YORK is a small, beautiful city that resonates with history – or it’s a drunken hellhole full of people urinating and vomiting. Opinion is divided after a notably raucous weekend, caused in part by the heatwave and the races coming together.
The drunken behaviour has been a hot topic all this week and here I must own up. I joined that tipsy throng, although I only had the one pint and then caught the bus home to drink wine and watch television.
It is tempting, if a touch ridiculous, to say that if everyone behaved like that, there wouldn’t be a problem. Don’t all these weaving drunks realise that there are good subtitled crime dramas to watch on BBC4 on a Saturday night with a glass of wine to hand?
In a moment I will put forward an argument for York being a better place than it used to be. But first, here is an eyewitness account from last Saturday that seems to suggest the opposite.
Having been in town early in the evening, we went for the bus. “Let’s walk up Micklegate,” said my wife. Five minutes or so later, she said: “This wasn’t one of my best ideas.”
We were pushing against the tide. Racegoers were streaming down the old street, a rare hill in York. They weaved and tippled around, shoeless and senseless in some cases.
They shouted and were a nuisance, although nothing bad happened. At the bus stop, we sat and watched the flow of people. Many were smartly dressed, although men in suits can still get out of hand, and often do on race days.
On the last race weekend, we were on another bus home when we saw a fight at the station, as a young man enraged or made stupid by drink lashed out at people who appeared to be his friends. The first one to be hit sat on a bench, seeming both hurt and confused, as if he had no idea why he’d been struck.
Last Sunday morning, my wife went to the gym and reported seeing blood in Micklegate and a pub with a smashed window, and shards of glass on the pavement.
My own newspaper ran the drunken York story on its website, drawing initially on what people were saying on social media. And what they were saying wasn’t pretty because it rarely is.
Over the week, this story expanded and later ran under the headline: “Angry residents say York must tackle drunken yobs – but others say there’s no problem.”
While those words are less than snappy, they do suggest a divide in local opinion. Dip into the comments section and you will discover the usual miserable congregation complaining about the world, while endlessly slagging each other off.
A common thread was that the railways were to blame for bringing people to York, especially from the North East. It was possible to detect a class issue here: we don’t want all those pissed-up working-class Geordies in York.
Another thread was the presence of stag and hen parties, and I’ll admit to my own snobbism on this matter. Those hen parties are shockers, the older women in too-shirt skirts and plunging tops, all wearing sashes and weaving around drunkenly.
But then I tick myself off: aren’t people allowed to enjoy themselves as they wish?
Some commentators blame the bars, but there have always been bars and pubs in York, and there has always been drunken behaviour. In the Eighties the piss parade was mostly confined to the Micklegate Run, but then the change in licensing laws allowed the drunkenness to flow throughout the city.
York is popular, and popularity is a blessing and a curse. And I like much about York today, a more varied and interesting city than the one we moved to 30 years ago.
Last Saturday, we ate in SparkYork, a new but temporary food village made from old shipping containers (loved by many, hated by the inveterate moaners), then went for a drink in Brew York. This new brewery is a boon for the city and we will be returning there for its beer festival this weekend.
Many of the new bars, restaurants and cafes in York and locally owned and run, and those are the places we should be supporting.
I don’t claim there aren’t problems, for clearly there are. But those problems have existed for a long time, and York long ago signed a deal with the (drunken) devil thanks to the popularity of its racecourse, and the umbilical link between racing and boozing.