Monday, 22 March 2010

Martin Wainwright, we loved you

Richard Wilcocks writes:
Martin Wainwright from the Guardian is a great authority on you-name-it when it comes to Headingley, Leeds and northern parts. A childhood which included a spell in God's Own Suburb, and sentences like "We walked up Weetwood Lane and through the Hollies", full of local references, pumped up his credibility no end. He knew so many anecdotes. What was the one with the Hollies in it again? Oh yes - ages ago, the Yorkshire Evening Post had a feature entitled 'Citizen of the Month'. One of the winners of the accolade was a woman who finally plucked up the courage to put a blanket around the harmless, goosepimpled man who used to walk through the Hollies completely naked. She led him to Weetwood Police Station wearing a blanket she had provided.

In the Yorkshire College of Music and Drama on Saturday afternoon, we were agog. We laughed a lot too.

Then there were the stories about Arthur Ransome, who had the good fortune to be born in Headingley, and who was probably a double agent during and after 1917. He had married Evgenia Petrovna Shelepina, who when he met her in Moscow was Trotsky's mistress. This was "a shewd move for a journalist covering the Russian Revolution." Arthur Ransome, we were told, was taught to ice skate by none other than Prince Kropotkin, the anarchist nobleman.

There were plenty of present-day stories as well, like the enterprising specialist textile company in Yorkshire which makes Armani suits - the real thing - and which was fed up with all the fakes around: they found a way of putting DNA into the weave, so that their product is now very identifiable.

The burden of his talk was the way the north is stereotyped by southerners. His True North -  In praise of England's better half  (ISBN 978-0-85265-113-1) was on sale, but not for long, because all copies were soon snapped up. He spoke about the problems of relocating staff, imbued with clichéd views, and the way that visual images of the north tend to drift into a certain category - you know, abandoned mills, chip wrappers floating in the gutter, eternal winter, black and white. Either that or snotty-nosed kids in cobbled streets, clothes lines strung across them and so on. "I have to convince some of my colleagues in London," he said. "When April comes, we have trees which burst into leaf!"

"We need talking up!" he stressed. He did plenty of talking up - to the converted. We should follow the French example. On autoroutes there are little lay-by affairs with picnic tables, where you can look at beautiful landscapes while you bite into your tartine. "We have plenty of places like that in Yorkshire."

He finished with an attack on "tenacious misconceptions of Bradford" and the people with a negative image of immigration. "We would be much less of a place without it. To be an immigrant you've got to have extra energy."

And amongst his recommended very special places - Gargrave and Whitehaven.

Below, pics by Geoff Steedman:

Below, pics by Richard Wilcocks:

1 comment:

  1. Hi Richard and Litfesters generally!

    Just to say that I couldn't have had a nicer audience (or cakes and tea - that's a very good thing about Headingley Litfest). I really enjoyed it, as did my Mum who was born in St Michae's Villas and left weeping in Shire Oak Road (where the talk was) by my grandpa when she wouldn't stop crying so he pretended to abandon her. I think she just cried louder...
    The Kropotkin/Ransome skating lessons were conducted at Tile Lane ponds off Long Causeway, where the primary schools now moderate the natural anarchy of children.
    All warmest wishes to you and the Fest and its many other marvellous organisers and staff. It was a really lovely afternoon.

    Martin W (sorry to post as Anonymous but I'm not very good with these things)