I took my new car out on our first long trip together this weekend. My Ma was well overdue a visit so I set off on Friday evening and drove up to York, where she currently resides. Motorway driving isn’t exactly what I would call one of my favourite pastimes but by the time I set off the roads were relatively quiet, the new motor goes a bit quicker than the old one and it has a much better stereo into which I can plug my iPod so the trip wasn’t as much of an ordeal as I had anticipated. With an upload of my entire CD collection at my fingertips I could rattle my way north pretending I was somewhere a bit exotic like the road that skirts the Malecón sea wall in Havana, the Camino de las Yungas (or Death Road) from La Paz to Chulumani in Bolivia, or the Chalus Road through the snow-capped Alborz Mountains in Iran instead of the dreary old M42 in the Midlands of England. I really don’t care how many times people try to tell me, I will never be convinced that there is anything glamorous or exciting about travelling from Bromsgrove to Ashby-de-la-Zouch. A late night cup of strong coffee at the deserted Woolley Edge services near Wakefield didn’t quite match up to a glass of yak’s milk at Everest Base Camp, but it was nice to pretend.
I arrived at my destination long after my destination’s bed time so I went straight to bed but the next morning I awoke to find warm spring sunshine bursting through my bedroom window and a joyous start to a day that would bring a little bit of some far distant places to my York Base Camp at Clifton Moor.
Rather like a Siberian brown bear would, the first thing I normally think about when I wake up in a morning is what I am going to eat that day and this Saturday was no exception. Over breakfast we discussed the possibility of visiting the nearby Mulan Restaurant, purveyors of fine Cantonese cuisine. It had already been quite good when our Mam had visited it in the past but it had recently been through a tarting up process and boasted a new menu. So the promise of even better excited us and we decided to go ahead and book a table for dinner that evening.
Mullan at the Mulan.
The York Yellow Pages directory was somewhere or other in my Mother’s flat and I couldn’t be bothered looking for it, or in it even if I had managed to find it. So, being the sort of chap that embraces technological advancement at every opportunity, I typed the words ‘Mulan Restaruant York’ into the little white box on the Google bit of my mobile phone. Seconds later the world wide web was able to tell me that our chosen place to fill bellies would be open all day and it even provided a little telephone symbol which I clicked on to ring them and suddenly there was something not quite right. The ringing tone didn’t sound as Yorkshire as I had expected it to and the voice on the answerphone greeting at the other end didn’t sound all that Yorkshire either. In fact the lady that was telling me that she was a bit busy and she only had one pair of hands and could I leave a message and she would ring back later sounded sort of half Chinese and half American. Something in a remote corner of my brain told me not to bother leaving a message so I hung up. Something on the screen on my phone told me that number I had just rung wasn’t in York as much as it was in New York. Oh how we laughed.
I tried again but this time I used such state of the art items as a biro and the back of a TV Quick magazine to make a note of the number I was about to ring. The man I spoke to had a voice much more like what I had expected and, although my Cantonese is poor, I immediately recognised his ‘Ay up ar kid’ greeting. At the end of the conversation he asked me what name he should use to reserve our table at the Mulan. ‘Mullan’ I replied and oh how we laughed.
The meal, when we ate there in the early evening, was excellent and the service was extraordinarily excellent. The waiter, who had been the man on the phone, was very interested to know more about our surname but he and his colleagues were such nice people I reckon we would have enjoyed the same level of attention even if we had been called Smith or Jones or Mussolini. I later wished that I had told him about the incident with the namesake restaurant in New York. I’m sure he would have found that funny but at that point I was starving hungry and I didn’t have time that I could afford to waste on mirth and merriment.
As the evening progressed, from China we journeyed to Argentina. Well what I mean to say is that we went to see an amateur production of Evita at the Joseph Rowntree Theatre. The volunteers did an admirable job of keeping this local old gem of a building going at all and putting on shows such as this but, to be honest, it wasn’t really my cuppa and I had trouble staying awake. I had hoped that the performance would be a bit of a history lesson as all I knew about former Argentine premier, Eva Peron, was that the people of her country didn’t like her and then they did like her and then she died. But I came away with exactly the same understanding of that period of Latin American history as I had had when I arrived there so nothing had changed in my world other than the fact that I had developed a bitter streak having realised that they were selling Cadbury’s chocolate at the concession stand in Rowntree’s theatre. That’s like selling Manchester United replica shirts at Leeds United’s Elland Road stadium or asking a Foot Health Practitioner to cut fingernails.
Don't Cry For Me Joseph Rowntree.
My Ma was of the same opinion of the evening as I was except that she had enjoyed some of the songs that I had thought were all a bit cak. It was also a bit of a trip down Memory Lane for her as, when she was a schoolgirl during World War II, she was a member of a dancing troupe who used to entertain troops on a Saturday night and consequently had performed on that very stage herself on a number of occasions more than seventy years ago. I could tell that she was just itching to leap up and do a flying pirouette but the fact that there were no American servicemen there watching convinced her that it wasn’t worth her while.
That was the end of the international feel to the weekend really. On Sunday we went to Harrogate for a short walk in the icy spring wind and a cup of crap coffee in a café situated directly over the road from Costa and which was run by Chinese people but obviously not related to the Mulan people of Clifton Moor and who spoke with an accent more like the Mullan people of Chippenham (i.e. me) than the Mulan people of Clifton Moor.
Late in the afternoon it was time for me to part from my Mother and, after all the usual goodbye hugging and promising to return soon and thanking each other for this, that and the other I set off on my long journey south.
When you’ve got a two hundred and fifty mile journey ahead of you it’s nice to think that you don’t have to do the whole run in one bash. So I was pleased that twenty miles later I found myself at my friend Bugsy’s house in Selby drinking strong coffee and chatting to him and his girlie, Cheryl, about just about everything in the world except Leeds United, the thing that we had sufficiently in common for us to become friends and eventually meet and carry on being friends and talking bollocks on the same wavelength. Bugsy, a big fan of Bruce Springsteen and S Club 7 and a character who you will remember from my account of our weekend at the Larmer Tree Festival a couple of years ago, has only recently moved to Selby so I had never visited him there before. As soon as I knew I was having a weekend in York we made it a date for me to call in and see him in Selby on the way home. It was a Selby date . . . badum tish!
It wasn’t wasn’t possible for me to stop on the M62 to take a photograph of the sun setting behind Ferrybridge Power Station, which saddened me. In fact the whole leaving of Yorkshire saddened me. I never miss the place except when I go back there and it comes round to the time to leave again. I don’t think I could live there again but it’s nice to remember that it’s a part of me and I’m a part of it. Much of the county is beautiful but even the vast, power stations spewing out filth into the atmosphere at Eggborough, Drax and Ferrybridge have something evocative about them and they reminded me of a previous and significant stage of my life when I sold my soul to National Power in exchange for nearly enough money to pay my mortgage. But also, the 1970s music that came on as I drove along feeling melancholy took me even further back. There’s something quite special about my native Yorkshire . . . Madame Onassis got nothing on you.
After I had stopped slobbering and pining for the pit heaps and I had wrung out my paper hanky and driven about a hundred and fifty miles, there was one more break in my homeward trail. I pulled in at Strensham Services in Warwickshire to drink strong coffee and talk bollocks on my own. It was very late at night when I sat there looking around me at the people wandering in and out. Motorway service stations are a bit like airports. I shouldn’t really like them. They’re grubby, busy, impersonal and expensive but there’s something about them that excites me as I consider where all those people are going and where they have been. Meeting them without communicating, like Vauxhall Astras that pass in the night.
I absolutely love travelling . . . even if it’s only to Bromsgrove.