It has been an exquisite early autumn day: perfectly cloudless; the temperature in the low twenties (Centigrade); a light wind, with just the faintest edge of a hint that we had better make the most of the sun as it will not be anywhere near as welcoming for much longer. Probably not beyond tomorrow, in fact, as another cold front is due to arrive on Wednesday. Definitely a day to be celebrated by an escape into the North Yorkshire countryside, particularly as the cold front seems likely to arrive in the unwelcome company of another tightening of the lockdown screw. Our Chief Medical Officer and Chief Scientific Adviser were due to perform a pas de deux in Downing Street, warning us about the exponential rise in Covid-19 infections, this time without the encumbrance of our scruffily inept Prime Minister but, even so, well worth avoiding. This can only mean that the latter is, once again, taking pre-emptive precautions to ensure that someone else can be blamed for what is about to go wrong
But why worry about that on such a beautiful day? So we head for The Crown and Cushion at Welburn, near Castle Howard, an ‘award-winning’ pub where we can book an outside table, a scenic and leisurely 40 minute drive from our house. Provided, that is, one can avoid the perpetually coagulating stream of traffic along the A64 ‘main road’ by going through Strensall, Sheriff Hutton, and Bulmer. But we are turned back by a pair of police people on the main street in Strensall, which is swarming with police cars and ambulances responding to an accident of some sort, and we have to go across Strensall common – feeling relieved that the military operations that prominent notices are warning us about appear not to be taking place – and join the A64 after all. It occurs to me that the army may well be somewhere in the city being trained on how to police the lockdown, a possibility currently being leaked to the media. As we drive, I find myself wondering aloud, as I probably do every year, what it is that determines the order in which the trees decide that it is time for their leaves to ‘turn’ and take on their autumn colours – horse-chestnuts first, then oaks, and so on. The trees, once again, don’t divulge their secret.
The pub lunch lived up to its ‘award-winning’ standing in suitably leisurely fashion. Leisurely for those doing the eating and drinking, that is; anything but leisurely for the three members of staff doing the serving. The pub’s already extensive outdoor seating area has been extended further by cannibalising the corner of the car-park nearest to the back door. For lunch-time on a Monday, with the weather as perfect as it was, there was no shortage of customers, most of whom appeared, like us, to be retired. It was a good fifty yards from the back door to the furthest occupied table and I commented to the member of staff who was serving us that she must be keeping very fit. She told me that last Friday her Fitbit had recorded more than 20,000 steps between the kitchen, bar and tables. After traditional pub fare of beer-battered fish with chunky chips and mushy peas, for me, and steak and ale pie for Susan, we were intrigued by the names of the (inevitably ‘award-winning’) cheeses on the cheese-board – Stottie Goat’s cheese, Swaledale, The Duke of Wellington, Ewe Beauty, and Flatcapper Northern Brie – and decided that (with the possible exception of the worthy Duke) they would be more appropriate to a Yorkshire pub lunch than our usual ‘affogatos’, which were also on the menu.
The lunch was excellent, the release from the endless news about our increasingly dysfunctional Test and Trace system was almost palpable, and I only found myself on one brief occasion wondering fleetingly how many of our fellow customers – only two of whom I saw wearing the face-masks we dutifully put on when we went into the building – would still be with us by next Spring if the dire warnings about the second spike are proved accurate. When it came to paying the bill, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that The Crown and Cushion has extended its ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ £10 discount per person, scheduled to end at the end of August, all the way through September. It seemed the least I could do to split the unexpected windfall with the staff by way of a compensation for the wear and tear on their footwear.