I go quite a long way back with Whitby. We used to own a flat there and still the family has considerable affection for the little former fishing town on the Yorkshire coast. I know it on so many levels – restaurants, best bike rides, best pubs, mini golf, walks up to The Abbey and the type of folk who holiday there.
I was invited to go across and join an old friend and his pals. They turn up every year, stay at his apartment and partake of serious exercise and even more serious drinking! I joined on Stage 2 of this two day tour. It is about 50 miles away from our home and the weather was desperate. Snow, ice and unbelievably cold. In our British weather forecasts we now have a new description of hell, namely, ‘chill factor’.
The ‘old friend’, Peter, is a skinny and fit Wearsider who lives in Edinburgh but works in London. At the age of around 56 he’s made the decision to retire. He’s a little giddy about taking the yoke off in July and starting to get under his wife’s feet. In fact a wild guess as to why he decided to abandon the Ministry of Defence procurement effort was the probable insistence of Alison to do up and sell the 15 or so bicycles languishing in his garage. Another two wheeled project includes firing up a motorcycle that hasn’t been run for 5 years. Knowing Peter I expect the garage might have 20 bicycles in it by Christmas.
The second of the party is Mike. A taller and wider unit but, like Peter, a very keen cyclist and walker. He’s just retired in his late 50’s and has come back from a month in Vietnam. (Ideal warm weather training for a quick break in Yorkshire). Mike had a successful career in construction management and now seems to be in perpetual motion on holiday. I think I’d not be maligning Mike to say he likes to party.
Poor old William, the last of the Three Musketeers, is still working. However, this is a price you have to pay for being a lot younger than everyone else. Looking lean and fit he works in Finance. If this sounds onerous then when you add that he’s a Motherwell fan you can but marvel at how he copes.
I suppose I must add, as they will complain otherwise, that this gathering, which usually includes William’s brother Andrew, is called ‘FBA’. No I’m not going to explain other than ‘A’ stands for Association and Mike’s in charge of toilets.
Anyway I got there whilst the chaps were attempting an impersonation of Lawrence ‘Titus’ Oates on the famous Scott of the Antarctic expedition of 1910. You may recollect he made the ultimate sacrifice by venturing out of his tent intending that his colleagues could push on toward safety without him as a burden. Their trauma included a long walk in the North Yorkshire Moors that included horizontal wind blowing icy snow into their faces. On getting back to the car they had anxiety as it uncontrollably slipped down steep treacherous roads.
(Subsequent BBC News reported that on the same afternoon, nearby, an ultra marathon was abandoned with Mountain Rescue teams retrieving souls. There were 30 runners treated for hyperthermia. A spokesman for Cleveland Mountain Rescue said “The wind was blowing snow across and it was very cold, with the wind chill it could have been around -8°C”).
With cheery stories they eventually got back to Whitby ready to defrost and party. These Scots are hard.
Most groups would dress up for a night on the town but it would be fair to say that the FBA looked smarter after a day in sub zero temperatures on the moors than they did as they strode out into the frozen night. All our kids and wives would not have been impressed. Old blokes left to their own devices do not reach for their best clothes.
The first port of call was ‘The Endeavour’. For those who don’t know the history then Whitby’s most famous son, James Cook, sailed to Australasia in said ship. It was here that he discovered New Zealand and Western Australia. It was a long way to go in a ship that had a shallow draft. This was in order to land on beaches and had been designed to carry coal from Newcastle to London in the 18th century. Jimbo made it until his 50th birthday before being killed by natives on a Hawaiian beach.
The pub was buzzing as we claimed our seats and put £20 each into the kitty. William held this money. (He’d been allocated the job of Quartermaster and Bursar by the FBA. He was given a title which I forget. With this responsibility came a large plastic bag for holding the change). He was despatched to the bar as the elder members of the Association found a seat.
I shall never forget the delight that spread across their faces as I invited them to take a proffered biro. After this came my quiz sheets. At this unexpected development Peter’s face assumed the kind of confused contortion that a person has if you ask them to perform the mental arithmetic of dividing 16.69 by 5.275. However he brightened up when he saw that the first 10 questions were about the ways to ride a bicycle faster (according to the June 6 2013 Cycling Weekly magazine).
The other 10 questions were placing the multiple choice birthplaces to leading British politicians. It was bad news for Scottish Labour as none of the two Scots or the Englishman, domiciled up there, had heard of him! William smashed the quiz with 6 out of 20. He looked humbled by his prize of 5 Cadbury Creme Eggs. For these services, like in the New Years Honours awards, I was bestowed with the moniker of ‘Biro Meister’. (I never did establish Peter’s title but let’s say Managing Director as well as Hotelier, Chauffeur and Entertainments Secretary).
After this distraction there was a long haggle about who would go next door and buy the fish and chips. ‘The Endeavour’ allow patrons to bring their take away meals into the pub. I’d like to say Mike gave in gracefully but in reality he was harangued into it. Off he trudged with the kitty/plastic bag and the requirement for 3 haddock, one cod and two mushy peas.
Katy, on holiday, then made the fatal mistake of planting herself in Mike’s vacated spot and was relieved of her life story by Peter and myself. A charity worker from Leeds she was married to Stephen who worked for a biscuit company. She passed this section of the assessment and we were just progressing to the ‘best three things about your marriage?’ when Mike returned with the dinner and also got to know Katy (see the photo -answers on a postcard as to why he was dressed like that).
So after about 3 or 4 pints in (I was starting to blur) and with a bloke strumming The Killers back catalogue painfully in a corner I was separated from a useful supply of draft Brew Dog Punk IPA and led into the night. I was discovering that amongst this revelry was an annual routine and a plan where deviation was not an option. So trudging across the bridge that joins the north and south of Whitby across the mighty Esk we proceeded to ‘The Elsinore’. It was here that I made the acquaintance of Camerons Strongarm – the beer, not a person.
Mik was on microphone and sang with a taped backing track. And as if by magic Disco men appeared. Mike morphed into a younger Bruno Tonioli, albeit one who had spent his formulative years playing rugby league: large, agile and yet menacing. William worryingly looked and danced like the little bloke from Bronski Beat with the high pitched voice: energetic and frenetic. Peter became the ‘Love Machine’: irressistable to the fairer sex and it has to be said that as the night ended then he wouldn’t be sleeping alone (more later).
In the scheme of things then Mik played and sang good tunes but had a tendency to take a break when the dance floor was heaving and things were in full swing. He offered no reasons for his surprising departures but I suspect it may have been a matter of stamina or a desire to have a Woodbine and pint.
And yourself Herr Biro Meister? As for dancing then the comment I once read in Record Collector magazine comes to mind. The guitarist of a famous American band was asked, amongst several questions, ‘what would get him up and dancing at a wedding?’ he replied ‘a shotgun’. So I jigged about looking like my feet were stuck to floor with a bonding agent yet the top of my body was attempting to run to the door with a series of lunges and spasms.
Peter’s strategy paid off handsomely as Dave, a complete stranger, bought us all a drink (a little to our embarrassment). Dave was having a great time in our company and wanted to say thank you. Dave and Margaret, under earlier interrogation, revealed that after his wife’s death he’d been out and about with his sister when socialising. Her pal Margaret tagged along. Things progressed so that they became an item and now he was in ‘The Elsinore’ smiling as Peter entertained his wife. There are a number of photographs of Peter acting as a babe magnet:
Not all questioning was well received. One patron reacted badly to my enquiring as to what he did for a living and what was his favourite music? He complained that he felt he was being interviewed for a job. William, sensing tension, quickly intervened to smooth things over. I think the Russians would call this a 'distraction strategy'.
I wisely kept quiet although I was tempted to add that “we thanked him for attending and that we’d be in touch next week to tell him if he was the candidate who most closely matched our needs”.
Finishing with some Bob Marley then Mik declared that he needed to stop (probably to facilitate a blood transfusion) and so we said our goodbyes and headed back to the flat. Mike was detailed to supervise the elderly on the short walk back. I’m afraid whilst he did help me up then he didn’t stop me slipping on a steep icy patch and I ended up on my backside. I think that alcohol may have added to the treacherous weather as a problem...
However after having self medicated, to remove pain, with Brew Dog and Camerons then it wasn’t until the next day when I discovered a pulled quadricep. My memory was now completely fading as William opened some red wine. Fortunately the flat beneath was empty as a Scottish chorus bellowed out Belter by Gerry Cinammon, being played loudly through the sound system, he is a young man who hails from Glasgow. Who says Scottish culture doesn’t travel?
At sometime after 1 am, the Duracell batteries had run flat for the FBA bunnies and things ground to a halt.
Peter’s double bed partner you ask? Err… me. Apparently I got the nod over Mike (which may explained why he was a little miffed). He wriggles too much in bed. I must remember to wriggle more next time so William gets promoted.
Next day a manly walk up the pier blew away the cob webs on what was another bitterly cold and windy morning. ‘The Marine’ served up a splendid breakfast. Two of the party were begrudging about eating a ‘Full English’. By way of retaliation, they enjoyed pointing out England’s loss to Ireland in the rugby the day before.
Following this then the rituals continued with a stroll up to the Abbey and Peter buying some kippers. I declined the ascent as this exercise was now rendering me a cripple as the thigh complained.
So at about 11am we said our goodbyes and I headed west, for a bath and short snooze, whilst the remainder of the Association headed north with Peter contemplating a long lonely drive to Edinburgh as his passengers slept off their beer and exertions.
With this I’ve probably scuppered a further invite for next year but I hope not. A complete blast! Thanks guys.