If Barack Obama were to stay at the BEST WESTERN PLUS Dean Court Hotel in York this is what his review would be like (or pretty close!).
It’s been one halluva journey. You set out with no clear ideas of the destination. One day, you’re just a skinny kid wandering around King’s Cross Station, looking for kicks, directionless, just another confused soul of this Earth wondering what it’s all about. The next you’re on a train: a train of hope, a train of destiny, a train leaving at 13.33 to Newcastle via Stevenage, Peterborough and York.
We can all be on that train. It takes determination, guts, luck and (in my case) £82.70 for a very reasonably priced off-peak ticket.
Suddenly, I knew where I was going. The kid from Hawaii, part Indonesian, part Kenyan, all American, had a vision. I would not alight at Stevenage, and Newark would not tempt me. Grantham – ancestral home of feared British tribal leaders – would not deter me. I had my goal, York. I sipped my warm coffee and thought: York. Old York and yet, in a very real sense, a new York for me.
We arrived, weary yet exhilarated by the long journey of hope. The taxi rolled slowly in the damp afternoon air past ancient walls and hordes of people, many in the brightly-coloured nylon dress of their many tribes. The others, local people, strode determined, sure, speaking in an unknown and unknowable dialect. Yorkshire people.
As if in a dream, we drew up on an ancient road in the shadow of a temple that reached high and magnificent into the Yorkshire skies. I handed the driver a £50 note. ‘Sorry, mate, not sure I can change that’. I put my hand on his shoulder. ‘No-one is sure they can change, my brother,’ I said. ‘But change will surely come.’ I walked away meditatively. The driver said ‘fair enough’ and drove off. He had seemed touched by what I said.
The BEST WESTERN PLUS Dean Court Hotel is a 7-room boutique hotel as close to York Minster as you can be. Outside is weathered, ancient stone; inside all clean lines and modernity. The hotel is well used to celebrity guests. Ronnie Corbett and the dancer Wayne Sleep had recently attended a function in the sophisticated restaurant. You cannot help but feel humble.
The hotel lobby was a scene of quiet bustle as the people of the land – of many lands – talked, debated and strove together. The receptionist was warm, civil, but with that very English sense of reserve. ‘We have a lovely third-floor room overlooking the road,’ she said. ‘But if you would rather change, we have a smaller room at the rear.’ ‘Change will come,’ I said. ‘No choice. It will come.’ ‘Well actually sir, there is a choice. The front-facing room does have the nicer view.’ I thought carefully about her words. She was right. We can choose our own view. The view is ours, and ours alone, to choose.
As great peace came upon me as I settled into room 303 and sipped the local delicacy – ‘Twinings tea’. As I gazed on the might of the Minster, a powerful atavistic sense overwhelmed me. For years, centuries, strangers like me had been sipping tea and looking out onto the Yorkshire twilight, listening to the strangely soothing sound of the mothers of the people discussing the price of foodstuffs on the pavement below.
But man was not made to rest, to settle, even in a comfortable space with free shortbread. No. We must emerge, stalwart, inquiring and explore our own boundaries. So I went for a nice little walk before supper.
You think life is a boulevard; straight, three lanes at least, plenty of space for a motorcade and cheering onlookers. My friend, I am here to tell you that it is not. Life, I saw, was like a York city centre thoroughfare; a bit of a Shambles. You walk straight and proud, only to find the pavement meandering and narrowing. You get lost, confused, and the people obstruct you. But you persevere. And eventually you reach your goal – your sanctuary from a clamouring world.
It was indeed and literally that – the Sanctuary restaurant in Gillygate. As I savoured my salad of figs, local buffalo mozzarella and Parma ham in the homely yet directional exposed brick interior, I contemplated the big questions. Who or what was Gilly, and what Nixon-like scandal had they named this street for? Did wild buffalo really roam the plains of Yorkshire? Should I have the naughty chocolate mousse for dessert?
It was in a peaceable yet strangely uplifted spirit that I strolled back to the hotel. Tribal cries filtered into the night air as young men worshipped the Sky God. Young people embraced in the ancient streets and their elders noticed how it was getting a bit parky now the nights were drawing in.
David the cheerful porter, noted my thoughtful mood as I entered the lobby. ‘Bit of a change from Washington, I imagine, sir?’ I pondered. David, in his typically understated English way, was right. Yet change was good. As good, as David might have said, as a rest.
By Mark Jones, Do Not Disturb (In-hotel Magazine)