22 December 2016
It Was t’Night afore Christmas
A morality tale of Crafty Folk
As Mr Thomas* is busy with his late Christmas shopping he asked Mr B, his source from the City, for a seasonal tale. He assures us this is a true story – but then, he does work in the City.
‘t Yorkshireman’s dream – the Vale of York from Sutton Bank
There is a legend, begun no doubt in Scotland, that Yorkshiremen are a miserable lot, not given to celebrating anything and especially not Christmas. Indeed, in one version it is alleged that the innkeeper that December night two thousand and sixteen years ago was a Yorkshireman on a tax free contract (two years all expenses) running The Flat Cap and Whippet, Bethlehem branch. But this is all untrue; a Yorkshireman likes a good Christmas knees-up as much as the next man; he just likes somebody else to pay for it.
For yes, this is a story of Yorkshire folk, away from their home turf, but still delighted to get together and celebrate the festive season, and, as anybody who is acquainted with that proud race will recognise, it shows them operating at their finest. Half a dozen of us, long exiled to the south but keeping up old acquaintance, like to meet before Christmas to wish each other the delights of the season, discuss our eventual intention (but not yet) to move back to the dales and moors, and try to work out how much each is earning, with a chorus of “Ilkla Moor Baht” echoing across Hanover Square at midnight.
What we should be doing of course is dining on beer and pies, but such things being inadequately provided in London W1, and the years of southern self-indulgence having taking their toll (“your’e reet soft” said my cousin, still living safely within the dreaming towers of Barnsley), we tend to favour such local diners as the Connaught or Wild Honey. The time was approaching last May to organise things when Freddie, a lawyer formerly of Leeds, emailed us all (much cheaper than a phone call) to, firstly, make it known that he was having an exceptionally good year, and secondly, to suggest that this Christmastide we could push the boat out a bit and we could upgrade to a well-known French establishment of longstanding and supreme repute in Brook Street (London that is, not Leeds) which he was happy to book. The other five of us thought this was a touching and generous idea and the evening was duly booked.
The Yorkshireman likes his night out and we were all there on time – indeed four were early and made good progress at the bar before we even got to table. But we were seated soon enough among the tasteful, if not meagre, Christmas decorations, the menus produced and perused, and the orders given; and we can pass over the scoffing and quaffing simply by saying that a blxxdy good time was ‘ad by all, ba gum. Crackers were pulled, grumpiness by those who got the empty end overcome, paper hats carefully discarded, and waistcoats loosened and then unbuttoned. Our grandfathers would have been proud, if astonished at the prices.
So you join us again later, considerably later, in a more or less empty restaurant, dregs of fine wines in the glasses, plates scraped clean, and the brandy glasses being regarded thoughtfully. The shooting stories had worn out a bit, the business environment was agreed to be appalling, the merits of Range Rovers and the new Porsche 4×4 compared, summer yacht charter costs complained of, bonuses of unlikely proportions subtly alluded to, and several juicy bits of gossip analysed and thoroughly wrung out. The chairs were not quite being put on the tables, but the waiting staff were certainly leaning on the furniture with meaningful looks. In short, it was that awkward time of the night when reality must be faced and unpleasantness must intrude. It was indeed time for the ceremony of the presentation of the bill; and eventually the estate agent present (there’s always one) turned to Freddie and said “Great idea this, Fred, we’ve thoroughly enjoyed it. Thanks very much old lad.”
Freddie suddenly looked as though a violent bout of indigestion had overcome him, but not so much that he did not manage to splutter “Nay, nay, I was just organising, I thought Tom might pick up the bill this year, accountants are doing very well, so he’s just said”.
The food poisoning seemed now to have spread to Tom as well, who went slightly puce and said chokingly “I paid for t’pies year before last, it must be Kevin’s turn; or is it B—‘s?”
With that instinct with which they are born, the maitre d’ had suddenly materialised close by, looking a little anxious. We all looked, one to each other, trying to avoid the maitre’s increasingly steely look; and then, as if possessed by the same idea at the same time, we all turned to Frank. Frank is our token group billionaire, a classic tale of progression from bricklaying to a fortune made in construction and clever land buying, going public at the top of the market (twice), leaving his main care (as he had told us earlier, several times) being which banks to keep the stash in. We all smiled gently at Frank; but Frank did not get where he is today…. “Na then, lads; share and share alike, that would be reet. What’s t’damage, Freddie, lad?”
£1,500 was the damage.
The ebonised Chinese tray, replete with a curling and impressively long till roll, was elegantly lowered to the table, dead centre. With a groan that was not heard, but could certainly be felt, six hands pulled out six wallets; cash was clawed unwillingly from the dusty recesses and counted, and recounted. The maitre relaxed and the cash was piled up on the bill until the elegant tray spilled its burden on to the table. Or at least, £1,250 was. At that point a huge rugged hand reached out, grabbed the cash, and put down the company credit card. The cash disappeared into some mysterious inner pocket of Frank’s jacket.
£1,250 cash, tax free. And a bill payable by the shareholders. Truly a Yorkshireman amongst Yorkshiremen, and, in one northern household at least, a Happy Christmas.
Mr B – who is a Yorkshireman – runs the blog “Bowler Hats and Flat Caps”, occasional insights into town life and country life, and the joy that ensues when they collide.
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