The conversation went like this:
Friend Pam: Look at these fabulous desserts at the restaurant where we took Mum and Dad for their anniversary.
Tilly Bud: Drool…
Friend Pam: I’ll take you there one day; you have to eat these puddings; they’re fabulous.
Will she, bud?: Droo…l
Friend Pam: Hang on a minute…your birthday’s coming up…I’ll take you for a meal on your birthday!
There is a God: Thank yo…r….oo…l…
And so it came to pass last Wednesday that I found myself heading out of Manchester and into Burnley. To misquote Field of Dreams (and, in fact, tell an outright lie for comic effect), the only thing we have in common is that Pam came from Burnley; and I had once heard of it.
Pam suffers from a chronic condition: she cannot plan an event without it being a huge success and, as we were heading in that direction, she reasoned, why not go up the famous Pendle Hill (never heard of it) and be tourists in the famous Witch Trial/Trail area (never heard of it). We could see the famous Eye of God (never heard of it) in the famous centuries-old church (never heard of it) where her husband had proposed to her (I’ve heard of him); call in at the Elizabethan Towneley Hall (never heard of it); eat lunch there (definitely heard of that!); call in to see her parents for some northern hospitality (we’re all famous for that up here); and finish off at the famous pudding restaurant (which sells other food but, seriously, who cares?).
The woman is a genius.
We had a fabulous day. Pendle Hill was gorgeous; the witch business was fascinating and a little sad (hanging innocent women gets me like that; I dunno why). The church was…open. It was hard to believe we were in 21st Century Britain when we could walk into an open, unmanned church and be trusted not to damage/steal anything. Amazing. Of course, it probably helped that it was situated halfway up a mountain in the middle of witch country.
I forgot to take my camera but Pam obliged by taking photos with hers, including my request for a pic of the inside of the public toilet – it had a high cistern with a chain! I was back in my childhood (complete with cold seat) particularly as, technically, it was an outside loo. Pam and I have a friendly rivalry going to see which of us is most common and I think I win because I was born in a Liverpool slum and come from Irish peasant stock (hence the Liverpool slum): an outside toilet with a lock was a step up for me.
Towneley Hall was wonderful. Walking through rooms which have been inhabited by who knows how many people over the past 500 years is one of my favourite things to do and I’m afraid my mouth got stuck in the Wow! position until it hurt Pam’s ears. But that’s to be expected of a slumdog, of course. I was, like, well impressed.
There was a slight change of plan when we saw the queue outside the restaurant door and, as we’d only had huge slices of cake for elevenses we decided – which is to say, Pam decided and I went happily along with any plan intended to feed me – to head straight for pudding paradise and eat there, calling in for a brew at Pam’s folks’ afterwards. Which is just as well as Pam’s Mum was having her feet done and didn’t really want her guest to see that. I don’t know why; I’ve got feet; I know how the whole thing works.
I forget the name of the place where we ate because I was too busy stuffing my gullet with a delicious carvery (which could have been called a spoonery because the meat just fell off the bone and the chef told me that sometimes he has to use a spoon to serve it) to write it down. Pam tells me it’s called Sycamore Farm. Check the desserts:
Now tell me it wasn’t worth turning 52 just for that.
We rolled out of there for the short journey to Pam’s parents’ house and I’m not sure that it wasn’t the best part of my day. Her parents are lovely and her mother is adorable. She hugged me despite never having met me before and then gave me an entertaining rundown of some of her neighbours, past and present. They included friendly drug addicts who ran in to help during a crisis to the creepy bloke who introduced himself with the words, I’m not a paedophile and I’ve got a letter to prove it. Pam’s Mum – or I should say, Pamela’s Mum, because that’s what she called her the whole time; no one ever calls Pam Pamela, she’s too friendly to be full-named; but you know what mothers are like. As I was saying, Pamela’s Mum wasn’t convinced by the not-a-molester, though she was glad to see him go when he was arrested for his cannabis farm and stealing his neighbour’s electricity to supply it. I can’t decide which of her neighbours was my absolute favourite, but it’s a toss-up between the biker who stripped and rebuilt his motorbike many times over fifteen years, in the middle of his living room and partner and children; or the dominatrix who kept a dungeon in the basement but lived elsewhere.
Don’t think that any of this is my usual hyperbole; I swear I had it straight from the horse’s mouth – which was wearing its false teeth at the time, as she happily informed me. Only the best for Pam’s friends.
I think I love her.
Thank you, Pam, for giving me a brilliant day, showing me a fantastic time, and for having a wonderful mother.
All photographs courtesy of Pam Robinson.