Last month we went to London for the weekend and did the sort of Londony things people from the provinces do when they visit the capital. We took in a couple of museums, saw the William Blake exhibition at the Tate, enjoyed a show and, in the early evening bustle that is unique in this country to London, had a meal in Covent Garden. We liked the recently opened Queen Elizabeth II Great Court at the British Museum; this has received mixed reviews but seemed to our lay eyes well done and among other things provides covered public access to the Reading Room. I could happily spend a week at the British Museum and indeed once did in a previous life when I was researching some seventeenth century history.
Cottages in Rawdon
We stayed with old friends at Harrow on the Hill in the shadow of the famous school. One should be as comfortable with friends one has known a long time as one is wearing oneís favourite sweatshirt. Iíve known David since my first term at university (yes, so long ago); in Davidís case itís not so much a sweatshirt as an old large baggy cardigan.
We drove back to Yorkshire on the M1. Iím never sure where the Midlands end and the North begins. You follow signs to the North but it isnít defined. OK, Nottingham is the Midlands and Sheffield is the North. But where is the frontier? Are Mansfield and Chesterfield the Midlands? Anyway you know you are in the North when you pass the Yorkshire boundary and see Sheffield to the left. Next to the flyover at Meadowhall between Sheffield and Rotherham are two redundant but listed cooling towers known affectionately as Salt and Pepper. They serve no purpose now and arenít attractive in any aesthetic sense but they act for me as a sort of marker Ė Iím home and itís grim up North, or so you proudly claim to keep outsiders away.
The Times and Radio 4 report, with tongue firmly in cheek, that Barnsley may become the Lourdes of south Yorkshire. The well of St Helena has been rediscovered. In medieval times the waters of this well were thought to have healing powers and pilgrims regularly visited it. Unfortunately the well was lost at the Dissolution of the Monasteries in the sixteenth century. Now it has turned up on a school playing field in the middle of a Barnsley housing estate; honestly, Iím not making this up. St Helena protects holy places so itís good to know that Barnsley is in safe hands. John Wesley said that there was Ďall manner of wickednessí there.
Bingley lies on the Aire between Shipley and Keighley. It is an attractive town, older than the Industrial Revolution, though the main street is ruined by the headquarters of the Bradford and Bingley Bank or Building Society, however it styles itself these days. Among the old stone buildings is this monstrosity which is of the part nuclear bunker and part slagheap concept.
Twenty-five years ago Bingleyís finest Victorian church, Holy Trinity, designed by Norman Shaw, was demolished. Perhaps the finest Victorian landmark in Bingley now is the Mornington Road Methodist Church built in the 1870s. The church is listed; indeed Bradford Councilís planning department has described it as Bingleyís Ďmost important listed buildingí. Fortunately it is in good condition. According to Private Eye, Bradford Council has recently approved plans to demolish it. One can only hope that there are sufficient people who care enough and have enough clout to prevent this. As Private Eye says, Ďto lose one listed Victorian church in Bingley may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose both looks like carelessnessí.
Bingley Five-Rise Locks
In what sounds like the plot of a Gilbert and Sullivan opera or the story line from Jack and the Beanstalk, a Sunderland (County Durham) greengrocer is being prosecuted for selling a pound of bananas. As well as the political correctness police and the Health and Safety gestapo together with their sidekick, the negligence industry, in this country we now have legislation requiring the use of metric rather than imperial measures. No matter that everyone lives, as they have done for a thousand years, using imperial measurements Ė we weigh ourselves in pounds and stones, we travel miles, we drink in pints and we measure length in inches, feet and yards; if one asks for a pound of sausages they must be sold in grams. This nonsense is of course to please Europe and all but Council officials will ignore it. But Council officials arenít spending their own money and have nothing better to do so this guy is being prosecuted. His customer asked for a pound of bananas and was sold a pound of bananas; we canít have that.
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