Friday, 31 July 2015

Not Whitby day 5

Day trip to York. On the way Gerry complained about the fact that when on holiday we always seem to driving somewhere other than where we're staying. It makes me wonder why we don't just book a holiday in Somewhere Else and save all the driving.

Got parked near the Castle but surprisingly didn't have the eleven quid odd in exact change required to park for a few hours, so tried the "pay by phone" service. About an hour later I'd registered, involving talking to a robot quite a lot and a robot-like human for a bit, and amazingly hadn't got a parking ticket in the interim.

Of course first up on the agenda was scran, so we fell into the first place we saw: a restaurant called "31 Castlegate" based in a character period property. The dining room was tastefully decorated but with a noticeably sloped floor, a metaphor for the whole experience. We ordered from the delicious-looking French style menu and meals were brought quickly - perhaps too quickly, as they were not in fact our meals but other similar-sounding meals. Chicken breast with tomatoes and crushed potatoes became chicken sandwiches with chips, and pork escalope resting on asparagus risotto became confit of duck resting on chorizo mash. It's all meat and carbs, hey. The highly embarrassed waitress intimated to us: "Never work in a restaurant, it's hell."

It turned out that our table had simply been mixed up with another, and the food was very good so actually I would highly recommend 31 Castlegate. I'm afraid I don't have the address but I'm sure you can find it by Googling.

Next up, Jorvik - award-winning interactive museum exploring York's Viking heritage as unearthed beneath the site. Smugly walked past the long queue into the 'fast track' entrance reserved for the elite intelligentsia, those who know how to use the Internet to pre-book things. In the first section you're trucked round a life-size reconstruction of York in Viking times, complete with reconstructed sounds and smells, like some 5D ghost train ride through Leadgate. It's a pity that it's not possible to pre-book personal body space, as moving through the remainder of the museum felt like being squeezed out of a toothpaste tube - trying to look at the excellent exhibits and read the notes cards whilst being constantly pushed along by the ceaseless influx of folk getting off the ride.

Forced out of the exit an hour after entering, we blinked in the daylight and wondered what to do next. Decided to stroll up to the Minster, amble round the Shambles then return via the City Wall. Photographed the Minster from outside - God charges quite a lot of filthy lucre to see the inside of his gaff - subjected the kids to as much quirky shopping as we could get away with and then ascended the steps onto the medieval rampart. This was a familiar experience: entertaining the kids until we're climbing the walls.

Driving home I worked out that you cannot exceed 46 mph on the North York Moors, I.e, the speed of a twat. Even if you get past the car at the front of the queue, perhaps risking your life to overtake several timid souls forming a caravan, you will only hit the next queue a few hundred yards further on. I'm wondering at what age I will stop driving with clenched teeth and barely controlled fury and start drifting along, glaze-eyed and content, almost going backwards.

I turned out a gourmet creation par excellence for tea: haricots sur du pain grillé. Not wanting to eat from a tin, Emma was slicing something healthy-looking when Joseph gave us the best entertainment of the day... Amazing how much his iPad case looks like a red chopping board.

Thursday, 30 July 2015

Whitby day 4

Rocked up nice and organised at Whitby station to board the 10:00 North York Moors steam service to Pickering. For a moment the eagerness of those waiting on the platform began to evoke King's Cross on a Friday afternoon, as normally civilised folk suspend social mores and descend to base primal savagery in their desperation to secure a table seat on the 16:00 to Newcastle; the indecorous trot gives way to a full sprint, batting aside old ladies, small children and anyone anti-social enough to have luggage.

Having safely grabbed a pair of tables in the middle of a carriage (swings about less than seats at either end) at the rear of the train (you get a better view of the engine when cornering), settled down to enjoy the ride. At this point awful realisation hit that 8-year-olds don't enjoy train rides, they need something to *do* and being a crap dad I hadn't brought any paper or pens. Emma ripped apart a diary (after all we don't have a life) and found a pen from somewhere.

Trip went well for an hour or so, until the boys began to realise that they hadn't eaten for over 90 minutes and started enquiring as to when we would arrive and could get some dinner, with increasing frequency and urgency. Poured off the train and almost ran into Pickering like a bunch of football hooligans looking to trash the town, glancing into every shop window to see if there was anything that could be eaten. There are about forty places to eat in Pickering, but found to our growing alarm that 38 of them do only salads and paninis for grannies, not proper food for deep-voiced size-ten-wearing teenage boys. Almost went into the Black Swan, a dingy-looking pub because it did burgers and stuff, but spurned the darkness for the light: the White Swan which looked altogether more pleasanter (middle class). Food was nice but bloody pricey for pub grub - evidently Pickering could do with some competition for non-panini dinners if you're thinking of starting a business.

Having eaten the best that Pickering had to offer we didn't bother the market too much (usual affair: lighters and cheap jumpers) and hopped back on the train, stopping off at Grosmont to look at the steam engines being fixed up. Everyone went along with this, although I increasingly got the impression that I was being humoured by the rest of the family: "Look, your Dad wants to look at some oily machines, just go along with it, it won't take long and he'll be grumpy if he doesn't get to see them." Increasingly I find myself gawping at something, saying "Wow look at that" only for my kids to reply "Wha? Oh that." Fortunately it seems that the process of becoming middle-aged includes a decline in the extent to which you give a shit. Bring on the crankiness. Or am I... Move on.

Waiting on the platform to return home, it started to rain. Cue Michael: "Um, I've lost my coat." Didn't outwardly grimace, kept visibly calm. Inside, I was a furnace of roiling and incandescent, teeth-grinding, spluttering rage. At least for 30 seconds or so, before wearily accepting that all my efforts will always be like a house of grass in a high wind, scattered and destroyed without warning by the vicious caprices of random events beyond my control. Started calculating whether we should retrieve or replace, emotion spent.

Tea: meat, bread, but mainly meat. Token salad, mostly binned.

Evening entertainment: taught the boys how to play Hearts. At least I tried to, but had to resort to looking up the rules online as it became obvious I had no idea what the hell I was on about. Michael made an excuse and sidled off, confiding in Emma that "that game is *really* complicated." I feared that I may have put my kids off games for life, at least the non-gambling type (more about this later).

Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Whitby day 3

Culture 'n' that. Planned a visit to the Whitby Museum and Art Gallery, sited in the middle of Pannett Park, in turn named after the Victorian philanthropist benefactor who felt that those hard-working little trolls from the mines and mills should get some air a bit more often.

After some of the traditional Dunphys rolling down a grassy bank, we spent some time sitting by the lily pond and rock garden, this a clever juxtaposition of nature and artifice, no better articulated than by the discarded hoodie amongst the water-lilies. Joseph attempted to contribute to the ambience by mis-frisbeeing Gerry's cap into the pond, but overshot more due to luck than judgement. Dad rage temporarily averted.

Bored with chilling out, we ascended up to the rather grand-looking museum building. Unfortunately the first rooms encountered contained the (free) art exhibition, and although some of the work was pretty good the boys' tolerance of locally produced landscapes quickly expired and the lure of the play park outside gained dominance; we resolved to come back to see the museum 'on another day' (AKA 'never').

The usual plot then played out: Gerry acquired followers, Joseph wowed some little kids with his prowess on the play equipment (easy when you're taller than me but weigh about half as much) and Michael had a teen angst drama episode, involving lots of Dad-to-son-back-to-Dad lecturing in an adjacent quiet seating area, apparently designed specifically for this purpose.

Exhausted, we sought lunch in an Italian joint, undaunted by its cheesy name ("Cosa Nostra"), the fact that it used to be a church or the lack of any other customers. A good move: the food was good and the proprietor a friendly Italian gent - always pays to use your kids as PR assets in Italian restaurants. Others piled in once they saw us eating; I should have asked him for a finder's fee.

Then came the highlight of Emma's week, and a totally Yorkshire thing to do: shopping in Boyes, purveyor of all things cheap that you didn't think they make any more. Ostensibly looking for some socks for Gerry, we took the opportunity to browse hats, fishing gear, wool and stationery. A strange urge almost took me when I chanced upon a camouflage gilet, unsure whether it was early-onset oldness or a leaning to conspiracy-theory survivalism, but recalling my last holiday dalliance with replica military goods (see final instalment of the 2012 Cornwall blog) I recoiled and moved on.

Returning to the cottage, Joseph offered to make the tea. I gratefully accepted, temporarily forgetting the barrage of questions that would ensue: how much is an ounce? How do you turn this oven on? Do you think these potatoes are done yet? Nevertheless the fisherman's pie was tasty and things always taste better when you don't have to cook them, even if you know that every single cooking utensil will have been used and piled up on every available surface, atop an amalgam of flour, peelings and grated cheese.

Rounded off the day with a game of "Pit" which I'd purchased in a games shop that afternoon, enthusing a little too much about how much fun it had been when I played it as a kid with my family. As I explained the rules to the boys I was overcome with a sense of dread, anticipating a unanimous judgement that "Dad this game is shit, kids must have been really bored in the olden days." My trepidation was unfounded - it was a hoot and even Joseph gave his approval. Points scored and banked, nice one me.

The weather forecast for the following day being "biblical", booked tickets for the North Yorks Moor Railway. More later...

Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Whitby day 2

As the Eiffel Tower is to Paris and Tower Bridge is to London, so is Whitby Abbey to, er, Whitby. This most famous landmark, er, towers over the town, resplendent in its ruined glory, a stark monument to the great unseen architect of Whitby's history and fortunes, Count Dracula (NB CHECK THIS)

It's scarcely credible that in all my many previous visits to Whitby I had never actually visited the Abbey. And indeed this is not true, although the only time I did was a couple of years ago on a stag do when I stayed in the adjacent 'Youth Hostel' (a place where middle-aged men on a stag do can obtain cheap accommodation without fear of being chucked out). My memories of that visit are for some reason clouded.

We avoided the infamous "199 steps" up to the Abbey by instead ascending the Headland by the lesser known "Caedmon's Trod", which gets you up to the same height by the clever swerve of only using about 150 bigger steps followed by a gentle incline. You can keep your other 49 steps, we didn't need 'em. In fact if they just made the whole route a gentle incline then there wouldn't be any need for steps... Hmmm

The visitor centre is housed in an impressive-looking mansion, fronted by a square curiously laid with irregular stones. I later learned that this was indeed planned by the original occupants of the house as a "cobble garden", presumably the 17th c. equivalent of the concrete paving slabs, astroturf and broken brick wall schemes favoured by the denizens of the major thoroughfares of Cowgate.

On arrival we were informed that there would shortly be a dramatic rendition of the Dracula story. Looking around for where this might be, I asked a young lady dressed as Lucy from Dracula if she knew, and she helpfully pointed to the large congregation of people sat waiting in the nearby open air amphitheatre, with only the slightest air of sarcastic contempt.

Amongst the assorted tourists was a higher-than-average proportion of black-clad make-believers, including a 50-something saddo in a full length leather coat that I'd earlier seen heading into the "Bats and Broomsticks B&B for goths" (yeah I know). In my experience goths are generally well-meaning folk, it's just that it's a bit of an effort to conceal just how utterly unimpressed I am with their appearance and to resist shouting "Oh FFS wearing black clothes and makeup doesn't make you slightly scary, complex and intriguing, OK?"

I forgave Lucy's justifiable scorn as the 90 minute performance that followed was thoroughly entertaining, especially the audience participation bit; a rule of being a Dunphy by birth or marriage is that at any performance you WILL be selected from the crowd for special humiliation - this time it was Gerry's turn, with post-vampirification Lucy leering and lurching at him with such menace that he panicked and bolted, Lucy chasing him right around the Abbey. Arriving back out of breath, he loudly panted "Was that supposed to happen?" I resisted the temptation to reply "OMG NO!"

Walking DOWN the 199 steps (see what we did there) we dined on fish 'n' chips at The Quayside - about as posh as a sit-down chippy can be - I mean, Joseph had sea bass with crushed potatoes and a Mediterranean salad (!?) I stuck to cod et frites, but was dismayed to see Michael's huge haddock arrive - my hitherto adequate portion now taking on the appearance of a child's serving. I began to hate it. I was even more irritated to see Michael selfishly polish the whole haddock off, without leaving any for his poor ravenous Dad's seconds. The rest of the day was only half-experienced through a haze of hunger, as my vital organs began to close down due to extreme starvation, and I struggled to maintain a fatherly bond with my greedy offspring.

Having of course neglected to bring any of our thousands of DVDs with us, and the ones in the cottage being of the "who would bother nicking these" variety, Gerry and I nipped up to Sainsbury's to bag some viewing. Choice of hardcore horror, hardcore military action, or Peppa Pig. Eventually found a copy of The Grand Budapest Hotel which someone had evidently stashed in the wrong location and forgotten. Much enjoyed this although not so much having to explain half the film to the rest of the family sitting further away from the tiny screen, which is unable to display in 16:9 aspect ratio and therefore boxes it into both horizontal and vertical black bars. It was like watching on a smartwatch.

Michael's assessment of Whitby so far: "It's an insult to my intelligence." I think he was referring to the amusement arcades.

Sunday, 26 July 2015

Whitby day 1

Having left our holiday planning even later than we normally do, our options were extremely limited this year. Lacking the balls to risk a Balearic bargain bin end, and having left it too late to sort Gerry's passport anyway we opted to staycation: a week in a Whitby cottage. I had spent fourteen consecutive summers staying in nearby Sandsend as a kid (no it was great really) and had fond memories of lucky ducks, chip-strewn Space Invaders and glimpses of rude objects in the 'joke' shop.

Packing seemed easier than ever before, with no need for a particularly big car boot let alone a roof box. I put this down to the fact that two of the boys are now teenagers and are planning to wear the same clothes all week. Even Gerry's mobile toy stash has been replaced with an iPod and a man bag. Holiday family device count: 7 screens that I know about.

Journey to Whitby uneventful; only four "Are we there yet"s and one of them was from Emma. By the way, the North Yorkshire Tourism Board has played a master stroke putting Middlesbrough in the way - everything beyond it seems beautiful and wholesome once you clear the great smog.

Arrived a little early so parked on St. Hilda's Terrace near the town centre. I have childhood memories of this street, mainly it being festooned with dog shit and seemingly miles from the town centre for little legs. My how things have changed! Now it's all disc parking and heritage lottery funding.

A little too early for the cottage and looking for eats, we straightway encountered The Whitby Deli which promised continental meats and cheeses, homemade soups and pies. Technically they did provide at least one example of each of these things but the menu seemed to be theoretical, and despite being almost outnumbered by retro-fashionable staff we had to wait a very long time before being served very small portions, albeit on very charming breadboards with a flip-top jar containing pickles and such. Gerry's very loud assessment of his artisan (i.e. home-made, badly) sausage roll: "OH MY GOD THAT'S TINY." One can only admire his bluntness when being ripped off by trendy bollocks.

At the appointed time we arrived at the cottage nestling in a charming location just behind Poundland, reassuring that Whitby is a real living town with crap chavvy shops just like anywhere else. Adventure Cottage is decked out with an array of faux 18th century trappings themed around Whitby's heritage of fishing and Captain Cook. Welsh dresser, writing bureau, captain's chair, inglenook stove, telescope, model yacht. More bogs than bedrooms and a dishwasher. The smallest telly we've seen since 1996, bought from Marks and Spencer during their ill-fated sojourn into the home electronics market (integrated DVD player, woo) is accompanied by a Sky box whose main purpose is apparently to present the number you can call to upgrade your package.

And no wifi. Utter despair descended. What kind of cruel Luddite could inflict such an empty existence on an unsuspecting family? I imagined the gingham-wearing lady who owns this place saying "Oh I don't think a family holiday should be about using technology - it's important for children to play together and for everyone to speak to each other." Bitch.

Also very important to point out the notice warning us of the charges levied should we place un-recyclable items in the blue bin. Can't help thinking this isn't something that the grizzled old salt that surely once inhabited this cottage worried about, as he chucked his pail of piss out of the window.

To lift the cyber-gloom we went for a stroll on the trashy part of the sea front, reacquainting ourselves with the smell of stale chip fat and ciggy smoke, to the blaring bleep bleep of amusement arcades. Nostalgic bliss.

Later we partook of that other most quintessential Yorkshire pastime: a curry at the Kam Thai restaurant adjacent to the railway station. Classic Dunphy holiday planning: on arrival we found that the Quayside Express (fish and chips on the train) was about to depart, and it goes only once a week. Being too British to stand up our Thai hosts we continued with plan A, with good results. Kudos to Michael for eating the hottest curry, and for braving it out with a face like a well-smacked arse. As ever I ignored my own advice to the kids and ate too much rice, leaving me later having to count the family, feeling like maybe I'd eaten one of them.

Back at base, my perseverance with BT's legendary terrible service over the years found its karma: a weak, intermittent but usable wifi signal from someone else's router - happy days! Browsed some pointless stuff for a while and turned in, satisfied. Kept awake half the night by f***ing seagulls - WHAT THE HELL DO THEY HAVE TO BLOODY SQUAWK ABOUT AT TWO BLOODY O CLOCK FFS? HAD ONE OF THEM FOUND A CHIP OR SOMETHING?