Selby Abbey is still an active parish church. It has launched an appeal for £4 million to restore the fabric of the building and avoid closure. Its limestone is being extensively eaten away by pollution. Columns have collapsed and intricate tracery lost. Last year a five ton pinnacle fell off the central tower and crashed into the transept.


The Abbey was founded by William the Conqueror in 1069. Queen Matilda, William’s wife, chose to give birth to the future Henry I there. It is one of the few monastic foundations to have survived the vandalism which followed the Dissolution of the Monasteries and it similarly avoided destruction or damage by the Puritan armies of Parliament during the Civil War and the Commonwealth. It is generally regarded as one of Yorkshire’s finest churches and one hopes the money can be found to restore it for future generations. The government, of course, prefers to spend hundreds of millions of pounds on projects like building the Dome which is not even intended to be permanent. It makes my blood boil. A far better way to mark the Millennium would have been to restore and protect our rich heritage of historic buildings.


Early Postcard from Selby



There is an exhibition of bank notes on at the British Museum. (I realise that that sentence really does smell strongly of anorak). Apparently Queen Elizabeth II was the first British Head of State to appear on a Bank of England note and that was as recently as 1960. Anyway, that’s not my point. Until 1921 bank notes were printed and issued by local banks (as, of course, they still are north of the Border) and often featured local scenes. For example, on a York City and County Banking Company £5 note, Britannia stood guard over Scarborough. What a lovely thought. An article about this in the New Statesman is illustrated by an 1830s’ Hull Banking Company bank note which has on it a splendid picture of Lincoln High Street and Cathedral.



The boys discovered the Harry Potter books before they were famous (the books, you understand, not the boys). They loved them. Now unfortunately the media and the promotions industry have completely taken over and every kind of tacky gift can be bought. ‘J K Rowling in money’ is the playground joke. My younger son went to the film and came home bitterly disappointed. He’s learned the important lesson that when you know and love a book, its characters and its subtleties, and you have used your own imagination whilst reading it, the film of the book is always disappointing.



 The roots of The Star-Spangled-Banner are said to originate from this window in Selby Abbey




For some time now the Powers That Be have been trying to persuade us to adopt the Centigrade/Celsius rather than the Fahrenheit measure of temperature. As with most metric measures here they are resisted or ignored. Except that in this case a rather odd practice seems to have developed. In summer people talk about the temperature being in the 80s and 90s (Fahrenheit), whereas in winter they say it is so many degrees below zero (Centigrade). So we have this wonderful British compromise – a temperature scale which goes from zero to a hundred, beginning in Centigrade and changing over to Fahrenheit. How visitors to this country deal with our idiosyncrasies I don’t know. In winter when we talk about it being mild we mean it’s warm whereas in summer to say it’s mild means it’s a bit chilly.



The run-up to Christmas is underway. We have booked to see the Babes in the Wood pantomime in Harrogate (same characters, format and jokes as last year and the year before that and the year before that – oh yes it is), and Singin’ in the Rain at Leeds Playhouse. We are going to the school production of Guys ‘n Dolls tonight and there is the office party looming – in fact it is at the Royal Armouries this year which should be fun. (Except that unfortunately people tend to be much better behaved nowadays).



I’ve recently bought a small book of Yorkshire quotations and here are a few of them:


‘Yorkshiremen are suspicious, obstinate, materialist, isolationist, nonconformist and blunt – and I like them as they are’. (Eric Treacy, Bishop of Wakefield)


‘I was always very proud of living in Yorkshire, in that hilly part which is called the backbone of England, the Pennine chain…at night I loved to see the lighted trams climbing up the dark hills like fireflies on black velvet; it seemed to me that they were brave and sturdy, like Yorkshire people, not afraid of difficult tasks or big hills’. (Phyllis Bentley)


‘Part of me is still in Bradford and can never leave it…something at the core of me is still in Market Street hearing the Town Hall chimes’. (J B Priestley)


‘Passion for one’s country, yes in the very bones and heart of one…my heart’s in Yorkshire’. (Winifred Holtby)



Dad's Army

I’ve bought my brother for Christmas a book by Graham McCann about Dad’s Army which is probably the best television comedy programme ever made in this country. It is, of course, about the Home Guard during the Second World War. But those of you who know it – the pompous Mainwaring, the public school, laid-back Wilson, the enthusiastic Jones, the wide boy Walker, the wonderfully camp vicar, the manic verger, the green Pike, the fulsome Mrs Fox, the fatalistic Frazer, the squabbles, the jealousies, the class issues, the determination - will understand exactly what the author means when he says in his introduction to the book - ‘It was about England. It was about us’.





So Christmas time. Peace on earth. I’m afraid it sounds a bit hollow this year. Enjoy the holiday and our very best wishes to you.