Saturday, 27 February 2016

Chimney Bank.

I ring my father from the edge of the windswept moor.

“We’re heading to the top!” I shout into my iPhone, “from Lastingham to Rosedale! If they find two prone bodies up there, that'll be us!”

“Oh, right!” My father shouts back. “Lovely! I hope they serve you some lunch at The White Horse!”

So do I. The last time Husband and I walked to The White Horse in Rosedale we arrived at five past two; cold, tired, hungry. “Can we order something, please?” I asked, like Oliver Twist, “to eat?”

The man leaning against the bar looked up from thumbing his copy of The Daily Mail. “Sorry,” he said, “you’re too late now, we stopped serving at two.”

Right, thanks a lot, for nothing. Where’s that legendary Yorkshire hospitality when you need it? 
To be fair that was then, last year, and on this trip we've encountered nothing but solicitous service and friendly folk. 

Nevertheless, we know we’re up against it time-wise, and weather-wise too, because although it’s benign at the moment, sunny even, it’s set to change for the worst again soon, according to the forecast… as usual.

We’ve left the younger two with my parents and headed up to the moors for a fix of countryside. I don't like to leave it too long before pulling on my wellies and going for a ramble, even if my particular wellies are tiny and pink and girly, with fur lining, they still do the job. I don’t even mind bad weather. I always maintain there’s no such as thing as bad weather anyway, only bad… yeah, yeah, we all know that one… only bad clothing, and walking is one of my favourite things in the world. Plus I'm from Yorkshire, a bit of a squall isn't going to deter me.

I love it up here, and I’m loyal to it. This little part of North Yorks is mine, that's how I see it anyway. Somehow it's in my bones, even though I was born in York, and now live in Tooting. Go figure. I can't.

I first came here years ago to stay in a cottage with my dad when he was writing a book and I was revising for my A-Levels. We did a lot of walking together. Then I came back to the same cottage again and again. First with a - okay, with the - boyfriend (least said soonest mended… as they say up here), then with four mates for a post-A-level alcohol binge-fest, then in my twenties with a friend who suddenly announced, moments after we’d unpacked and popped the kettle on, that she didn’t like walking and had no intention of stepping out the front door. True to her word, she didn't, for the whole weekend.

On that occasion I had to tramp the moor by myself, like a lovelorn Cathy looking for her Heathcliff. I remember I lost the path at one point, nearly had a panic attack in the chin-high bracken, eventually falling into The Lion Inn at Blakey Ridge on the top there, with an enormous sigh of relief. As the door creaked open the locals all turned to look at me as one, exactly like that scene in An American Werewolf in London. (I love that film, which coincidentally features Van Morrison’s Moondance which was the title of the last blog, and also Jenny Agutter, who I've mentioned before, in that famous shower scene.)  

Any road, this is what we need right now, a road. Well, not any road, the right road, or path, across the moor to Rosedale and the pub. We set off in high hopes and high spirits, and in a straight line, and quickly come to a fork, where the path splits. Husband looks at his phone. I ring my father, again. 

“It's a fork in the road!” I shout down my phone. “What now?” 

He should know, because he knows it round here, and he's clever, especially brilliant at planning circular walks with pubs in the middle, which all walks should be, in my book.

“Ah!” He shouts. “Hard to tell without seeing it myself! I’d guess left!”

“That’s what I thought!” I shout back, “but Husband says right!”

We take the right, and eventually it leads across the moor to the main road down to Rosedale, Chimney Bank it's called. It's not the scenic way I hoped for, but it gets us there. It's also vertiginous, almost vertical, hence the name. Actually, close up it’s not as steep as it appears from a distance. Slippery in certain conditions, true, in the ice and snow, but not today, thank goodness, there's just enough purchase underfoot.

We make it to the pub in good time, and they cheerfully provide soup and sarnies and instructions for how to get back to the path without a return hard climb up Chimney Bank. Great. But no sooner have we set off back than we lose our way again. Well, not lose it exactly, we know where we need to be, I can even see it - that ridge up there - but there are lots of little paths running through the gorse and heather to reach it. Some are man-made, some are formed by the gazing sheep that trample the landscape round here like they own the place. Which is the right one? I'm not keen to repeat my lost in the bracken episode.

“Shall we just go back to the main road for a bit?” says Husband, “get our bearings from there?”

“Okay,” I say.

So we do, and that’s when it begins, the rain, a special type, like cats and dogs: cold, sharp, relentless, coming right at us.

“I’ll go on the outside!" Shouts Husband, gallantly, "you'll be sheltered by me, at least a bit." 

He takes the brunt of it, gets drenched, very quickly, while for me it’s not so bad because I'm in the lee of the wind. We find the path back and then I start to trail behind.

“You okay?” he shouts over his shoulder, and over the howl and the bite and the blast, as we march on, whence we came.

“Yes!" I call. "How about you?” 

“I will be!” He shouts again, “just as soon as I get out of this! Then I think I might have a hot bath!”

“Good idea!” I call back, because I know how he likes a nice bath.

Love E x


P.S. My wellies.

Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Young Turks.

Some occasions are best not tackled sober. My friend and I decide that a coach trip on a Friday night to see a friend perform as Rod Stewart in a sold-out stage show at the Beck Theatre in Hayes, Middlesex, is one of these occasions. I don’t even know where Hayes is. I still don’t know where it is, and now I’ve been there. I think.

We apply ourselves to the task in hand with gusto, two bottles of fizz, and tupperware containing smoked salmon sandwiches. The sandwiches are because we’re sensible girls at heart: we wouldn’t dream of drinking on an empty stomach. 

It turns out that lots of people going on the trip, most of them other parents and teachers from our boys’ old primary school, which is how we all know one another, have the same idea. Only minus the tupperware full of sandwiches.

As the coach pulls away from the south London curb the roar of its engine is accompanied by a chorus of cork-popping and ring-pull fizzing. By the time we arrive at the theatre an hour and a half later everyone on the coach is in love with everyone else, especially my friend and I, who hug almost continuously from then on. It’s one of those nights best embraced head on, with lots of embracing.

“I think you’re my best friend in the whole world,” she says, more than once, “I love you.”

“I love you too,” I say.

But, to be reasonable, I love everyone. It’s the alcohol talking, of course, and possibly something to do with Rod Stewart. All that romance, all that singing and flirting and wooing over the years, all that shagging leggy blondes. It feels like his joie de vivre is spilling all over the place, like froth down the side of a badly poured pint in a provincial theatre bar.

Speaking of which, once at the theatre we’re ushered through the packed foyer to an over-lit, low-ceilinged holding room where there’s more booze and more familiar faces. Most of them belong to other ex-primary school parents. Some have come from as far as Bristol and Oxford to watch fellow ex-parent, Paul Metcalfe, play. He’s been performing a Rod Stewart tribute act for more years than he may care to remember. He's probably performed Maggie May more times than Rod Stewart has. He probably hates it. But if he does it doesn’t show. 

Paul Metcalfe as Rod.

Nearly every great night I’ve had in the last ten years has ended with Paul playing and singing, either at PTA do's in the primary school hall back in the day, or more recently at the back of someone's kitchen. The man’s a legend in his own south London house party.

I throw my arms around a few of the people I haven’t seen in ages, and they react in the ever-so-slightly tense manner that's only to be expected because they're stone cold sober, having just driven here, and a mob of forty pissed Londoners has suddenly rushed the room. More drinks are consumed, then finally we’re led through to the performance.

We’re quite surprised by the audience. They're not what we're used to. Most look rather glum... and elderly… and stationary. I try to resist the urge to say that the last time I went to the theatre it was on St Martin's Lane and Jim Broadbent was involved. Actually if my memory serves me correctly I may have failed to resist this. In fact by the time the evening ends I think I may have mentioned it to more than one person, more than once, some of them people I never met before. And if that sounds snobby… that's because it is.

Then the lights dip, and out of the dimness Paul/Rod appears. A sudden frenzy of madness grips us all. Maybe it's because we’re in Hayes. Maybe it's because it’s a Friday night. Maybe it's because it’s February. It's amazing any which way. Good times roll around every now and again; they’re rare, fleeting and unpredictable, and in this case probably best not analysed too deeply, if at all. Plus we’re all drunk. This definitely has something to do with it.

His performance is fantastic, possibly lent an extra je ne sais quoi by our party's enthusiastic reaction to it. We don’t just dance in the aisles, some of us dance on the stage, in particular the primary school literacy coordinator, who has to be forcibly pulled off it by security more than once. 

We're popping out of our seats and down the front like yo-yos. Poor Mr Security Man does manage to corral us back occasionally, but then we jump up again the minute we hear the opening bars of something familiar. And a lot of it is weirdly familiar. Well, come on! I defy anyone to remain seated while their mate on stage sings 'Da Ya Think I'm Sexy?' right at you. A friend bopping next to me shouts out, "He's so sexy! There isn't a dry seat in the house!" and I laugh, a lot, because that's funny.

There are knickers thrown. I don't know where they come from, from somewhere behind me, hopefully not from the fat sedentary ladies sitting glumly up back. When Paul takes to the aisles and passes close by, I manage to successfully redirect a few of the tinier pairs round his head, like I'm lassoing a coconut. 

At the show.

A multitude of encores later and finally it's time for our return to south London: a raucous school trip/end of term dancing in the aisles, sing-along to Rod Stewart's Greatest Hits. I sit across from my kids’ ex-primary school head teacher and in between singing we talk about the state of state education, his children, my children, what they and we are doing with our lives, (I think that’s what we talk about anyway) and then I have an overwhelming urge to get up and dance as well. So I do.

“Great dancing,” says my kids’ ex-primary school head teacher, addressing my stomach. “You do know I love you, Elizabeth.”

“I do,” I say, “and I love you too, Alan.”

Love E x


P.S. Still not exactly up to the minute music-wise but at least Rod Stewart's alive, and he is about to go on tour. Oh, and Middle One did just get me to book some Adam Ant tickets for Brixton in the summer. Any better? Yeah, I know. Not really. 

With Alan.