I watched the eclipse yesterday from the train on my way up to York, wondering if it was okay to gaze at the sun through grubby windows; possibly not, as I had yellow spots before my eyes for quite a few minutes. The world went dark ... well, that's what happened in 1999, when the birds stopped singing, too, but this time, as it turned out, we'd only gone into a tunnel. The other passengers were very blasé and barely gave it a glance.
There's something very special about arriving at York into what was once the biggest station in the world (although the lovely ladies' waiting room with the polished mahogany table is long gone). No matter how long I've been away from York, it feels like coming home, especially in spring when the city walls are a mass of daffodils. (Misjudged that, though; I've become such a southerner that I hadn't allowed for how much later things are in the north. The daffodils were barely opening. And there doesn't seem to be anything like as many as there used to be - gulp - 40 years ago.)
I spent a couple of hours in the Railway Museum, because I'd never been there. And then I just walked, because there is history around every corner. Down an alleyway, wriggle past the wheelybin ... and there's the ruins of a house, more than 800 years old. Look out from the window of a medieval townhouse and see a grey cat (a live one) curled up on the rooftiles. Sit in a windowtable at Betty's with a pot of tea and a fat rascal and spot a cat statue (originally to frighten the rats) over a door across the way. And don't miss the little red devil. It doesn't take much imagining to people these narrow streets with apprentices and cooks and canons and guildsmen ...
But I could so easily have missed what turned out to be the highlight of the day. I went into the Minster to visit my favourite window - lingered listening to the choir - but I didn't feel drawn to something that looked like an intergalactic cowpat. So thank you to the verger who told me to retrace my steps or I'd miss the chance of a lifetime for a close-up view of glass from the Great East Window. The detail is amazing - whether it's the surprised, gossipy faces of the angels as St John peeks through a trapdoor into heaven or the delicate plants on the clifftops as his little boat is tossed ashore on Patmos. It is humbling to think of those 15th century craftsmen who must have thought that their work would be hidden from view for all eternity. And when the restoration is complete and the glass goes back in (it's one of the largest windows in the world, it's the size of a tennis court) ... it could be generations, or even centuries, before anyone gets a close-up look again.