Autumn 2002

September and early October were sunny, warm and dry. It really has been an Indian summer. It is alright to say that, isn’t it? One has to be so careful. The forces of political correctness are everywhere. I know that children nowadays play Cowpersons and Native Americans but I, like the Native Americans, have my reservations.

I checked into the Holiday Inn in Newcastle Upon Tyne on 10 September. They had their Christmas tree up. It really should be an offence so early in the autumn.

The annual Ilkley Literature Festival in October goes from strength to strength. This year among the visiting authors have been Iain Banks, A S Byatt, Louis de Bernieres and Ian Rankin. Others speaking included Adam Hart-Davis, Max Hastings, Blake Morrison, Matthew Parris, John Simpson and Ann Widdecombe. I’m sure they found signing books at the Grove Bookshop rather different from Waterstone’s and Foyle’s – limited stock, no discounted prices, no Starbucks coffee but good old-fashioned service, civilised conversation and lots of charm. Opposite is the new bandstand and along the road the incomparable Betty’s. I’m sure there would be plenty of demand for fat rascals and Bakewell tarts.

Betty's, Ilkley

In the early hours of 23 September, the autumn equinox, England experienced a small earthquake. Centred on the Birmingham area, it was 4.8 on the Richter scale and tremors could be felt as far away as Yorkshire. My wife, awake at the time, wondered what it was; it woke up some of my colleagues. In 1990 I experienced a similar earth tremor; I was in a high rise in Birmingham at the time and saw the room sway. The building and others were emptied. By the world’s standards both were nothing. ‘Quake rocks Yorkshire’ screamed the Evening Post next day. One resident in Laisterdyke, Bradford, it was reported, was shaken out of bed by the tremor. What?

Leeds City station has had an impressive re-vamp. Despite received opinion otherwise, my experience is that the whole rail service has improved markedly since it was returned to the private sector. My heart leapt recently when I read in the paper that GNER is restoring jam roly-poly to its menus for passengers travelling from London to Yorkshire and Scotland.

A new survey by npower reveals – if that’s the right word for something that will probably not surprise you – that Yorkshire people spend less time on housework than those in any other area in the country. As a result the Sunday Times says we are the laziest people in Britain. Perhaps we have better things to do.

Autumn in Rawdon

On the day recently I met a friend in Harrogate and spent a pleasant afternoon in the Winter Gardens talking about Anglo-Saxon Yorkshire (really), I pointed out to him the appalling concrete eyesore which disfigures Parliament Street. Bill Bryson described it as follows: ‘a Sixties block that rises, like some kind of half-witted practical joke, a dozen or so storeys into the air in a long street of innocuous Victorian structures’. Funny how these things happen but the same evening the Evening Post reported that this monstrosity is to be refurbished and the outside re-vamped. It should be blown up and those responsible for it punished but it is progress of a kind.

On the M62 on the Yorkshire-Lancashire border is a sign stating that this is the highest motorway point in England. The height above sea level was given in metres and then feet. I am pleased to say that someone – not me – has painted out the height in metres.
A report in the Oldie bears out the truth of the maxim – if it ain’t broke don’t fix it. For 28 years Tetley tea has advertised its product using some cartoon characters wearing flat caps and speaking with Yorkshire accents – the Tetley tea folk. Tetley recently dropped them and instead used an advert voiced over by Ewan McGregor which promoted the tea’s health-giving properties. Sales subsequently fell by 14% and Tetley tea is no longer the country’s leading brand. That’ll teach them.


Tetley Tea Folk - The Gaffer

There were the usual excesses at the Last Night of the Proms – people in full evening dress, others in beachwear, some in traders’ jackets, some in Edwardian outfits. For the most part the music was splendid. From the balcony of the Royal Albert Hall the Union Jack and the Stars and Stripes hung side by side. There were plenty of both in the auditorium together with the flags of England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland, Australia, Canada, Norway etc etc. At one point, I’m sorry to say, I saw some poor soul waving the flag of the European Union. No doubt he was led quietly away and is now in some secure location.

Michael Foot’s father, Isaac, said: ‘I judge a man by one thing. Which side would he have liked his ancestors to have fought on at Marston Moor?’ Marston Moor was the Civil War battle near York in which the Parliamentary forces defeated those of the King. The Roundheads and the Cavaliers. Soon after Marston Moor the King’s cause would be lost and our short-lived republic established. It is an interesting question. I have no doubt which side I would have been on at the time. With the perspective of history though I would be much less sure.

On 11 September, among many other ways in which the previous 11 September was marked and remembered, a choir at Cross Hills near Skipton contributed to a world-wide musical event. We don’t forget. But life goes on.

Members of Yeadon Amateur Operatic and Dramatic Society are at present performing Last Tango in Whitby.