Visiting scores of towns on my three-month tour has allowed me to have a good look at my own country – something I have long neglected in favour of travel to sunnier climes. I'm in love with the Borders, have a new-found admiration for East Anglia, and am contemplating a family holiday in Wales.
Last week, I was in North Yorkshire, another gorgeous part of the country. I had gigs in Harrogate and York on consecutive days and so was staying overnight after the first date with time to wander about, which is rare on my schedule. In the evening, I performed in the lovely old theatre in Harrogate and headed back to the Hotel du Vin – one of the boutique chains peppered about the more scenic British cities.
It was about 10.30pm, and we were looking forward to a nice bottle of wine and something to eat. This is still surprisingly difficult to do outside London. I thought that we had changed with the relaxing of licensing laws, and that the days of Provincial UK shutting mid-evening were over. I was mistaken. Most places are battened down by 9pm, save for the ever-present nightclub strip in which drunken men wander around in packs looking for fights while women wearing little more than a hanky and high heels stagger about vomiting on street furniture. I was grateful that I was going back to somewhere that understood people might want to eat and drink something more than a kebab and a bottle of alcopop.
I slumped into a comfy sofa and asked to see the menu. This produced much consternation. "Chef" had apparently left for the night and so food was not available. Was there any chance of anything hot at all? "I'm afraid this is not possible as nobody is trained to do this." I asked what training was needed to make a grilled cheese sandwich? "It's a health and safety matter, sir. Somebody could get badly hurt." I asked whether it might be possible for me to brave the terrible danger and make one for myself? This was not possible, either."Hygiene issues." After much grumbling, it was decided that a microwaved Thai curry could be produced, and someone was sent to courageously attempt this highly risky manoeuvre.
Then I asked to see the wine list. "I'm afraid the sommelier has also gone home, sir, so I won't be able to locate any of the wines on our extensive list. We do have a couple we can serve by the glass." This was beyond parody: we were in Hotel du Vin and we weren't able to order a decent vin. "I apologise, sir, but the sommelier doesn't like me to enter his cage." I was surprised to hear that they kept the sommelier in a cage, which seemed harsh even for a Frenchman. The cage turned out to be where the wines were kept.
After much negotiation, the man was persuaded to brave the sommelier's wrath and find us a bottle of wine. We nicknamed our new friend Basil, in honour of Fawlty Towers – an establishment that this was rapidly starting to resemble. What is it with the UK and doing anything after dark? We need to take a leaf out of the Continental book, repopulate our streets at night, and reclaim them from the fighting hordes.
The next day, we awoke to profuse apologies from the hotel manager. In a curious move, Basil had turned himself in, and reported to the manager that we had not been happy. We got all British about it and pretended that everything was actually fine. After all, we're not ones to grumble.
Dom is in Nottingham (Tues), Buxton (Wed), Lincoln (Thurs) and Shrewsbury (Fri)