Hello. Is it me you’re looking for?
A month on and we’re still recovering from the rush. A gargantuan week as the UK whizzed along in a mad passionate whirl. Of course I refer to October 25 to 31 which, if you’ve forgotten, was British Sausage Week.
Up in the Peak District we bought and fried six sausages from Tideswell’s butcher but these gastronomic impostors were stunningly devoid of texture, aroma and flavour. The week was saved only when we strayed past a York pub window and read its British Sausage Week (BSW) testimonials. Mr W of Leeds wrote, and I beg you to contemplate this during Christmas, ‘My wife still talks of the sausage the chef here gave her two years ago.’
York is staggeringly handsome and we liked spending our anniversary there ambling among its abbey, across the River Ouse (why it belongs to all of us!) and atop the Roman Wall which smartly entraps the city. The Minster is a towering, honeyed church and humbling to behold.
However we didn’t venture in as the six pound fifty ‘compulsory donation’ appeared a little, well, un-Christian. Gladly, St Albans Abbey demands no fixed fee but visitors may part with their pounds through a credit card swiping machine, positioned conveniently in the bookstall at the cathedra’s entrance.
Dining in York’s improbably haunted Golden Fleece pub was tremendous, despite the ghosts! Continuing my uncertain flirting with Real English Ale I purchased a Yorkshire Terrier and straining it through clenched teeth, the taste and temperature made me wonder if every pint of this distinctively Northern brew came directly from a yapping dog’s kidneys.
Sitting hidden by undulating green hills is Tideswell whose market square is hugged by stone shops. Tindalls is stuffed with exquisite home-cooked breads, cakes and pasties and apron billowing, stood Mother beaming behind her wooden counter. Father’s glass cabinet parades black-pudding, scotch eggs and streaky bacon and in their olden store, eternally 1952, the doorbell chimes welcomingly and foodstuffs are dispatched eagerly in thick brown paper.
Also noteworthy are the chippy (chip shop) advertising not opening hours but frying times and that, courtesy of the summer sun’s disappearance at 11pm, the Tideswell Cricket Club competes in Wednesday evening fixtures. How fantastic is that? Time was wretchedly against us so we couldn’t visit Castleton’s most delightful emporium, World of Icing but, hopefully, another day…
Exploring European cities aside, our preferred pastime is rambling, with Roxy, about the countryside and Derbyshire presented abundant opportunity. The hamlet of Litton sleeps in an autumnal hollow. It is hushed apart from a sporadic dog bark. Their branches blazing burgundy; trees watch its placid streets, leaves like a Hawaiian lava flow. We swim through the footpaths, our shoes drowning in swirling colour. The village green is pocket-sized and wooden stocks speak of an unruly past… A boisterous tractor roars past unexpectedly and lurches to a halt. Bounding down from his cabin, a green-capped farmer nods at us and ambles into his lunchtime pub.
Friday evening in Litton’s Red Lion was the finest pub experience we’ve had in either hemisphere. Tilly the Airedale transversed the antique entrance, a jovial fire bellowed and homely chairs creaked with rustic tales and belly laughter. We’d been in the bedroom-sized bar but a minute when Harold pumped my paw, thrust a Black Sheep at me and opened a yarn about his 1992 Australian holiday; notably punctuated by wearing his pristine Crows tie during a roasting Christmas at Christies Beach.
The grimacing Terry doles out the falling-down water in this family-run pub whilst matriarch Joyce steers her kitchen and insists on autographing her little home-made booklets of home-spun poetry. The titles are flawlessly kitsch: Re-Joyce, Jump for Joyce and the forthcoming Orange Joyce. We bought copies for Kerry’s grandma in Gympie.
Retreating bar-side after some tremendous lamb shanks I’m button-holed by Joyce’s husband, thirty years my senior but insisting, Yorkshirian style, on calling me Sir. He asks of Adelaide and cricket and St Albans as if these are the most vital things in his world. Meanwhile Kerry chats merrily with the rugby-loving couple from Portsmouth who is also commemorating their second anniversary. Afterwards we retreat to our cottage and its popping, cracking fire. Perfect.
Steering the Fiat Punto at the appealingly tranquil Eyam proved fascinating for we learnt that in 1665 it lost much of its population. Shortly after unwrapping a package of cloth from London a local complained of feeling poorly. He was soon dead and the Plague again lowered its cold noose. Panicking, the minister urged his brethren to quarantine themselves in their houses and only collect provisions from designated places and mercifully this self-sacrifice partly confined the disease.
Strolling the 4WD-ed boulevards we read solemn plaques describing the demise of families of eight in as many days. 350 were ultimately claimed but it is tricky to picture Eyam suffering any modern disaster beyond the Agricultural Society cancelling, due to heartless disinterest, the 1964 Strawberry and Fig Conserve Competition (Open Section).
Easyjet flew us from Gatwick to Cologne one weekend so we could explore the renowned Christmas markets. The city is largely unremarkable save for the utterly compelling cathedral; the Dom. With twin spires ascending to 515 feet, it was the world’s tallest building until the Washington Monument. Similarly astonishing is that in 1162 Emperor Barbarossa secured the authenticated remains of the Three Magi for the Dom. We drifted about its vast, almighty interior and leaving, willingly presented some Euros to a courteous priest.
Papa Joe’s En Streckstrump is Cologne’s chief jazz venue so we find our seats early for Sun Lane Ltd, a trad ensemble from nearby Aachen. Slender, smiling waitresses disperse wine and beer. Bespectacled, elderly and ample musicians timorously squash onto the picnic-rug stage. The pianist looks like a superfluous sheet has been stretched about a lumpy, wobbling refrigerator. We can scarcely see through the stinging blue smoke. Like sailors to a knock-shop, the punters still surge in.
Standing abnormally close; a gentleman suddenly clambers up and straddles me and a nearby stair as if imagining that he and I are posing for a gay fire-fighters’ calendar. I am startled. ‘What the fuck are you doing?’ I declare, overlooking that Europeans are bi-lingual.
As the gentleman dismounts the step and my horrified groin I mutter, ‘Thank you.’
‘You’re welcome!’ my intimate twitters.
‘Say what you really want!’ adds his friend. We don’t see them again. The jazz is brisk and zestful and spilling out onto the Rhine’s bank, Nina’s “99 Red Balloons” bursts from a heaving club. Lingering at the chilly Alter Markt, Kerry sips a final Gluhwein; the hot, spiced, red wine and we confirm that Cologne is hip.
Our staff room corner houses year 7 pupil information and photos. Posted earnestly, but these summaries are memorable for their crude and po-faced honesty. This one, of course, is accompanied by a hilariously glaring youngster’s face.
Lazy girl. Hates maths. Mum hairdresser.
Such psychometric insight and sophistication! Now, dear friends, I leave with a question; with which six words would you summarise yourself?
Enjoy a splendid Christmas, especially if you missed British Sausage Week.
This story is from the collection I call The Ringo Tales which chronicles our travels during 2003- 2006 when we lived just north of London, and spent time in Europe and North America. It can be found on this blog at https://mickeytales.com/2014/02/22/the-ringo-tales/