We were sorry and disappointed that the television presenter, Richard Whiteley, died in June. He was 61 which is far too young. He will be remembered with affection, not only in the Broad Acres, as a news presenter and host of Countdown, for 23 years Channel 4’s popular daytime parlour game. He liked to give the appearance of the genial amateur but he was no fool; after Giggleswick he went to Cambridge. As he said himself, he could be pompous but he was regarded fondly by people of all ages. He would have been thrilled that his sad death was referred to in Parliament. He would have been proud that at Headingley, the home of Yorkshire cricket, there was a minute’s silence in his memory. He loved Yorkshire. We’ll miss you, Richard.
The Times quoted him talking about the early days of Channel 4; ‘No one in Ilkley, where I lived, could even get Channel 4, so I could still walk down the grove unmolested’. The Grove is of course the main street of Ilkley. Richard would have loved The Times’s confusion.
Richard Whiteley 1944-2005
Royal Ascot was held at York, ‘the gritty backwoods…while its home course is having a …refit’. And what rubbish there was in the national press. ‘Up north is different from down south’, The Daily Telegraph patiently explained. Referring to the Royal Enclosure, ‘those with cloth caps will not be allowed in’, it sniggered, before then acknowledging that nowadays it is aristocrats who are most likely to be wearing tweed caps. ‘It is considered bad form to wear a panama hat before Goodwood’, we are told, as if they don’t already know that at Idle Working Men’s Club. ‘The golden rule for dressing in Yorkshire’, says Lady Ingilby of Ripley Castle, ‘is to wear an extra layer and never put on your Jimmy Choo shoes until you arrive in the hall’. As if.
A two page advert in the New Yorker encourages Americans to visit Britain. Britain? ‘When 4 distinct elements come together to form something delightful, it is, in essence, Britain’. OK, and the elements? England, Scotland, Wales and, er, London. A map helpfully shows where these four elements are. ‘Find inspiration in the mystical beauty of Wales, or blissful serenity in an English garden. London hums with electricity, and Scotland combines a bold heritage with a spirited modernity’, it says meaninglessly. But no wonder our American cousins get confused. The advert does talk about ‘transparent borders’ [hmmmm, I’ll say], presumably to indicate you don’t need a passport to go from England to London.
Shop Horror – the Best of the Worst in British Shop Names, by Guy Swillington, has been published (Fourth Estate 2005). I particularly liked Sherwood Florist (Kiveton Park, South Yorkshire), the off-licence Rhythm & Booze (Wombwell), two fish and chip shops in Sheffield called Northern Sole and Battersea Cod’s Home and the hairdresser Scissors Palace in Leeds. Perhaps my favourite is the second-hand record shop in Croydon called The Vinyl Resting Place.
After several days of hot, humid weather in the middle of June, Yorkshire was hit by violent thunderstorms. These were particularly severe in the North Riding where three inches of rain fell in three hours, the average rainfall for the whole of June. Helmsley and Thirsk were badly hit. The Rye broke its banks, houses were deluged, villages cut off, roads destroyed, cars washed away. Helicopters helped rescue people, 17,000 homes were without electricity. Fortunately no one was seriously hurt and the clearing up continues.
David Dimbleby’s tour around the North of England in his Portrait of Britain (BBC 1) was good, with some atmospheric pictures of Gordale Scar, but it was also heavy with cliché. To have a band playing On Ilkla Moor Bah’t At at the Cow and Calf was really too much. As were the Prince Charlesish questions like ‘What is it like to be a Yorkshireman?’ And if I hear ‘Bronte Country’ again I really shall not be responsible for my actions.
Councils have no sense of irony. The authorities in Halifax, having recently spoilt Skircoat Green by building a new hospital with insufficient parking facilities so causing parked cars to line the streets day and night, are proposing to turn Savile Park, Skircoat Green and thereabouts into a, capital letters, Conservation Area. The residents at this stage of the game may not understand what is meant by a, drum-roll, Conservation Area. Well, I live in one already so I can help. It means that the Council itself can do whatsoever it likes to ruin the environment. Recent examples here include replacing paving stones with tarmac and building a new school on nearby fields. Residents themselves on the other hand will find the Council obstructive if they simply want to prune a tree. Of course, as is regularly demonstrated, you can do whatever you want if you don’t ask permission. If you do, they’ll be as unhelpful as possible.
A report by Friends Reunited says that the late ‘60s and early ‘70s were the best time to be at university. I don’t doubt it. The 1950s and 1960s were a good time to grow up. England was slower, safer, gentler, more civilised and more fun than it is today. Ils sont passes, ces beaux jours, as I’ve probably said before.
The restaurant critics in the weekend papers provide a useful service for us all but the owners themselves must dread a bad review. I guess the answer is in their hands. Paddy Burt of the Saturday Telegraph visited The Sidings Hotel and Restaurant at Shipton-by-Beningborough, near York. ‘This is one of the most unpleasant meals I’ve had since you’ve been doing this job,’ said her husband. I think we’ll stick to those we know and love like the incomparable La Grillade in Leeds. It’s consistently reliable. An authentic French restaurant.
This year is the 400th anniversary of the Gunpowder Plot, the attempt by the Yorkshireman, Guy Fawkes, to blow up the Houses of Parliament and kill the members of the government. I hope political correctness will not mar the anniversary. You probably read that the mock battle to mark the 200th anniversary of Trafalgar was fought between ‘red’ and ‘blue’ fleets, to avoid any reference to the fact that the French and Spanish fleets were thrashed and the proposed invasion of England by Napoleon therefore abandoned.
There has, for reasons you will understand, been a lot of discussion in the papers about what it is to be English and British. A letter from B H Jackson of Sheffield in The Daily Telegraph read:
When I was a youngster, it was impressed upon me that it was a privilege to be born in England, but God-given to be born in Yorkshire.
HOME PLACES DIARY TRIVIA