An iron dragon has arrived to bear us across the Dales, its body gleaming black and scarlet in the sun. Pistons pump, steam billows, a whistle shrieks. Inside, the carriages are wood-panelled and the seats springy. An ancient conductor wearing a heritage uniform dodders over to punch our tickets, and the punch is in the shape of a miniature swan.
We’re in an excellent mood. Who wouldn’t be?
But beware a heritage uniform! They are a portent of terrible things.
I knew a boy at university who boiled eggs inside the kettle. He would pop one in and wait for it to harden. That kettle had witnessed many fluids in its short and undistinguished life, but a multi-purpose descaling sachet wasn’t one of them. When the egg was done he would fish it out and peel the shell and place it, whole, into his mouth.
Kettle-based egg-boiling is revolting, although not as revolting as accidentally riding a steam train into a town rife with swastikas.
We arrive into the station and wander up the high street, which is standard-issue cute and flowery and has the air of air of a place that knows what it is to feature in a Channel 5 mini-series. Our first stop is a bookshop housing the most impressive collection of used medical romance novels either of us has ever seen. I eye up The Shy Nurse’s Christmas Gift and The Doctor’s Cinderella. At just 50p each and with a buy-back option for 20p, it’s a great deal. A bearded fellow in cycling leggings browses the canal boat maintenance section; an old lady enters with her spaniel. So far, so unobjectionable.
But at lunch the problems start. The town’s fare is almost exclusively cupcake-based, so we end up in a pub at the top of the hill in search of something more substantial. It’s a tavern of two halves. One side has been renovated and boasts padded chairs, a sleekly-curved bar and soft jazz, while the other has been preserved in its original state to cater for those patrons who prefer their tables sticky and their carpets threadbare.
We are seated on a draughty banquette in the traditionalist section. As I’m munching my way through a reasonably-priced cheese ploughman’s, something catches my eye. Dangling from the rafters is a model plane with a swastika painted on its tail. That’s weird, I think. Maybe it was left over from a World War Two themed party where the contributions of both sides were honoured and it looked so good they just… kept it up? We point and whisper. The barmaid glances over, nonplussed. I suppose after a while you grow used to swastikas in the workplace.
We finish our lunch and leave. Now the floodgates have opened. In the window of the antiques shop next door: an enamel pin with a background of red and white and a foreground of swastika. NSDP Party Badge, reads the label — a rather obfuscatory way to refer to the Nazis if we’re being charitable, or purposefully disingenuous if we’re not. On display in the place a few doors down: an imperial raptor atop a hooked cross of Aryan purity. This one is called German Eagle Badge. My cheese ploughman’s threatens to come back up again. We work our way through the high street, hoping to find an antiques shop that doesn’t casually offer symbols of horrific genocide for sale. All fail.
Finally, we reach one that looks a cut above the rest. Something about the daintily-arranged Art Deco tea cups in the window says that this is a shop which has been ‘curated’. In a sense it passes, in that there are no swastikas. But in another it fails a whole new test. Upstairs, in a corner signposted Man Cave Area: Lots of Treats for Him, a band of minstrel figures stares bleakly out at us, eyes ringed in white and mouths frozen into rictus grins. They bear the label Six Gollies, the Set.