Postcard from York
It’s been many, many years since I was here and it has changed in a natural way. I find myself knowing exactly which roads take me where and it’s even more splendid than I remember.
I have walked the walls and peeped into the hidden gardens below, listened to the perfection of the choristers singing evensong in the Minster, walked the riverbanks and reminded myself of the wonderful student days I spent here.
I am staying a couple more nights as I have a few more treasures to unearth and forgotten lanes to wind down. Then on to Harrogate for the flower show I think.
More as it happen.
With regards, Ruth.
The guest house nestled beneath the sweeping splendour of the Minster was perfect for Ruth. She could hear the bells from her open window and voices of the early Summer tourists who never really left the city’s streets. She felt welcome yet apart at the same time.
She had met him here, in this magnificent city with it’s oldness and history and stories to tell and songs to sing. One day, decades ago now, during the festival, she was taking part in a student production of The Tempest. He had come to see it with his friends and they all seemed to end up in the same pub together afterwards. The fact that she had spotted him in the audience and he had spotted her too, had had a lot to do with her leading her friends to the pub she saw the men disappear into.
When he died she hid.
Oh yes… her friends knew where to find her and her sons were never far from her, but she hid.
She didn’t eat much, or think about her clothes or her hair or her usually careful make up or listen to the radio or music. She hid. If he returned she would be here…to welcome him home. Her head knew it was nonsense but her heart didn’t quite believe it. She sat by the window, looking at the garden but seeing nothing as her head was too, too full of William and how she could begin to live her life without him.
She survived his funeral by hiding between her sons Tom and Ben. She survived the sympathy of those who knew her by hiding behind an English composure. She survived his echoing absence by … well she couldn’t survive it… she merely lived it.
York was good to her. It reminded her that William had been real. It reminded her that the memories were kept safe amongst the sunlight and shadows. And she went to the pub. That pub. She sat at a corner table where they had first spoken. Glass of wine and open but unread book in front of her. He had loved her. She had loved him.
In the bathroom mirror later she looked at herself. Her almost totally grey hair was longer than it had been for many years and pinned loosely up. Her eyes looked clear but lonely. More wrinkles than she remembered and skin that had been free of makeup for many many months. She took off the Edinburgh sweatshirt which had been her comfort for quite a while and gently wrapped it in a bag and slid it to the bottom of her case. Yes it had been William’s gardening jumper and no she would never get rid of it but it was time for a change. The pastel checked shirt would be much cooler tomorrow. Yes.
She slept with peace.
I was driving through my village heading to the post box when I saw it.
It was nestled gently and protectively under the arm of a gentleman in a linen jacket. He was walking steadily through the tree lined village high street and the sight of it in his hand caught my eye in a way that no kindle or ipad could ever.
It was an old, orange penguin. Not the devoted animal from the frozen lands, but an old book. An old penguin. Beautiful.
I was alone in the car having spent the morning catching up with jobs around town and suddenly heard myself shouting “You have an old penguin! Which one is it? Where are you going with it and why are you carrying it? ” Fortunately the shout wasn’t too loud so no one actually heard, despite my open window.
I posted my letter then retraced my drive back down the high street and there it was again! Still in the same snug place but my questions were no closer to being answered.
But there is something magical about an old orange penguin. Something that whispers “Somerset Maugham, Jane Austin, Ernest Hemmingway and Evelyn Waugh” seductively in your ear. It’s the bookness of them. The bold announcement that “I am not electronic and the person who owns me values me and looks after me and reads me.”
I recently wanted a copy of The Moon and Sixpence and so looked on everyone’s favourite auction site, and there, among the shiny new editions and prettily covered versions, stood an old orange Penguin. Yep…it’s now on my shelf, waiting it’s turn. Looking like the patriarch that it is next to the bright young things and literary fashionistas alongside.
So as for the linen chap and his orange friend. Who knows! But it certainly brought an orange glow into my morning.
“What is the point of worrying oneself too much about what one could or could not have done to control the course one’s life took? Surely it is enough that the likes of you and I at least try to make our small contribution count for something true and worthy. And if some of us are prepared to sacrifice much in life in order to pursue such aspirations, surely that in itself, whatever the outcome, cause for pride and contentment.”
― Kazuo Ishiguro, The Remains of the Day
The Remains of the Day is both beautiful and cruel. It is a story primarily about regret: throughout his life, Stevens puts his absolute trust and devotion in a man who makes drastic mistakes. In the totality of his professional commitment, Stevens fails to pursue the one woman with whom he could have had a fulfilling and loving relationship. His prim mask of formality cuts him off from intimacy, companionship, and understanding.
Stevens’ story is told with the detail and precision that he devotes to his career. He is controlled too tightly, by himself, and seems scared to let go in case it rebounds in a way he couldn’t handle.
A beautiful story told carefully and if you need a helping of the stiff upper lip facia of the 50’s principled gentleman, then open the book and enter his world.
A Frank Meadow Sutcliffe photograph from Whitby, many years ago.
It was good to talk to you on the bus last week.
I got to Whitby within 2 hours of finishing our conversation and very much enjoyed it.
I stayed in a B and B overlooking the harbour and sat in the window of my room each evening,
until it was dark, just watching the boats sail in and out. The fishing boats were back by 5 am.
I saw the hotel where Bram Stoker stayed and the abbey is so gothic-like ~I can see how he was inspired.
My William would have loved it. We had always planned to visit Whitby once we retired but sadly he
never quite made it. The cliff walks were breathtaking…as I expected.
She booked into a B and B overlooking the water. The very one which her husband William had promised her he would bring her to once they retired.
This had been their dream. To retire in their early sixties and then go on a tour of Britain in their car. Staying at pretty little hotels or guest houses along the way, and this one in Whitby was the one for them.
Or had been.
Then he died. Unexpectedly that night when returning home.
And she didn’t know where to turn or what to do or where to go or how to carry on or even if she wanted to.
But she did carry on. Her boys helped her. Her 2 chicks who had flown the nest a number of years ago and had made nests for themselves and she loved them until it physically hurt.
Like she had loved William.
They loved her too.
Their Mum was in pain and they carefully held her hand while she found herself again and remembered who she was.
A year had passed.
The darkness slowly cleared. The light began to become more than a tiny glow and the sun began to rise on her mornings once again. She missed him until she couldn’t breathe but those times didn’t smite her for as long as they had once. She saw him everywhere. Heard him in sudden songs. Found him walking through her dreams and woke up desperately lost. But she began to smile and walk and listen and join in and meet people and cook and read and smile. She knew that despite the vicious loss she could and must survive.
So their longed for tour became her’s . The car became buses and trains as she felt the loneliness would be too intense. She needed faces, voices and bodies around her as she travelled. Alone was too much just now.
Whitby filled her with hope. Fishing boats went and came. Seagulls talked to her through the salty air of travels and flight and people and water and the abbey reminded her of years behind and in front.
She was glad she had come.
I first met Ruth on a bus. I watched her pull her small, wheeled suitcase onto the bus, lift it onto the luggage stand and remove her backpack before she sat down.
She looked neglected, not in a haven’t-had-a-shower-for-days way, but more in a it’s-only-me-so-why-bother-about-how-I-look way . Later I would discover why. But for now let’s just go with that.
She wore walking boots, slightly creased, lightweight “outdoor” trousers and a dark blue sweatshirt featuring a Scottish logo and Edinburgh emblazoned across it.
We began to talk…about the weather initially (well we are British!) as it was, finally, sunny and warm. After the long, long wet Winter and Spring everyone was delighting in the sun.
She told me she was hoping to catch the bus to Whitby once she left this one. I asked her if she had been before.
“No…never…but it’s somewhere I have always wanted to visit. The lure of Dracula and seafaring folk and old fishermen’s tales is pulling me!”
She was friendly and open but something in her words sounded despondent, alongside her obvious delight for where she was heading.
Before Whitby she had been to Newcastle and was heading for York from Whitby.
At this point I didn’t realise her reason for her travelling, but she did let me know that a little over a year ago her husband of 38 years had died quite tragically in a car accident, on a foggy Winter’s night on the A1. We talked about family, jobs, homes and favourite places for the hour we shared a bus, then just as I was about to get off the bus she asked if she could keep in touch.
I said yes.