April 2000

Early this month, having worked over the weekend, I  took a Tuesday off. To take a day away from the office during the week when my wife is at work and the boys are at school is always slightly strange and one must avoid the trap of simply reading the paper, going to Sainsbury’s and watching Countdown (‘another consonant please, Carol’). As the rain and hail were driving sideways across Rawdon, it wasn’t a day for walking on Ilkley Moor or mooching around Grassington. So I went to Saltaire; it’s all too easy not to go to these places which are on one’s doorstep and which one would indeed visit if one were a visitor to the area.

Shipley & Saltaire

Entrance to Salts Mill

Titus Salt’s great mill is now a retail outlet. By that I don’t mean it is like one of those frightful out of town retail parks full of the usual suspects – you know, Marks and Spencer, WH Smith, Boots, Gap, the chain shoe shops and the card shops where you can buy whatever you want so long as it’s vulgar or twee. What is available at Salt’s Mill is rather more classy than that.

On the ground floor is a gallery of Hockney paintings. There are tables and tables of books through which one can leisurely browse. Tristan and Isolde was being played through the PA system and the air was thick with incense and perfumes. There is a furniture floor together with home furnishings and a kitchen shop, the two separated by a café/restaurant which is rather more inventive than the standard burgers and routine Italian dishes and chips. Tucked away on the top floor there are photographs for sale. I lingered quite some time looking at some rather fine black and white studies of places in the West Riding. By strength of character, fear of my wife and mindful of the fact that we would be pushed to get any more pictures on the walls at home, I was able with difficulty to keep my cheque book in my pocket. But tomorrow is another day…

On 6 April, the first day of the new tax year when all accountants are up early, I was on the road by six o’clock as I had to be in Newcastle Upon Tyne by nine. The sun rose as I reached the top of Pool Bank where Wharfedale stretched before me covered in frost. The sky was clear and it was an exhilarating journey. I left the A1 at Thirsk, where the real James Herriot practised as a vet, and I followed the A19 west of the North Yorkshire Moors to Teesside, then up through County Durham to Newcastle. In bright sunshine I entered the city over the Tyne Bridge noticing – one could hardly not – how the new stadium of Newcastle United rather than St Nicholas’s cathedral now dominates the skyline. Well, these are the cathedrals de nos jours and the faithful don’t come much more devout than in the capital of Tyneside. One could be forgiven for thinking that the black and white shirt of Alan Shearer is the regional dress.


Last week we went to see Godspell performed by the sixth form at my younger son’s school. It was a production true to its 1970s origin but at the same time generously laced with irony. The fashions and styles of those days, oh dear. Of course these kids weren’t alive in the ‘70s; they were born after the Falklands War. (Feeling old?). In the intimacy of the David Hockney theatre, where we were, I was struck by how brave these boys and girls are. I couldn’t do it (though I did at their age). They put on a first-rate performance without a hint of self-consciousness or gaucherie. They threw themselves enthusiastically into the heart and soul of the musical. The audience clearly enjoyed it and it was a fitting prelude to Easter.

John Rigg, part of the Establishment at the Princess, is the epitome of the dry Yorkshireman. Deadpan he returns the most wonderful lines. ‘The traffic at Kirkstall lights gets worse and worse’, I said. ‘It’s never been the same since they built the Abbey’, he replied.