely mad yet so fascinating. We will remember this place for a long time.

And so to lunch, to misquote Samuel Pepys. Rather late in the day, but we’d been so busy wandering around we’d neglected ourselves shamefully as regards grub. Yorkshire (Yarkshire) means fish and chips or pies and there were plenty of both available, but we were in contrary mood and decided on vegan fare.

In response to the obvious question from anyone who knows us personally - no idea.

A late lunch and a spur of the moment decision. I can’t even remember the name of the establishment, which suggests a lot, or very much about the meal itself. I liked the potatoes, the vegetables were well presented, no, sorry, it’s gone. Just trust me, we ate something or other alongside a group of vegans*, found them disturbingly normal and I really enjoyed the accompanying plastic beaker filled with unidentifiable liquid.

*No idea either of the collective term for vegans. I assume there is one and could take a stab at guessing, but probably best to refrain.
We were unable to even view Clifford’s Tower from a distance as it was covered in scaffolding and canvas sheeting. We could have walked around the city walls, but we just never got round to it. Walking uneven ancient streets is hard work and we never even contemplated ‘doing the walls.’ We did mention the omission in passing, on the following day, but without undue regret.

Hang on, I hear you say, you’ve been to York and never even mentioned its most famous, or infamous son, Dick Turpin.

Well now, he wasn’t from York, he wasn’t the dashing outlaw of legend and he didn’t own a horse called Black Bess. Yes, Dick Turpin was tried, executed and buried in York, but most of the ‘legend’ is untrue.

Fake News!

In St George’s Church graveyard, not really a ‘cemetery’, is a grave reputed to be the final resting place of the highwayman,DickTurpin. The headstone reads: ‘John Palmer, otherwise Richard Turpin The notorious highwayman and horse stealer. Executed at Tyburn, April 17th 1739 And buried in St George’s churchyard.’

Dick Turpin was born at The Bell Inn (now The Rose and Crown) at Hempstead in Essex in 1705 – nowhere near York - and during his lifetime was a cattle and horse thief, a smuggler and a highwayman.

Turpin was a member of the notorious Gregory Gang, only becoming a highwayman when they split up. Having shot and killed a man who attempted to capture him he fled to Yorkshire. He stole horses in Lincolnshire and returned with them to Brough to sell. These offences came to light while he was in Beverley House of Correction having been arrested for shooting his landlord’s cockerel. He gave his name as John Palmer.

He was moved to York Castle, from where he wrote to his brother asking for help. His brother refused to pay the sixpence due on the letter and it was returned to the local post office – where Turpin’s old schoolmaster recognised his handwriting. His identity was revealed and he was sentenced to death and subsequently hanged.

Harrison Ainsworth, in his 1834 novel Rookwood (wrongly) attributed a famous ride from London to York, to Turpin and a horse named Black Bess for the purpose of establishing an alibi.

The event referred to actually took place some thirty years before Turpin was even born and was performed by Swift Nick Nevison, another famous highwayman. The fact is that Turpin was just a common thief and not the romantic character portrayed.

Even so, gullible Yorkshire folk of the time were ready believers of ‘fake news’ – imagine what they’d have believed if they’d had access to Internet Conspiracy sites.

Lots more ‘Yarkshire Stuff’ to come, but will have to wait for another day.

Just one final York nugget – the shortest street in York is the exotically named Whip-Ma-Whop-Ma-Gate. That’s unusual, to say the least, but we spoke to a flat cap attired old gent outside Betty’s Café who told us, before he retired he was a stone mason and in 1984 laid a York Stone pavement along the length of Whip-Ma-Whop-Ma-Gate.

I tracked down a plaque commemorating this event which also told me the first reference to the street’s name was in 1505 when it was called, wait for it, Whitnourwhatnourgate which simply meant, ‘What a Street.’

What a street, indeed.

Just want to mention the rediscovered joy of open top motoring. Our new car isn’t anywhere near as practical as the one it replaced, but whether it’s short trips around town or a run out to York, having the option to take the roof off is such a delight. One more bonus, petrol consumption on that last trip was over 60mpg. With the hood down. No, we didn’t get an electric car as we can’t charge it at home. That’s just one of many reasons.

That Betty, she gets everywhere

And again.

Two of the strange folk York attracts

Gin Alley, by Hogarth. I've seen worse on a Saturday night in Birkenhead

The Modern Bit

Catchy name isn't it? Unless you live there I suppose and have to spell it out regularly

E-scooters please keep off the pavement. What, you mean that one up there?

Lunch anyone? No thank you

No shortage of pie shops

Marigold likes the new motor

61.4 mpg, can't be bad