Costume Drama

Fancy Dress Party – for me the 3 scariest words in the English Language.  On the staggeringly rare occasion that I’m invited to one I’ve always managed to be doing something else that evening like, oh I don’t know carving my eyes out with a spoon, but this Saturday I find myself attending a said soiree which also has a particular theme.  A fellow attendee suggested having a look at costumes down at the West Yorkshire Playhouse costume hire which was something new to me.

Never mind the party what an amazing place, an Aladdin’s cave of every type of costume known to man.  I was not aware that the costume department for the playhouse, as well as crafting the amazing outfits that we see on stage, have a side arm in hiring them out, not just to Am Dram groups and the like but to individuals as well.  You walk in and incredibly enthusiastic and knowledgeable staff great you and enquire what you want.  It’s like a living manifestation of Mr Benn.  This is where anyone who has dressing up pretensions needs to be as the whole place is themed according to decade so whether you fancy Henry VIII, ABBA or Downton Abbey chic it’s all there.

So if you ever need a costume for whatever takes your fancy you know where to go.


Rugby League


Growing up in Leeds in the 1970s was an evocative time. We had the austerity of the early seventies where we had regular power cuts due to strike action and many people working a three day week. The decadence of the eighties was a long way off and although my abiding memories are overwhelmingly positive, it was a tough time make no mistake.

Rugby League was the dour, Northern  upstart brother to the predominantly upper class Rugby Union (apart from the mining towns of Wales, I might add). I grew up in a League family and our team was Bramley. Originally a village on the outskirts of Leeds, it had over the years become part of the sprawling Leeds empire but the RL team remained intact. One of  the original clubs that broke away from the RFU in Huddersfield in 1895, Bramley was a small club and it’s nickname ‘The Villagers’ says it all.

Rugby League was one of the simple pleasures of the northern working classes with its heyday in the fifties and sixties. By the time the seventies came around it was still a niche sport and the early signs of its decline were in evidence. Football was on the rise and there were other things to occupy our time with.

Still we enjoyed our Sunday afternoons travelling around the North of England (and latterly Wales and London as new teams joined) to enigmatic places like Whitehaven, Huddersfield or Hull. Well, they were enigmatic to me at least as an impressionable 10 year old. The club always struggled financially largely due to being neighbours with too many local clubs and big brother club Leeds (who we all hated at the time). Bramley RLFC slid into administration in the late eighties I think – way before the modern era of summer Superleague could come to the rescue.

It was with great joy then, when recently clearing stuff out of Dad’s crammed loft, that we discovered my old scrapbook and my sister’s badge and programme collection. We spent a couple of hours leafing through the old letterpress programmes which brought it all flooding back. The musty smell of old print had long replaced the vivid smells of paper and ink but thanks to my sister they were beautifully kept.

My old scrapbook brought back the most memories for me. Every match report had been assiduously collected and documented in the promotion chasing 1978/79 season. There was a fervour to the journalism too I noticed that’s lacking today – some of the match reports were from the ‘Green’ – a local sports only newspaper that held a mystical air for me, also long gone. It also struck me how important it all seemed to me back then and how for me sport plays an important role in my life but not central anymore.

The scrapbooks, badges and programmes spoke to me of a simpler time where my obsession with collecting and completing started on the cold and windy terraces of Northern England.


… And now for something completely different

To start with, thanks to Ian and Phil for letting me join their blog. I may feel the need to encroach on their topical territories once in a while, but I’m most looking forward to sharing my main passion, which is, and pretty much always has been, history. When it came to choosing GSCEs, A’ Levels and degree subjects the only thing I knew for certain was that I wanted to study history (“proper” history, that is, nothing too modern). And the reason I became interested in history was castles. For as long as I can remember (and before it), family holidays involved visiting castles. There were other things too, like abbeys and beaches and the other great things that the UK has to offer, but the castles were the best.

 I suppose as a child the draw was mainly about the exploration – what was going to be around the next corner and up the next staircase. As I got older I would look for the features I was familiar with and find the new ones, and learn about the unique history of that castle and its surroundings. No two castles are alike, from the grand royal complexes of London and Windsor, to the barely-there remains of the fortified manor house of Rothwell in south Leeds. This means there’s endless potential for visiting and studying, both of which I’ve done rather a lot of.

 Last year though I had what could be the ultimate experience for a castle fan – I stayed in one. For a few years now, English Heritage have been converting buildings within some of their properties into holiday cottages. My first stay, in 2010, was at Hardwick Old Hall in Derbyshire, which was great because you have the place to yourself after hours. How much better then to do the same thing at Carisbrooke Castle on the Isle of Wight. Watching all the visitors and staff leave and lock us in behind them (we did have keys to get out if we wanted!), was quite a treat. The real pleasure though was being able to walk the ramparts in absolute peace and quiet in the evening sunshine. It really was our castle for the week, and the picture is of the fabulous view from my bedroom window. Now that’s what I call a holiday – does anyone have a better castle holiday?

Sport Relief Mile

I’m not in any way shape or form a runner, neither do I participate in any charity raising but this year my girls wanted to take part in the sport relief mile.  (For those who read this blog not from this country, and amazingly there are some, sport relief raises money for charity every 2 years getting people across the country to do sporting challenges with all money raised going to charities in this country and abroad).   It was expected that over 1 million people were going to take part in the organised fun runs across the country so we registered, the girls got fundraising, and we pitched up in Leeds city centre this morning to clear blue skies and lots of fancy dress costumes.

The warm up area got everyone in a good mood and enabled me to be a totally embarrassing dad and get my groove on in public as I got shuffling to Party Rocking (if you’ve been living on Mars and are not aware of the mighty shuffle then check out the vid below)

Orville was giving it some and must have been getting a serious sweat on in his full on green outfit !  What was lovely about the event was that it was everything sport should be: inclusive, fun, social, participatory with every imaginable age, shape, ability, disability and no ability all taking part.  Dick and Dom were running in our section which had kids shouting out bogies ! (an in joke for Dick and Dommers I believe)


On your Marks ….




It’s all going to be OK we have Captain America running with us


Those feet are made for running (and shuffling)


For once the city centre is full of runners and not shoppers


Done, all got round OK with one of the kids taking up the shuffling theme and deciding to dance all the way round ! Kids are already gearing up for next year.


All in all a thoroughly enjoyable experience, might even have got the running bug !



Riding into the firing line

A very strange thing happened to me this week in that I had a spare days leave to take and not only did I have a spare day but this day was for me – no other commitments whatsoever I could do whatever I wanted.  This never ever happens so I was determined not to waste it and thought about what I could do and also who I could manage to persuade to take a day off and get up to some sort of mini adventure.  My good mate PB took very little persuading and a plot was hatched to head up to Northumberland and spend a day riding the Cheviot Hills, probably the remotest area of England.  Sunday was spent trying to get the trusty steed into some sort of respectable order and cleaned up as best I could, a good check over and some new back brake disc pads fitted (god were they needed) and then Monday whizzed by before I was outside waiting for PB to drive up North.


We’d booked into what turned out to be a fantastic bunk house above a great little cafe in Rothbury called Tomlinsons Cafe.  If you ever fancy riding or walking in the area then I can’t recommend it highly enough if you simply want a cheap but clean place to rest your head.  Rothbury at night looked like a really nice small market town and we settled down in a pub for a few (too many) beers.  Early rise and a look round the town confirmed our view of the night before that the town was a lovely little spot and we hunted about for some supplies for the ride.  We came across an amazing butchers with sausage rolls, quiches and pork pies hot out of the oven and some freshly made up sandwiches.  We knew where we were going there was nothing so wanted to ensure plenty of energy.  Somewhat surreally the butchers had a range of exotic meat on offer as the board below indicates.  Quite what the demand is in a small market town in Northumberland for Crocodile I’m not sure.


Cracking breakfast back at the bunkhouse cafe and we were ready to roll.


As we drove into the National Park we came across the sign below (with the red flag flying).  This gives you an idea of how remote this place is as large swathes of it are set aside as a military testing and training area and of course we’d picked the day when the guns were getting a good and proper testing.  As we unloaded and got our gear ready the noise of shellfire could be clearly heard reverberating around us…. carruump carrummp it was very surreal and almost otherworldly.  I’ve never heard proper shellfire before and it was a strange feeling to ride off into the hills to that accompaniment, a noise would echo round us for the whole day.


Even though I was really looking forward to the day I must admit I had my concerns, the remoteness, the route and my lack of fitness (and skill) and off road miles recently was a key area allied to the beers the night before did not necessarily make for a receipe for an easy day.  I was also riding with someone who is strong, fit and a seriously good bike rider.  Oh well best crack on.  All these fears manifested themselves on the first off road climb of the day, a steep grassy track that led us up to the top of our first hill which once crested gave the fantastic view below of what lay before us.  After I’d stopped wheezing and suppressed the rising panic that I’d bitten off way more than I could chew I couldn’t help but feel excited about the way that lay ahead, a swooping descent to the river valley then single track and bridleway off into the far distance before looping round to the right and hopefully ending up back at the car (map and compass packed).  From the top of this hill behind me I was looking down onto another hill with one of the big red flags flying which we would come across all day as we skirted the edge of the military testing area.  It looked as though it was a massive military golf course and I could imagine someone barking out orders “now gunner, shell the 18th and we’ll be all in the clubhouse for a few sherberts before tea there’s a good man”


As in my bike and art post there is always something that reminds me or provides inspiration and the ride seemed to take us through an area where any bit of flat ground (and there wasn’t much) had one of these beautiful dry stone wall circular sheep pens.  Anthony Goldsworthy eat your heart out.


The ruggedness and sparseness continued, there are not many trees around and the wind can whip and howl.  Historically this area was the badlands between England and Scotland and the trails that we were riding were effectively old smugglers and bandit routes.  This was not a place to get caught out in, not today, and certainly not in the past.  You can see the feint track we are about to ride in the photo below.


As the ride got into full swing I could feel myself recovering from the initial early jitters and begin to find a rhythm, nothing like PB of course who was bounding across the land and the hills, but good for me.  I began to relax and found elements of the flow that all of us who ride elusively search  for.  Sometimes the single track we found ourselves on had quite a drop on one side into the river running up the valley which would normally freak me out a bit but I rode along it focussed but calm and I even managed to ride across one of the open sided small bridges (unlike on this previous ride) which gave me a tremendous sense of satisfaction.  I would need to cling to these small victories as the ride progressed.  The ride up the valley passed through some soft needle floored forestry….


criss crossing the river ….


before climbing out onto a high plateau …. The area is littered with signs indicating where is and is not out of bounds for soldiers.  What I found particularly odd is that this seemed to apply to the odd farm house we could come across where there would be signs on the barns indicating whether or not they were out of bounds.  You have to remember that the sound of shelling is continually echoing around us throughout this ride and this sense of strangeness continued as we descended to find three soldiers with machine guns under a bridge.  PB wondered if we should take a sneaky photo but I suggested that discretion might be the better part of valour on this occasion.


Lunchtime stop to woof down some of the butchers fare and we were ready to tackle the toughest challenge ahead, I was feeling pretty tired but hoped that a slow steady climb up the grassy track to the highest point of the ride would sustain me – wrong.  As the green ribbon snaked upwards from the valley floor (the photo below is looking back down it) no matter how long I felt I’d been climbing for there was no sight of the top and all my movements were slowing down, I was entering my own Hades.  It has been a long time since I’ve put myself into a position where I know that I will suffer and although I suspected today might be the day it is always unclear when it might strike.  On this hill it hit with a vengeance, the shelling continued around me and I found myself slipping into a dark dark place of mental and physical anguish as the wind began to surge across the exposed land.  There was no power left in my legs and no matter how hard I pushed I seemed to have become the slowest moving thing on the planet.  The Gods looked down on this modern day Sisyphus as I tried to push on to the top.


What’s that coming over the hill…. it’s a Welshman ! I emerge a spent carcass, blowing like Ivor the Engine and after this plateau I somehow, after frequent dismounts, carrying and pushing over unrideable sections finally inch by painful inch made it to the top.  The fear now was getting down, I was so tired and my legs hurt so much that I was struggling to hold the attack position on the bike for any period as each jolt sent pain shooting up through the thighs.  I’m not a great descender at the best of times (or climber come to mention it) but realised that this was not the place to have a spill and break something.  We may have packed emergency blankets but I did not fancy lying on the side of these hills waiting to be airlifted off, so the new brake pads come in handy as I gunned off all speed to make sure I got down safely and in one piece.

The final leg necessitated a bit of map and compass use (note to self need to brush up on these) before we found ourselves at the top of the final descent into the valley and a fire road back to the car.

6 and a half hours after we set off the bikes were packed in the car and the final rations devoured.  The Cheviots are an incredible area of the country to ride in, if you go be prepared this is not somewhere you want to be on your own or without the proper equipment and supplies should things go wrong.  You will see no one and the only sounds will be your heartbeat, the rubbing of your disc brakes and the muffled carrump of the shells.  If you do go then keep a look out as I think I left a piece of me out there on them hills.  An amazing way to spend a Tuesday and it felt very strange back in the office the next morning.

Team GB Olympic (Cycling) Kit

mmmmm so this blog is about things that we enjoy, our passions, the things that provide us with nourishment so I’m very reluctant to break away from that by posting something that differs from this.  However in light of the new GB kits for the Olympics I’m interested in opening a debate on what people think. 

For me I think a huge error and missed opportunity has occurred.  The kit must surely be representative of Britain, Stella McCartney has clearly taken the union jack as that representation and then given it a twist.  But but but the colours are all wrong, both in terms of the block colour which is black (or very dark blue) and the chest pattern which is clearly meant to represent the bottom left hand corner of the flag but is also all wrong.

This is a very quick post based on my initial reaction to seeing the kit, so it may change with time and of course there has been no reflection before writing this which is always a receipe for disaster.  Not I think however as big as a disaster as this kit (the other sports have not fared well either !).   I’m interested in what you all think.

Kings Cross Station

I travel down to Kings Cross almost every week and for the past few years, I’ve become accustomed to getting off the train in the dark. The station has been under construction since 2005 and we’ve become accustomed to the station shrouded in plastic from top to bottom – not exactly the kind of welcome you’re looking for.

This is clearly an ambitious transformation because of the length of time and breadth of work underway – and I was desperately hoping it would be in the same league as the awesome St Pancras station, as I regularly use Kings Cross travelling to and from Yorkshire.

I needn’t have worried.

John McAslan and Partners intention was to create “a new, iconic architectural gateway to the city, ready for the 2012 London Olympics” providing striking new facilities for the 50 million passengers using the station every year.

I like what they’ve done.

Creating an interesting dialogue between old and new, the bold design has resulted in the largest single span structure in Europe with a dramatic steel vaulted arch that is sure to become an iconic architectural feature. Apparently the circularity of the concourse design echoes the neighbouring Great Northern Hotel, which is also being developed as part of the master plan.

I can’t wait for the 07.00 from Leeds to pull in to this station.