Saturday, 7 August 2010

York - Day Two

The first bus left for the city centre tour at 9.55am. Of course, this being us, we were never going to be on it. Not when you consider my long-standing feud with public transport. Again it would be one of the themes of the day.

Four buses pulled in an and out of the first stop-off point without offering even the merest hint of wheelchair access. Nevertheless our patience held, only because the leaflet insisted that 'most' buses were accessible. One in five is not my idea of 'most', but it probably satisfies some half-arsed Disability Discrimination Act criteria laid out by politicans who are suspicously devoid of disability. Not of the physical variety, in any event.

What the leaflet doesn't tell you is that when you finally find yourself an accessible bus, you will have an innaccessible driver. Sporting the kind of ludicrous grey mullet normally reserved for Barnsley cab drivers, our man looked promising when he let us on to the bus without charging us. Sadly, he did so because he didn't actually know how much to charge us (that scary chair thing again) and had to pull up so that he could ask the guide on the upper deck. Turns out it was his first day on the job. You can imagine the conversation at Head Office beforehand;

"I'm not sure about Bob, he doesn't seem to know what he's really doing yet."

"Ah, just stick him on the accessible bus, he'll be fine. Nobody uses that thing anyway. I mean, accessible buses? Do me a favour."

What I can also tell you about York's City Tour Bus is that the stops on the map mean nothing. Stop 8 is Dick Turpin's grave, the only problem being that the bus can't actually stop there. It can stop 200 yards down the road, which would be slightly more helpful if the guide had explained that you can't actually see it anyway. Not since it appears to be on the inside of a locked church.

Stop 3 is the Richard III museum, though it remains unclear exactly where stop 3 is. It doesn't appear to be in York. Maybe it is innaccessible and they didn't have the heart to tell us. Or maybe 'Bob' just doesn't know and felt a bit silly asking so many questions on his first day.

By now we were a little weary of buses, and so made our way to the Castle Museum. Not the castle itself, you understand. That would be living the dream, located as it is up an absurd number of steps on top of a large hill. Even Emma would have had difficulty climbing that many steps, so we moved on to the museum down the road. Parts of which were, you guessed it, inaccessible.

And free. We were allowed in for nothing. The museum staff are obviously mortified by the fact that they cannot manage to make their building fully accessible and so do not have the audacity to charge a fee. Not helping their cause is that it is difficult to put many of the exhibits into any kind of context, such is the lack of information supplied. You can stare at a box full of watches, belts, buckles, tools and clothes for as long as you like, you never really get a sense of their relevance to York Castle. To make up for this, a life-size model of a horse and stagecoach is slapped straight in the middle of one of the cobbled streets containing said exhibits. This fascinates young children. There's also a fire engine.

It's not until you get to the prison that you start to get some idea of what life in and around York Castle might have been like hundreds of years ago. A selection of devilish and dastardly characters are brought to life by short films projected onto the walls of the cells they once occupied. This is where you find out the grizzly good stuff, with crimes ranging from high treason and armed robbery to stabbing one's spouse to death with a variety of sharp kitchen utensils. We finally located Dick Turpin, but he was unable to shed any light on the location of his grave, what with him being a professional actor beamed digitally onto a concrete wall.

As far as we could tell, nobody had ever been placed in York Castle's prison for whistling on a Tuesday, nor were there any executioners called Ploppy. We were understandably disappointed by this.

York is a city which loves a museum, so from there it was on to the National Rail Museum. That is after we had visited the model railway exhibition, the main attraction of which is the ability to press buttons and watch things move. And not just model trains, but windmills and cars and flashing lights and maybe even a few animals. If you want to be really childish (and I do) there is the Thomas The Tank Engine section too. I'm sure there was a time when kids would have been enthralled at the prospect of bringing all of the characters to life with the push of just a few buttons. Then somebody invented X-Box.

The National Rail Museum is actually a truly impressive place. You don't have to have any previous interest in trains or transport to walk into the Great Hall and be awed. I went on board a Japanese Bullet (well ok, it was never going to move) and can remember thinking that nothing as good as this would be leaving Thatto Heath for Lime Street on Monday morning. In a truly ironic twist, the NRM had managed to make their trains more accessible than those actually in use across England's railway stations. I headed on board a steam train too, not to mention another used by the Royal Mail. Any more excitement than this and I might just have wet myself.

Information relating to the history of rail travel is dotted around the NRM. My favourite snippet was the Duke of Wellington's (tea, man, tea!!!!!!!!) assertion that he was against rail travel because he feared it would allow too much movement from the 'lower order'. He wasn't talking about England's batting line-up from Graeme Swann downwards, but rather the lower classes of England at that time. It was a classic piece of outrageous bigotry, and I tried to imagine David Cameron coming out with such wisdom without having half a brick thrown at his perfectly coiffured, public schoolboy head!

I visited the city's art gallery alone. Emma wanted to re-visit the crypt at the Minster, and I wanted to feel as though I was at least half-way cultured. Normally I hate art. I find it offensive that a woman can write names on a tent and be lauded for her achievements, or that the same praise and reward can be lavished on a man who hasn't made his bed. My opinion hasn't really changed, despite the fact that there is some great art work on display. There's also too many photographs which I'm sure I could have taken, and paintings which didn't seem out of the ordinary either. However, it should be remembered that when it comes to art I don't really know what I'm looking for. I just know it isn't a tent with names on, an un-made bed or a photograph of a 13-year-old girl performing a martial arts manouvre.

In the evening we had energy only for a meal and a bottle of red, whereupon I discovered that I don't like egg on pizza. I like egg in every form imaginable, but I was eventually left feeling a little sickly after munching my way through a large Carnivora pizza. If you're wondering, it contains pepperoni, sliced ham, salami and the offending egg. It can, if you dare, be purchased for a reasonable price at the Tuscany Restaurant in the centre of York.

On the table next to us an obnoxious man with two American daughters complained to the manager because his pizza hadn't arrived within 27 seconds of his order. The manager chewed the waitresses ear off in full view of the diners. She returned to the obnoxious man's table and he was all hearts and flowers, apologising profusely and assuring her that he had not meant to get her in trouble. I was willing her to smash his wine bottle over his head but she let me down. I hope he had egg in his pizza and spent the whole night rolfing it down his hotel loo.

Thankfully, I'd stopped in time to save myself that fate.

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