|The staff want to close up for the night,|
but I'm not yet ready to leave.
It’s impossible to mention James Herriot’s date with Helen Alderson at Ritz Cinema in Thirsk without mentioning Gobber Newhouse. Herriot describes him as a man who spent most afternoons drinking in the local public houses. During the first movie of the evening, what Herriot describes as a tender love story, the man clomps up the stairs, reeking of stale beer. He stumbles across the balcony, steps on James’ foot, and even pauses on Helen’s lap, before collapsing onto an adjacent couch and falling asleep. In addition to the sweltering heat, the smell of stale beer and old couches, the boys accompaniment of every on-screen kiss with long sucking noises or blown raspberries, the man sleeps off his “heavy afternoon of drinking” with wheezing, snuffling, and grunting.
Gobber wakens during the second movie, “Arizona Guns.” Herriot has endured so many disappointments this evening, not the least of which is this low-budget Western, instead of the advertised film about his beloved Scotland. Suddenly Gobber leaps up and shouts at the screen. Amid some frenzied thrashing, he belts Herriot in the face, knocking the young vet into Helen. As Gobber falls back on the couch, and resumes his pig-like noises, Helen’s tight features loosen. She sinks into the couch, racked by hysterical, silent laughter. James watches, dumbfounded, as the woman he most wanted to impress falls victim to mirth she can no longer contain. When she regains a measure of control, she leans over and whispers, “Next time, why don’t we just go for a walk?”
I’ll admit, I wonder why a manager so intent upon impressing his clientele (by wearing an immaculate evening suit) would admit someone in Gobber’s state. The drunken man could not help but prove a distraction to the other patrons. But, from the old couches used instead of seats, to the poorly painted walls, to the clock beside the screen that remained at twenty-minutes past four the entire evening, the Ritz Cinema of the late 1930s needed every pence and shilling it could take in. Certainly, the manager allowed the boys in, who made their own contributions to the evening’s entertainment.
Perhaps a better question to ask is why Helen went out with James in the first place, and why this evening, as disastrous as it was, achieved his desire of starting over with Helen. There may have been a thousand reasons why Helen went out with James once, let alone a second time. Perhaps it was his audacity in pursuing her, when everyone knew she could have the suitor her father preferred, the wealthy Richard Edmundson. Perhaps it was the fact that he appreciated the difficulties faced by poor, local farmers. Perhaps it was how he seemed to care about the animals he treated. Whatever the reason for her initial attraction, something happened that night that decided Helen on pursuing a relationship with James. I don’t know exactly what it was, but I know one thing: I’m glad nobody like Gobber Newhouse stumbled down our row and plopped into an adjacent chair during our evening at Ritz Cinema!
Musing after the movie,