Oh yes she did!

Cake and cheese. The Yorkshire way.

Japanese people are reserved, polite, courteous, quietly-spoken and genteel. We Yorkshire folk are not high scorers on those things really, if we are honest, and we are always honest, brutally so. So what happens when you take your Japanese friend to her first pantomime? Ever? And in Yorkshire?

Maika is in the process of being assimilated into the true Yorkshire Way, which as everyone knows, is the only way. She’s been a student here for more than two years now and it getting into the swing of it. She’s eaten mucky fat and bread, made Yorkshire puddings, worn a flat cap and sung all the verses from Ilkley Moor Bah’t ‘at, even though she suspected it had an underlying theme of death and cannibalism.

Her Tyke vocabulary has expanded to the point that she can teach the Unenlightened (non-Yorkshire folk) our unique expressions. These are mainly to do with the weather, she can announce fluently that ‘it’s coming down like stair rods’ adding with that happy optimism we Yorkshire folk are famous for ‘but it’ll burn off’. Coming from a warmer climtate where the sea temperature is a balmy 22C, she soon feels the cold and confesses she sometimes runs in a duvet jacket because she’s ‘nesh’.

She is spending her first Christmas in the UK and had donned beard and suit to take part in the Santa Dash, so we thought she’s be ready to take it to the next level, that most British of festive frivolities, the pantomime. There are no pantomimes in Japan, actually in modern times, pantomimes are unknown outside the UK, so there was a lot of explaining to do. Where do you start? We gave a few simple pointers, the dame is a man in drag, the principal boy is a girl, the baddie enters stage left, the goodie stage right. Members of the audience are teased, there’s a lot of double entendre, custard pies, slapstick and raucous shouting out. What’s not to like?

The only pantomime worth talking about in Leeds is the annual rock and roll pantomime at City Varieties, this year, it’s Aladdin. The beautiful 150-year-old theatre was built as a Victorian music hall, Charlie Chaplain and Houdini performed there and of course it’s home to the BBC TV programme The Good Old Days  where people dress up and sing along, which was our plan too.

We all bought plastic tiaras, except for Noel, who doesn’t dress up, and took sweets and drinks into the theatre. Maika was amazed, in Japan, she said, there was no eating or drinking in the theatre. She was definitely in for a surprise!

I’d dropped a note to say that Maika was seeing her first ever pantomime, and that she was fast becoming a Yorkshirewoman as she would tell anyone who left the door open to ‘put t’wood in t’ole’ and that the cold, damp weather was ‘nithering’.

After a few rounds of ‘it’s behind you!’ and ‘oh no you won’t – oh yes you will’ with a whispered explanation about the Emperor Wun Hung Lo holding his balls (I think this is the first time I’ve ever uttered the word ‘testicle’ in a theatre) the messages were read out.

Maika was amazed to hear her name, but when Widow Twanky mis-pronounced ‘nithering’, there was a loud shout from the lady on my left. ‘It’s not ny-thering, it’s nithering!’ We were shocked, such a shout from a polite, genteel Japanese lady, but she immediately reminded us she was now a Yorkshire lass and could yell like the rest of us!  This continued for the rest of the performance, with us all yelling loudly. All that remained was for us to celebrate the festive season with Christmas cake and cheese. It is the Yorkshire way.

Yorkshireness on Yorkshire Day

Atop Malham Cove

August 1 is Yorkshire Day. It’s not an official holiday, not yet anyway, but it’s only a matter of time. When that happens, the white rose flag will be flying from every pole in the county and saluted by the doffing of flat caps and exclamation of ‘sithee’ before retiring to a local hostelry in the hope of someone else buying the first round.

Yorkshire is the largest county in the UK, nudging County Durham in the north and Derbyshire in the south, with the Pennines, the spine of England, separating us from rainy Lancashire. We have two national parks of our own, the Yorkshire Dales and North York Moors, and a share of the Peak District National Park. We have two World Heritage Sites at Fountains Abbey and Saltaire and an Area of Outstanding National Beauty in Nidderdale. The Museums of the Year this year (the Hepworth) and 2014 (Yorkshire Sculpture Park). Not that I’m bragging or anything.

There’s a lot of Yorkshire on the large and small screen, including Harry Potter, Calendar Girls and the Full Monty and of course the popular Emmerdale, Heartbeat and Downton Abbey. Famous Tykes include the Brownlee brothers, Geoff Boycott (that’s Sir Geoffery to you) , David Hockney, Henry Moore, Dame Barbara Hepworth, Corinne Bailey Rae, Ed Sheeran and the Arctic Monkeys. Not forgetting Dame Judy Dench, Sir Patrick Stewart and Sean Bean. Oh I could go on – it’s a Yorkshire trait, but I won’t show off too much, because we’re humble, us Yorkshire folk. But you get the picture, and what a picture it is.

Yorkshire Day isn’t really that ancient, it only started in 1975 as a way of cocking a snook to the re-organisation of local government which tried to tell us that Yorkshire wasn’t one big county. Now, each year, there’s a bit of a do with every expense spared, we like to look after our pennies, we do and then chunter about the cost, one of our mottos is ‘how much?’ repeated at least twice, getting louder each time.

My friend Maika now proudly tells anyone who cares to ask that she’s from Yorkshire. Rightly so, she’s thinking of establishing a Yorkshire enclave in her second home of Japan. To celebrate this transition to Tykeness, we presented her with a white rose Buff, Yorkshire flag and copy of The Dalesman, the quaint publication that used to be found in doctors’ waiting rooms and took her to the Yorkshire Dales.

As we picked her up, she dodged the raindrops and announced it was ‘coming down like stair rods’, adding, with that dour Yorkshire tone we have taught her so well, ‘but it’ll burn off’. And so it did and we celebrated in style, with a mug of tea and slice of cake on top of Malham Cove. Yorkshire, there’s nowhere like it.

A certain pride in my city



At the risk of being accused of as a lackey for the Leeds Tourist Office, can I just say that I am so bursting with pride over my city that I think I may go ‘pop’?

Them there southerers don’t often let world championship events escape north of Watford, let alone to the badlands of Yorkshire, unless it’s snooker and that gets as far as Sheffield (and the best green snooker table in the world cloth is made in Leeds, don’t you know).

But for the second year running we (I do like to talk about ‘we’, I am a ratepayer after all) welcomed the World Triathlon Championships to Leeds. I’m not a triathlete, unless it’s running, shopping and faffing, but I have friends who are and it’s great to see them enjoying their sport, and be grateful I’m not doing it.

Then there are the elite athletes, they swim with hardly a splash, cycle without squeaking wheels and run without touching the ground, or so it seems. I do always tell anyone who’s prepared to listen and even some who aren’t, that I have raced against the Brownlee brothers, a couple of times, in fact, in the Chevin Chase and the Auld Lang Syne fell race. I needn’t relate here how that ended, except to say they’d been home to change and eat a three-course meal before returning to hand out prizes.

This weekend, the weekend after a very strange week for all the voting public, enthusiasts and serious athletes got the chance to race in our city and not discuss politics. They were all magnificent, and so was Leeds, from the choppy Roundhay Park Lake where swans cast a puzzled glance at the swimmers sharing the water with them, to the city centre where tens of thousands of people cheered and cheered and cheered. Our Japanese friend shouted encouragement to the Japanese team, the couple next to us called out to the Mexican runner in his native tongue and I yelled for the Irish runner, to be sure.

But the biggest, loudest and most partisan cheer from the crowd was reserved for the Brownlee brothers. They’d already featured on the large screens, entertaining the crowds with their starring role in the advert for Yorkshire Tea, though I think they’d better stick to the day job!

The course was designed so we saw them seven times on the bike and four times as they ran, crossing over the commemorative start line for the Grand Depart, Yorkshire’s Tour de France triumph in 2014.  The Brownlees were always way out in front, which we definitely appreciated.

Another fantastic sporting event for our wonderful city, I was so proud. There’s talk of a return next year. Rude not to, I’d say.

Resurrection of the squashed seedlings


There’s no polite way to say this, Socks Akers has a fat backside. Six kilos of cat nearly put paid to my part in creating a living, breathing, flowering, fruiting art installation.

I’d agreed to foster 60 seedlings, destined to join 2,440 others in a stunning art installation at Left Bank, Leeds. It was a simple task, plant bean, beetroot, sweetcorn and sunflower seeds in little peat pots and keep them safe for a couple of weeks, water them, watch them grow and return them to their pals. They were very happy in the greenhouse, then the great hunk of black and white fur decided he needed a new place to sleep.

So an emergency trip to the shops later and I was re-potting the pots and giving Socks the evil eye. The seedlings were safe, a little wonky maybe, but most art is a bit wonky, except Mondrian, no wonkiness there.

The 2,500 seedlings were placed in a huge circle in the middle of the huge former church, where they have become Anastasis, an immersive installation representing life and resurrection, somewhere to sit, walk, reflect, enjoy, listen, yes listen, there’s even birdsong. It’s rather lovely.

The seedlings continue to grow in their circle, unimpeded by cats. At the end of the week. Earth Day, the circle will be broken and they will all be offered new homes. I’ll be taking a few, they’ll have pride of place in the allotment.



So this is why I run, then


Arty running at Yorkshire Sculpture Park


‘Are you the lady who runs?’ the caller asked. Lady? <Snigger>. Runs? <Double snigger>. It was Radio Leeds who wanted to do an interview about running to music, I don’t run to music, I need to be completely aware of my surroundings, I could trip up at any time, but it was nice to be asked.

It’s not a bad title to have, because I do run, dammit (let’s not talk about being a lady). So why do I run, then? It’s always hard, I’m not a natural. I don’t get awards and I never win races, I’m more likely to come last than first, but I do love it.

For a start,  I’m in the great outdoors, whatever the weather, there’s always something to enjoy, the sights, the smells, the splashings. I’m not a keen road runner, I prefer the trails, but if I have to pound the pavements I do, taking in the urban surroundings, watching the flagstones pass under my feet, hey I spotted 5p the other day, I picked it up, I’m from Yorkshire, me.

I love to race, it’s a challenge, I’ve paid for it so I actually have to do it, because, dammit, I’m not wasting money (the whole Yorkshire thing). Sometimes there are medals, or tee-shirts, though never in my size, but always there are team-mates, friends and so many others there to encourage, cheer and generally chivvy me along. It feels good.

Then there’s running with mates, just because I can. Today a baker’s dozen of us met up at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park and just ran, looked at art, tried to be art, realised we were nothing like art, ran a bit more, then had coffee and cake, it was glorious. That’s why I run, it’s glorious.

Sweets, oranges, flat Coke and free hugs

Hug a Minion at a marathon!

There’s a long, lonely, straight, stretch of tarmac just outside York city centre which sends the heart of many a marathon runner plummeting to their boots. Of course the scenery is stunningly beautiful, it’s Yorkshire, for heaven’s sake. But it’s nearly four miles of out and back with a slow slog up the return, and when you hit the infamous Wall of Pain and Despair at mile 18, you need something to keep you going, like sweets, oranges, flat Coke or maybe a free hug.

That’s why for the past three years, we’ve taken a little team of supporters and noise-makers, gathered club flags, filled our bags with sweets and other goodies and headed for that stretch of the Yorkshire Marathon just outside Dunnington to cheer on our mates, or indeed any other runner who passes us on the way down, then on the way back up for the final six miles.

It’s a kind of running a marathon by proxy, I’ve never done one and if I was to commit myself (hey, that special birthday is just a couple of years away), it would be on trails, somewhere muddy, and hilly, possibly snowy, but definitely not on a road, not even a Yorkshire road.

So Noel and I, this year joined by our Japanese friend Maika, who was fascinated by the hedgerows and fields of stubble, Joan, whose daughter Melissa was running, and young Curtis, to cheer and be generally noisy. It takes a lot of noise to fill that four-mile void, we wanted to take people’s minds off their tiredness and pain, if they were suffering, or to encourage them along if they were going great guns.

It always fascinates me to see the shapes and sizes of the runners, along with the way they run. But whether it’s upright and long strides, or bent and shuffling, they are all heroes in my book. The front runners hardly seem to touch the ground, the guy who won, and won by some considerable distance, looked like he was out for a morning jog, he was beautiful to watch. But those I admire most are the ones who set their goal, trained and trained, then headed for the start line, anxious, but ready.  They may not have been fast, but what the heck, how many people have actually run a marathon? Come to think of it, how many people acually run? Ever?

After taking photos of people looking good (or good-ish) on the way down, we put the cameras down and picked up supplies to hand out for them on the way back up what couldn’t really be called a hill, but when you’ve run 18 miles, it must feel like it. We even offered free hugs, and we had quite a few takers, it was wonderful to encourage them on their way. My favourite hug was from the guy in the Minion costume, imagine running a marathon in that? I hope with all my heart he had a spectacular sprint across the finish line!

All being well, we’ll be back next year, goodies and hugs at the ready!

Maneki-neko, the cat with the fortune-telling bottom

Socks Akers and the Maneki-neko

The fortune slip drawn from the cat’s bottom promised me ‘sho-kichi’, small blessing. I’m from Yorkshire, me, anything that can survive a cat’s bottom and talk about blessings, whatever their size, is fine by me.

Before you call in the cat police, I need to point out that the bottom in question was ceramic and that its owner, along with all the other paw-waving cats of Japanese origin, is well used to having fortunes placed there. It means good luck, the waving, not the bottom.

My lovely friend Maika has just returned from Japan and brought me this gift. She’s over here to study sports nutrition in Leeds, though thanks to a nattering of Tykes at the post-parkrun coffee, (I made up that collective noun), her education has been broadened to include Yorkshire, Ways, Wit, Widsom and Whatever Else. She can even sing a couple of verses of Ilkley Moor B’aht ‘at and has just been introduced to ‘I do like to be beside the seaside’, which while not Yorkshire in origin, the Bamforth saucy postcards most certainly are.

She can now confidently tell anyone leaving the door open to ‘put t’wood in t’oil’ and pointed out that the 34C heat she’d endured during her triathalon back home, was ‘cracking the flags’.

I was chuffed to pieces to have my own maneki-neko, they are supposed to bring good luck, especially with a waving right paw. Mine, in the traditional white, may also bring me happiness, and the red bib luck in relationships, though I think that’s more down to the company I keep.

Maika’s fortune must have foretold ‘Dai-kichi’  – or large blessing, as she saw one of her dreams come true. She chose Leeds because, as well as it being in God’s Own Country, it is the home of the Brownlee brothers, Olympic champion and runner-up and world championship botherers. As a triathlete, she wanted to meet them with a bit of Yorkshire banter. We’d given her a Yorkshire dictionary to help her brush up on some of the more obscure sayings, she took that with her to the Brownlee Triathalon at the weekend, along with a specially-purchased autograph pen. They didn’t disappoint, signing her dictionary and telling her they’d be in Japan next year. Hopefully they too will have a waving cat foretelling daikichi!