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Friday, June 29, 2012

An Evening at Ritz Cinema: Part 1

"There had never been much attempt at grandeur in its architecture,
and the entrance was hardly wider than the average shopfront."
James Herriot, All Creatures Great and Small

In the waning chapters of All Creatures Great and Small, James Herriot writes about his courtship with Helen Alderson.  Their first date was suggested by his coworker Tristan: a dinner and dance at the Reniston Hotel outside town.  On the drive there, his old, beat-up Austin 7 gets a flat tire.  While changing it, his shoes get soaked in a puddle.  At her insistence, they return to her home and he borrows her father’s shoes.  When they finally arrive at the elegant and upscale Reniston, he learns that no dance is scheduled for the evening.  All in all, he views their first date as a disaster.

Yet a visit from Helen gives him hope.  She brings Dan, the family dog, to Skeldale House, and assists him in fixing the dog’s dislocated hip.  Afterward, Mrs. Hall brings out tea and biscuits (cookies), and this time, as they sit and talk, he feels none of the awkwardness he did at the expensive hotel.  That night, when he calls to follow up on Dan’s condition, he summons courage and suggests a second date, this time at the local cinema. 

The evening of their date, Tristan asks if he’s really taking Helen to the pictures.  James asks “Why not?”  Tristan says that he would have suggested something more enterprising.  James “gave a bitter laugh,” and reminds Tristan of the Reniston disaster.  This time he’s looking for a safer option.  Tristan agrees: nothing could be safer than The Plaza.

James arrives outside the cinema ten minutes early.  Not willing to risk having another flat tire, or some mechanical difficulty with his old Austin, he’s asked Helen to meet him there.  He stares at the plain-looking cinema tucked in between the ironmonger’s and the chemist’s shop.  The lights are off, the doors closed.  Is The Plaza even open tonight?  Yet a few groups of people stand nearby, and he notices “a bunch of small boys rolling and fighting on the pavement.”  Might this second date prove a disaster equal to their first?  Then he spots Helen, and she offers him a wide smile and a cheerful wave.  Suddenly, he feels sure that everything will be all right.

Why are we seeing a movie about Yemen
on our trip to England?

I’m not sure why I fixated on spending an evening at Ritz Cinema, the movie theater Alf Wight (James Herriot) called The Plaza.  Nor am I sure why, each day of our stay in Thirsk, I put off going.  I think what initially gave me the idea was how the story leaps off the page in the book.  It also helped that the cinema has received minimal upgrades over the years.  Had it been transformed into a modern multiplex, for example, I would not have bothered. Yet I was afraid of being disappointed, of attending and feeling no closeness to James, Helen, or the events of their second evening together.  Nor did the movie, “Salmon Fishing in Yemen,” sound like our usual cup of tea.  Finally, I tend to be an early-to-bed, early-to-rise person these days.  After a full day of exploring Herriot Country, why should we leave our pleasant, little hotel and risk being disappointed?

The idea of visiting Ritz Cinema, and experiencing that Herriot connection, however, had taken hold in my wife.  In the end, it was she who got us out to Thirsk that last evening.  As we approached the cinema, I could see that Herriot was right: the Ritz was a small, unimposing structure.  We arrived early, and as in the book, the doors were closed, no line had yet formed, and only a few people waited outside.  Yet my wife smiled easily, and her conversation sounded upbeat.  I vowed that, regardless of what happened, I would enjoy our evening at Ritz Cinema.

Waiting for the doors to open,
Dragon Dave

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