James Mason (James Mason!) gives a tour of Huddersfield (Huddersfield!)

James Mason shows us around his home town of Huddersfield, exhibits the classic north-speak trope: nostalgia.

james mason huddersfield

James Mason is probably best known to my generation as that guy from Eddie Izzard’s impression of James Mason. Unusually, his actual voice is more distinctive, more James Mason-y, than any impersonation. Watch the first 10 seconds.

What a voice!

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Culture’s diminishing returns and a visit to Cliffe Castle, Keighley

We can argue about what “culture” means. One definition is the stuff in museums and art galleries. Capital cities tend to have more of that.

But does having lots of museums amount to anything more than having lots of museums?

Here is a scientific graph (not to scale).

culture graph

In “culture” there are diminishing returns. The jump between a hole in the ground and Keighley (note to non-Yorkshire people: it’s [generally] pronounced Keithley)  is bigger than that between Keighley and Manchester, and that jump is bigger than between Manchester and London.

People still like going to pubs and watching Bake-Off, no matter how many “world class museums” and theatre companies are nearby. A little goes a long way.

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Alan Bennett’s “A Day Out” and the mainstream maverick

Alan Bennett’s first television play provides a platform for two mainstream stars/maverick geniuses.

A Day Out

My wife is wary of cyclists. She suspects that the appeal is less the cycling, and more the lycra and resulting genital display.

In A Day Out, Alan Bennett’s first television play, a Halifax cycling club takes a day trip to Fountains Abbey. It’s 1911, the First World War is round the corner, and soon this group of Yorkshiremen will be thrown over the top. It’s well worth 50 minutes of your time.

And the cyclists are respectably dressed.

Here it is on YouTube!

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“Unlikely” things you “wouldn’t expect” in Yorkshire

Things you wouldn’t expect in Yorkshire:

Not expected.

Reggae in Huddersfield! Whaaat?!

Forget big cities such as London and Birmingham. In the 1970s and 80s, this West Yorkshire town was the unlikely capital of UK sound system culture

Experimental music in Shipley! Shipley!!1!

You wouldn’t expect a small market town in West Yorkshire to become a monthly hotspot for out-there electronic music, but Shipley’s Golden Cabinet

A pop festival in Bingley! No way!!!

The small Yorkshire town of Bingley may be an unlikely home for a major pop festival

Chorizo! Not even in a pie!

We’re proud of celebrating all that is British at Cool Places, which sometimes includes the more unusual stuff that you wouldn’t expect, like delicious, peppery & authentic chorizo – made in God’s Own County itself, Yorkshire! 

Bats! Actually, this is pretty much exactly where I’d expect bats.

The 1,000-year-old church in Ellerburn near Thornton-le-Dale in North Yorkshire has become the unlikely home to the region’s largest roost of Natterer’s bats.

Things you would expect in Yorkshire:

A typical Yorkshire scene.

Halifax expressing itself to Ian Nairn in “Football Towns”

ian nairn in piece hall, halifax west yorkshire

Ian Nairn in Halifax’s Piece Hall, 1975

The phrase says: “From Hell, Hull, and Halifax, Good Lord, deliver us!

But this is because of those places’ reputations for strict punishment, not their ugliness. Hell is perfectly lovely in April.

In this (sadly incomplete) programme from 1975 architecture critic Ian Nairn takes his sympathetic but critical eye to Huddersfield and Halifax. The latter in particular is well worth a visit, you fans of architecture and “place”; it was largely spared from both town planners and Luftwaffe. Here’s Ian’s film of Halifax architecturally beating Huddersfield 5:2.

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Billy Liar and Yorkshire Stories

Yorkshire story arcs, beginners' guide.

Yorkshire story arcs, beginners’ guide.

Yorkshire (indeed, northern) stories tend to fall into three distinct categories:

  1. Hope extinguished
  2. Charming misfits find meaning in collective endeavour
  3. Foreboding community reveals a heart of gold

1. Hope extinguished

Yorkshire as an overwhelmingly malevolent presence which will destroy your dreams, take away the only thing you love and leave you broken. This goes for people wanting to get out, and those who once escaped but were foolish enough to return. Examples: A Kestrel for a Knave/Kes; This Sporting Life; The Selfish Giant; The Damned United; Red-Riding Quartet.

Any beauty is illusory; any happiness fleeting.


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Yorkshire? Yes we can(onical)!

Not so long ago nobody thought the Mona Lisa was much good. I mean, it was in the Louvre, but no one thought about it. Then it got stolen, its image was reproduced everywhere and it became the most famous painting in the world. With fame came critical justifications for that fame, hastily worked out after the fact.

People tend to like stuff when they get to know it. The more something is repeated, the more secure its position. And so canons are formed.

There. I’ve just made it a little bit more famous.

London — and London is fine, I’m not knocking London — is very good at making itself canonical through repetition of its images. Past a certain point the intrinsic merit of something is by the by: it just is, and, crucially, is legitimate. This goes for the obvious stuff, Buckingham Palace and that, but everyone’s at it! Flickr, Instagram, Some Social Network Site You Haven’t Even Heard of Yet, they’re all full of neatly tagged and extensively shared pictures of LONDON. That plimsoll place in Shoreditch, disused railways, abandoned stations. These are canonical. They subtly reassure you: cool kid, your values are as they should be; cool kid, you are in the right place.

Reality is legitimised by images.

I mean, seriously. There’s no reason why I should have heard about a fucking plimsolls shop.

In the same way as feminists and genre fans attacked the western canon and now, grudgingly, Aphra Benn, SF and mystery novels are allowed in, we need to broaden this idea of acceptable lives. We need to challenge the idea that not living in London is giving up. That if you’re “creative” or industrious or ambitious, London is the only possible place you can be fulfilled.

Yorkshire does have a brand — landscape, grumpy friendliness (/friendly grumpiness) and nostalgia — and is pretty good at promoting itself. It’s become the go-to place for TV things not set in the south east (Educating Yorkshire, Yorkshire on the Buses, One Born Every Minute etc). It could be a lot worse. I mean, poor Lincolnshire, right? And don’t talk to me about Staffordshire (no one ever has).

But brand isn’t quite the same as canon. Brand is what’s different; canon is what’s allowed. The landscape is canonical. This is pretty much what we now think nice landscape looks like (thanks Brontës!):

But the brand is backwards-looking. You know the kind of thing. This kind of thing.

Yet to be reviewed by Vice.

Howarth. Wallace and Gromit. A Yorkshire where it’s forever 1950.

Nice for a day trip, sure, but what would make *you* move here, oh smart and hip reader, where would you fit in? What would you do all day? You can only walk over so many windswept hills.

What we don’t have yet is a sense that we’re worth looking at (in quite the same way as London). That we’re interesting (in quite the same way as London). That we’re allowed (in quite the same way as London).

Yorkshire’s Victorian cemeteries haven’t been documented by armies of SLR-wielding young people. Its abandoned stations have not been geo-tagged. Its walks have not been blogged. And where are the photo essays of deserted railway tracks? The Flickr albums of graffiti?

London is not the only place with layers of history; it is just the only place which bothers to tell that story about itself.

We know there are brilliant things in Yorkshire, but they can be hard to find. It’s all word of mouth. Places don’t promote themselves, and young people don’t promote their own taste, and by extension the places they go.

We can’t rely on anyone but ourselves to get the word out. Much of Yorkshire’s cultural treasure is council-run, so designed to look as unappealing as possible.

Check out Leeds’s Temple Newsam. The website says “one of the most celebrated historic houses in the country” but what it’s really saying, through its layout and design, is “under no circumstances come visit, it is shit here“. You’re not even allowed to take pictures inside. Heaven forbid people saw them and starting visiting – who knows where that’d lead?

I’m calling now for a campaign of civil disobedience on this. We need to make a stand. Specifically, we need to make a stand in front of good things and take selfies, whatever The Man from the LCC says.


#templenewsam #leeds #livin #justsayin

So get out there people. There is still a chronic shortage of bearded 30somethings taking podcasted history walks, photographing abandoned buildings and sharing to Twitter things they’ve found in markets.

We’re never going to be considered cool at this rate.

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