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Have you got the fat balls?

  Mon 21st September 2015

Trina's next wish for her birthday was to go on the Settle to Carlisle railway, a feat of Victorian engineering which cost at least a hundred lives, not only from accidents but also from a smallpox epidemic. "The terrain traversed is among the bleakest and wildest in England", says Wikipedia, but is also, even to someone to whom all fields and hills look the same, and whose idea of a country walk is a hike across a car park to the pub's entrance -- beautiful.

We stayed in Appleby in a £140 a night hotel -- something impossible for me by my own means. It's an 1830s pile with a creaky, listing staircase and a soporific wood-panelled bar with none of the din and artificial noise and strobing television with which British public spaces are saturated. I wanted to hibernate there and let drink-softened days of inaction happen to me.

We ordered our evening meal and I overheard the receptionist shouting down the phone to a deaf enquirer. "No, I'm afraid we haven't found Mr Thompson's plus-fours." We had one of the most delicious meals I've ever hand, crab cakes with roasted vegetables, squid in garlic and basil sauce, and Appleby cheese and leek cake in a batter made with the house bitter from Carlisle.

We found the best pub in town, full of swearing and tattoos. Three women walked in and went up to the old blokes at the next table. One of them opened their conversation with "Did you get your fat balls?"

But it was the railway we were there for. On the platform, the stationmaster came up to an infirm lady, addressed her by her name, and told her that he'd ring Leeds to make sure there was someone to help her get off there.

We went to Horton-in-Ribblesdale, over the border in Yorkshire. Neither of us are interested in walking, so we found the pub and had a meal which brought us back to the median of English food: generalised fishcakes and a bag of undressed leaves advertised as a salad. In what was to be a pattern for the village, the pub was full of hectoring notices. "No muddy boots, large rucksacks or wet clothes in this bar." "Dogs must be on a short lead and children must be accompanied at all times." "Please be aware these toilets are not changing rooms."

A couple of guests arrived to book in. Me and Trina, ploughing through the food, were inadvertently looking like the sort of people who were eyeing up the spirits bottles for a raid. The landlady said "Well, it's just I can't leave the bar. You'll have to wait until the girl's here."

The unwelcoming, admonishing mood continued elsewhere in the village. At the entrance to the road to the railway station, a sign with a crossed out camera and train said "No entry for trainspotters vehicles." Haughty, but no apostrophe. A sign in someone's window read "If you don't live here, don't park here." It's a village determined to maintain the mean-spirited stereotype of its county.

Back in a gentler Westmorland, we returned to the Hare and Hounds, where we chatted to a man who was born in the same hospital as Trina, and heard convincingly precise anecdotes of an ex-Marine who bought us a drink. There was nothing to eat, but the barmaid told us to get a pie from the shop next door and bring it back. Appleby is a one-horse town but its inhabitants advertise it well.

That is, except during the Horse Fair, when thousands of pikeys descend on the town with their horses. The landlady told us that whilst it's on, they have to hire a removal firm and carpet fitters, and a storage unit in Carlisle. They have to take out all the lightbulbs except those behind the bar, all the pictures, the TV, the fruit machine, the tables and chairs, the condiment bottles, and take the carpets up -- because they piss in the corner-- and remove all the glassware and replace it with plastic glasses.

Back at our lovely hotel, we chose from a six-page wine list that treated you with the respect of assuming some basic knowledge of grape varieties and regions, with no descriptions of the wine at all beyond what is on the label. I asked our waiter about the Horse Fair. "No, we don't really get that sort of trade here." I felt comfortably snobbish, and wriggled myself deeper into my armchair.

2 comments

That’s a very thoughtful expression on your face. What were you thinking at that moment? What’s up with the bracelet? That’s decorative, right? Not functional? It’s not a medical alert or anything like that?

I wonder why they felt the need to mention the changing rooms? Did it happen so frequently that it’s a problem?

What’s a pikey? So many questions!

Tue 22nd September 2015 @ 12:13
Comment from: looby [Visitor]

I was just gazing at the scenery, and no, it’s just a bracelet I saw marked down. I think it goes well with my skin tone. I also like that it makes some people assume I’m gay. Knowledge is power.

I’ve no idea why a pub in the middle of nowhere, where the only clientele are people who might have got soaking wet doing the Godawful rain-soaked self-punishment so loved by the English, of slogging away through identical fields and hills, should object to them changing into some decent clothes. I wouldn’t ever choose to be in the countryside, and Horton-in-Ribblesdale did everything to confirm my dislike of it.

A pikey is a derogatory term for gypsies or travelling folk. It comes from the word “turnpike". “To pike” originally meant “to go away from.”

Tue 22nd September 2015 @ 15:13


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