In Shakespeare’s time, large animals in unexpected places were seen as omens, portents of great events. In 1658 there was a whale in the Thames. Not surprisingly, this caused some excitement; unfortunately Londoners killed it, not having our sensitivities to the welfare of animals. Soon after this, however, Oliver Cromwell died and before long that great experiment which was the Commonwealth, the English republic, came to an end. There was a whale in the Thames in January.

If it’s not church bells someone is complaining about, it’s cocks. Nev and Maggie Earnshaw live in the village of Earswick near York. They have kept cocks for years. Albert and Norman were particular favourites before a fox got them. However, they crowed. At dawn. Which is what cocks do. Neighbours – if that’s the right word – complained to the local council and the Earnshaws were asked to silence Albert and Norman. Otherwise they would be taken to court. The Earnshaws, you understand, not the cockerels. Anyway, since their demise, Albert and Norman have been replaced by George. He too crows, though the Earnshaws say his crowing is rather pathetic. Still, clearly it must be a nuisance because complaints have again been made by someone in a new housing estate nearby. There is a photograph of George in The Daily Telegraph. A fine-looking rooster. I’m glad he crows. At dawn. Cocks do, you know.

It must be life-enriching to have a job which enables one to pursue what would otherwise be one’s leisure interests, or hobbies, as we used to call them. Academics engaged in research have that luxury, I suppose. So do professional sportsmen and women. The Times interviewed Trevor Snowden of Hull. Trevor’s job is doing what he loves. He is a research and development engineer at Airfix. He makes their models for them. (But nowadays you have to be a research and development engineer rather than a humble model maker). He has made hundreds and hundreds of models, having started as a boy buying kits from Woolworths. ‘The job’s a hobby and the hobby’s a job…I’ll be making models for the rest of my life’, he is reported as saying. Lucky man. Not many of us have that. A model job.

In the British Museum there is a painting of Kirkstall Abbey in 1800 by Thomas Girtin (1775-1802). In the picture the abbey is surrounded by fields next to the River Aire and there is hardly another building in the landscape. Kirkstall Abbey is, of course, now blackened by industry and in a run-down, built-up part of Leeds. I pass it twice every day as I spend about twenty minutes trying to get through the traffic lights there.

More than £5 million has recently been spent restoring the ruin. Maintaining a ruin sounds odd but in our topsy-turvy world we often maintain ruins whilst letting historical and perfectly serviceable buildings like parish churches decay. And, needless to say, there is now a visitors’ centre, a café and men dressed up as monks. In our vulgarisation of history apparently there is a reconstruction of the monks’ toilets. I think I’ll stick to Fountains Abbey, thanks. The National Trust does these things rather better than Leeds Council. Although, having said that, I do understand why our neighbours, the Parrys, so dislike the way in which the National Trust brands everything the same way.

Kirkstall Abbey

The paper tells us that Martha Reeves - yes, she of the Vandellas - has been elected a councillor in Detroit. No doubt they were dancing in the streets.

There is growing awareness of the importance of Thornborough Henges, near West Tanfield, near Ripon. They date from between 3500 and 2500 BC and are part of a ritual landscape over twenty miles in extent which was created by Neolithic and Bronze Age man. There are three main circular henges aligned to mirror stars in the belt of Orion. Each henge has a diameter of more than 250 yards. Viewed from the air, as the television showed us, these are most striking. At the time they were built it is thought that there were only 200,000 people at most in Britain. The creation of this system would have been the major engineering project of people’s lives. Some sort of religious or spiritual gathering took place here regularly, as at Stonehenge.

The henges are scheduled ancient monuments but there is planned extensive quarrying and flooding. Fortunately action groups are seeking to protect them. Despite their huge archaeological importance they are on private land which hampers protecting them. They should be sacrosanct. If this were America or even the south of England they would be ring-fenced literally and figuratively.


West Tanfield

Some old cobbles, perhaps dating from the fifteenth century and certainly centuries old, lie in front of a fine historic house in Beverley in the East Riding. According to the Oldie, East Riding Council decided that these cobblestones represented a hazard and one day someone may fall. So council workmen were sent to dig the cobbles up and replace them with tarmac. (I’ve told you before, the barbarians are inside the gates). Two residents, who have our thanks and admiration, parked their cars to thwart them. We can only hope that by now the workmen have not succeeded and that commonsense prevails. But I’m afraid there is a nationwide shortage of the stuff these days, particularly so far as local authorities are concerned.

Michael Wharton has died. He wrote as Peter Simple in The Daily Telegraph from 1957 until his death, and since I was at university I’ve enjoyed his acerbic, anarchic humour. His satire was directed at the decline of England and its institutions, its take-over by the politically correct brigade, the dumbing-down of English life and the erosion of our liberties. He grew up in Bradford and his recollection of the city in the 1920s and ‘30s in the first volume of his autobiography, The Missing Will, is well worth reading. ‘But all Bradford and its surroundings, half town, half country, had become magical, fulfilling those numinous intimations I had had from the beginning. There were giants in those days, enchanters in the decaying wool magnates’ houses among the overgrown gardens and straggling groves. To ride on the groaning trams, jangling their earnest bells, was a majestic privilege, particularly when they took us to the far-off Cross Flatts Terminus, beyond Bingley, from which we could soon reach Ilkley Moor’.

City Hall, Bradford

There has been a fair bit of talk recently about England and Englishness. Most people in the UK see themselves as English, Scottish, Welsh or Northern Irish first and British a poor second. Discussion has ranged over what represents England and some civil servants even produced a list of what they called English ‘icons’. I agree with whoever said – Simon Jenkins perhaps – that our greatest single English asset is our parish churches. Our medieval ecclesiastical buildings are our inherited treasure. The Church of England recently launched an appeal for £60 million for church buildings. The State should look after our heritage. The government will spend more than £500 billion this year. That’s £1.5 billion (£1,500,000,000) a day. More than £1 million a minute. It wastes more than £60 million a day.

Leeds Town Hall is a marvellous statement of Victorian civic pride. It was opened in 1858 by Queen Victoria and its great hall is dedicated to her. By ten years ago the hall was looking decidedly sorry for itself. Now £4 million has been spent restoring it and it looks great again. The Yorkshire Post says it now hosts two thousand separate events a year though I’m not sure how.

Leeds Town Hall

As I’ve said before, I don’t have a lot of time for the magazine Yorkshire Life. It has some nice photos but generally is shallow and meretricious and I can’t forgive some dame called Gillian Smallwood for copying things from Yorksview. Anyway, it now has a redeeming feature. Martin Wainwright has a column. As northern editor of The Guardian and BBC journalist, he has long promoted Yorkshire in a consistently interesting way. A feature on Cragg Wood, Rawdon, some years ago on Radio 4 was fascinating. His first two Yorkshire Life columns, ‘One last thing’, are entertaining and encouraging.

In the pub we were listing films that have been made in Yorkshire. The Railway Children, All Creatures Great and Small, Yanks, The Full Monty, Brassed Off… We drew the line at East of Yeadon.