To Harrogate for a weekend break. The town, which always looks as if it's just been hoovered, and which I always associate with Young Conservative conferences, is usually bracketed with York in the sense of being anomalous - ie, posh - Yorkshire. Somebody once said to me that York was "basically Godalming", and the same might be said of Harrogate, although I prefer to think of it as the Bath of Yorkshire, with its spa-town grandeur.
If, as a youngster growing up in the north, you were given a tin of Farrah's Harrogate Toffee, you tended to eat the stuff as slowly and reverently as possible, and you would save the tin for the safekeeping of valuable things. Farrah's has always been the most genteel of confectioners, as signified by the name of one of its popular lines of yesteryear: "Fairy Cushions".
We stayed in the middle of town at the new Hotel du Vin, part of the Hotel du Vin chain, which is catering to the growing number of people schooled in the lore of Habitat and Conran and seeking accommodation in provincial towns. The chain has hotels in Winchester, Tunbridge Wells, Bristol, Birmingham and Brighton. I mention this not because I was given my mini-suite free of charge - far from it; the cost was £145 for the four of us - but because the hotels seem to me part of a social revolution.
In the car park, I steered my knackered Skoda very trepidatiously into a gap between two sports cars. There was a full-sized purple snooker table in the lobby, and a walk-in cigar humidor. The proportions of the suite were barn-like, the decoration minimalist; the shower - described by the hotel as "serious" - was cavernous, and I was tempted to remove the stylish free-standing notice reading, "Please help yourself to our bathroom products", along with the elegantly packaged products themselves.
The room had a name, not a number. It was called "Peter Lehmann". "I think he's a literary agent," mused the wife. It seemed plausible enough, given the chain's confident cosmopolitanism, but in fact Peter Lehmann is a wine producer, and this is the theme by which all the rooms are named. "Wine is, naturally, of fundamental importance," claims the brochure.
Not everyone in Harrogate would agree, as signified by Betty's Tea Rooms, located just over the road from the Hotel du Vin. This, too, is part of a chain, with outlets in York, Ilkley and Northallerton as well as Harrogate. The chain was started in 1919 by a Swiss confectioner called Frederick Belmont, and no one knows why it's called Betty's, although it is hinted that the Swiss confectioner himself knew very well. This mystery woman remains an erotic presence, her spirit wafting fragrantly over the servings of banana-and-walnut loaf or stem ginger cake.
If a Yorkshire lass - daughter of a GP, say - lands a place at Girton, the celebration would probably be at Betty's, where chips are not called "chips" - the monosyllable being rather too peremptory - but "chipped potatoes", and the fish comes with a wedge of lemon slotted into a thing that looks like a silver hairgrip, so you can squeeze it without getting the juice on your fingers. The accompanying mushy peas are billed as "pea puree".
When the waitress brought me my bill at Betty's, she lingered for a moment and asked: "Did you have a nice Easter?", a piece of old-fashioned politeness so shocking that, bewildered, I responded inadequately, muttering: "Suppose so."
The keynotes of Betty's are daintiness and gentility, and people blush slightly when ordering one of the specialities, a large fruit scone with the uncharacteristically raunchy name of "fat rascal". The keynotes of the Hotel du Vin are "design values", "cool", "Continental". I like both, although I admit I'm more at ease in the socially neutral territory of a decent pub.