June 21 – The Longest Day of the Year
Bay Horse Pub, Gillygate, York
Before we have walked a block I am pulling up my hood and reaching for the umbrella again. Like a baby who goes silent, drawing breath for the next piercing shriek, the gentle rain that had been falling reappears with a mighty force. We are in the midst of a downpour; a chilly wind-driven downpour. By the time we locate a pub that is still serving food we are soaked.
As we take a table in the dining area on the far side of the bar at the Bay Horse Pub at Gillygate, Dana wonders aloud what the soup of the day might be. Soup does sound good. It turns out to be pea and ham which both Robin and I pass on, but Dana professes to like. Robin orders the plaice and chips and I, with visions of revered prawn cob dancing in my head, opt for a lowly ham sandwich. The sparse menu notes that sandwiches are served on homemade bread and I so hope that they will be something akin to the warm, grainy "cob" I had earlier in the day.
From the moment the waitress sets Dana's meal before her, I can see that it's the sort of pea soup that gives pea soup a bad name. Thin and sickly green colored with small brownish lumps; the best way I can think to describe it is: thoroughly unappetizing. I don't even like looking at it. My sandwich arrives – a six-inch high tower of warm crusty bread stuffed full of ham, cucumber, sliced to-mah-to, radicchio and something that looks like mayonnaise but tastes much better. On the side is the first example of what I learn to expect in pubs for "salad" – thin slices of carrots, onion and cucumber presented atop a tangle of sprouts. All of this for only £1.80. These are the pub prices I have been expecting.
I watch Dana applying the salt shaker liberally to her soup and offer to share my wealth. She says she will probably take me up on that as she dips her spoon into the foul brew. As I cut the sandwich in half a man pokes his head in the door, which remains open to the street. He smiles at me and says, "Oo o e a aa," nodding at my sandwich. Amazed at myself for understanding his consonant-free patois, I laugh and agree with him. "You're right, I won't." Robin grins at me as the man goes on his way. "What did he say?" "You won't eat all of that," I translate a bit smugly, feeling quite at home, in this, my heart's own home.
At this time another soaked and bedraggled person enters the dining area. He takes refuge at the table beside us and his first few words to the woman who arrives to take his order reveals him to be yet another intrepid traveler. Apparently a believer in the adage "when in Rome," he orders Yorkshire pudding. When it comes to drink, he definitely wants lager. "Half or pint?" the waitress asks.
"Half or pint," he replies with a strong Scandinavian accent. "Half or pint?" she repeats, a little impatiently. "Half or pint?" he parrots once again, his voice rising an octave in obvious frustration on the last word. He looks longingly over at our table where Dana and Robin nurse half-pints. Robin holds up her glass of Woodpecker Sweet Cider. "This is a half". "Pint," he replies to the waitress with such decisiveness that we all laugh together.
By tacit agreement he joins our group in spirit, blatantly eavesdropping on our conversation, waiting for one of us to pause for breath. "You are Americans," he observes amiably, as we finally fall silent and apply our attention to our food. A pilgrim from Norway, he has come to England to hear the King's College choir in Cambridge, he explains.
"It's like a shower from above," he says, going on to attempt to describe what it means to him, stressing that we should go to experience it for ourselves. The young boys' voices, the candlelight, the architecture, he struggles to describe how it affects him, and not only due to the language barrier. Words aren't necessary, though. His passion is apparent; his eyes shine with joy and enthusiasm.
I note and admire Robin's "gift of gab" during this meal, which puts us all at ease with each other. She's also a great listener, prodding at just the right moment with well worded questions that keep the conversation flowing.
We wish our companion well, pay our bill, and walk down Gillygate toward Old Town York. Turning a corner, there – rising before us – are the city walls. Oh, how they call to me. I know there are marvels to be discovered down those narrow winding streets. I also know I haven't the stamina to do them justice at this time. I've been awake and on the go for close to 48 hours and am starting to feel the effects. I feel like a party-pooper suggesting we return to the bed and breakfast and check it out more thoroughly the next day. We've all had a long day; Dana and Robin don't seem disappointed to turn back.
We window shop on the way, passing a costume shop, pottery shops, a tattoo parlor, where we joke about the ultimate souvenir to take home, and a hat shop that displays ostrich-feathered chapeaus similar to those seen in "Hello Dolly".
I melt in a steaming shower back at Feversham, thoughts of spiders scurrying up the drainpipe banished forever, watch about ten minutes of a program called Only Fools and Horses on the BBC1, which looks like it could be very funny if I were a little more alert, and turn off the bedside lamp at 8:30PM. Something wakes me some time later. Footsteps on the stairs, voices; other visitors returning 'home'. The clock reads 10:00PM, but light still shines through my window. I pull back the curtains and looked out into the twilight. Longest day of the year, I remind myself, and settle back into my bed for a much needed rest.
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