Had quite a journey to the Yorkshire Dales last weekend. We were camping – meeting friends, old neighbours from Edinburgh. Something like “halfway”, though we all acknowledge that halfway between Edinburgh and Cardiff puts us somewhere around Leicester, which is not so interesting for camping. So we push a little further than they do. It’s okay; I like the north.
This weekend was a doozy. One can never fully predict the weather, but even so, early May bank holiday is still on the dicey side of “it’ll be fine”. But when you’re making plans over such distances that accommodate the schedules of two families of five, you have to just throw yourself in. Weather reports that speak of zero or one degree overnight temperatures must simply be met with additional wool things getting packed. Friends here told us we were mad, and if it had just been the five of us camping, we may indeed have cut bait.
The temptation was stronger still driving up the M5 and M6, with ominous clouds that occasionally chucked heavy rain on our windshield. Our friends texted us from the road, in Dumfries and Galloway: snow.
Then there was the traffic – expected traffic of a Friday before the bank holiday weekend, with an added helping of bridge works in Birmingham. We were late, and our youngest was puking into the bucket.
The sky looked a bit more favourable by the time we left the M6 near Kendal. We weren’t that late, really: we had decided on a pub dinner that first night, since we’d be arriving after a day of school and driving and who knows what weather. Our friends booked a table at the pub just across the beck from our campsite for 8pm. Without the bridge works, it would have been fine, but at this point in the journey, it was just turning 8, and we had only 20 miles to go to Hawes (Hardraw, really, but it was too small to turn up on the signs).
“20 miles,” I said. “Not long til dinner, gang!”
Our friends called. They were already at the campsite and had set up tents sufficient to fit all of us, so we wouldn’t have to worry about pitching our tents in the dark. And the ground was reasonably dry. And the pub kitchen would be closing soon, so put in your orders now. We all shouted confusedly about steak pies and fish and chips and sausages, and I seem to have missed a turn in Sedbergh. Or taken one I shouldn’t have. Whatever happened, we ended up on extraordinarily minor roads through beautiful villages and twisty Yorkshire Dale passes. Every one of my passengers was ready to murder me. The youngest was at the bucket for about the fifth time this journey.
“Daddy’s doing the best he can,” my wife assured the back seat. “This is really the only way to get there.”
“Maybe you could take the corners a little slower,” she said to me.
“Our dinner’s already on the table,” I said.
When we arrived, there was much rejoicing. Four fifths of the Munniks were a little shaky, but nothing that chips and local ale and the happy reunion with friends couldn’t fix. The pub – the Green Dragon Inn – was a real gem, with big fireplaces, multiple chambers, low ceilings.
And then, after dinner, as we were about to settle up and get to the campsite, a guy in a scraggly woolly jumper came through to fetch a couple of instruments from the corner near us. “What’s in that case?” I asked, feeling like I already knew the answer.
“A bouzouki,” he replied. “Or, a ‘badzouki’, as I call it – it never stays in tune.”
He started to describe what it was, but believe me, I already knew. And I recognised the flowery pattern on the front. “Is that an Ozark?” I asked.
He grinned sheepishly. (Good word for the Dales.) “Yeah. Just a cheap thing.”
“I’ve got one just like it,” I said. “Bought it for 99 quid on Sauchiehall Street in Glasgow in 2003.”
It was wild – just like the bouzouki I toured Europe with in my Siobhan days. He invited me to play, so I plucked out a medley of “Whiskey Before Breakfast” and “Rolling in the Rye Grass” with the incredibly thin plectrum he had.
Claps all around. A very warm group of people. So I indulged the patience of my family and friends who, by rights, should be getting the kids to bed. “One more?”
I picked the Smiths’ “There Is a Light that Never Goes Out”, one I arranged for bouzouki to amuse another friend and jam partner back in Edinburgh. I’m not at all a Smiths fan – definitely born seven years too late and on the wrong side of the Atlantic – but Neil Finn covered this on a recording he made with Johnny Marr, and it really grew on me. Wrong side of the Pennine Way, perhaps, but I had a feeling that this little group of people at the Green Dragon in Hardraw might appreciate it.
You can see from the video – champion recording from Graham, mate of Andy, the bloke who loaned me the instrument – that it went down a treat. Everyone singing joyously along to the chorus:
And if a double decker bus
Crashes into us
To die by your side is such a heavenly way to die
And if a ten-ton truck
Kills the both of us
To die by your side
Well, the pleasure, the privilege is mine
Britain, you are a weird and wonderful country.