The year started new-pin-brightly, with a hangover-free park run on a mild New Year’s morning. Also, I began a diet and forswore alcohol, once again, amid a barrage of friendly advice, some of it consistent. Many agree that lifestyle change is the key choice to make, then offer you a large pie and chips. I am now dieting for the second time, having lost much weight over five months eight years ago then regaining most of it over the next five years. As the month finished I had lost over a stone (7 kilos). The next stone will be harder to turn.
I drove with friend Fionnuala to Cambridge Research Park to a business meeting and to notice again how low-lying is the countryside around Cambridge, which looks particularly bleak in the winter and is a far cry from the rolling hills of Sussex or of Surrey. The locals seemed a bit bleak as well. It struck me that the mist had nowhere to hide. The lay of the land must have affected English regional characteristics long ago when national travel was as limited as international travel has been in the past couple of years.
The following week I drove friends Debbie and Fi from Battersea in London to Wetherby in Yorkshire. Debbie had sold her flat and was escaping to the country to lodge with her sister while looking for a house to buy (found and offer accepted within days). After we arrived, Fi cooked dinner and I slept like a sequoia log. I was picked up the next day from Kirk Deighton by my friend Charlie from Barnsley, and spent a few days with him, partner Liz, and their canine owners Duke, Banjo and George. Charlie took some time off work to give me a mini-tour of the region. First we visited Salts Mill and Saltaire village, built in Shipley by Sir Titus Salt in 1853. Salts Mill was a textile ‘supermill’ that used, for the first time, alpaca wool in worsted cloth. Salt found a sample of the then little known alpaca wool in a corner of a storage room and submitted it to R&D. After more than a century of fortunes made and lost, and latterly thanks to the vision and deep pockets of local businessman Jonathan Silver, Saltaire is now an art gallery, shopping centre, and restaurant complex, and since 2001 a UN World Heritage Site. Much of the gallery houses paintings and installations by local hero and sponsor David Hockney. Later we walked around Barnsley’s new city centre and suppered there in the evening in a themed restaurant called the Falco Lounge. I have forgotten the theme, but remembered that the portions were on the small side.
The next day we went to Halifax’s The Piece Hall, now a key jewel in Halifax’s tourist crown, an outdoor concert venue, and enjoying its very own definite article (used as a posh adjective), but I missed the wispy aromas of marijuana and pachouli that I remember from my last visit nearly 35 years ago, when I thought it was called just ‘peace hall’, man. We walked around Shibden Hall, where another local hero, the diarist Anne Lister, made her name. She was recently the focus of the TV series Gentleman Jack. We also visited Holmfirth, the real town setting of TV’s ‘Last of the Summer Wine’; saw Nora Batty’s cottage; and indulged wilfully in Charlie’s favourite pursuit of second-hand CD-hunting. I was amused by a prim old lady at the cash desk whose jabs at the digital cash register were accompanied by repeated barrack-room swearing. In the evening we went to Sheffield for dinner at ultra-cool Mowgli and a concert by singer-songwriter David Ford at the Greystones (my second lifetime visit to this august Northern pub gig hub). On the last day we went to the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, featuring massive and momentous sculptures by some of the world’s most famous artists in the inspiring 500-acre green space of the estate of Bretton Hall (where Charlie went to teacher training college).
I went to Ella’s house one evening for a delicious vegetarian pad thai and to watch the first episode of the Jackson/Beatles documentary Get Back. It records the first few days of 1969 when the Beatles were rehearsing in a hangar in Twickenham for a mould-breaking live private concert of new material. It consisted mostly of polite talk and co-creative music-making between the Fab 4 interspersed by brief hints of suppressed conflict, but mannered almost to the coiffed level of ‘I say, look here, old chap!’ I imagined an auntie saying ‘they seem like nice boys’. Doubtless this was due to the editing (almost no f-words heard), but we are now three generations across a universe from the mildness of this internecine intercourse.
Jurrat, Jessie and Jaxon came over to Broad Oaks for a Sunday roast, although this was not in direct celebration of Jurrat’s birthday on the 17th, the first of two birthdays he will have as a full-fledged fiancé. Following the romantic drama of J+J’s engagement in December, early site inspections and visits to wedding fairs show that preparations are already under way for the impending wedding – impending the summer after next, that is. But there’s no time like the present. And I’d suggest that there’s no present like time.
yours in just a moment,