The Crown Inn Askrigg, North Yorkshire, March 2016
My mother in law’s living room is a testament to the 1970s; orange and many different browns. She has lived in this house, in Askrigg, North Yorkshire, for the last 40 odd years and is determined to die in it. At 90 she is finding it harder to live on her own. That is why we are here for the next year. Askrigg’s main claim to fame is it was the base for the filming of the TV series All Creatures Great and Small, and there are many tourists each year, also stuck in the 1970s, looking for the 1940s and 1950s and the actors, the places and the vets. The fictional vet’s fictional surgery is a non-fictional B and B.
I had landed a job in one of the three local pubs, pulling pints for a few sessions a week. Louise Porter, known as Lou, proprietor of The Crown Inn, Askrigg, so it is not confused with The Crown Inn, Hawes, was looking for bar staff and said I could start once over my jet lag. The Crown is located at the highest point on the main street giving it the local name of “Top Pub”. The other two pubs known locally as Middle and Bottom. The best way to find the heart of any place in the UK is at the local.
For such a small village (population approx 250), Askrigg offers a wide range of activity; running, walking, table tennis, badminton, soccer, craft, some adult education and singing. There are choirs for both men and women and I joined the Ladies that Sing for Pleasure. The group meets twice a month and does a few performances during the year for other local groups. We are led by Diana, who is cheerful, enthusiastic, and formidable, in her own gentle way. She does not do “pop” music but has a tendency toward songs about place and yearning. But there is always an exception to that rule; the first thing I have to learn to sing is Happiness by Ken Dodd.
I am not a great fan of the idea of pursuit of happiness. I see it as a fleeting thing that passes quickly and can not be searched for but is found, stumbled across even. For centuries Western Civilisation was driven by the idea of virtue, and through this happiness was derived, but somewhere in the 20th Century, (coinciding with the rise of the idea of individualism and commercialism) came the idea that as individuals we should all be happy and to pursue this as a major goal. Happy is the norm and if you are not happy it is your responsibility to fix that: exercise more, increased self-care, yoga, mindfulness, social groups, vitamin D.
In Askrigg, there is not much talk about happiness but there is much evidence of it. The people do not walk about the streets with cheesy grins looking as if they have taken happy pills, but everyone lives their lives in a fulfilled and contented way. People have full lives, but do not complain about how ‘busy’ they are; they just get on with it. I am stopped on the street by neighbours and people who know why we are there. They ask, with genuine interest, about how we are settling in, how our son is doing at the school, how we are all faring living with my mother in law. And they tell me about their families: who is currently ill, getting married, going on holiday or just had a baby. In a village the size of Askrigg most people know most other people and many of them are related. I suspect it is this connection between all the residents is at the heart of the contentment they feel. They know where they belong.
Music is an important part of connection. At the Top Pub Lou organised a Lazy Vinyl afternoon one Sunday. A juke box was retrieved from a farmer’s shed, cleaned off and installed. The manager of the outdoor pursuit centre showed us his DJ skills and anyone who wanted to contribute to the afternoon was encouraged to bring their own 45s. And they did!
When DJ Ian wanted a break the jukebox took over with a strange collection of mainly 70s and 80s music. It had an added thrill that the number picked did not correspond with the song listed. Music roulette.
On the work shift on the previous Saturday I saw the jukebox being installed and the smiles and interest this provoked. The glass front was lifted so we could see inside and change a few of the records; some damaged, some just dire. We had to try it out. So with a few of the regulars and the bar staff, late that evening, we listened to Bon Jovi, Simply Red, B A Robertson (who I had forgotten existed) and Los Lobos.
The music closed the perfect circle of physical warmth, congenial company and connection. I got up to dance with Lou to La Bamba. And in that moment, with these people, listening to that particular music I stumbled across happiness.
Stereo Story #618