Castle Pillock And The Hidden Monkey

Once a month, usually on the first or second Saturday, I depart the ancestral battlements and make the twenty-five minute train journey to Malton, perhaps the epitome of a North Yorkshire market town.  From September to July it’s a quiet journey, with plenty of seats available.  From July to September it’s the sardine express, because the eventual destination is Scarborough.  There are still many people who choose not to drive to the seaside, and they all depart from York station at 10.40am on the first or second Saturday of the month.

My own destination is the writers’ group that meets in the upstairs room of The Hidden Monkey café.  The monkey is, sadly, completely invisible, but the prawn sandwiches are brilliant, also the owners understand the difference between an Americano and a cafetiere coffee.  I’m not passing judgement, I enjoy either, but there is a difference, whatever nine out of ten baristas might say. 

Because of the train timetable, I usually have about forty minutes to kill before the group starts.  There isn’t a lot of Malton, and I’ve been going for nearly two years now, so I reckon I could run a guided tour.  There’s a Market Place, and sometimes my visits coincide with the rather posh Farmer’s Market selling venison and esoteric sausages and samphire.  Beside the Market Place is St Michael’s church, with bits of the nave dating from the 12th century and the west tower dating from the 15th century and bits of the transepts dating from the 19th century.  Every time I go in they’re offering tea and biscuits, from an urn and plates that look roughly mid-1970s, to me.  I’ve asked about the single female name on theFirst World War memorial plaque, but no-one seems quite sure who she was, and so far the internet has failed me completely. 

Charles Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol in Malton, and up until last December there was a Dickens museum, sadly now deceased.  There’s a family owned art deco cinema, and behind that the stupendously named Worldwide Shopping Mall.  The world has had to shrink a little to fit the single winding covered lane available, but they offer Fiorelli handbags, Botella shoes and Lego, so the spirit is there.  Despite the appearance of being a number of tiny separate shops, the Mall is actually a singly owned warehouse for internet trading, looking to pull in a few flesh and blood customers.  However this is not made clear, and puzzled strangers are left with the impression of a bizarre and ill-stocked passage with a bloke sitting behind a desk at the end of it, staring at them.  One person on Trip Advisor described it as ‘weird’.  The owners vehemently challenged this but, I have to say, I’m with Trip Advisor. 

Malton is farming country, real proper farming country.  It’s not far from Kirby Misperton, site of an anti-fracking camp, and probably only in Malton would you find a sign saying ‘Scarecrows Against Fracking’ tied to a lampost.  Like a lot of North Yorkshire, it’s True Blue.  Now and again, when I’m wandering round, I have an unaccountable sense of unease that someone is going to raise their arm, point at me and howl ‘Labour voter!’, and I know that however fast and far I run, like the replicant humans in The Invasion of the Body Snatchers they will find me.  Daft, of course, because everyone is always very pleasant.  But then they would be, wouldn’t they? 

      Prawn sandwiches notwithstanding, my favourite place in Malton is Ralph Yates’s store.  It is inadequate to call it a shop.  It’s on the right-hand side of the road as you walk up from the railway station.  The railway station is technically not in Malton, it’s in Norton, along with the bus station.  You have to walk over a very pretty stone bridge spanning a very pretty, winding  bit of the River Derwent to arrive in Malton itself.  Ralph Yates’s store is just the right side of the border. 

I first went into Ralph Yates’s to buy an umbrella.  The store has a large frontage, and there were wheelbarrows and mops and a gumball machine outside so, umbrella-less and dripping, I decided to give it a go. 

Oh, my.  We have a shop in York called Barnitt’s, where you can buy everything from a safety-pin to a bedroom suite.  If Barnitt’s hasn’t got it, you were deluded to think you needed it in your life.

Ralph Yates’s makes Barnitt’s look like a market stall.

I missed the shotgun cartridges on that first visit, but I saw the china, the Apostle teaspoons, the tweed jackets, the bags of Haribo, the green wellies, the Barbie dolls and yes, the umbrellas.  I didn’t have cause to go in again until just before Christmas, when I was looking for a tube of heavy-duty glue.  I wandered round for a bit, got distracted by the hair nets and the electric fencing, and finally asked a lady behind the long wooden counter where I might find glue, please.

‘At the back.  Turn left then right.’

I turned left then right, found the shotgun cartridges behind the counter, a few inches from the My Little Ponies and the Moocall Calving Sensor, but no glue.  I went round again and found the bicycles and the cheese graters, but no glue.  Surely a place designed to supply the survivors of World War III would have a tube of bloody glue?

Then I found the Opening and the Steps Down.  This was the back.  I’d still been at the front.

Dining room suites.  Gas fires.  Brass fireside sets and coal scuttles.  Stonking pastel-coloured American fridge freezers with ice making doo-dads on their doors.  Agas.  I’m sure I glimpsed a surrey with a fringe on top behind the TVs.  And finally, turning left then right, tubes of glue.  Row upon row of tubes of glue.

My adhesive lexicon is as follows:  stuff that sticks paper; stuff that sticks everything else inside and requires plastic gloves; stuff that sticks everything else outside and requires a hazmat suit.

Apparently, there’s stuff you can mix, stuff you can mould, stuff you can squish out of a gun, stuff for above something centigrade, stuff for below something centigrade, stuff for porous, non-porous, smooth, rough, and yesterday’s stubble.

I found a nice man.  ‘My house numbers fell off and I want to stick them back on the wall.’

Dear God.  Was I brick or stucco or pebble dash or log cabin?  Did I intend to do it on hot day, a cold day, a wet day or a dry day?  Are my numbers metal, plastic, wood or meteorite fragment?

He was very kind.  He couldn’t have taken more trouble with me if I’d been looking to buy a fridge freezer, an Aga and a coal scuttle.  I came away proudly clutching my glue and a new packet of plastic gloves, even Ralph Yates’s being low on stocks of hazmat suits to fit fat elderly ladies for whom a Marks and Spencer short length trouser is one and a half inches too long.

So I was content when I arrived at the Hidden Monkey that day for my prawn sandwich and cafetiere coffee, plus an invigorating session of having my work ripped to shreds for my own good.  Although I was a little apprehensive about going into the café itself.  They welcome dogs, and on my previous visit I failed to notice a beautiful cockapoo, dozing under a table, and trod on his tail.  He yelped blue murder, and all heads snapped round to look at me, and it was Invasion of the Body Snatchers all over again.  I bought him a packet of the Hidden Monkey’s special dog biscuits, but all eyes were still on me as I paid my bill and had my loyalty card stamped.  It was a different coloured ink from the previous time.  It’s hard not to be worried.

I’m going again next Saturday.  Hopefully they’ll let me leave.  Although the prospect of eternity in Ralph Yates’s store does indeed hold certain charms.




had to google hazmat, but I guess there's nothing more dangerous than Tories in their natural enviroment. Toxic. 


I'm adopting a belt and braces approach for my next visit, taking the garlic and crucifix and a finely honed stake. Just in case.

Always a good start to the day when I see there's news from Castle Pillock. I wish you'd put these in the main part of the site - I wonder how many people are missing them where they currently are?


Thank you insert. I think Castle Pillock has found its natural home in the blogs. It fits rather snugly.

I expected you to stumble on Auntie Wainwright's shop... maybe your next trip. Enjoyed the read... fascinating stuff.


Thank you Shackleton.  Oddly enough, my first rough draft of this included a bit on a very strange little antique shop I came across on one visit, but I left it out because I got carried away and rambled on for ages.  It may reappear at some point, either in a blog, or possibly in something else entirely!