Not as flat as Texas
Going up North usually means a trip to Liverpool. Not this time. On this occasion I'm going up to Yorkshire, the Texas of England!
Famous Yorkshiremen (oh dear, I spot two friends of the family...)
This is significant. I can't stand Yorkshire. And, more importantly, I can't stand Yorkshiremen (and Yorkshirewomen). They are the bores of England, period. Always have been, always will be. Yorkshire folk are never wrong, always right, small-minded, snobbish and petit- bourgeois in the extreme. Remind me of anywhere in the USA? Hmm, why does Texas come to mind? Maybe its because Yorkshire is the Texas of England. Or, should that be Texas is the Yorkshire of America? Either way, vice versa, you get my drift.
The National Media Museum in Bradford
That said, I was ready to reserve prejudice and trek to Bradford and the amazing National Media Museum. What does Bradford signify to me? You could write it off as a city of post industrial decline and provincial murderers like the Yorkshire Ripper, the Crossbow Killer and the Black Panther. Sicko killers fester in broken cities and life is cheap up North in cities like Bradford, and Liverpool, where I am from. And it's only when you leave London that you realize England is another country entirely. That's the tragedy of my homeland in the 21st Century.
That aside, Bradford is a city is full of history. It conjures up red bricked textile mills -- that once spewed chemicals that set the canals on fire and where the life expectancy of a mill worker was only twenty-eight years old. And, once upon a time, Bradford was a city of forty cinemas. Now they have all been knocked down and redeveloped into "mixed commercial and residential premises". Bradford, reputedly, has no middle class. No white middle class is what they mean to say. The only money up here is Asian money. Most of the rich white folks of Bradford have moved on to more prosperous climes.
One delight of merry old England is a fish and chips supper. Time to grab a scoff at "The In Plaice", Bradford's most famous chippy. The English chippy is in sad decline what with all the changes in eating habits. None of that mularkey for me. I grabbed a menu and ordered a big plate of plaice and chips. "Choice of teas," said the menu, so I asked the Spam pink waitress what they were. The Spam pink waitress snapped back, "Yorkshire tea!" I should have known better. This is Bradford, after all. Then I took a walk round the city. I spotted a big Madrassa school (Bradford is an Asian city these days) and more old buildings in the process of being reborn as horridly anonymous "mixed residential and retail outlets". But some things, it must be said, don't change up North. The back streets and alleys behind the ubiquitous building sites are littered with spliff butts, beer cans bent into crack pipes and used syringes. Yuck. It's a bit like Liverpool in the Eighties.
But I was in Bradford, the UNESCO city of film, for a reason: a night out at the National Media Museum and a screening of the old musical Oklahoma in Todd-AO (introduced by the learned film historian Sir Christopher Frayling). I discovered quite a lot about the making of Oklahoma that evening in Bradford. Oklahoma was not filmed in Oklahoma proper but in... Arizona. And the production unit had to import agronomists to grow the corn for the opening sequence of the film. Also showing at the National Media Museum was the Seventies science fiction film Silent Running directed by special effects guru Douglas Trumbull. Mr. Trumbull was in attendance that evening, sat in the row in right front of me. He grumbled at a quoted platitude from Mark Kermode ("Humph!") about Silent Running (one of Kermode's favorite flicks). Hollywood has a tendency to induce bitterness in neglected talents.
After my night out in sunny Bradford, it was time to take a train via Leeds to Harrogate to visit my Uncle Billy. He moved to Harrogate in the late Seventies just before Liverpool went tits up. He loves being a Scouser in Harrogate. I like being a Scouser (a posh one) in Harrogate, too. Harrogate is an old country town of hard toffee and posh tea rooms with winding nightclub queues. What am I talking about? Harrogate Toffee and Betty's Tea Room! And, despite the Studio 54 line to get in to the joint, no trip is complete to Harrogate without a visit to Betty's. It beats afternoon tea at Fortnum and Mason in London by a country mile.
The last time I was in Harrogate, in 2010, I stayed at the Old Swan where Agatha Christie hid out for 11 days after a nervous breakdown (she was married to a cad) and sparked a national manhunt. This time I am staying at the Crown -- an equally creaky hotel with ionic pillars, ornate chandeliers and bars with the old fashioned feel of a London gents club. Alas, there was no gym at the Crown (cue PT in the bedroom). And there was an annoying smoke alarm (put a bag round that fucker and open the window). My first night, however, was a sleepless one. A drunken hussy, young, frizzy haired and mightily legless, was stumbling down the hall making all sorts of racket. Welcome to Harrogate. Sedate by day, inebriated by nighttime. I waved a gay salute at the drunken girl and returned stoically to the land of nod.
The Crown in Harrogate
I arose the next day with the feeling that I could happily live and die in Harrogate, the Bath of the north of England. The town is full of Bond Street shops. And flowers. Despite the encroaching clutch of autumn and winter I spotted thousands of scarlet tulips on parade in the public squares. And what sights to see! An old man pushing a lawn-mower over grass; two middle aged women in tweed discussing evening wear by the frosted glass of a pricey boutique; an ancient person leaning on a stick by the war memorial; a brace of masterly looking females jogging in lycra, training for some grisly triathlon and striped peppermints in glass jars in sweet shop windows. Human nature is strong but nothing ever really happens in Harrogate. I guess that's why I love the place but, if truth be told, not enough to live and die there.
What is significant about Harrogate is that it sits on a natural pharmacy. Eighty-eight mineral springs discharge their waters into Harrogate and few of these springs are chemically alike. Harrogate is a fine example of Nature's law of inequality. Here the spas are crammed by a freak of nature into one cobbled old town. I went to the Pump Room and foolishly quaffed a glass of sulphur water. This is Harrogate's speciality. And no gaff outside of a lab can offer you so much stinky sulphur in a glass. Even now words fail me. It seemed, as I necked my glass, that I was drinking a cocktail of bad eggs, old tea bags and acetylene. Never again.
My late brother and friend Joseph Lewis (1983 - 2015). I miss him LOTS!