Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Postcard from the Yorkshire Dales (8)

Thursday, 25th May 2006

Harrogate, a delightful Georgian spa town to the east of the Yorkshire Dales National Park, was to be the location for today's excursion. It was, of course, a shopping trip - a matter that often strikes fear into the heart of most men. However, in Harrogate it is possible to turn the event into the most civilised of activities, as I will endeavour to demonstrate.

The first priority is to set free one's wife. Usually, that is not difficult, being of great mutual benefit. Then, having set a rendezvous time several hours hence, one can begin to really enjoy oneself.

Today, I started with a visit to Jenny's Tearoom, set within the stylish Montpellier Mews. There is, of course, the alternative of the famous Betty's Tearooms. However, the latter does not have the facility for sitting outside. On a warm sunny day (as was today), Jenny's Tearoom has a secluded courtyard which is most pleasing and, at ten o'clock in the morning, almost deserted. There I spent a refreshing half hour, imbibing Earl Grey tea and an enormous toasted teacake, whilst writing notes for a later piece (on the subject of 'Education versus Learning') for this blog.

Suitably refreshed, an amble though the spacious, randomly arranged streets (taking time to appreciate the architecture of the buildings above one's usual line of sight), led me to Waterstones Bookshop. Not the largest of this chain, the Harrogate branch is nonetheless of great interest and the staff pleasant and helpful.

One hour later, I exited carrying the spoils of the Book Hunt:

i. The Jesus Papers by Michael Baigent. (An act of charity - he has an expensive legal bill to settle after the failure of his recent case against Dan Brown in respect to The Da Vinci Code.)

ii. The Ode Less Travelled by Stephen Fry. (Sub-titled, Unlocking the Poet Within, who can resist Fry's wit, coupled with a deep intellect, as he meanders through the complexities of writing poetry? His foreword opens with the line: 'I HAVE A DARK AND DREADFUL SECRET. I write poetry.' Great stuff!)

iii. The Lost Luggage Porter by Andrew Martin. (A novel about which I know very little other than it was offered to me free of charge with my other purchases. It would have been churlish to reject it.)

iv. Talking Heads by Alan Bennett. (An audio book of the first six classic monologues.)

v. The History Boys by Alan Bennett. (Another audio book, this one of the recent BBC 3 production of his award winning play.)

After a lightning raid on M&S for a re-supply of socks, underwear and silk ties (the problem with not having a bountiful supply of present-giving aunts is that I do not receive a year's supply each Christmas), I made for the Parish Church of St Peter, set in the heart of the shopping area.

St Peter's Church is attractive and spacious, with an abundance of stained-glass windows and an intimate side-chapel for private prayer. After the hubbub of outside, it presents an oatranquilityand tranquillity.

Spiritually revived, I shunned the lure of the second bookshop (Ottakers), the numerous antique shops and the tourist attractions of the Royal Baths and Pump House (both of which I have visited in the past), to relax in the sunshine whilst overlooking the war memorial gardens. Finding a quiet bench, I whiled away another half-hour perusing the contents of Fry's book.

Finally, the time of reunion arrived and, in the company of my wife, I adjourned to the Drum and Monkey, a highly rated fish restaurant, where we partook of a delicious cold fish platter accompanied by the, most acceptable, house dry white wine.

Of course, after such a delightfully alcoholic lunch, there is nothing better than to retreat home for the obligatory afternoon's eyelid inspection.

Several hours later, I sit here writing this postcard, with the light of the day slowly fading, surrounded by the aforementioned books (amongst others), armed with a glass of whisky and listening to Bach's Brandenburg Concertos.

A civilised day or not?

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