Northallerton. Another golden autumn morning in North Yorkshire; an egg yolk sun and a faintly speckled Cadbury’s Mini Egg blue sky. I leave town to the gentle clamour of church bells, the FT’s cheery headlines ringing in my mind too; “Chill wind blowing through corporate landscape… the pound in free fall…protectionism returns…Jeremy Paxman on writing his memoirs”
I was headed for Thirsk which is where, according to the itinerary stored in the National Archive, the Jarrow Marchers spent their fifth night on the road followed by Boroughbridge on the sixth. Except they didn’t. They went to Ripon possibly via Thirsk which is why I was doing the same. There’s lots of romantic myth and folklore about the Jarrow March but not much in the way of hard factual record or analysis and most of what there is in Matt Perry’s wonderful, academically rigorous but brilliantly readable Jarrow Protest And Legend.
Halfway between Thirsk and Ripon I passed by Carlton Miniott and Ainderby Quernhow, two more splendid entries for the ‘Villages That Sound Like 1950s Character Actors Game’ (“..and who can forget Carlton Miniott and Ainderby Quernhowas the two bungling policemen in Mayhem At The Vicarage”…) Sheltering under the a petrol station awning in the first rain I’d seen since starting off – spookily the Jarrow Marchers encountered their first rain too here – a man called John Lyndley got me out of a hugely complex and far reaching explanation of North Yorkshire’s taxi networks, their distribution,, frequency and legislation from the seventies to the present day with the super nice but enthusiastic man at the till. John also told be that his grand-dad had known a bloke who’d been on the march who had declared on arrival atRipon that ‘his boots had broke down’ and made a new home in that cathedral city. I was hearing many, many stories like this on my travels and whilst they may not all turn out to be true when I get around to fact checking, that’s really not the point. King Arthur and Robin Hood didn’t exist but they are still potent ciphers for our country and culturally vivid. Jarrow did happen, even if some of the stories are pure and righteous romance
I had lunch on the village green at Baldersly; Serrano ham and cheddar under a tree bought from the fabulous Lewis and Cooper of Northallerton (the food not the tree) and thought of Nye Bevan’s famous remark when defending his liking for champagne: ‘Only the best for the working class!’ A spot of light googling revealed that there was Choral Evensong at 3.30 in Ripon Cathedral, the very place where the Bishop, unlike most of the town, welcomed the marchers warmly and gave them a tour and a service. (Some of the Catholic marchers thought they’d be excommunicated for attending an Anglican mass)
I had to be there and increased my pace immediately. It all felt very “ecclesiastical race against time” and Da Vinci Code. I’ve never seen or read the Da Vinci Code but I have een it promoted on the sides of buses (which is where I get most of my movie marketing from) and it seems to involve Tom Hanks running through a cloister or transept looking quite determined followed by a pretty girl thirty years his junior. Tom presumably makes these films at gunpoint whilst visualizing the cheque
Anyway I made it and got to meet the Dean and you can read and hear out all about that in due course. I went down into the Saxon Crypt as the cathedral was closing, an amazingly powerful and atmospheric place some 1300 years old, and when I came up the cathedral was deserted and locked and I couldn’t find my way out. If you have read Robert Aickman’s wonderful story The Cicerones you will know just how I felt. If not, go and read it the moment you finish this
After choral evensong I mooched around the quiet, twilit streets of Ripon and found a little place where I treated myself to Fegato with bubble and squeak, zucchini frites and a big glass of Rioja, which I of course raised to Nye Bevan. An indulgent dad was letting his kid – who will if he’s not careful, grow up to be a cross between Donald Trump and Charles Haughtrey with a dash of Piers Morgan for bad measure – run about unsupervised until inevitably he banged his head on the table edge and had to be carried out in tears.
The Rumanian waiter watched all this with a rueful eye and then turned to me and shook his head. “As we say in my country, every brothel has its own way”
This morning I woke up to the bells of the Cathedral. It was a rest day so I caught up with the news. Donald Trump continues his Dead Zone like ascent/descent into destruction/power and in the UK, killer clowns are attacking people on the streets of our towns and villages. The world, it appears, is being scripted by Stephen King.