Thursday, 6 December 2007

A Weekend in York

Ahh ... how nice to be back home again. It's one of the nicest parts of going away - returning to all the cosiness of your own nest, checking out all the things you've recorded on Sky+, watching the dogs dance in circles at the sight of their familiar territory ... I love it.

I also love going away, and this trip was a chance to catch up with Brother and Gaura, who are in the throes of buying a country retreat in Staffordshire. My brother seems the only member of our family determined to remain a Sassenach, despite the call of his blood which sings to a hefty Scots tune. Still - the other half is just as strong, belting out Hearts of Oak and the like - and it's funny he's ended up in Staffordshire, where all my mother's maternal side hale from. He didn't know that's where they were from, just as I didn't know about Pitlochry and Perthshire before falling in love with the region (and NOT living there, thanks to Fisher and her Fishy devotion to the dang coast. Must remember to ditch her before the nedding this July), which reaffirms my slight suspicion that affinity to certain landscapes are genetic.

Before our York trip, Fisher had a craft fair in Auld Reekie which turned a very fine profit. She was well looked after by Koios and Pro, who allowed her the use of their spare room, while I twiddled my thumbs at home and was kept awake by lonely pooches. Bloody Bridie! As usual, it takes me a while to get used to sleeping alone - a heavy irony as I'd always sworn I'd never get used to sleeping with someone - so I didn't fall asleep until 3.45am, despite Dotton Adebayo being more than ordinarily dull on Radio 5's Up All Night. At 4.15am I was woken by Bridie whining in her crate. As she's just been shaved, I thought she must be cold so I put her jumper on (god help me, I never thought I'd own a dog that wore clothes) and went blearily back to bed. She then woke me at 6am, 7.45 (when I got up and let her out, only to have her run to the bottom of the garden and shout at the top of her lungs, showing no interest in peeing), and 8.15 when I finally gave up and recognised I wasn't going to get any more sleep. Baffie, of course, was dead to the world throughout all this, curled up at the bottom of the bed under the duvet, snoring fit to bust - so at least one of the family was well rested.

I spent the day watching the footie on the telly, willing myself to take a nap but failing, willing myself to get up and do something active and failing, willing myself to eat something substantial rather than the packet of chocolate biscuits and microwave popcorn I was eyeing and - naturally - failing. By the time it was turn-in time again, I'd realised that, without Fisher around, I would quickly turn into this:

Me, Fisherless, Watching Spurs
Actually, I can see some good points ...

No! Begone, couch potato bliss! I've eaten far too much already this December, and with a calendar full of dinners out and celebrations until well after Crimbo, I really have to exercise just a little self-control - without becoming boring about it.

Where was I? Oh yes - just about to turn in after a day on the sofa watching footie.

Luckily, it was Bridie's turn on the bed that night, so after wrapping Baffie so tightly in my Dad's old jumper she could barely move, I went to sleep in about 5 seconds flat. Joy!

Sunday saw me watch more footie, then head into Edinburgh with the dogs in order to catch Spurs play Birmingham, at home, on Pro's Sky Sports. We lost, 2-3, conceding - again - in the final minutes, and proving our defence is a degenerate bunch of shit bags who need a good caning. Dawson is a competent defender who did very well for us last season, but this season he hasn't won a single header and is poorly assisted by new signing Kaboul, who's a fucking liability! He gave away a needless penalty in the first half before being subbed at half time and replaced by Lee. Wanker. Couple a disasterous defensive display with Robbie Keane getting sent off for a yellow card offence and we were truly up the brown creek, sans paddle.

Ah well. Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose, as our supposedly culturally dead cousins across La Manche would say. (Yes - what's that all about, Time Magazine? If France is culturally dead I'm a mathematician. The fact French authors don't make it in a wider world has more to do with the English speaking world's reluctance to enter the multi-lingual fray than anything else. I mean, for crying out loud! US publishers even insist on translating English into American English before publishing UK authors. How the hell would they cope with French? And the UK isn't any better. The number of linguists we have in this country is just embarrassingly bad, considering our proximity to the continent. At least the US has distance to excuse it. We practically share a border with France, but how many people in the UK speak French? C'est effroyable! Or should that be il est effroyable? Dammit!!)

Lawks, how I do wander off the mark.

Sunday night saw Fisher, Koios, Pro and me pop round to see Chopper in her new and very cosy flat, which she'd managed to make a home in 15 hours. Astonishing. We had mulled wine and too much cheese before heading off for a vegetarian meal at David Bann. Pro had been told he couldn't complain or make jokes or he'd be forced to go to see Enchanted with Koios. He lasted until he sat down, sniffed loudly and said:

"I smell hippies!"

Considering one of the hippies was a skinhead with prominent tattoos, I thought he was quite bold. Still, he is 6' 11", so he was probably safe enough.

It was nice to broaden the old culinary horizons, but I can't say I'll be in a hurry to reurn. For veggie haut cuisine it was remarkably uninspired. There were a great many curries, and if it wasn't curried it was in tart form. I had a chickpea cake type thing with curried sauce and cauliflower, which was pleasant but a little stodgy and, in the end, tasted entirely of curry. Obviously. But it was fine, and I was delighted to have tried it - not to mention the company being, as usual excellent.

Actually, something rather chastening occurred during our visit to Chopper's. We were sitting in the sitting room listening to an older couple (in their late 50s? Early 60s?) talk about the most boring party they'd ever been to, from which they'd just come. It was at Age Concern. I remembered my own, recent, night out at Cupar's Age Concern with slight foreboding. The wifie of this couple - the husband of which was a minister - then said it was mind-numbingly dull because all the elderly folks talked about was meals they'd had out in the past, what they'd had, and how much - or little - they'd enjoyed it. Dull indeed, we agreed, exchanging guilty glances with one another. After all, who but the dullest of dullards would spend an entire evening speaking of food?

If you're going to do it, you ought to make an entire weekend of it - like us.

And, frankly, they're right. It is dull. I find myself to be increasingly boring, driving myself to distraction with the putrid anecdotes I attempt to spin. My own eyes glaze over at the sound of my voice. And yet, I think, at one point, I was a relatively amusing companion. What has happened? Is it age? Are my witty brain cells all fleeing the mothership like rats from a doomed vessel? Or is it just that my life is so unbearably mundane I actually have no anecdotes to impart?

This is serious stuff, and needs exploration. Some day.

Meanwhile, back to recent events. Do I still have your attention? Hello?


Oh well. Struggle onwards, as Boris Johnson would say.

After a pleasant eve with K and P, we slept well and departed for York at the crack of noon the next day. It was a long and, at times, frustrating drive - but we broke it up with a visit to a craft place in the Borders, where we bought Brother some birthday presents, and arrived in York at around 6ish. We were staying in the York Hotel du Vin, which had only opened a week earlier and still had painters around - but was lovely anyway. Not a patch on the one in Glasgow, but very nice.

We met up with Brother & Gaura in the bar, where we chugged a bottle of very pleasant champagne (forgotten the name) then went through for a long, chatty, boozy supper. We ended up in the library drinking digestifs and playing contract whist.

Oh God. I am so old. And it's mental, too - not just a frivolous physical statement of time. Tomorrow I will wake up and, after my bowl of porridge, kick off my slippers and be incredibly youthful and vigorous.

Jeeze. I'm exhausted just thinking about it.

After a good-ish sleep on a comfortable bed, we faced York with enthusiasm. It's a beautiful town, and Fisher had given a good account of the Yorvik Centre which I was keen to see, as well as the Minster. We walked from our hotel to the medieval centre and headed into the Yorvik Centre, where we paid our £8 (!) and descended the steps. We stood beneath a sign that said: "Please wait here for transport back in time" or some such crap. We duly waited, until a door hissed open, revealing a time machine, inside which was a Viking. Sort of. He saw 4 adults, no children, and gave an audible gulp. We soon learned why. Instead of clocking that we weren't going to be particularly impressed by his Pantomime Viking ("Yarr, I don't know why I was put in charge of this machine - 'tis all magic to me! Yarr - is it the red or green button? Yarr ... etc ...") and dropping the act to its bare bones, he gave the full spiel a half-hearted and very embarrassed go, leaving all parties uncomfortable and desirous of finding a hole in which to hide.

After watching a brief video taking us back in time through York, we emerged underground, in a cavern that smelled very peculiarly of something either burnt or burning. A female Viking awaited to show us onto our next ride - which would take us round the excavated site, which has been 'developed' into a supposed kiddie heaven of waxworks, reconstructed huts and patronising voice-overs. I mentioned the burning smell, only to be reprimanded by the female Viking who said: "That's my home you're talking about!"

"And you're not concerned your home is clearly on fire?" I muttered under my breath, but before I could suggest someone actually check the presence of a raging inferno on the premesis, our carousel arrived and I clambered on.

Round we went. It was pretty dire. Brother entertained himself by listening to the voice over in Spanish, but the rest of us put up with being told "look, o-look, there is a hut made of something called 'wattle' and 'daub'. 'Wattle' and 'daub' is where ..." at which I threw off the restraining metal arm and flung myself onto the tracks in front, to be run over veeeeery slowly by a very patronising carousel.

Or so I contemplated. Fisher was dying of embarrassment for having recommended Yorvik - or so I surmise from the way she's denied all responsibility ever since.

The thing that pisses me off is: here's a fabulous site of historical interest, excavated with loving care - and turned into a kiddie playground. I have absolutely no problem with encouraging children to explore history, but do you have to do it to the detriment of serious adult visitors? It would have been nice to glean some academic learning from the experience - but even though we opted for the adult voice-over, rather than the children's option, we were treated to 'the idiot's guide to Viking York'.

Still, it was good for a larf, and seeing Fisher in a Viking mask almost made it £8 worth of larf.

£7.50 worth of Larf
After Yorvik we headed for a tea room in The Shambles, which are really lovely mediaeval streets. Quaffing copious amounts of Orange Pekoe was restorative, and we pottered off to The Minster.

Now that really is worth a dekko. The first builing on the site was a Roman fort, at which Constantine was made Emperor owing to the death of his father. An Anglo-Saxon church then took over the site, replaced by a Norman cathedral after William I's harrying of the north between 1069-70. It took the Normans only 20 years to build their austere, workmanlike cathedral - probably because they realised quelling the local hotheads with work was more effective than beating their heads in.

The current minster was built between c.a 1230 and 1472. During the 1960s they discivered the continuing additions had put enormous strain on the original foundations, particularly on the four balusters holding up the central tower, and the tower was in immediate danger of falling down. They raised around £2m and it was saved, so York Minster continues to impress today.

It really is divine, in all senses of the word. It's hard to get an overall picture of it, because it's in the city centre and the surrounding buildings prevent a complete view - but its size is the least of its charms. The Gothic style is always so awe-inspiring, and inside there are so many features to admire - not least the famous Rose Window (not as impressive as the one in Notre Dame, but still mighty fine). I'm particularly fond of the statues of all the kings, up until Henry VI, and of some of the commemorative statues. Check out my flickr site for more pics of York if you're interested.

We explored the minster fully before heading out and getting something to eat at Betty's famous tea room. It was a bit of a wait, but worth it in the end for its old fashioned charms. You can well imagine people drinking tea, eating finger sandwiches and scones, at Betty's in the 1900s. We then split up for a while, before heading back to the hotel to walk the pooches. We made our way back fine but Bro and Gau got hopelessly lost and walked for miles before finding their way back. We sensibly decided to get a cab when we headed out for supper - which we had at a place called Melton's Too, and were uninspired.

Next day, we spent the morning drinking more tea, buying me some shooooooooes, ambling the Shambles, and deciding we'd seen enough of York. Bro and Gaura were meeting the owners of their prospective house that evening and their thoughts were clearly elsewhere, so we headed our separate ways. The drive was much smoother this way as we avoided Newcastle, and arrived in Edinburgh in good time to have a meal with Koios (who'd come down with a filthy cold), Pro, Chopper and Blarney. Finally, we dropped in to say hello to Spartan, berated him for not having birthday plans, then went home.

And here we are, home hale, hearty and whole - at least until Saturday when Fisher goes off to ply Lucklaw Silver's trade in Glasgow. Fingers crossed for another lucrative fair. She deserves it after all the finger-skinningly hard work she's put in (link to her website at the top of this page, for new visitors to the site. Hello to both of you, by the way!)


Candace said...

"Sassenach" - I am re-reading the Outlander books, which I adore. Do you?

I've learned (learnt?) another great word from you - "footie." I am totally watching footie this weekend!

Baffie and Bridie are so cute. My little terrier mix, Scruffybutt, would luv to play with them. :)

Seshat said...

I don't know them, but will check them out at once!

And, if we're being strictly accurate, it's 'the footie'. You can get away with 'footie' but really you need the 'the.' Like 'The Arsenal' rather than just 'Arsenal' (or 'Scum' to me and other Tottenham fans). What game will you be watching?

As for my cute cute dogs - don't let 'em fool you. They fight like ... er ... dog and dog. They have to be kept separate at all times, tied to bits of furniture when in the same room. I'm afraid Bridie would try and eat Scruffybutt. Baffie would like a romp though. She's golden and perfect.

Candace said...

Ah! THE footie. Tomorrow I'll be watching the footie between the Dallas Cowboys and the Detroit Lions.

The Outlander series, written by Diana Gabaldon, is a sort of sci-fi romance. I'm not a fan of the romance genre and would never have read these had a good friend not recommended them. The books are way beyond and above that genre! It's just that librarians didn't know exactly where to put the books.

Gabaldon says (in one of her podcasts on her website - Google her) that she started out to write a historical novel set in Scotland during the Jacobite rising. So, she had this roomful of Scotsmen sitting around talking, and she decided to introduce a female character. She decided the female should be English, since confict is so important to novel-writing. Enter one Claire Elizabeth Beauchamp. Only problem was, Claire refused to behave like a proper English lady of her time. Instead, she insisted on speaking like a contemporary, modern-day woman. After wrestling with this character for several pages, Gabaldon gave up and let Claire have free rein.

The book, therefore, had to include time travel. In that case, Gabaldon reasoned, the story could incorporate any other genre it wished, so she added explicit sex, and that's how it got the Romance label. Nowadays, her books are classified as mainstream fiction, btw.

I think she's up to six books in the series, and two more are expected. I live in fear of the author getting hit by a bus or something before she finishes them and we can all find out how the story ends. Callous, I know, but... :)

Anyway, Claire is referred to as "Sassenach" by her Scottish lover, who uses it as a term of endearment. I predict that you will love, love, love this series!

Candace said...

Oops - I just found out that in the UK, Outlander is known as Cross Stitch. Maybe now you've heard of it?

Seshat said...

Yep, I know of them - I just haven't read them myself. They never really appealed - but I'll have a gander at the first book the moment I finish the one I'm on at the moment. Seeing as it's The Magic Mountain, it miiight take a while!

Petra said...

Interesting to know.