MAY 2000

Immediately before Easter my work took me to Glasgow. In the evening sunshine on the east coast line we passed York Minster and Durham Cathedral, crossed the Tyne at Newcastle and hit the coast at Alnmouth. Holy Island could be seen before we reached Berwick-upon-Tweed. The change in the architectural style of the older buildings evidenced the fact that we had entered Scotland and the line followed the Firth of Forth past Bass Rock until we arrived at Waverley station. Unfortunately there was no time to see Edinburgh, perhaps the finest city in the United Kingdom. After I had changed trains to get to Glasgow, on the right was a superb deep red sunset and on the left a full moon indicating that Easter was imminent. It was a memorable journey.

John Betjeman, so often right about these things, described Glasgow as ‘the greatest Victorian city in the world.’ Edinburgh is a capital city; Glasgow feels like one. Central Glasgow is a glorious architectural extravaganza of Victorian self-confidence. Gothic and Scottish Baronial sit comfortably with influences of Venice, Egypt, classical Greece and Italy together with Art Nouveau and Art Deco. The streets are a grid pattern. Buchanan Street is particularly impressive with grand old buildings, built with civic pride and attention to detail, and now lined with fashionable shops, behind which in the side streets are interesting café bars.  

Fountains Abbey

The hotel I stayed in was OK though not as good as the Glasgow Copthorne where I stayed last autumn and which I would recommend to anyone. The view from my window was of the wall opposite. Well, I didn’t expect to be able to see Loch Lomond. The staff were friendly and courteous – British hotels are improving slowly – but generally our hotel restaurants never get it quite right. I have two tests when I go into a restaurant. If you get linen napkins and the butter is in a dish rather than in foil or plastic, then all should be well. I’m afraid the restaurant failed both tests. And the indicators were right. The cheese was straight out the fridge and the white wine wasn’t. The test does not always work. At the beginning of April my wife and I went to a good restaurant outside Bradford. Halfway through the night I was so violently sick that the curtains had to go to the dry cleaners and I spent 24 hours hardly able to move.

It was an enjoyable three days in Scotland’s second city. Scotland and England are cousins rather than siblings, neighbours rather than close friends. Scotland is another country. My father was born in Glasgow though he is not a Scot. His parents, Yorkshire people, lived there when he was born. A duck born in a pigsty is still a duck. Technically he is entitled to Scottish nationality and, of course, I could play for either England or Scotland, not a decision I’ve ever had to make.

Three days later on Good Friday I left the city from Central Station where Peckham’s is an old-fashioned grocer’s selling cheeses, chocolates, wines, salads, cakes, fruit and flowers. Travelling through the Borders we saw a vivid double rainbow against a black and slate sky. I changed at Lancaster, on the west line, and joined what must have been the oldest train still in service in England. We stopped at Carnforth, where they filmed Brief Encounter and where, I understand, there are plans to restore the rather dilapidated station, and then at every other place with more than twelve houses between Carnforth and Leeds. Still, in the evening light the Limestone Dales looked lovely despite the rain.  

bluebells2.jpg (52207 bytes) Bluebells (click)

My fourteen year old son went to Greece with his school just before Easter, his first holiday without mum and dad. One of those rites of passage. Clearly he enjoyed it hugely but it did teach him that life is not always as comfortable as it is at home. At home, I’m glad to say, he’s never known an ants’ nest under the lavatory. At one point there were 56 boys accommodated in eight rooms. He returned exhausted, having lost the brace for his teeth somewhere. So at least he left an impression on Greece. (Sorry). Perhaps we shall now be taken a bit less for granted. And perhaps not.

Easter Tuesday, since we were young and single, has been Bob’s Day Out. For 25 years Bob has organised a trip to the Dales. Usually this has been the Limestone Dales but this year we went to an area off the Harrogate-Ripon road not far from Fountains Abbey. From South Stainley we walked over the hill to Burton Leonard and then across the fields to Brearton. There had been heavy rain – the Stray in Harrogate was flooded – and the becks were swollen and the fields under water. But the bluebells, the cowslips and, best of all, the primroses were beautiful. Again, last week at Castle Howard, Vanburgh’s masterpiece, the woods were carpeted with primroses. It was Disraeli’s favourite flower. When he died in 1881 Queen Victoria sent a wreath of primroses to his funeral. The date of his death, 19 April, became Primrose Day.  

Bluebell wood near Otley

We had lunch at the Malt Shovel at Brearton in a thunderstorm. Though we were four families and four dogs and rather wet we were made very welcome. The food was excellent. It was the best treacle tart I’ve ever had. Leeds United have had a good season. At Christmas they were top of the Premier League but they’ve slipped a little since. Behind the bar was a notice inviting us to join Leeds United’s end of season celebrations at!

The first week of May is a lovely time of year. The leaves are that fresh bright green rather than the tired dirty green they’ll be by August. The blossom is abundant and fragrances hang in the still evening air. The light evenings make the day seem so much longer. Despite the wettest April since records began (three times the average), Yorkshire looks wonderful this sunny spring morning.

I’m afraid the local papers cannot match the competitions in the national press. In the Yorkshire Post on Saturday was an opportunity to win a week-end in, wait for it, Manchester. I didn’t enter. I’m working there this week.

David Brearley