The 36 bus

The 36 bus leaving Leeds for Ripon (Wikimedia Commons)

The 36 bus leaving Leeds for Ripon (Wikimedia Commons)

Everyone loves the 36 bus.  It’s the one that takes us from out in the sticks of Ripon, via Harrogate to Leeds.  It’s the one with plush leather seats, 4G wi-fi, USB points at every seat.  It’s the one with a book-swap shelf where I always hope to find a new title to enjoy, while bringing in one of my own to swap.  And best of all, we old fogeys travel for free on the 66 mile round trip.

The book-swap shelf wasn't very exciting today. But I found a Fred Vargas to read.

The book-swap shelf wasn’t very exciting today. But I found a Fred Vargas to read.

Best get to the terminus early though.  Everyone’s jockeying for the best seats, the ones at the front of the top deck, where you can watch as the bus drives through the gentle countryside separating Ripon from Harrogate, via Ripley, a village which the 19th century Ingleby family remodelled in the style of an Alsatian village, complete with hôtel de ville.  After the elegance of Harrogate and its Stray, there’s Harewood House – shall we spot any deer today? Then shortly after, the suburbs of The Big City, which gradually give way to the mixture of Victorian and super-modern which characterises 21st century Leeds.

We had lots to do in Leeds today (more of that later, much later) and had a very good time being busy there.  But much of our fun for the day came from sitting high up in that 36 bus, watching the world go by.  For free.

The back end of a bus.

The back end of a bus.

The view from our kitchen window this morning, 20th May 2016.

‘Now is the month of Maying’ (Thomas Morley, 1595)

The twins have had it tough these last few days.  It was the week of the infamous and widely criticised SATS, the final year tests for all British primary school children.

We thought we knew a place where they could see that compared with some, their lives weren’t too bad.

Quarry Bank Mill seen from the gardens.

Quarry Bank Mill seen from the gardens.

Quarry Bank Mill in Cheshire  is one of the best preserved textile mills of the Industrial Revolution in its day, a beacon of progress and enlightenment in 19th century Britain.  It’s in a glorious wooded setting, just as its original owner and developer, Samuel Gregg, intended.  There’s running water to drive the water wheels, and it was well-connected by road, and by the Bridgewater Canal, to have its products transported to the busy port of Liverpool.

Samuel Greg, and then his son Robert, were careful, paternalistic owners.  They looked after their employees – very well, according to the standards of the time.

We went to the Apprentice House there to see what it was like to live there as one of his child apprentices.  The house was in use from about 1790 to 1847, and children would be taken from the age of nine . They had often come straight from the harsh and bleak conditions of the workhouse – institutions that only the truly destitute would go to.  Tough as life at Quarry Bank was, it must have seemed rather wonderful to anyone who’d come from this punishing regime.

We were taken round by the ‘housekeeper’, and we obeyed her every word, and were sure to remember to call her ‘ma’am’.

This chap's being punished because his daughter's left-handed.

This chap’s being punished because his daughter’s left-handed.

She met us in the schoolroom.  The young apprentices received  an elementary education, though only on Sundays.  All children learnt to read.  The boys learned arithmetic too, and how to write – it was only necessary for girls to learn to sign their names.  They had more important skills to learn: cooking, cleaning, making clothes for the inmates.

Here’s how their week went:

Monday to Saturday:

  • Rise at 5.30.
  • Go to the factory to be at work by 6.00 a.m.
  • At 8 o’clock, in the factory, they got a handful of stiff, solid porridge (it had to be solid, so the children could eat the stuff directly from their hands).
  • Work till midday – more porridge, but this time with maybe a few carrots or potatoes stirred through it.  Unlike Oliver Twist, any child could always ask for more.
  • After the midday meal, the children would work again till 6.00 p.m.
  • Then they’d come back to the Apprentice House.  And then there would be an hour of chores – perhaps for the boys, working in the garden tending the vegetables that were part of their diet, or scouring out chamber pots.  Girls would be doing household chores, cooking or mending.
  • Their meal, served after 7 o’clock,  would be substantial, plain fare – maybe boiled bacon and potatoes.  No puddings.  Sugar was expensive.
  • Then they were free … probably to fall asleep.

Sundays, there was no work at all.  Just church, morning and early evening.  But the church was two and a half miles away, and they walked there and back – twice.  In the afternoon, they had their lessons.  However, unusually for the time, they were never struck.  Instead, as a punishment, they’d face the wall, holding small dumb-bell like weights in their out-stretched arms.  This was good for muscle tone. You’d certainly be punished like this if you tried to write using your left hand. Until recently, left handedness has been frowned on

In their dormitories, they were two to a bed, sleeping on mattresses stuffed with straw, changed every year.  They even had blankets.  They had medical care when they needed it too.

Alex says this bed's not at all bad. This was just before he was chosen to empty the chamber pots.

Alex says this bed’s not at all bad. This was just before he was chosen to empty the chamber pots.

Work was hard.  When we visited on Sunday, the huge, cavernous factory rooms were filled from floor to ceiling with machinery.  There were machines for carding, machines for spinning, machines for weaving.  Each room, in its heyday, might have had up to 60 machines.  On Sunday, each room had no more than one machine working.  The noise was deafening.  We were urged to spend only a limited time there, and the volunteer machine operators all had effective ear-defenders. Imagine 60 machines, clattering and clanking away 12 hours a day.  Men and women would have charge of small groups of machines, constantly refilling , re-threading, checking, checking.  The children’s jobs included working as ‘scavengers’, crouched between the constantly moving machinery, clearing fluff and other obstructions: or running to re-stack piles of bobbins from a central point.  Like everyone else, they’d constantly be inhaling cotton waste, and were prone to the risk of repiratory disease, and an early death.

Here's pre-industrial weaving. These looms were a big investment for a family, but offered year-round employment.

Here’s pre-industrial weaving. These looms were a big investment for a family, but offered year-round employment.

These days, Quarry Bank is a wonderful place to spend the day.  We quite simply didn’t see it all.  But we’ll be back.  And if you get the chance, I suggest you go there too.



The walk begins as we leave Carlton.

The walk begins as we leave Carlton.

It was my turn to lead a walk on Tuesday.  I chose Coverdale. Here’s why.

The River Cover, which gives the dale its name, wanders through an isolated corner of Wensleydale. Here you’ll find hamlets with intriguing names like Swineside, Horsehouse and Gammersgill, a few abandoned leadworkings, a great many sheep, and not much else.  The principal settlement, Carlton, has 230 inhabitants and the main – the only – road to it is mainly single track.  This is where we began our walk.

Here were hillsides, close-cropped by sheep.  Here were ancient terraced field patterns showing that the area, even if lightly-populated now, has long been settled by farming communities.  Here were narrow steep-sided gills sheltered by glades of trees.  It offered a walk full of variety.

Sheep with her lambs.

Sheep with her lambs.

We yomped up and across meadows populated by those sheep and their curious, always hungry lambs, enjoying long-distance view across the fells. Curlews called above us.

Curlew - Wikimedia Commons

Curlew – Wikimedia Commons

We climbed over wooden stiles, stone stiles, ladder stiles and through narrow-gap-in-the -stones-stiles.  As we passed though woodland we sniffed the slightly acrid but appetising tang of early wild garlic.

Our coffee-stop view across the valley. Those stone barns are typical of Wensleydale and Coverdale.

Our coffee-stop view across the valley. Those stone barns are typical of Wensleydale and Coverdale.

Soon we could see our half-way point on the other side of the valley.  Horsehouse these days is a tiny collection of isolated homes.  But it gets its name from the days when it was a really important staging post for those making the long journey from the north (even as far away as Edinburgh)  to the south (London?).

And once we’d crossed the River Cover, we were in woodland again.  We found a grassy bank, complete with bluebells, tree trunks to sit on, fat white pebbles for the waters to tumble over: perfect comfort, perfect peace.

We had a young German guest, Felicia, with us for the day. You can see she's 40 years younger than the rest of us. She's climbing trees after the picnic.

We had a young German guest, Felicia, with us for the day. You can see she’s 40 years younger than the rest of us. She’s climbing trees after the picnic.

After lunch, curlews gave place to oystercatchers, with their smart black and white plumage and vivid orange beaks.

Oystercatcher - Wikimedia Commons.

Oystercatcher – Wikimedia Commons.

And then we came to the point in the walk where the instructions read ‘Turn left at the last stile’.  How mystifying.  How can you possibly know which the last stile is till you’ve passed way beyond it and not found another?  Ever-resourceful we found our way anyway, strode through Gammersgill, across a few final fields, and got to journey’s end not long before the day’s sunny warmth gave way to wind and showers.

Slipping through a narrow stile.

Slipping through a narrow stile.

A pretty perfect day really.

CarltontoHorsehouseRound 033

The protective fire of Beltane.

The protective fire of Beltane.

Not much further than a mile from us as the crow flies, lies Thornborough Henge. It’s a prehistoric monument consisting of three giant circular earthworks. Constructed 5000 years ago by the first neolithic (new stone age) farmers, it was probably an enclosure for their ritual gatherings. The Henge became an important centre in Britain for pilgrimage and trade, although its exact purpose still remains a mystery.

It sends shivers down my spine to think that this ancient piece of our history lies just a short walk from our home.

An ariel view of Thornborough Henges (photo courtesy of Historic England)

An ariel view of Thornborough Henges (photo courtesy of Historic England)

We can visit it any time we choose, simply to tramp round and try to imagine it in its heyday, and we’ll have the place to ourselves.  Not on May-day though.  Today is the Gaelic feast of Beltane, half way between the spring and summer solstices.  It’s a day to mark the beginning of summer. Sadly, today is very cold, rather windy and a bit wet.

Back in pre-historic times, rituals were held on this day to protect the cattle, crops and people, and to encourage growth.  Bonfires, deemed to have protective powers, were lit.  For many centuries these practices died out.  But nowadays, at sites like Thornborough, pagans, Wiccans, New-Agers and lovers of history and tradition gather once more to celebrate the renewal of life and growth.

Today I was there too.  For an hour at least, for the opening ceremony. Brrr!  It was cold.

The Green Man and his horn.

The Green Man and his horn.

I was strangely moved.  The Green Man, representing rebirth and the cycle of growth was our Master of Ceremonies.  He invited us all to join hands, whether friends or strangers, in fellowship, and shout out three times the invocation to new life. We hailed Brigantia, Celtic goddess of Northern England.  Then at his bidding and as he sounded his horn, we turned to the east and welcomed the summer rains.  We turned south to welcome the sun (who was coyly absent today), to the west to welcome summer winds, and to the north where the wolves apparently are.

Welcoming the West Wind.

Welcoming the West Wind.

Then a man, naked from the waist upwards save for his covering of woad-coloured paint, leapt among us bearing the flaming torches which would offer us all protection over the coming months.

Protective flames.

Protective flames.

And that was the ceremony over.  Dancers entertained us.  They seemed to me to owe much to flamenco and to middle-eastern belly dancing traditions, but we all cheered them on with enthusiasm.Beltane&BanquetingHouseMay2016 052

I shan’t be there this year for the closing ceremony.  I’m still thawing out.  But weather permitting, I’ll certainly go along next year.  Will you come along too?Beltane&BanquetingHouseMay2016 047

The pirates return

It’s time to leave Phil Sayer in peace. My daughter gave him a glorious send-off last Monday, with a funeral attended by nearly 400 people, celebrating his life with tears certainly, but also, nostalgia, humour and even laugh-out-loud moments. When were you last at a funeral which began with Monty Python’s ‘Galaxy Song’? Just before we try to resume normal service, here’s a post I wrote two years ago, celebrating Phil’s time on the pirate ship Radio Caroline.

Rest in peace, Phil.

From Pyrenees to Pennines

Alex and Ben rush down the gangplank of the pirate ship. Alex and Ben rush down the gangplank of the pirate ship.

This post probably won’t make much sense if you’re not from the UK.  It won’t make sense even if you’re British if you’re not at least in your mid- 50’s.  You won’t know of a world where your radio listening choices were limited to the Home Service (much like Radio 4), the Light Programme (much like  Radio 2) and the Third Programme ( much like…. yes, Radio 3).  What’s missing from this list?  Yes, indeed, Radio One.

If you were a teenager before the mid 1960s, you weren’t going to get much joy listening out for a diet of pop music by choosing the BBC.  The only option was to tune in to the commercial Radio Luxembourg.  The amount of music it offered grew rapidly throughout the ’60s, but anyone from my generation will remember the commercials too…

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‘Mind the Gap’

'Mind the gap' (Wikimedia Commons)

‘Mind the gap’ (Wikimedia Commons)

Many of you know already that Phil died on Thursday.  Though the news couldn’t be surprising, somehow the reality is shocking.  We mourned the man we knew and enjoyed spending time with: the family man, a husband, father, grandfather and uncle.  We remembered his wit, his generosity, his Sunday roasts, his techie skills and strongly-held opinions.  We wept.

Knowing that he’d been on regional radio and TV back in the ’70s and ’80s – before we knew him, Malcolm and I thought he’d qualify for a mention in the local press.

I first heard he’d made the national news when fellow-blogger Agnes Ashe told me.  I googled him. Over the next hours, articles from the Guardian, the Independent, the Daily Mail, the Daily Star tumbled into the search engine.  Then Spanish media.  Then sites in Germany, the Netherlands, Italy, even the USA.

And all because this was the man whose voice any visitor to London will know.  The voice that admonishes you to ‘Mind the gap’ as you step from the platform onto the London Underground.

Ten years ago, just as Ellie was giving birth to their twin boys, the couple’s voice-over business won the contract to do a huge number of station announcements for the London Tube, with Phil’s deeper, masculine tones being required for the all-important ‘Mind the Gap’.

Phil followed this up by winning contracts to do similar announcements for South West Trains, the Southern Network and Northern Rail.  As we take the train on journeys through the UK, and in London, we’ll listen out for Ellie’s voice, or Phil’s, and excitedly text our friends when we hear them.  In the early days, when it was all very new, I accosted a porter on Wimbledon Station on hearing Phil’s voice announcing the arrival of the next train. ‘That’s my son-in-law, that is’.

So though he was never spotted in any visits to London or as he travelled round the country, his voice was known by millions.  That’s why he made the cut in the BBC Radio 4 and TV national news, and on BBC One’s North West programme yesterday, as well as further afield.

And just for a while, I found that my pride in his achievements, and the knowledge that his work would live on as a memorial for Ellie and the boys cut through the grief and brought a smile to my face.

Finally, for a bit of fun, here’s why Ellie and Phil are sometimes dubbed ‘Britain’s most apologetic couple

You’ve seen a picture of Phil in a previous post.  And as he’s known for being in a certain sense unknown, I thought this image of Ellie and Phil, take from their website, would be appropriate.sayer hamilton


Irritatingly, both German and Dutch reports use video of the only station in London, Embankment, that does not use Phil’s voice to advise people to ‘Mind the gap’.  This is in deference to the widow of the previous ‘voice’ who regularly uses this station.


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