One of the many ‘function suites’ downstairs was hosting a Murder Mystery evening entitled ‘A Spectre Calls.’ This explained all the nattily dressed folk scattered about the place. Marigold nipped off to investigate the venue with an eye on gatecrashing the event later this evening, but there was a seating plan with names of guests at each table. Ah well.
I became aware of a dispute taking place at the check in desk. Nothing so vulgar as raised voices but there was certainly an air of grievance involved. I told Marigold on her return that the Thursday-Pelhams had arrived and were looking for the ‘strange woman’ who had planted their named reservation in a bed of tulips. Marigold decided we needed a dose of fresh air and must leave immediately.
We walked around Harrogate, always a pleasure. It was one of the first and most prominent Victorian spa towns so the buildings are impressively large and very grand indeed. We glanced in a couple of estate agents’ windows - we do this everywhere we go, even did it in Eastern European towns we had no interest whatsoever in moving to - and found the perfect house. Now we just need to come up with £970,000 in the next week or so. Always a snag when it comes to the fine detail.
We had vouchers for the ‘world famous Bettys Tearooms’ as it said on the sign above the queue of about 75 people waiting outside the front door. ‘Bettys’ - no apostrophe. I told Marigold I couldn’t bring myself to enter an establishment displaying such ignorance of the rules of grammar. I really do try not to over stress apostrophe lacunae, or even worse uncalled for additions, but am frequently overruled by subconscious irritation.
‘You mean you won’t stand around for a hour in a queue,’ Marigold said. Well, yes, that too.
We went for a walk around instead and stumbled upon a delightful Italian owned and intensely authentic cafe. So authentic the staff barely spoke English. We loved it. Marigold insisted we would still get to enter Bettys later on (oh how that missing apostrophe offends), so we would ‘just have coffee.’
The coffee turned out to come with soup or a sandwich. How civilised. Or perhaps there had been a linguistic misunderstanding. Yes, of course I ate every crumb.
The man we assumed to be the owner was wearing a black teeshirt with the message Half Man, Half Biscuit, The Welly Club, Hull. I’m not familiar with the Welly Club, but Half Man, Half Biscuit (great name) are a different matter.
Founded by two Birkenhead lads, Neil Crossley and Nigel Blackwell. I once met Nigel Blackwell, a work related connection, and back then he wasn’t remotely considering a musical career. A quote attributed to him at that time made its way into folklore when he said, ‘before I was in a band I was still robbing cars and playing football like normal people do.’
The Beatles sang ‘Back in the USSR’ - not to be outdone Half Man Half Biscuit’s first album was ‘Back in the DHSS’ - genius!
I loved the name they came up with. Along with Prefab Sprout, Half Man Half Biscuit has to be one of the best names ever for a band. Their drummer was previously with a band called ‘Attempted Moustache’ which is also a strong contender.
I had heard they had split up, citing ‘unreconcilable musical similarities’ - wonderful - but it was obviously fake news as, even though they were formed way back in 1984, remarkably they’re still out on the road, relentlessly touring and have devoted fans like our Italian waiter who follow them all over the country.
We wandered our way back, glancing into an art gallery featuring work by Bob Dylan, Keith Richard and Billy Connolly. I’ve seen many examples of the first two part time artists, but never anything from Billy Connolly. ‘So so’ was Marigold’s considered opinion. I respect her artistic opinions so much I decided against forking out even a meagre £1,250 for the cheapest option.
‘Hurrah,’ neither of us said aloud as we saw the queue outside Bettys (grr!) Tea Room had now dissipated and could walk straight in. Marigold has been here before, but it was my first time. It’s all very genteel and as a man from the front of the queue we’d spoken to on our first visit confided ‘reassuringly expensive.’
We gave our order - we didn’t include any Fat Rascals which are only a glorified scone anyway as Marigold finds the term offensive - to a waiter who we decided looked like his last job was as head waiter to Queen Victoria and I studied the information on the back of the menu.
I learned that in 1907 a young Swiss baker and confectioner, Fritz Bützer, left his home in the mountains and travelled to England with a dream of establishing his own business. Being a penniless immigrant, without a job and unable to speak English in the period leading up to the First World War life couldn’t have been easy and contributed to him arriving at Bradford Station in the middle of the night having intended to board a train bound for Brighton.
Sussex’s loss was Yorkshire’s gain as Fritz kept his dream alive and eventually realised his ambition. By the time his tea shop opened in 1919 he had married a Yorkshire lass, changed his name to Frederick Belmont and, most importantly in my view, learnt sufficient English grammar to ensure the name plate above the door, clearly visible in a photograph of that first store, said ‘Betty’s.’
I couldn’t find out when, or why, the apostrophe had been removed from the nameplate or the identity of the original Betty. Nobody seemed to know. Fair enough, I shall concern myself no more with such matters. If the writers of Betty’s menu cards don’t know, nobody does.
I abandoned the menu card as Marigold had ‘found’ a conversation taking place at the next table along. Her radar system never fails to locate conversational gems. Two youngish women, early twenties I would say and both with exotic hairstyles, were chatting about the perils of buying clothes. Here’s a sample:
‘I got it online, but I don’t like it very much.’
‘It’s just nothing like what I wanted. I was going to send it back but when I looked at the photo in the web site again I really liked it.’
‘So, you like it now?’
I tuned them out for a while when our silver coffee pot arrived and a selection of cakes and sandwiches, no crusts of course. Very nice.
Five minutes later the conversation hadn’t moved on very far. The girl with the orange hair was still in full flow.
‘I like ordering stuff online. When the parcel comes it’s like getting a present. From me.’
Her friend (turquoise hair, heavily spiked, nodded, looking as if this was the wisest thing she’d ever heard. ‘I like online,’ she declared, ‘but I like real shopping too. ‘Cos I like meeting people.’
Her friend looked at her intently and said, ‘do I look like a people person?’
Marigold and I could have answered that one.
On the other side of our table was a middle aged man dining alone. He had ordered the Full Monty version afternoon tea, enough for four people, and showed every sign of eating every crumb. In mitigation he had only ordered a half bottle of champagne. ‘Where does he put it all?’ I hissed to Marigold as we watched layers of cakes, sandwiches and scones being devoured at a prodigious rate.
It’s an unfair world, isn’t it, when a man who resembled a thinner version of Lester Piggott can eat gargantuan quantities of confectionary while the rest of us have to surreptitiously loosen our belts at the slightest provocation.
Opposite us were a couple in the early stages of a budding relationship. We could easily tell. She ate virtually nothing as he chomped away at big slabs of cake while she concentrated on giggling inanely and rubbing his leg. I reassured Marigold that I couldn’t recall her ever behaving like that in the early days. Ignoring plates of food to caress the leg of a newish boyfriend? It never happened.
We didn’t bother with the Victorian Pump Room or even the Turkish Baths, but we did try to find a delicatessen we remembered from a previous visit to Harrogate. Only a tiny shop, but we couldn’t remember the name.
Marigold asked a passerby. She said he ‘looked local’, but it turned out he was from York so perhaps wasn’t best placed to know the location of an unnamed little shop in Harrogate. Even so, he was eager to please.
‘Try those shops down there, go through the snickett.’ (No idea how to spell this)
‘What’s a snickett?’ Marigold asked.
‘Thar knows a snickett. I reckon they might say a ginnel round here. It’s just down there on your right.’
We set off and, on the right, found a narrow alley. ‘A snickett,’ Marigold declared. ‘Or a ginnel.’
‘My mum would have called that a jigger,’ I said. I could have added a recollection of my distinctly terrifying Liverpool grandmother talking about a very bow legged neighbour and affirming, ‘he couldn’t stop a pig in a jigger,’ but we’d been walking round for quite a while and references to my strange and often dismal childhood are best avoided when Marigold’s feet are aching.
We didn’t spend much more time debating regional linguistic curiosities and we didn’t find the delicatessen either. We did find the brilliant opticians where Marigold once had an eye test performed by a man with a very squeaky voice who reduced her to hysterics, but no trace of the deli.
Ah well, we’ll go to a big one tomorrow, we said and walked back to the hotel to give our aching feet a rest. We sat down in big armchairs affording a good view of guests coming and going, trying to decide which, if any, were the elusive Thursby-Pelhams whose reserved parking space we had usurped.
Those filing into the function room for the Murder Mystery evening were easily recognised. ‘I couldn’t sit round all evening with that lot,’ Marigold said. I agreed, they didn’t look like people anticipating the evening’s entertainment was destined to be a memorable highlight of their lives. Perhaps we were just being a bit grumpy.
One couple in particular took our attention. ‘If that’s what they look like on a night out, what must they be like on a wet Monday morning?’ Marigold wondered. We decided it wasn’t just us who was being a bit grumpy.
In our room we marvelled anew at the ‘spectacular views’ of Harrogate rooftops, this time lit by moonlight.
‘Spectacular,’ I said, ‘those views. It’s the only description that fits the bill.’
I suspect Marigold had had enough of the views and my irritating observations on rooftop vistas and would prefer a quiet hour instead. We watched telly and read books for the rest of the evening. Occasionally we allow ourselves to take a break from our relentless regime of nightclubs and alcohol fuelled roistering.
We had been looking forward to breakfast after recalling its splendour from our last visit. We were not to be disappointed. Breakfast was served in the vast and rather splendid Churchill Room. Oak panels on the walls, magnificent stained glass windows and a stunning ceiling, it’s a lovely room matching the offering of food items.
On our way in, the man in front of us told his female companion, possibly not his wife but most certainly not his daughter, ‘I’m nithered’ which I’d heard before but always referring to being very cold, but it’s obviously used to express extreme hunger as well as he added, ‘my belly thinks my throats been cut.’ His lady friend laughed uproariously.
Marigold and I exchanged glances, definitely not his wife we decided.
After eating rather more food than we usually manage at breakfast we waddled back to the comfort of our favourite armchairs to read the recently delivered newspapers. It took an hour before either of us felt capable of any significant movement.
We drove off with the hood down. It wasn’t sunny, it wasn’t even particularly warm, but some places are best appreciated with the wind in your hair. Okay, references to flowing locks apply mainly to Marigold, but you get my gist?
Cold Bath Road isn’t the most attractive name, but we once bought a section of ship’s decking from an antique shop here which ranked for a longtime at the very apex of our list of pointless purchases. It was very expensive, unwieldy, dauntingly heavy and utterly useless. For many years we kept it as a reminder of former follies, but then managed to find a buyer who loved it and paid me three times the purchase price. After its departure I missed it very much.
The antique shop was still there, but we ignored it in favour of browsing a simply wonderful artisan bakery, Bakeri Baltzersen, so much more than just a bread shop and as such ‘very Harrogate.’
We ended up at Weetons, an upmarket shop, too big to be just called a deli, it’s a Food Hall packed with edible goodness. I claimed the last available parking space, between an Aston Martin and Bentley. As we were about to enter Weetons five snorting beasts bearing the name Lamborghini drove past. Hard to ignore. All different colours and all very loud indeed. A woman sitting at one of the outside tables turned to her husband and said, ‘how vulgar.’
We reckoned they owned the Bentley.
We bought some chutney, it’s a shop very much geared to impulse buying, and looked enviously at the people sitting down eating breakfast. We’d already eaten a week’s worth of breakfasts in one sitting that morning so hunger was not a factor, but the sight and smell of food often defies logic. Of course, we didn’t actually eat anything, that would have been impossible, greed usurped by gluttony and then extended tenfold, but we decided on the spot to come here again, just for the food.
On the spur of the moment we decided to head for Scarborough next. We’ve not been for ages and the town featured on a television programme we’d ’sort of watched’ last night. It was called Jane MacDonald’s Yorkshire and the former cruise ship entertainer, now turned professional Yorkshire person, said it was her favourite place to visit. She focussed mainly on candy floss, fish and chips and amusement arcades. Marigold said, ‘this looks awful.’ I agreed with her.
So, why go to Scarborough? Instant decisions, it’s what we do. Lots more to report, but I have burdened you enough for now.