I FREQUENTLY travel Up North on a weekend, visiting friends on one side of the pennines or another. It’s nice to get out of London, it’s refreshing to have conversations with strangers, and it makes me smile to see people queue for the bus, rather than launch themselves on – perhaps leaving a fingernail embedded in one of the unfortunates not quick or able enough to climb aboard (Up North aggression is instead left until 2am on a Sunday morning outside Wetherspoons, inside Chicken Cottage, or whilst waiting for a taxi. As we all know, these moments of violence are principally caused by inadequate queueing systems).
So I was looking forward to the journey, and the opportunity to blog about this historic yet often-passed-by-city. Nothing could dampen my spirits.
On average London receives 52mm of rain in August; Lancaster receives 128mm. So obviously I was happy that I would be getting an Authentic Travel Experience for my first non-Olympics related post. I wasn’t disappointed.
Fortunately, the residents of Lancaster are used to wiling away the hours indoors whilst the rain falls outside.
It rained all night, but Saturday dawned… grey. Not a great prospect when we were intending a BBQ for the evening. There was little time to muse on the weather, though, as we were soon hightailing to Morecambe, just north of Lancaster. Our shopping list: leather chaps, chains, a native american costume, a bow and arrow, a handlebar moustache. (The closure of the Lancaster fancy dress shop is bitterly regretted by the city’s inhabitants, but is good for Morecambe as on Saturday it boosted its tourism by approximately 300%. It would have been more, but we couldn’t all fit in the car).
Still, I thought, the advantage to being a rundown seaside resort is that there will always be space on the beach, and low demand keeps down the price of deckchair hire.
Not to mention the price of lunch.
My time in Morecambe was brief – so instead, I leave you with this video put together by the hard working and well meaning Friends of Morecambe Winter Garden, about their efforts to restore the Victorian Theatre to its former glory. It’s possible that it wasn’t meant to be funny… but it is authentically Northern, in every way. Find it here.
We drew a blank on the leather chaps and the chains, so that was one member of YMCA that wouldn’t be making an appearance that evening at the fancy dress party. To complete the remaining costumes, I was despatched into the centre of Lancaster with one goal: to purchase a bow and arrow.
Lancaster is a strange mix of old victorian architecture, budget shopping and hip studentville. It’s a small city – you could walk from one end to the other in an hour – but it’s got some great buildings and it even feels kinda hippy in places.
We set our sights on Lancaster’s three pound shops as likely venues in which to find a bow and arrow.
Exhausted from our experience in three different poundlands, distressed that we had found no bow and arrow, we retired to the Storey Institute for lunch and some covert intelligence gathering.
Sitting in the Storey Institute cafe, I stared into the dregs of my Americano. “Perhaps someone will save the place?” I wondered aloud. “But if they don’t… what if…” Fortunately, at that moment, we were saved from a close encounter with reality by the interruption of friends who had also chosen to eat lunch at the cafe. Friendly banter staved off The Conversation. The sun came out. And we did gain important intelligence, after all: Lancaster has a FOURTH pound shop. Yes, Pound Fever was going to be our saviour. With an optimistic bounce in our step, we set off to find a bow and arrow.
It cost three quid, not £1, but we forgave Pound Fever because it was sunny, and because we were desperate.
And we still don’t know whether we’ll have a venue for our wedding reception. But if my journey to Lancaster reminded me of anything, it was that it’s always the people that make a place. And surely the same must be true of a wedding, right? (street party…?)