December 2006


One of the pleasures of living where I do is that I can get to Ilkley quickly and easily. One of the pleasures of visiting Ilkley is going to Betty’s on The Grove. One of the pleasures of Betty’s is the pianist. In the civilised atmosphere of Betty’s, listening to standards by Cole Porter and George Gershwin whilst enjoying afternoon tea is one of life’s small delights. The pianist is an institution in these parts of the Broad Acres. I must stop using the present tense. The pianist has been sacked. The piano has gone. To make room for greater throughput.

Restaurant in Ilkley

Jenny Agutter presented the prizes at my younger son’s school. Those of my generation fondly remember her in The Railway Children waving her drawers as a warning to the engine driver of danger. And we recall her rather memorable suntan in Walkabout. These were landmarks of my formative years. I once saw her in a restaurant in Newcastle Upon Tyne and I could hardly eat. I wish I could have attended Speech Day but work got in the way.

The Railway Children (View painting by PKC Jackson)

It doesn’t matter that you are young, talented, successful, good-looking and a real nice guy, if the Grim Reaper has it in for you there is, I fear, no escape. Goodbye, Paul Hunter. We shall miss you. Paul Hunter was 27, from Yeadon near Leeds, an exceptionally gifted professional snooker player. His family and friends said farewell to him in Leeds Parish Church.

Paul Hunter

I was talking to the butcher in Yeadon about how winter used to be colder than it ever is now. He told me that back in the 1960s and ‘70s Yeadon Tarn was regularly frozen. Fathers parked their cars to form a line at the edge of the lake and then shone their headlights so that people could skate and slide about in the evenings. Unimaginable now for all sorts of reasons.

Yeadon Tarn

Talking of which, the ceremony to turn on the Christmas lights in Scarborough was cancelled for crowd safety reasons. Good grief.


A comedian - from Barnsley I think - was being rude on television about Rotherham. It’s not twinned with anywhere, he said, but it does have a suicide pact with Goole.


As usual I have found myself working in Hull quite often this autumn. Hull has a poor reputation, not altogether unfairly. School performance there is dreadful and house prices are the lowest in the country. But then Hull doesn’t always best help itself. You enter Hull from the west on the Clive Sullivan Way, a dual carriageway, as we quaintly call these things in England. Clive Sullivan? A Rugby League player. With a bit of imagination it could have been named after the creator of the King’s Town; Edward I Boulevard would have been rather fine if a little pretentious. Or, given his achievement, how about the William Wilberforce Free Way. But no, this is Hull. The Clive Sullivan Way.


It’s in many ways a pleasant drive. In the mornings I drive into the dawn and have seen some lovely sunrises. In the evenings I have driven towards some magnificent sunsets.

As you enter Hull from the west there is on the right a late Victorian or Edwardian pub called the Alexandra Hotel. This, believe it or not, advertises dinner, bed and breakfast for £19. Nineteen pounds.


A letter in The Daily Telegraph from someone in Lancashire claims that the United States flag is based on the Lancaster coat of arms. I understood that the window in Selby Abbey was thought to be an inspiration for Old Glory. Let’s ignore Lancastrian claims shall we, as we usually do?


‘Secret mushrooms make strange religion’, says graffiti on a redbrick wall in Ilkley behind the bookshop.

The bookshop in Ilkley is another institution in these parts. Behind the lovely old windows – thank goodness they have survived – is an independent bookshop where the staff are courteous and helpful. There is no music playing, few special offers and they don’t do coffee. I hope it can continue to exist in a world where increasingly book sales are made over the internet and in supermarkets. But at the shop in Ilkley are unusual items and the pleasure of serendipity.

Betty's Cafe Tea Rooms

Football Look-alikes:

Neil Warnock - Mrs Doubtfire

A survey, following extensive research, reports that Yorkshire people are more outspoken and willing to share their opinions than people are elsewhere in the country. Sounds like something from the Department of the Blatantly Obvious, to put it politely.

Best wishes for Christmas. Comfort and joy.