32 Grenville Street M4Y 1A3
North Of England
Saturday October 24th 1998
My shoulder bag is packed with Belts, Black Felt Pen, Books, Calculator, Camera, Cap, Casual Shirts, Cash (Dollars Canadian), Cash (Pounds Sterling), Diary, Dressing Gown, Film, Flash Batteries, Glasses, Gloves, Handkerchiefs, Jeans, Maps, Paperclips, Passport, Pencil, Penknife, Pyjamas, Razor, Shirts, Skivvies, Slippers, Socks, Sunglasses, Sweater, Sweatshirts, Toothbrush, Toothpaste, Underpants, and a Utility Diskette, in case someone offers me a job. I travel light, no suitcases for me (but see “Thirsk” below). I like to walk on, sit down, then walk off the plane.
I’m off to see The Equatorium at Liverpool museum, and to visit some childhood memories. It is eleven o’clock in the morning in Toronto. My buddy Scott is driving me to the airport, a ten-minute drive, at four o’clock for my seven-thirty flight to Manchester UK. I’m not nervous. At all.
I love the impact of flying (see “supper” below) but detest the actual flight, especially the take-off and landing. Aeroplanes seem to be very safe when standing still on the tarmac, and they mostly seem to do OK when they are in flight, but those duck-ugly moments when they attempt the transition seem to be loaded with danger. Adrenaline courses through my veins like liquid chocolate. Those who know me intimately recognize that quite literally I prefer root-canal drilling to take-offs and landings.
The Toronto baggage-handlers who have been holding up vehicles are nowhere in sight, so I settle down for a three-hour sit, to be followed by an eight-hour sit punctuated by a rainy view of Glasgow at 5 o’clock of a Sunday morning, when the streets are deserted, even of drunks.
Sunday October 25th
We land in, or rather at Manchester around 7:10 a.m. My very first circumnavigation of the globe is complete. It has taken me forty-two years at an average speed of one inch per second, but the loop is finally closed.
I walk off the plane, as arranged, and quickly determine over the space of an hour that the pre-arranged, pre-booked and pre-paid rental car is not going to be there. The courtesy phones indicated on my confirmation fax do not exist, according to the nice lady at the information desk, and, of course, there is no answer from any of the three office numbers. A great start to my seven-day vacation.
I stride across to National Rental, slap down two pieces of plastic, and five minutes later I am wheeling around a three-lane roundabout. A better start to my seven-day vacation, thank you National Rental.
Without sunshine I am a pigeon in a magnetically-neutral field. Shortly the volume of traffic dies down, I don my reading glasses and open a sheet map for a clue. “Manchester” seems like a good start, so I exit the roundabout and head to Manchester, wondering where I am now, if I didn’t land at Manchester. “Preston” looks more promising, because that is past Wigan, and I have a hotel room booked for the night at Wrightington, just north of Wigan. I have ten hours in which to cover about twenty kilometers. Should be possible.
Through Wigan (I’m used to the gear-shift being on the wrong side now) and past or through Wigan Pier, made famous by George Orwell. Wigan, not being on the seaside, does not have a pier, but George Orwell was that kind of bloke, and by the time the population realized it, it was far too late.
I meander along a back road, crossing the M6 again, following the signs to Wrightington. I was a patient in Wrightington hospital when I was four years old, and want to see it again. The road leads to Parbold and Wrightington hospital. Another roundabout, and around I go, making my exit on the second pass. I’m getting good at this. Within minutes the little blue car is flying across a short bridge over a small lake wherein float white swans. Just as my mind remembers it from forty-eight years ago. For forty-eight years I have carried that image in my brain, and on this gusty Sunday morning, here it is in real life.
The hospital entrance presents itself, with a boom gate that suggests parking fees so I reverse out of there - I can come back tomorrow - and head on up the road looking for breakfast.
Breakfast this morning is my first major challenge. I have grown accustomed to the North American custom of little roadhouses and town cafes populated by elderly couples at the window seats and older guys in red shirts and baseball caps at the counter, clouds of cigarette smoke and much frying. Lancashire is closed on Sundays, except for a hotel whose name escapes me but is, I think, near Newburgh or Burscough Bridge.
I eat here and feel at home. This is the breakfast I would eat once I got the other side of Buffalo. Much later I realize that the whole thing is about five percent salt, and I get a thirst on me like you wouldn’t believe, and resolve to find a large pot of tea.
I pay the bill, and head back towards Wrightington. I am booked into The Hinds Head and find it on Mossy Lea Road after traversing my familiar roundabout. Mossy Lea Road is, of course, the first exit after I gain the roundabout, so I make the customary grand tour and realize for the first time that I can throw other drivers into lateral confusion by not exiting the roundabout! They are all expecting me to exit. Hah! What fun awaits me in the days to come.
Here’s the Hinds Head, and my landlord Kevin is sweeping out after last night’s colic and bucolic festivities. We shake hands and since supper isn’t served until five-thirty and it is yet only nine o’clock, I elect to drive a bit more, maybe practice my roundabout and gear-shifting skills, and so head back to the motorways M6 and M65 and make my way via Haslingden to Rawtenstall.
Black-faced sheep and sullen cows chew grass placidly alongside the roar of traffic on the high-speed motorway. I’m not sure if that makes them more domesticated, but for my money any animal that can chew food within twenty feet of a motorway is either mentally unstable or toxically challenged.
Haslingden as a name figured largely in my childhood, because I was often in Rawtenstall and saw the buses marked “Haslingden”. Now, however, it is just a minor town I pass through in order to swing past the Rawtenstall Public Library - the first library from which I borrowed books. We left England before my tenth birthday, and I marvel still that in those days it was perfectly natural for a child to travel unattended on the public bus to come to the library, return and borrow books, then take the bus home again.
I drive north up what used to be called “Manchester Road” and after two miles come to the vicarage that was my home, the vicarage that was, but is now The Old Vicarage. A retirement home, now. The grounds have shrunk, not only because of my passing from childhood to adulthood, but because the road has been widened on this curve. The old stone walls are gone, and in their place are some concrete slabs, several missing. The grounds are not kept neatly, and of the rhododendron shrubbery that was a jungle playground, only one shrub seems to have survived. I take two photos and move on a hundred yards or so.
The Rawtenstall Co-operative grocery store is now the Rawtenstall Kawasaki Motorcycle Shop. On a whim I turn right and travel up the lane that used to form the border between Ta-top farm and the Goodshaw chapel, where my father was vicar, I a chorister. At the back of the chapel I hail a scurrying young man in choir robes heading for church. “Is the service about to start?”. “In about ten minutes!”, and he scurries breathlessly past me. I park the car and make my way to the mean washroom in back of the church, then sit down in a pew.
More than 42 years ago I sat here at 6 p.m. of a summer evening and sang “The day thou gavest, Lord, is ended” and watched the setting sun strike the brass crucifix. Now it is 11 a.m. of a bleak wind-swept morning. The congregation is uniform in its grayness spread across all age gaps. The chorister appears devoid of his robes in the jeans and sweater of a young minister, and with some guitar chords the service starts. How things have changed.
For me the highlight is the singing of the old hymn “Dear Lord and Father of mankind”. Only a week ago I was discussing the words with a friend back in Toronto; now on a whim I find that I am singing it lustily, for I know these words by heart. Learned them in this chapel 42 years ago.
During the sign of peace one women comes up to me and says “Peace be with you, but do try to stay awake”. If only she knew. At 4 p.m. yesterday I was in my apartment at Browns Line and Lakeshore. At 10 a.m. this morning I'm 42 years and an ocean away. I take some photos.
Back on Manchester Road I make my way the five miles over the Pennine ridge, past the Waggoners Arms, a landmark on my bus journey to and from school each day for four years, down the steep hill into Burnley.
My old school Sunny Bank has boarding up in the south-face windows, but other parts of the building appear occupied. I park the car, pull the coat hood over my head and spend five minutes in Scott Park where I played most lunchtimes, then set off looking for lunch.
A rude awakening. Every fish and chip shop in the triangle bounded by Burnley, Rochdale and Bolton is closed on Sunday.
There is much crossing of the centre line for no apparent reason. I am used to North American drivers fearing a parked car more than an oncoming car, but here it seems that oncoming traffic is aiming at me just for the sake of it. There is much tailgating. I am more used to seeing the headlights of the car behind me, not having the car occupy all of my rear-view mirror. Unfortunately I have over the years developed a style of driving guided by the motto “Don’t Brake”, and to accommodate this, I need to slow down even more to generate more space in front of me, which irritates the tailgater even more.
I drive through Bolton wishing that someone would yell at me “Why don’t you go back to where you come from?”, for I have a ready answer!
After getting delightfully lost several times, I make my way back to Wigan and Wrightington, back to the Hinds Head. Mark, son of Kevin, shows me to my room. I shower and change into fresh clothes and make my way timidly back down to the bar which is rapidly filling with the Sunday evening crowd. I order steak-and-kidney pudding with chips and settle down to eat my fill. I am famished, but tiredness overtakes me and I cannot finish the meal.
At a quarter to six, I lean back and reflect that eighteen hours ago I was in Toronto; This, to me, is the impact of jet flying. In eighteen hours I have found my hospital, my home, my church, my hymn, and my supper. I drift asleep watching a replay of Winston Churchill on the television, waking at eleven to read for an hour, then drifting back to sleep until 9 a.m.
Monday October 26th
Hospital, Equatorium, Wales
I am alerted at 9 a.m. by a knock at the door, but I’ve been awake for a quarter hour and am showered, shaved and dressed. Breakfast is two sausages, two tomato halves, two square fried eggs, three rashers of extremely salty bacon and three cold triangles of toast. Plus coffee. As I eat it I walk around the pub. Last night I noticed books on shelves - for display purposes - and now I examine the titles. Weston’s “Complete Economic and Commercial Geography” catches my eye. An unpretentious book, with no publication date within, but of a typeface definitely pre World War II, and so I start reading it.
Within five minutes I am fascinated by the style and content. There is heavy focus on the basis of civilization, and much stress laid upon the power of the railways and steamships, the origin of ports. I am hooked, and ask to be allowed to take the book with me. On paying the bill (“twenty-eight pounds, please”) I protest that the book alone is worth ten pounds, and after some haggling my landlord agrees to raise the bill to thirty-five pounds, swipes the credit card, I sign the slip, and as I am leaving by the front door am called back. Kevin has, in his excitement, rung the bill up as thirty-five pence, not thirty-five pounds. Too bad. It would have been a great deal.
I set off for Wrightington hospital, an easy task, having driven by it yesterday morning, and am soon parked and making my way in the rain to the administrative buildings. I have brought with me to England a two-inch square black and white photograph of me as a four-year old sitting in bed on visiting day (once a month). Pam exclaims “It’s the old school” when she sees the photo. I had not noticed the small building in the back of the photo.
Pam, it seems, was a patient here two years after I was here, and she happily shows me around, taking me through the covered way to my ward. Nothing has changed in the buildings. They are the same low red-brick wards, although where once there were beds full of children, now there are beds full of arthritic older people.
Allowed to wander the grounds, I loop around the ward and am soon standing on the concrete apron where our beds were rolled on sunny days. I am standing on the spot in the photo. My little body was here forty-eight years ago. Right here. I am immobilized once again, and small tears spring to my eyes. I had not realized the emotions within me. After two minutes I take five steps and am at the edge of the lawn, whose fresh-mown smell I remember from those days. There’s not a time I drive past fresh-mown grass but I am wafted back to this place. Here is where my nasal memories began.
I stare at the trees that form the border of the creek, and contemplate on how I longed to explore those trees. Today I fancy that I did not want so much to be at the trees as not to be stuck in a bed. Slowly I walk back to the administrative building, collect a map, two pamphlets and some postcards. Pam organizes a parking token as a courtesy.
I make my way on to the motorway again and strike out for Liverpool. The sign-posting is pretty good, and I fix on those pale brown signs which specify “Liverpool city centre and tourist attractions”. Within a half an hour I am cruising past Lime Street railway station, which I know is within walking distance of the Liverpool Museum.
This is the technical reason for my visit. I have been fascinated by the account of this device, about the size of a dinner-plate, created from brass over four hundred years ago. An analogue device, it has the ability to predict the positions of the (then) five known planets, but was calibrated only to the year 2000. the world’s oldest known millennium bug.
The display is disappointing, for the brass plate is mounted with its axis horizontally in a cabinet with lighting above. In consequence very little direct light falls on the face of the plate, and I find it hard to make out details. I’d like to know more about it, to discuss it with a curator, but the man who knows is off in London, visiting his sick mother, so I leave somewhat deflated.
The pavements here are made of flags, a word I’ve not used for paving in many years. I spend some time staring carefully downwards, probably giving everyone the impression that I am dejected. I am elated at the variety of stone types, shapes and sizes combining to form the footpath. Or sidewalk, if you prefer.
I make my way by a devious route to one of the tunnels under the River Mersey and hence to the M53 when all of a sudden I am struck by the presence of Upton village and a thirst that has been building since this morning’s salty ration of bacon rasher. I foray again onto the minor roads of England and am thrown by the somewhat jerky driving style of the populace.
I find the signposts comforting, and seem to be understanding the rationale behind them. I realize that I am more used to vast distances in Australia and North America, where you say to yourself “I just need to keep heading towards the sun” or some such, and there’s little else to do, no where else to go. Here, just when I have satisfied myself that I’m heading in the right direction, the road curves through ninety degrees and I panic.
I get thrown by minor exits off the roundabouts, but realize days later that I really should pay attention to the limbs of the signs and tell myself “third exit does it”.
In Upton I post a postcard to Canada, thirty-seven pence. Mailed Monday 1 p.m. it arrives in Toronto Canada Thursday morning. Jolly good!
Having had a good break and hunted for cat magazines for a friend back home (no luck) I obtain once again the A55 and continue my trek along the blinding rain-slicked roads directly into the mid-afternoon sunshine. The sun comes out; the clouds bat it away. I grope for my sunglasses, I stow them away. The rain showers, I start the wipers and wind up the windows. The rain stops and the sun comes out, I turn off the wipers, wind down the window and scramble for sunglasses. I need to read the map, so off come the sunglasses and grope for the reading glasses. I don’t get much driving done, except for looking for the gear shift on the wrong side and bruising my knuckles. I’m exhausted.
I’m in Wales! I see signs that say “Flint” and others with lots of stuttering letters “ff” and letters “y’ all by themselves as a brave little word. We enter a valley by virtue of a long downgrade, and the hills loom ahead and the signs for Colwyn Bay. My grandma, my mother told me, was very fond of Colwyn Bay. Grandma lived in Morecambe, so I suppose a change of bay was a holiday. Strange to think that eighty years ago this was the place of my grandma’s dreams, and that to the day she died she probably held romantic memories of here, perhaps from days of courting. Grandma, were you ever young and pretty? Did you go courting?
I have double-checked my maps, and I see that the A55 ends and becomes the A5, if I am to cross over to Mona, as it used to be called, (Ynsmon) on my map, Anglesey for us plebs. Here, near Bangor (I’ve slept in Bangor Maine!) is a roundabout. Hop on, hop off at the A5 exit and continue on my merry way, confident that I’ll reach Amlwch ere sunset. Wrong!
There are two A5 exits off the roundabout, and I have seized the other one. The road narrows a bit, but that is to be expected; narrows a bit more, sidles between two rather large hills, but this is Wales, right? We pipe through a narrow village street, the road narrows again, and as I start to see signs repeated for Tregarth, I realize that I am not where I want to be at all, and my options for turning around are growing limited. On presents itself and within the hour I am rattling across the Menai Straits bridge and set off along the pleasant winding road towards Amlwch and Bull Bay.
Back around 1954 we spent a week’s holiday on a farm house, and I want to find the farm house. I remember a photograph of my sister and I running across the farm yard, and I remember the jugs and bowl for face-washing in each bedroom. I remember the early morning adventure walk down the path to the beach, and I remember all of these with pleasure. The light is fading as I drive through Amlwch. I am sure the farm was on the coast side of the road, and that the farmhouse was close to the road. If I don’t spot it tonight, I’ll have a better look tomorrow morning.
Past Bull Bay and on to Cemaes before I turn back. Tomorrow is another day. I have spotted a pub in Amlwch which will do me nicely, but as I swing past Bull Bay on a whim I decide to inspect the hamlet. As I drive towards the Bull Bay Hotel, dynamite goes off in my brain. There are the banks of seaweed on which my sister and I played. I remember them now, but had forgotten them until now. I must stop the car and walk across to the boat-ramp. I stand in silent amazement at the memories that come tumbling back like the surf on the beach, one after another. This ungainly bank of seaweed forced up against the cliff has unleashed items of my youth. It is enough to stand here in the cold light of dusk, and let time come over me. I am born on a tide of memories.
There is no question in my mind; I must stay here tonight. I book a room in this quiet backwater, and then exit for a stroll to the clifftop behind the hotel, gaze out at the Irish Sea, and then perambulate around the village. It takes but ten minutes. I take a meal, and retire for the night into a hot bath and a warm bed.
Tuesday October 27th
Leaving Wales, Welsh secretary resigns
In the morning I rise, shower and head downstairs for breakfast. My table is pre-arranged, as yesterday. Of the twelve tables in the dining-room, one is laid for breakfast. At this one I must sit. Over the next few days I learn that this is the way of things. I have a good view of the little village, and see the occasional van trundling around the lanes, just as in the black and white movies of the thirties.
Breakfast is two sausages, two halves of tomato, two square fried eggs, two rashers of salty bacon and three cold triangles of toast. Plus coffee. I am sitting next to a huge but non-functioning coffee urn of the aluminium variety and covet it for my hot-water supply at home. I read a few more chapters of Weston’s “Complete Economic and Commercial Geography” and learn that Southampton has four tides a day, whereas London generally has only two.
After paying my bill I take some photos then drive back in the direction of Amlwych, looking for the driveway into the farmhouse. I do not spot it, and on reaching Amlwch take a few turns around the back streets. It is a bigger settlement than I had thought, and I am convinced that my memory of shops and yellow wall is indeed that of Bull Bay. Those shops and post office are long gone, I have been told.
There are some very interesting coastal roads out of Amlwch, but I give in after a few hundred yards down a 1-lane lane when I am greeted by a back-hoe carving a groove across what is left of the lane. I reverse out and make for larger and larger roads.
Soon I have regained the mainland and am bopping back along the A55 towards Chester, past the romantic town of Colwyn Bay to gain the M56 and hence the mighty M6 north. As I leave Wales the Secretary of state for Wales, Mr. Ron Davies resigns the cabinet.
There is a smug satisfaction in slowing down for the roadworks which I traversed twice on Sunday. I know this spot! And what’s more the rain and wind are unchanged.
Gales from Wales strap the car. Yesterday I complained about having to swap my sunglasses off and on again. No such complaint today. In the scudding clouds I make my way past Wigan, Preston, to Lancaster and Morecambe.
My grandma had moved back to Morecambe around 1956 when my family was leaving England to migrate to Australia. I have happy memories of my sister and I being given a shilling each morning, and stoutly patronising the penny-arcade whose owner gave us thirteen large pennies instead of twelve. Of course, it won’t be there, the penny arcade, any more, but I may was well stare out across Morecambe bay.
No such luck. The rain is coming at me horizontally now. True, there are arcades, but they are clogged with the flashing lights of pinball machines. Gone are those delightful contraptions where you popped a penny in the top and jiggled spring-loaded levers while the penny pursued its selfish course.
I dart into a news-agents and ask for a copy of every cat magazine they have (for a friend who needs addresses of manufacturers to tout his idea for a kitty-litter box) and dart into another store for a small pewter charm for another friend (who has three cats and could probably use a kitty-litter box) and then into a traditional cafe to obtain two large pots of tea as a quench for my salt-induced thirst.
By the time I leave the cafe, the beach is gone. The tide has come in so quickly across the flat sands. I am reminded of the time my sister and I almost drowned here at Morecambe. I must have been six years old.
My stay complete, I drive out through Heysham and Hest Bank. Another memory of playing around on the grassy islands that are sprinkled in the sea at high tide. Up the M6 towards Shap. I see the signs for Kendall and recollect a photograph in my parent’s albumn of me sitting on a rock in a stream near Kendall just before I gashed my hand on broken glass. I carry the one-inch scar still, on my left hand. I remember a bus ride and screaming in either pain, agony, fright, or disappointment that the picnic was ended, but doubt very much whether I would find the stream, and so continue until the sign for Shap presents itself.
At 3:30 p.m. there are several pubs in Shap. I stop at The Bull, because I have vague recollections of my parents telling a story of my sister being quizzed about the origins of milk. “From the cow”, she says. Her little brother not to be outdone chirped in with “And ice-cream comes from the back of the Bull!”. I wait while a family of four obtains change for the pool table, and watch in disappointment as the landlord turns back into his room. Is the pub now closed? Am I too much of a stranger to be served? What to do? I hardly feel like thumping my fist on the counter and yelling “Give me a room”, so I leave and make my way to the grand Kings Arms. Locked. I make my way to the telephone box. No directory. I dial directory enquiries. The lady has never heard of Shep. No S-H-A-P. Oh. She gives me the number just as a heavy truck rumbles by on its way to the steelworks through the closed and sleepy village. I dial again. Shap not Shep, and hence dial the pub. Yes, they have rooms. No, they are closed. Yes, they reopen at six-thirty.
There’s nothing for it as darkness settles over the bleak and heartless moors but to stock up on Cadbury’s Flake bars in the co-op and begin meandering the roads.
I head west, along the narrow lanes, and soon spot a lane I’m sure I know. I recognize the very bend from a photo I have back home, so I take a fresh photo to compare. (Once I reach home I discover that I do not have the photo. It must have been in my parents album). The rain continues, the puddles grow, the lane narrows, so I give up on my search for the GFS camp, and head north up the little A6.
The A6 embarks on a love affair with the M6 in this district, twining itself amorously around the M6 as they make their way North. I drive through several quaint granite-stone villages before regaining the M6 near Penrith and streak back down towards Shap, arriving there at about half-past four. I decide to take the A6 down to Kendall, since I have time to kill, and regret it before too long. Night is upon and all around me, and the tailgaters hound my heels as the road twists and turns past Shap Fells. Part way down I spot a well-lit sign for a hotel, and traverse a dirt road to a grand establishment with tour buses arrayed outside. Too rich for me, and too crowded, so I continue south reaching Kendall at peak hour.
In the melee I am convinced that I made a wrong turn. There are five roads leading out of Kendall back to the M6, and I take the longest, slowest, most twisty of them all. Rain and wind continue to lash the car. I’m cold, fatigued and all the rest. I want a hot bath, steak-and-kidney pie, and a warm bed. And Weston’s “Complete Economic and Commercial Geography”. Back I go up the M6 to Shap and park in front of the pub until it opens. Which it does, and a room I get, but no dining-room.
Turns out that the Fish and Chip is the place to be. Everyone dines at the fish and chip in Shap. I order black pudding, which as a novelty comes deep-fried. I’m getting well into Weston’s “Complete Economic and Commercial Geography” by now, and at the end of the current chapter retire to the hotel for a hot bath and bed.
I should remind myself at this point of the delights of hot baths in country pubs. They all have baths the size of sheep troughs, deep and long. Each night I shamelessly run the hot water and float in the tub until my nose and toes is all that shows. I usually have a book and a chocolate bar, and toddle off to bed warm and fuzzy inside and out.
Wednesday October 28th
I have not yet understood the logic, but it works. Whereas there was no dining room for supper here last night, there is a table set for me for breakfast. Breakfast runs from seven-thirty to eight, and it is just for me. Breakfast is three sausages, half a tomato, two square fried eggs, three rashers of salty bacon and three cold triangles of fried bread. That makes a change. Plus coffee. I read Weston’s “Complete Economic and Commercial Geography” and am by now over half-way through it. I am gaining a good idea of the country through which I have passed.
The cleaning-lady arrives, mopping disinfectant liquid across the pub floor and wafting disinfectant odours across my sausages. She looks old enough, so I ask here if she knows of a GFS camp nearby. Yes she does. It’s a coal-yard now, just out of town, across the bridge.
Hurriedly I pack my bags, pay my bill and set off in the rain. Sure ‘nuf, there’s the coal yard. The gray stone building is gone, as are the wooden huts, tents, girls and my childhood. In their place a galvanized iron shed, painted green, some wooden coal and sand bays, black oily puddles and a lorry waiting to get by me to fork-lift sacks of coal. It is time to go.
As I drive again down the A6 towards Kendall I make several observations.
The weather is debilitating. The continual rain and wind inhibit my emergence from the car. I am spending all the daylight hours and some of the nighttime cruising roads. There are times when I feel like stretching my legs and going “Oooh Ah!” at the view, but there is no view, just curtains of rain marching across the valleys.
The narrow lanes are scenic, and even though I can find places to park, I’m reluctant to do so in case a much, much larger vehicle comes along. They have some pretty mean-looking dual-wheel tractors up here.
There seems little point in getting up early when the window for sunshine is about eight to four o’clock
The sheep here have not been recently shorn as I first thought. They are clean. Their fleeces are white. I grew up with the dirty red-dust backs of sheep in Australia - their whiteness lasts about one day after shearing. I bet that the grass is clean here, too.
Past Shap Fells the big trucks are parked at the side of the road in the high winds, especially those unfortunate enough to have but three new cars on the top deck and nothing below.
Just before Kendall I take a shortcut through Burneside, I think, making for the A591 and A592. The villages and cottages here are so very Lake District. What did I expect? That the calendars lie? Each village looks so serene and cozy, not only because I am trapped in a wet car. This place must go crazy with tourists during the season.
I drive along the western edge of Ullswater and the radio drives me crazy. Radio stations compete with each other, overlapping my brain like the waves creeping across the edge of the road. Partway through an illustrated discussion of the music hall scene in Scotland, I am switched to a Brandenburg concerto, then to a discussion on Ron Davies resignation, then back to the music hall. It’s rather like an Lake District version of GPS, mapping my progress by the peaks which blot out the signals.
As I near the northern end of the lake, the waves are breaking across the surface of the lake, and there are stretches of fifty yards or more with water rippling across the edge of the road. Men in orange suits are unloading inflatable rafts from trucks as I make my way to higher ground through Pooley Bridge and on to the A66.
There follows a rather boring an meditative couple of hours driving east across the moors, bearing south-east towards and on to the A1 at Scotch Corner (why?) and then southwards with an increasing flood of heavier traffic. My goal today is Filey, near Scarborough, so I hang a left onto the A171 and find the first town after two o’clock is Thirsk.
I have gotten into a schedule of driving all day, but stopping to slake my breakfast thirst with a couple of pots of tea around two o’clock. Thirsk it is. Which turns out to be Darrowby country, as in All Creatures Great And Small.
I park the car in the municipal lot, and my eye is caught by shelves of second-hand books. Why not? I enter and a sweet little old man approaches me apologetically. “Good afternoon Sir; this is a Christian bookstore”. With both of us reassured, I browse the shelves until he drags me to the rear of the store. There are displayed in serried ranks assembled three complete sets of the writings of Winston Churchill. A four-volume “History of the English Speaking Peoples”, a ten-volume “History of the Second World war”, in beautiful brown bound condition with yellow trim, and another set of six volumes. I ask “Complete sets”, he nods, I ask “How much” and we start examining the volumes. He wants forty-five pounds for one set, four pounds fifty per volume another, one hundred and six pounds the lot. I can’t afford it, but I can’t afford not to.
How much to ship back to Canada via slow boat to China? “Forget it”, he says. “You can’t afford it”. But he doesn’t know what I know, that I travel nowadays only with a shoulder bag so as to avoid the wait at luggage carousels, and while boarding in Toronto I’d overheard a passenger arguing about the thirty-two kilogram limit on checked luggage. If the books weigh less than thirty two kilos, I have invented check-in luggage.
Before you can say “Sale!” the shop is closed, I am heading to a cafe for my pot of tea, and my wily friend is on his way to the post office to weigh representative samples of volumes on the scales there.
I read a paper, swallow the tea, buy a souvenir pen and make my way back to the shop. In a moment of panic I fear that I have laid five twenty pound notes on his table, and that some passer-by might have picked them up. It is so typical of my panic that I don’t think to check my wallet to see if I still have a hundred pounds in there. Instead I must streak down the narrow street.
Some of the volumes weight 781 grams, a measure which is yet to permeate the comprehension of my friend, but I figure loosely that twenty volumes at a pound and a half will fit in, or not much above the limit. The deal is struck, and we start packing books, beautiful books, into a box. String is produced, doubled up and knotted to familiar lengths to make enough to go around the carton this way and also that way and then once again underneath. It won’t hold up under the baggage handling, I know, because the baggage handlers are still on strike in Toronto.
Thirsk has a system of one-way streets, cul-de-sacs and a busy market-square; ten minutes later I have moved the car from the parking lot to the store. We load the box into the boot of the car, shake hands, and I head off east again, wishing I were heading west, to home with my books.
For some strange reason it makes sense to return to Manchester airport and camp out there waiting for my flight home.
I climb Sutton Bank with its one-in-four gradient. No stopping to admire the view, please, engage in and stay in low gear, please. There is, of course, at the head of the queue, a vehicle that stops or stalls, so we all clunk-clunk almost together like a rake of railway wagons. I am now braking as I climb a ten percent grade. Aargh!
As dusk approaches from the east I reach the cutoff for Filey and began an excited motorised exploration of the town. We holidayed twice at Billy Butlin’s Filey camp, and while I recall the railway station, I have no idea of directions from here to the camp, so after several false starts I elect to travel south along the coast road and find Primrose Valley, a huge trailer-park in about the right place. It is not the rows of chalets of my memories, but a scattering of maybe five hundred atomic housing units with new bicycles and modern vans. The middle-class holiday package of my youth is gone.
Now comes the worst night of my trip. I decide to lodge in Scarborough, with its rows and rows of residential hotels along Queen Street. One is as good as another when you don’t know any, but the one I pick has unheated rooms on the third floor, and I didn’t think to ask. I knew the room was unheated before I got the key in the lock, on account of the wind whistling out of the keyhole. Wind that whistles in through the gaps in the westerly-facing single-glazed windows. I should have canceled and gone elsewhere, but I am tired.
Queen’s Hotel would serve as a model for Fawlty Towers.
There is no bath, only a low-pressure shower enclosure, so I make my way outside on foot, thank heavens, and pop in to the local fish-and-chip shop, for I am determined to eat the delicacies of my youth. But not here. The fish and the chips are pre-cooked. Last-minute preparation involves dropping them back into hot fat for sixty seconds, then dumping them on a plate. Miserably I sit down to eat my greasy meal. The mushy peas are the highlight.
In the hotel room, no TV, I eat two of the Cadbury Flake bars I’d purchased for a friend back home and read more of Weston. I feel like Scott of the Antarctic, and wonder whether I’ll live to see daybreak.
Thursday October 29th
After a cold and disturbed night I awake to more scudding clouds and a hint of daylight. I am facing west, towards a row of three-storey hotels and so my view of the eastern sky is non-existent. I shower for warmth more than for cleanliness, place the Cadbury Flake wrappers on the chair, pack my bag and make my way down to the dining room which faces east over the renovations. Breakfast is two sausages, a whole tomato diced into thirds, two round fried eggs, three rashers of salty bacon and three triangles of cold toast. Plus coffee. I am almost done reading Weston’s “Complete Economic and Commercial Geography” and think miserably of the twenty volumes of W. S. C. locked away in the trunk (still, I hope) under cords of silk.
Sing Ho! and into the car, wipe the rain drops of the windscreen and realize that the sun shines, the sky is blue, the clouds are light, white and fluffy enough to be blown into another corner of England. I toddle off to the trailer park of last night, park the car at a point where I think I can gain the beach, and start walking.
Before twenty yards have passed I come across a groundskeeper who points the way to the path - along this fence, through that gap, along this other fence - and when I mention Billy Butlin’s holiday camp, he points over my shoulder to the old buildings which I had missed.
Through this other gap in the fence, and soon I am standing at the wreckage of my holidays. The concrete block walks are in many places still standing. The roofs have long gone, as have the bunks. The mattresses are evident by the framework of springs, the material is burnt and damp. Pieces of wood indicate what might once have been shelves for clothes. I take some photos.
It takes me but five minutes to navigate the rows of chalets. I’m sure that there must have been more than this. Where are the grand centres for dining and so on, “York”, “Lancaster” and “Kent” and the other one? Gone. As is the adventure playground with its magic castle built of concrete.
I find the path to the beach, the path I remember from old photos, and start down. After sliding down a gully I am, at last, on the beach. I remember this, too, from photos taken the day my mother and I got trapped on a sandbar as the tide came in. I suppose that we were in no mortal danger, but I do a remember a man, not my father, coming to walk us off and through the swirling water.
Off shore a red-hulled ship is making great speed at an angle towards the coast, and over the next half hour I watch it steam to The Wyke and Cayton Bay making, I assume, for Scarborough. Along the beach are large pill boxes of concrete with gun slits in them. They are toppled from the cliff tops, a sure sign of beach erosion. This confirms my belief that the holiday camp was probably an army or air force camp during World War II.
A path away from the beach is presented, and so I begin a zigzag walk up to civilization and my rental car. My journey is done. I have seen all that I had planned to see, and there are forty-eight hours left. I have visited Wrightington Hospital, seen The Equatorium, Bull Bay, Shap and Filey. I had planned one visit for each of five days. That all has been done so quickly is a testament to the weather that has kept me in the car, driving without really stopping.
I had responded to a loose suggestion from Ian Watkins to drop by Peterborough, time permitting, and it does. I know Ian only through electronic mail and leap at a chance to put a face to him. I phone and suggest I phone again around seven that evening, consult the map, and make my way by the A614 to the M62 and M18 to the M1. I’m getting better at this, although navigation is much simpler in Yorkshire - there are roads and there is country, that’s it. No civilizing bypasses and ring roads to throw me off balance.
The rain has been here, too, and the radio continues to warn me of stationary traffic ahead. Nonetheless I am still surprised and annoyed to find that everyone is slowing down to examine the flooded river Trent near Hucknall. For thirty minutes we all slow to second gear, some of us changing lanes as often as we change gear, but to no avail. As the traffic begins to pick up speed again I see the signs for East Midlands airport, and elect an exit.
My father’s last parish was at Diseworth and Long Whatton. Although I spent some weeks with them, I have no fond memories of the place. Nonetheless I drive through the strip villages to satisfy my curiosity, and hence to Loughborough where I park the car to indulge myself in a pot of tea.
Today is market day, so the town pulses with people in brown felt coats and navy gabardines. I find a tea shop which I believe must have washrooms, and lean over the counter to ask the young lady where are the washrooms. She stares at me, then brightens “Oh! You want the toilet!”. I agree and head off downstairs, returning to order a pot of tea and a toasted tea-cake - a sultana raisin bun the size of a bread-plate that, toasted, comes with a gob of butter, jam extra. I take the jam. I am on holiday.
After tea I must repair to Boots the chemist to buy a toothbrush and razor to replace those I left in my haste to vacate The Queen’s Hotel this morning. I obtain a small roll of masking tape and a black marker pen with which to secure and identify my precious cargo which I assume is still in the boot of the car.
Now there is little to keep me here. My earlier map study indicated that my course was down the M1 to Leicester, then turn due east for Peterborough. I see a sign that tells me “M1 this way!”, so after some travel to the west I am back on the M1. So suddenly does the exit for Leicester arrive that I miss it, shrugging, and opt for the second exit that will take me to the southern end of the city.
And here is the ring road around Leicester. No problems. I’ll just travel this huge circle in a clockwise direction until I see the A47 marked, then I’ll be on my way, but the road system has another surprise for me. There are about thirteen exits off this ring road, each exit telling me “Loughborough, 9 miles”. I have traveled about three miles west of Loughborough to gain the M1, about fifteen miles down the M1 to gain the second exit, and now travel clockwise about another ten miles with signs mocking me all the way. I could have been here half an hour ago.
To make it worse, the ring road shoots me off at a tangent around the one o’clock position into an industrial estate. Grimly I bite the proverbial bullet and make for the town centre and hence the east.
The A47 is a grim road, single lane each way, mostly, with little chance for passing and hordes of anxious motorists behind me. By and large the English drivers do not seem to read body language. When I slow by ten miles and hour and pull to the edge of the road, they hang back as if I was reloading, but when I centre again and pick up speed they climb right back onto my tail. I wish I were cruising the back roads of Canadaigua.
I gain Peterborough, book into a rather posh and pricy private hotel. Ian comes over to collect me and we return to his house. I meet his family - a treat - and we dive into an Indian restaurant. By eleven o’clock I am safely tucked up in bed watching an episode of Blackadder.
Friday October 30th
Saturday October 31st
My bag being packed there is little to do but watch the early morning TV news about Ron Davies and the floods. I get tired of that, and run a bath in a huge bathtub with upholstered padded ends (!) on which I can place a cup and saucer of coffee while I read more of Tom Sawyer.
Breakfast downstairs in the dining-room, after savouring each of the prints of pastoral watercolours along the halls and corridors. I elect for a treat - sugared something’s, and at last pluck up the courage to order something other than the traditional one sausage, half tomato, one square fried egg, three rashers and three cold triangles of toast. A word of caution: beware of cool baked beans on toast prior to a transatlantic flight. I spent most of the trip pretending to strain to one side to look at a fluffy white cloud.
The pre-landing afternoon tea included a solid scone (now I know why they call it the Stone of Scone) and some clotted cream. I spread the cream on the scone and decide not to try spreading strawberry jam on slippy-slidy cream. My seat companion does it effortlessly, but then he is used to knives. I elect to spoon my jam out of the tub and eat it au naturel as a dessert. What is clotted cream, anyway? It is not cream-as-we-know-it. It is not yoghurt. Brie or Camembert it is not. It is a British product, I’ll be bound. Except for the baked beans.
I drove 1,237 miles around t'North and ended up on my last night, struggling up the M6 in the dark, from Kidderminster, which has no souvenir postcards saying "Greetings From Kidderminster" or such like, parked at Knutsford, stood in a queue and stared for hours at the Harvey's board - no black pudding. Saw stairs, went up there, stood in a queue, asked the young chap if they served black pudding, he said no, but to try The Little Chef right next-door, so I went in there and stood in a queue, asked the young lady (see! there IS a difference!) if they served black pudding, and SHE said no, but maybe they used to, a long time ago, before she started there, and she stared longingly over my left shoulder at the party of four behind me, so I left.
And went to the most beautiful and hospitable hotel in all of the Greater Manchester Area, or whatever it is called, and took photos and am going to put them on my web page, and write up all about my trip and post it HERE in segments, because Ian Watkins says I am CO-host and I can possibly get away with it!
Toronto, Wednesday, June 17, 2015 2:19 PM
Copyright © 1996-2015 Chris Greaves. All Rights Reserved.