March 2007

A little snow fell in February. Schools closed before it even started snowing. The TV treated it as if we were under attack. People were advised to stay at home. Motorists who had to ‘venture out’ were told to take with them – I kid you not – ‘warm clothes, food, water, boots, de-icer, a torch and a spade’. A little commonsense might have been useful too but that’s in short supply nowadays.

It never used to be like this even when we had proper winters rather than the winter-lite we have now. My parents talk about the winter of 1947 when the snow was deeper than garden walls and came in feet and inches unlike today’s variety according to the BBC. I remember the prolonged cold winter of 1962-63. Everyone got to work. Everyone got to school. On one occasion in the 1970s I recall travelling home on the M62 after it had been closed. You just got on with it. But then there wasn’t a Health & Safety industry, a negligence culture and theatrical media.


In The Spectator there was an article by Stuart Reid about holidaying in the Yorkshire Dales. Yes, I know, how very daring of the Speccie and Mr Reid. He began in Thirsk, went to Castle Howard, Ampleforth and Whitby. ‘Whitby was exhilarating, but we hadn’t seen anything yet. Sometimes only the language of teenage girls will do. Our next drive – across the Yorkshire Dales to the Lake District – was awesome. “Why didn’t anyone ever tell about this?” I cried. Nothing had prepared me for this huge rolling landscape with its olive greens, chocolate browns and straw yellows, its drystone walls and clear tumbling, pebbled streams’. Yes, it’s not bad.

Stuart Maconie, the Radio 2 disc jockey, has written a homage to the North of England called Pies and Prejudice which is rather good. He is a Lancastrian (Wigan; yes, but do try to be broad-minded) and so is a little sniffy about God’s Own County. What, he asks, can be said of a county which has produced Geoff Boycott, Bernard Ingham and Peter Stringfellow? He even dismisses the legendary 1970s Leeds United team as ‘Nazis in Umbro’. I forgive him. I even forgive him the DFS adverts. When it’s North v South we must stand shoulder to shoulder with those on the wrong side of the Pennines.

Stuart Maconie

Reviewing the book in The Times, Ian McMillan, the fun poet, writer and raconteur from Barnsley, commends the fact that Maconie knows what he’s talking about. ‘He understands that Yorkshire people see Lancashire people as a bit soft and loquacious, while Lancashire people think that Yorkshire people (I almost said ‘folk’ then: shoot me if I do it again) are a bit dour and a bit too full of their own self-perpetuating myths. As if!’.

Luke Simpson was 21. His funeral should have taken place in about 2070. But he was a soldier in the 1st Battalion the Yorkshire Regiment. He lived in Howden in the East Riding. He was the 132nd British soldier to die in Iraq. The Defence Secretary said his death was ‘very sad’. It certainly was. It was many other things too. Our hearts go out to his parents whose lives have been ruined.

I think everywhere in the country now has its own tourist information people and a vast budget to encourage us to visit such places as Northampton, Scunthorpe and Dagenham. In these days of equal opportunities and prizes for all we shouldn’t regard York, Oxford or Edinburgh as superior to, ahem, Barnsley. I have before me a brochure called Discover Barnsley and for those of you planning your summer holiday it really is a must.

Barnsley’s – here we go – ‘spectacular landscape dotted with picturesque villages, historic market towns, rich industrial heritage, popular family attractions and the rural walking countryside, encompass a real treat for all ages to enjoy’. No, honestly, it does, it says so. The ‘town centre is a hive of activity, shopping, fine dining and culture’. Well. The trouble is these promotional things are all the same; it’s as if they have been written by a third former in a form suitable for anywhere in the country. You would have thought that there was enough about Barnsley for them to have come up with something a bit different. But it’s the usual café bars, shopping, treat yourself…nightlife, why not….?, something for everyone and lashings of exclamation marks. Yawn.

Monk Bretton Priory near Barnsley

County Watch has been naughty. It exists to preserve our traditional historic counties, by direct action if necessary, from those who don’t know and don’t care and those who would destroy them. It has removed signs relating to the 1974 administrative areas in the Midlands, Berkshire and Hampshire. Nearer home it removed 34 wrongly placed signs in Lancashire in one night. It is the face of respectable protest.

1200 homes are being built south of Leeds in the Leeds New Forest Village. As it will have no church, no shops, no school and no pub, it will be a strange sort of village.

There are about a thousand new houses being built in Guiseley and Menston. Other communities are suffering the same sort of indignity. Therefore when Apperley Manor, between Apperley Bridge and Rawdon, came onto the market we feared the worst, the imminent arrival of developers and executive houses. Originally a Victorian mansion, it had more recently been a small hotel unable to make ends meet. It was acquired by JCT 600, a successful local car dealership, for use as its corporate headquarters. The building has been cleaned, the nasty 20th century wing demolished and replaced more sympathetically and the grounds improved. In fact it looks great. Credit where credit is due. So often businesses damage the local environment. JCT 600 has enhanced it and we are grateful for that.

JCT 600 HQ

More preservation and development was on Channel 4’s Grand Designs. The peel tower at Hellifield, built in 1440 to act as a refuge from marauding Scots, was a few years ago a roofless shell about to collapse. It has been restored and rebuilt as a magnificent seven bedroom residence by a Leeds architect. And we all benefit.

A friend of mine who lives in the Cotswolds recently had occasion to telephone a supplier in Bradford. He spoke to a chap with a broad Yorkshire accent who told him his name was Taj. My friend asked was that T-A-J, like Taj Mahal? There was a pause and the guy at the other end of the phone said ‘Yes, have you heard of it?’ ‘Of course, it’s world famous’, said my friend. ‘I didn’t know that’, said Taj, ‘but it has become quite difficult to get a table without booking’.

Taj Mahal, Bradford

Taj Mahal, India