David’s Bookshelf – Issue One – Cup of Tea Tales
- David’s Bookshelf – Issue One
- ‘Cup of Tea Tales’ – A Lifetime of Global Successes, Disasters and Wonders! Space the Final Frontier.
- ‘Cup of Tea Tales’ – Hetchell Woods (Bardsey) and Crags – A Special Piece of God’s Own Country or County! One of my Favourite Places to Visit.
- ‘Cup of Tea Tales’ – The Wonderful Yorkshire Dales. Trollers Gill, a Place with a Mysterious Legend and the Hell Hole where I Diced with Death.
- ‘Cup of Tea Tales’ – Labs and all Manner of Magic, Misery and Mayhem. What Must have been the Worst job for a New Teacher, Chemistry with Boys with only one Aim, to Make Your Life Hell!
The Yorkshire community has changed during my lifetime. As a child at Harehills County Primary School in the 1960s, it was an almost exclusively white cohort. The school was a Christian school and assemblies were unashamedly Christian. Until the 1970s, the only subject stipulated to be taught in schools was religious education. Assemblies were held every day and prayers and worship were part of them. The school was not composed of only Christian children and there were children of Jewish and other faiths within its makeup, but no allowance was made for these children, either in assemblies or in the provision of school meals. I can only assume that children of other faiths went home for lunches, brought sandwiches, or just ignored their dietary requirements.
Of course, the population of Yorkshire had seen large migration over its history, through invasion, immigration, refugees, and employment. People have always wanted better lives and opportunities for themselves and their families. This is the very reason that my family moved overseas to Papua New Guinea and eventually to Perth, Western Australia. The two World Wars had caused many people to escape the upheaval and persecution they faced. Sadly, nothing much has changed during our lifetimes. There was a sizeable Polish population around Harehills and Leeds and a Polish Club on Chapeltown Road, and many other groups had become part of the community and often had their own social centres.
The language and place names of Yorkshire are filled with the history of invaders and settlers. Influences from the Romans, Germans with the Angles and the Saxons, Vikings and Normans all left their mark in what is now Yorkshire. The names of towns, villages and cities link back to these newcomers:
Leodis – Leeds
Pontefract – broken bridge
Portus Felix – Filey
Caster – Tadcaster – Tad’s settlement on the site of an old Roman fort
Angles and Saxon:
-ley meant a settlement in a forest clearing, Beverley an area where beavers lived on the river bank
-thwait meant a wood clearing
-toft meant the site of a building or a house
-by is a farmstead or a village eg Selby, Whitby
-kirk meant a church
-carr meant a wetland
-vertvanger meant meeting place or place of judgement and is the origin of the village name Wetwang
I suppose you can’t blame anyone wanting to make their home in Yorkshire, with its fertile plains, rolling hillsides, good rivers, forests and rugged highlands. Their arrival was often bloody and disruptive, and the reputation of the invaders has often been besmirched. The Vikings were viewed as invading plunderers, but the reality was that they brought great craftsmanship and added much to what we now see as the Yorkshire spirit. During the 1950s and 1960s, immigration from parts of what had been the British Empire, later the Commonwealth, was driven by a need for workers to fill the roles that locals didn’t want, as they were often menial and poorly paid. Further back in history, weavers and other craftspeople were encouraged to live and work in Yorkshire, and much is the same today. Where would we be without foreign workers in our National Health Service?
Not everyone has welcomed people of other faiths and backgrounds, and sometimes the past has been bloody and terrible. The Jewish and Muslim populations of Britain suffered persecution during the Crusades, and in 1190, after widespread rioting, the entire Jewish population of York fled into Clifford’s Tower to seek the King’s protection. Surrounded and left with no escape, they decided to commit suicide rather than face the mob, and the men killed their families and set the tower alight, killing all within.
Harehills and Chapeltown became an area where many of the newcomers in the 1960s settled, and a strong West Indian population brought its unique culture to the area. A few years later, it was Asian immigration that added to this, and together Yorkshire embraced reggae, dance, Indian restaurants, Chinese Restaurants, Greek restaurants, Italian fashion, coffee bars, pasta and pizzas. What night out in Leeds wouldn’t be followed by a curry? The traditional fish and chips was given a good run for its money but managed to hang on in.
Early on, comedians such as Charlie Williams, who was the first black soccer player for England and first black stand-up comedian, stood out with his Royston accent, and there was racism in many aspects of entertainment and life. When you look back at some of the programmes we watched, it is quite embarrassing how racist they were. Till Death Us Do Part and Love Thy Neighbour were incredibly popular and highlighted the prejudices of the times in the 1960s.
Sport has seen these changes and teams such as Leeds United have players from all over the world. Yorkshire cricket was a bastion for the Yorkshire heritage, and when I was young, playing for Yorkshire was the pinnacle of success. You had to have been born in Yorkshire to be eligible to play for Yorkshire, where other counties allowed anyone to play. Inevitably, in the days of ultra-professional teams, this had to change. I recall Michael Parkinson telling the tale of his father speaking with him shortly before his death. The old Mr Parkinson said to his son. ‘You’ve done alright haven’t you lad?’ ‘It’s been good,’ Michael replied. His father then said, ‘But but think on lad, it’s not like playing cricket for Yorkshire, is it?’ Michael Parkinson explained that, for his father, the pinnacle of success was playing cricket for Yorkshire and that everything else paled in significance.
I do remember going to watch England play when I was still at primary school and Headingly ground was in a rather sad state at the time. The seats were bench-like and the green slats of wood were splintered, broken and the place was generally sad. I believe the two batsmen were Geoff Boycott and John Eldrich, and to be honest, it was very slow and hard to watch. Both were brilliant batsmen, but they could bat all day and hardly score a run, and I think they did. Still, I would have loved to play for Yorkshire.
Being a great Yorkshire person means much more than just sport. Yorkshire has produced some greats in a host of fields. In music who could forget Arthur Brown, an old Roundhay boy, Def Leppard, Joe Cocker, Paul Carrack, Human League, Melanie Brown (Scary Spice), Corrine Bailey Rae, Chumbawumba, Pulp, Christie, Kaiser Chiefs, Scritti Politti, Soft Cell, Paul and Barry Ryan and many others. Even Ed Sheeran was born in Hebden Bridge Yorkshire, but soon moved to Suffolk. In TV and acting are Michael Palin, Diana Rigg, Charles Laughton, James Mason, Timothy West, Maureen Lipman, Mollie Sugden, Jeremy Clarkson, Brian Blessed and Adrian Edmonson. In other fields, notables are Helen Sharman (astronaut), David Hockney (artist), Harold Wilson (Prime Minister), Selina Scott (TV), Brian Glover (Actor), Marti Caine (Comedian), Jim Carter (Actor), Anita Rani (TV), Malcolm Bradbury (Author and academic), Alan Bennett (Playwright), Dame Judi Dench, Patrick Stewart, Fred Feast (Actor Coronation St) , Adil Rashid (Cricketer) and the list goes on for ever. I am sure that anyone reading this will be able to add countless people that I have missed out.
So when it comes to the question of what makes a Yorkshire person, and how they tend to stand out in a crowd, it is a complex question. Are we blunt? In my case, probably. Are we confident? Many of us are. Have we been shaped by the land we were born in? The answer to this is certainly. Like the rock that makes up much of the countryside, Yorkshire folk are gritty and don’t suffer fools easily. They can see through people, and they are irritated when people have ‘more front than trousers’. They will tend to speak their mind, and I am sure will have strong opinions of much of this blog.
Yorkshire is a county of contrasts. The cities were black and industrial, maybe less so nowadays. The country was pockmarked with coal mines, long closed, on the whole. Sheffield and Rotherham were major steel producers, famous for cutlery manufacture, but no more. There are fells, moors, beautiful valleys and the glorious vale of York. The Yorkshire Wolds have a look of their own and North Yorkshire, bleak, mysterious with its giant golfball early warning system. Limestone, gritstone, chalk scenery, shaped by ice and the floods as the ice melted and made the Vale of York a lake. Towering Malham Cove, higher than Niagara Falls, sea stacks, arches and caves. Yorkshire has been fought over and conquered over the years. It is full of history, abbeys, castles, walled cities, ancient standing stones, and iron-age camps, such as the one nestled amongst the suburban residences in Gipton Wood. It has winds chill and fierce enough to carve the rocks, shape the people and have an impact on the whole of the United Kingdom.
I can assure you that it helped to shape me. Short trousers in winter in Leeds are a clear and present memory. You’ve never known cold until you’ve spent hours in the playground, feet wet through the holes in your shoes, knitted balaclava worn like a knight in armour, gloves on a knitted cord passed through the arms of the raincoat, or rugby playing where the ground was rutted and frozen hard, ready to slash the skin. The icy puddles were glazed, waiting for the unlucky soul, whose face was pressed into it, as the ruck formed over them and the ball, struggling to get a breath of air. The trips to the coast where the North Sea turned limbs blue in moments and removed all feeling, even in the height of summer. The rubbing of the sand covered towel afterwards that showed no mercy as it flayed the skin off our bodies as we struggled to change under a towel while the wind whipped across the sand, threatening to expose us to the world. But of course, there was the beauty of spring, the bluebells, wild garlic, catkins, fresh green abundance as the trees return to life. The shadows of the scudding clouds as they raced over the valley of the River Wharfe are forever in our memories and no matter where we travel, remain with us.
We are a mongrel bunch, but all the better for it. We share so much. Our humour, openness, generosity, but not too much, our ever so dry sense of humour, our love of sarcasm, our belief that there was no better place to be born, our resilience, stubbornness and single-mindedness. We don’t suffer fools gladly, but are willing to laugh at ourselves, and it is these qualities that remain constant, no matter what happens in the world.