January 15th, 2007

There And Back Again

If you live as I do on the borders of East Lancashire, West Yorkshire is foreign parts. A mere six centuries ago there was  a war between the so-called House of Lancaster and the so-called House of York and- as those of you who live on either side of the Mason-Dixon line can attest- these things never wholly die away. Stories- probably apochryphal- are told of streams in the  Pennine borderlands running red with blood. For all that our subsequent histories- centuries of sheepy goodness followed by the bouleversement of the industrial revolution- are remarkably similar- we don't trust them and they don't trust us.

Here in Oldham we live so close to the county line that people at the edge of the Borough- a mix of hill-farming in-breds and wealthy white-flighters- have been campaigning for years to have themselves re-allocated to Yorkshire. God, but I hate those people!

And yet, as always- as with England and France, as with Confederate and Yankee- there's a fascination that goes along with the animosity. If we want to take a nice, Sunday afternoon drive we automatically head into Yorkshire. It's prettier over there. They have tough little mill towns with Palladian town halls squeezed into river valleys. Yesterday we took a road we'd never taken before and found ourselves in a valley that had been dammed up to make a reservoir. The reservoir was full and the water was slopping over the top of the dam and sliding down the hundred feet of slithery wall like- like an incoming tide that had been stood on end.  It was marvellous.  I found a gap in the fence and trekked to the foot of the falls and took photos and got the spray in my face and then all but gave myself a heart attack climbing back up to the road. Lancashire has nothing to show like that. 

We wound up in a place called Sowerby Bridge. Now, that's another thing they've got.: place names. Our towns have names like Oldham, Rochdale, Littleborough, Burnley; There's no oomph to them. But Sowerby Bridge- there's a guy in Dickens called Sowerby; he's an undertaker. And a mean, sour, tight-fisted, little, twisted bastard ( a typical Yorkshire man in fact). Sowerby Bridge: It's onomatoepaic; it expresses something about the soul of the place.

And on the way back we passed a fingerpost pointing to places called Lumbutts and Manikinholes. No doubt these are wholly disappointing, blink-and -you'll-miss-them agglomerations of council houses and service stations, but the names, the names! 

Which brings us to poets. West Yorkshire breeds 'em . This is Bronte country. Also the stomping ground of the unspeakable Ted Hughes. I don't like him, but no-one has expressed this damp, craggy, cruel landscape as vividly as he did. And his sometime wife, Sylvia Plath,  is buried here. On a windy hillside In a place called Mytholmroyd. Pause to savour and deconstruct that name. 

I'm glad to come home. We're less melodramatic over here. East Lancs is real and West Yorkshire isn't quite.  Here's where the humans live and over there- well, what species do creatures like Heathcliff and Ted Hughes belong to?  It was in some god-forsaken corner of West Yorkshire that the American Werewolf got the bite that turned him feral.  But there's envy mixed up in it. Why can't we have a dam like that? Would they miss a crag or two? Let's go dig up Sylvia Plath and bring her home to civilisation.