As we leave the Judges Court in York we award Asia (the receptionist, not the continent) a small plastic trophy for best hotel so far in our Yorkshire swing. She seems slightly baffled by the presentation ceremony but accepts the tat graciously before no doubt chucking it straight in the bin after we leave.
We have brunch in Bills which is stuffed full of smiley, friendly front of house staff. They seem, though, to have forgotten to employ anybody in the kitchen and when our meal finally arrives it is a curious mix of raw bacon and savagely overcooked eggs. We dash for our taxi but it is late, and over the next ten minutes when I phone the firm at least four times I get the same automated message that it is “two minutes away”. Hmmm. We give up and rush to the station, recreating the last minute sprint of yesterday to step onto the train steaming and breathless for the second time in two days.
When we arrive at the B&B, Barry is waiting for us at the door as the taxi pulls up. I feel I already know him well after the short matter of booking the room turned into a half hour conversation. Simon feels there are Royston Vasey undertones about the whole set up. I haven’t seen the programme and I’m quite relieved that I haven’t. Barry seems excessively interested in how tall we both are, as though he’s measuring us up for something macabre.
There are some convoluted goings on about keys. Barry eventually gives us a key to our bedroom but wants us to leave that key on the table in the front room, just in case. He does not give us a key to the front door because he says he will be ready to open it whenever we return; I believe him. It is then that Simon, who has been examining the place like a forensic scientist would view the scene of a car crash, spots a display cabinet of truncheons. I think I can honestly say that I’ve never stayed anywhere before that has truncheons on display.
Barry explains they have different uses. I’m afraid to ask, but the direct inquisitor that is Simon discovers that the smallest is used to hit fish over the head. “A fish cosh?” suggests Simon, but Barry simply responds “Pish cosh”. I’m not sure why. I try to move things on by asking about wifi, but Barry explains that the walls are so thick that you can’t get a signal from the bedroom. Or hear the screams?
But we can’t talk about wifi and truncheons all day, we’ve got a race meeting to go to, so after only another 20 minutes or so we manage to extricate ourselves and head into town for a loosener. There’s quite a selection of hostelries in the main square, but most of them sound from the outside like there’s a Mexican prison riot in progress, so we opt for The Royal, which is far from regal inside. The only female in the pub is singing Bohemian Rhapsody very loudly and far too closely for comfort. For the second time in ten minutes I feel my fight or flight reflex kick in and inhale my pint of lager before marching Simon out the door.
The atmosphere at the races seems better, but only in the way that if you give a box of fireworks more space to go off you get a less concentrated but bigger show. The James Herriot bar is a holding pen of myriad creatures of all sizes, and may indeed have been the inspiration for some of Hieronymus Bosch’s later works. The people of Thirsk are very loud, but perhaps that’s not their fault – in a town of loud people you have to shout to get heard, and they’re certainly not shy of shouting.
The punting is not going so well today. Mark Johnston was literally on fire yesterday, but today someone seems to have hosed him down, so to speak. One of the 2 year olds we back is given another suspicious ride that turns an obvious winning chance into a distant third. We select a few more losers and decide that it’s just not happening today. It’s not the worst course I’ve been to, but it’s not the best either and suffers from the comparison with its neighbour York. We head back early via Lidl, but somehow even that doesn’t seem to have the vibrancy of Pound World.
Barry is waiting for us when we arrive back and drags us into a 45 minute conversation about politics before we manage to escape. Actually, he is a warm and intelligent man who seems a bit lonely and not a little eccentric. His wife died quite a while back and he’s carried on the B&B business, as well as occasionally dabbling in antiques which was his main trade for many years. We lose track of time, and creep out for a late curry. Thirsk seems to have quietened down a bit and there’s now only the occasional animal noise from the main square. It’s not clear how we are going to get back in without a key, but rest assured when we return Barry is swiftly at the door to usher us in.