What’s your first Yorkshire memory?
Moving from Hipperholme to Brighouse at the age of three. I was wedged between a Coronation Lamp and a box of ‘Indian Tree’ china in a green Rover 100. It stalled by The Whitehall pub and I remember being puzzled by a curiously immobile cat on the pub’s roof. It’s actually a stone cat – a lot of old Webster’s pubs have them.
What’s your favourite part of the county – and why?
The area around Helperby. The soil is curiously red, curiously dusty, curiously springy. It’s where, between the ages of six and nine, I learned to make memories that could comfort me.
What’s your idea of a perfect day, or a perfect weekend, out in Yorkshire?
My wife and I knew two young French artists who’d lived in Huddersfield for a year. To them, Yorkshire meant dilapidated town centres that on most evenings turned into drunken brawling pits. We took them to Fountains Abbey for a day out. Hardly an original choice, but they found it a revelation. It’s people not places that make perfect days.
Do you have a favourite walk – or view?
In my teens I used to walk laboriously up to and onto the ‘eye’ of the White Horse near Sutton Bank. Now there is ‘a view’. I was stood there one sunrise when a fox broke cover within feet of me. There’s no greater privilege than sharing the privacy of wild animals. The locals used to tell you it was ‘good luck’ to stand on the horse’s eye and spit into the wind. Take my advice. Never listen to locals.
Which Yorkshire sportsman, past or present, would you like to take for lunch?
Hedley Verity, I suppose. He took ten wickets in an innings, not once but twice. I’d like to ask him why, if cricket was that easy, did he keep on playing? He also doesn’t look like he’d eat his way through your wallet.
Which Yorkshire stage or screen star, past or present, would you like to take for dinner?
Eric Portman. He was a homosexual. That can’t have been easy for a matinée idol in the 1940s. Portman often lent his fame to the fundraising ventures of the Halifax Thespians. My late uncle Mike (an unprejudiced soul who flew Lancaster bombers in the war before emigrating to Texas) once told me how, as a lad, he’d spent an evening dodging Portman’s amorous attentions among the flies of Halifax Playhouse.
If you had to name your Yorkshire ‘hidden gem’, what would it be?
Babuskha’s Russian Café in Halifax Arcade. From the Borscht to the Pirozhki it manages to be authentic without being pompous. The boss, Olga, cooks everything to order and the range of teas on offer is awesome.
What do you think gives Yorkshire its unique identity?
It used to be the filthy black stone which, when it shattered, revealed an astonishing, lemon-yellow core. Today Yorkshire is all call centres, charity shops and fields without hedgerows. There are very fine people here; but there are very fine people everywhere.
Do you have a favourite restaurant, or pub?
I used to be awed by the old Asian cafés with their bench seats that served up veg or meat keema with chapattis and jugs of water. People talk about the Corner Cafe in Burley or the Kashmir in Bradford – and they’re good, honest places; but they don’t compare to those stark ‘feeding stations’.
Do you have a favourite food shop?
Bondgate Bakery in Otley – and not just because it’s run by an old Cleckheaton school friend. If you’re over the age of 40 you should try one of their fruit teacakes. You’ll realise that you’ve forgotten what a ‘real’ teacake tastes like.
If you had to change one thing in, or about Yorkshire, what would that be?
‘Yorkshire Day’. It dates back to 1974 and is no more ‘genuine’ than Aunt Bessie’s Yorkshire puddings. I’d keep it, but I’d make it a ‘new tradition’ that the Internet got turned off every August 1st until everyone could prove they had spoken, face-to-face, with five strangers.
Who is the Yorkshire person that you most admire?
Garnet Dore. He’s a painter from Chapeltown with an innate gift for capturing a likeness. He gave up a studio at Dean Clough because he recognised he didn’t have the appetite. That takes guts. Everyone should paint, draw or make music. It’s enlightening because it’s humbling.
Has Yorkshire influenced your work?
Clearly. Why else would I be so rebarbative? Actually, my first journalistic coppers were earned by penning whimsical stories for the Yorkshire Post’s ‘Northerner II’ diary column. My mother wrote for it too, under the sobriquet ‘Aunt Aggie’.
Who is your favourite Yorkshire author/book/artist/CD/performer?
It would be invidious to name an artist. Too many of them are friends.
If a stranger to Yorkshire only had time to visit one place, it would be?
Bradford Industrial Museum. It’s got wool and steam and horses and Jowett cars and hasn’t yet been destroyed by digital trickery. In essence it’s a tribute to the practical science that really lies at the faltering heart of Yorkshire’s character from John Harrison to Samson Fox to George Collier to Percy Shaw. Everyone knows that Ed Sheeran was born in the Calder Valley, but not many know the names of Todmorden’s two Nobel prizewinners.