November 2007

Channel 4 commissioned a survey to find the most horrid place to live in the UK. Middlesbrough came top. Hull came second. Hull is demanding a recount.

(OK, I made that last bit up).


In an issue celebrating England, Country Life ran a feature about local tales.

I hadn’t heard about Spence Broughton before then. In 1791 he tried to rob the Sheffield to Rotherham mail coach and was implicated in other robberies. He was hanged on Attercliffe Common in Sheffield and 40,000 visitors came to view his body on the first day alone. Well, you had to make your own entertainment in those days. His body then remained hanging there for 26 years.

Humber Suspension Bridge

Can I be forgiven for telling again a story many of you will know? A French ship was wrecked off Hartlepool during the Napoleonic Wars. The only survivor was a monkey dressed improbably in military uniform. The locals thought the monkey was a French spy and, after questioning proved ineffectual, hanged him. A bit harsh but we were at war.

We went to hear Alastair Campbell at the start of the Ilkley Literary Festival. I’m not a fan but he was interesting to hear. He did rather launder the last ten years and Blair’s contribution to them. By the end of the evening my head was spinning.

Robbie Coltrane hosted a programme on ITV where he visited and celebrated some of England’s regional eccentricities. He went to Mytholmroyd in the Calder Valley and entered the annual dock pudding competition. Yes, dock leaves. A delicacy in those parts. I’m not sure which was more frightening – the pudding or the no-nonsense mayoress who chaired the judges. She was one of those Yorkshire women who in fact run the county and have done so since time immemorial. He later went to the oldest sweetshop in England in Pateley Bridge. Today’s children must have wondered what coltsfoot rock, liquorice sticks, cough candy, aniseed balls, flying saucers and Pontefract cakes were.


The Olde Sweet Shop, Pateley Bridge

The Yorkshire Ridings Society has published a pamphlet by Michael Bradford called Yorkshire, The Story So Far. He refers to the annual feast of the London Yorkshire Society in 1682 when the Chaplain to the King proclaimed: ‘Our County is the epitome of England: whatsoever is excellent in the whole land being found in proportion thereto…Besides, God hath been pleased to make it the birthplace and nursery of many Great men and special Instruments of his Glory’. I wasn’t aware, until I read on, that John Wyclif, leader of the Lollards, was from the North Riding, as was Miles Coverdale, the first translator of the Bible into English (though with that name I should have guessed, Coverdale being between Kettlewell and Leyburn), and Christopher Saxton, the early cartographer, was from Morley.

Miles Coverdale

Both the boys are at university now. Our house is very quiet this autumn. A colleague referred me to a piece written by Bill Bryson when his eldest son went off to college. In it he wrote of ‘those carelessly discarded yesterdays’. I’ve been thinking a lot about those carelessly discarded yesterdays recently - taking the pushchair through the woods at Wallington, ice creams on the beach at Polzeath, treasure hunts in the garden, hide and seek in the bushes at Packwood, climbing the rocks at Brimham.

The BBC’s Question Time was held at Bradford Grammar School and we were lucky enough to be invited along. It was fascinating to see a TV programme being made; cameras have come a long way since Crackerjack. David Dimbleby was his usual convivial though slightly awkward self. The programme is recorded and then vetted by lawyers before being transmitted. So we got home and were able to watch what we had just been part of.

The Royal Bank of Scotland recently published a list of the top 20 affordable towns. These are places with good schools and shops, cultural attractions and houses at reasonable prices. Reasonable in a relative sense, of course. Beverley heads the list with some justification. The East Riding offers quality of life and good value. Sixth on the list is Huddersfield. Well, they don’t keep the coal in the bath any more.

Councillors in York have banned the sale of foie gras in all Council premises. It really is cruel the way these people force their politically correct prejudices down our throats.

It has been a lovely autumn, dry and sunny. Driving to Hull in the early morning I have seen some stunning sunrises, the sky a thousand pastel colours and mist lying between the hedges.

Beverley Minster