Dear Reader: Rare glimpse inside iconic Harrogate spot + in defence of politicians

William Woods, chairman of the historic Woods of Harrogate shop.
William Woods, chairman of the historic Woods of Harrogate shop.

A personal column by the Harrogate Advertiser's Graham Chalmers.

The other week saw me lucky enough to get a behind-the-scenes look inside the doors of one of Harrogate’s most distinguished shops.
I have to add that I’m not inside the internationally renowned Woods of Harrogate on a regular basis as a customer, never mind as a journalist.


A highly respected part of Harrogate since the 18th century, its client list is so prestigious it seemed bad manners to ask William Woods, the dynamic chairman of this award-winning shop since he was 17-years-old, for any of the names who may be on it as he very kindly showed me round every nook and cranny of this most civilised of retailers.


Like many people in Harrogate, I may not have my interior design done there but I do own a Woods towel, a little touch of luxury which somehow survives the wear and tear of time.
Before I was invited in I fully expected this famous Harrogate institution to smack of a dusty bygone age.


Although its high standards of craftsmanship may belong to a Britain that, in general, no longer exists, much of its approach seemed utterly modern and swishly up to the moment.


Perhaps I was dazzled a little by all this quiet efficiency or maybe I was charmed by the chairman’s fizz of enthusiasm but I forgot to ask the one question I’d actually rehearsed in advance.

Why doesn’t Woods open on a Saturday or a Sunday?


For one reason or another I’ve found myself meeting quite a few politicians recently.
I appreciate that showing any sympathy for this much-maligned species in these fevered times is about as popular as praising a traffic warden.


But the news I bring back is that, whatever you, me or anyone may think of their ideas, policies or track records, they are, in fact, entirely human.
I’ve come to this conclusion, I may add, after spending time, on behalf of the Harrogate Advertiser, with representatives of the Conservatives, Lib Dems, Labour and Greens and the Women’s Equality Party.


My encounters have differed widely, from official face-to-face interviews in the newspaper’s offices to informal one-to-one’s over a coffee in a café.
I’ve even been called on to help judge the House of Common’s pub of the year competition by taking part in what can only be described as a “field trip” to local hostelries.
As individual characters, these denizens of democracy are as different as a busload of passengers on the Harrogate to Knaresborough line.


The only thing they seem to share is an obsession with politics, no more surprising, I suppose, than discovering a music fan drooling over old vinyl.
That not everyone shares my charitable viewpoint on this subject became clear on one occasion when a member of the public collared an off-duty local politician to offer a piece of their mind in forthright terms.


I’m not exactly shedding tears but when was the last time you saw a member of the public, on spotting an off-duty manager of a baker’s on his way home, collar him or her to shout out “oi, your pasties are rubbish.”