My EBF (English Best Friend) Sophie drove me to Harrogate for lunch and shopping before our assault on the London Book Fair this week. Which reminded me, as it turned out, I have found myself increasingly comfortable with the provinces for good reason. The literary juggernaut at Olympia, is like a giant mothership in space, teeming literary cognicenti and so many people that finding a spare seat is like playing musical chairs at a children’s party and sadly, you’re the one left standing. I thought I’d want to blog about it, but I’m not sure I want to.
So my thoughts drift to earlier in the week for a moment. Not only did I fall in love with Harrogate and feel that I could buy a house here once I’m a multi-award winning best selling author (self-fulfilling prophecy I hope) and make this my English home away from home — it was the first day since I’d arrived I hadn’t felt like I was floating in a nauseous haze that is jet lag, so I was feeling up to begin with.
Harrogate is all honeyed Victorian stone and gracious, curving avenues lined by trees and elegantly proportioned houses. Once a sleepy hamlet, Harrogate’s future was secured when a man called William Slingsby drank from a well in the late 16th century and decided it tasted like mineral water. By the Victorian era, it was a well known spa town where wealthy tourists bathed in the town’s restorative waters to cure all manner of ills. Suffice to say, Harrogate’s reputation grew exponentially and its Pump Rooms and later Royal Baths drew impressive customers including the Tsarina Alexandra of Russia in 1911.
Today, with a population of around 75,000, Harrogate bewitched me somewhat with its impressive collection of civic and domestic Victorian architecture and a High Street I could only dream about in Australia. It reminds me that Australia has, on the whole, not protected its heritage and Victorian buildings enough. And while there are magnificent examples in our capital and regional cities, the visual effect of these is diminished by the hotch-potch architecture of successive generations, which offer little consistency in style.
So I was in some kind of aesthetic stupor while I was in Harrogate—rather dumbfounded by its prettiness. After enjoying a fabulous and healthy lunch at Fillmore and Union, a cafe with deep wellness bowls to die for—we stepped into the biting wind and headed to the shops.
I actually had a purpose: to buy some thicker leggings to exercise in. Although I’d packed everything but the kitchen sink, I’d somehow left my thicker ones at home in the washing pile. So Sophie directed me to Sweaty Betty. Love that. Sweaty Betty: evocative of unlikely exercise goals committed by hopefuls wanting to look like Elle with a body like a cuddly teddy.
Once many years ago after watching Olivia Newton John in Grease, I shocked my mother by saying that I didn’t want the pretty lemon twin-set that she wore at the start of the film, while she sang Hopelessly Devoted to You, but I wanted the spray on black pants that slid over her hips like with slippery serpentine grace. I pleaded with her. Please. Please can I have some?
‘Over my dead body,’ Mum said, slamming my bedroom cupboard.
At eleven you don’t really comprehend you might be a bit chubby. I remember wistfully staring at the wrap-around skirt that had been sewn to accommodate my tum. Instead I saw myself as Olivia. Very cool and transformed into a goddess with those black spray on thingys. So all through my life, there have been moments where I’ve remembered Mum’s response to my request (quite rightly she refused), but there has always been a little part of me that still wanted them.
But little did we know then, Olivias would become common place. The exercise revolution has been an enabler for wonder pants. Lots to choose from and all reasonably priced of course.
I have to say, Sweaty Betty, despite costing a tad more than the average, produced the goods for me like no other: I tried on a little, very elastic, tucking, nipping, lifting pair of leggings – and I stared in the mirror and truly believed there had been four decades of separation. We had finally been reunited. Before me, or should I say on me —were a pair of miracle pants.
I finally had my pair of Olivias – and Harrogate will forever be embedded in my mind as the place I found them. I’m sure my mother won’t mind, providing they are for exercising and not worn out to dinner—which of course is a line we must never cross.
But maybe I’ll be right for Tesco’s this afternoon in Thirsk…? They are so incredibly comfortable and I look two sizes smaller – which is a bit addictive.
Lovely, lovely Harrogate.