My Yorkshire: Ian McMillan

Ian McMillan is a poet, writer, playwright and broadcaster and is poet in residence for English National Opera.

What's your first Yorkshire memory?

Being pushed along in my pram by my mother in Wombwell, and being aware that the pavement we were going along was pretty uneven – it was a very bumpy ride. I was also aware of some interesting lights overhead, so it may well have been around Christmas time? Back then, children could see their mothers from their prams – not like today where so many prams and buggies have the child facing away, and into the traffic. One of the writing workshops I run asks the participants what their earliest memory is, and it's more than likely something to do with prams and motion.

What's your favourite part of the county – and why?

South Yorkshire – other parts of the county get all the press and publicity, but I reckon that our little corner is pretty nigh perfect. I'm particularly fond of Brodsworth Hall, and I never tire of going back there and strolling in the grounds, or walking around the house. It's a terrific story, isn't it – a hugely wealthy family, with servants all around them, and in little over a century the only person living in that mansion was a little old lady with a one-bar electric fire.

What's your idea of a perfect day, or a perfect weekend, out in Yorkshire?

Waking up early, and having a morning stroll around Darfield, and having a cup of tea somewhere, and having a wander around Darfield churchyard. Simple pleasures, but hugely enjoyable. I do a lot of walking, and some of it at speed – to the point where I carry a letter with me, so that it looks as if I'm actually going to the post, rather than doing a bit of power-walking up the hill. The thing about a little community like ours is that it can take hours to get from A to B, even if B is only along the lane, because everyone stops you and has a bit of a natter.

Do you have a favourite walk – or view?

Anywhere around Wentworth Castle or Wentworth Woodhouse. There are several places where you can see the sweep of South Yorkshire. Wentworth Woodhouse is fascinating – a magnificent pile so huge inside that there's the story of the guest, decades ago, who took a bag of confetti with him when he walked from his bedroom to the dining room, and

scattered it along the corridors so that he could find his way back through room after room. There's also quite a nice

caf nearby.

Which Yorkshire sportsman, past or present, would you like to take for lunch?

The mighty Harry Tufnell, who was part of the Barnsley team that contested both the 1910 and 1912 Cup Finals, and scored in both. I'd like to put a pint in his hand and ask him: "What was that like, then?"

Which Yorkshire stage or screen star, past or present, would you like to take for dinner?

Harry Worth, the comic – who is now largely forgotten, but who was one of the pioneers of TV entertainment. He was born in Hoyland Common, South Yorkshire, the youngest of 11 children. His dad was a miner. The house now has a blue plaque on it, I believe. He was one of those comics who was very funny by not being funny, if you see what I mean.

What do you think gives Yorkshire its unique identity?

The strong winds. No, seriously. It's nearly always windy in Yorkshire, isn't it, and I think that affects the way that you walk, head down into it, the way that we talk – teeth gritted against it and all those flat vowels – and the way that we dress. We didn't wear trilbys, because they'd be blown off our heads, so a flat cap was far more practical and sensible, and it stays on.

If you had to name your Yorkshire "hidden gem", what would it be?

The Five Weirs Walk from Meadowhall into Sheffield, there's a lovely stroll along by the canal, and you get a whole different perspective on the city and our industrial past.

Do you follow sport in the county, and if so, what?

I am a devoted fan of Barnsley. I don't know where the love of football came from, because my dad was far more into fishing. Going to see them is enhanced at the moment because my grandson Thomas, who is six, also trots along, and his companionship is hugely valued.

Do you have a favourite restaurant, or pub?

Thaal in Darfield. It used to be The Bridge Inn where the old landlord, if you were slow in drinking your pint, would say "Doesn't tha' like it?", which was a nudge for you to get on with it. Today the nan bread stands out – it's quite delicious. I've always thought that nan bread and Yorkshire Pudding were actually brothers, accidentally separated at birth.

Do you have a favourite food shop?

Two, both in Wombwell – Potter's the butchers and Smith's bacon shop. They both stock the tastiest pork pies and potted meats and good meat products, things like savoury duck – all proper and traditional. They ought to be lauded in the Pork Pie Appreciation Society's Hall of Fame, and given special status like champagne and the great cheeses.

How do you think that Yorkshire has changed, for better or for worse?

Probably for the better, and it is certainly a lot greener, but where once we could boast that there were 60,000 men employed in the pits, there are now only 6,000 and they work in call centres. There's a cleaner landscape, but it's come at a terrible cost to pride and to employment opportunities.

Who is the Yorkshire person that you most admire?

JB Priestley. Even when London called him, he was never sucked in, or lost his accent. He was a superb social observer as well, and his talks to the nation during the war were inspirational.

Has Yorkshire influenced your work?

Hugely. Totally. From the days when I was at school – our school motto at Wath Grammar was in Latin and translated as Look to Better Things, which, coming from Wath, we thought meant Look to Mexborough – right through to today. You drink in the people, the history, the culture, everything, and you turn it all around and you make it all your own.

Name your favourite Yorkshire book/author/artist/CD/performer.

Ted Hughes. I first became aware of his work while at school, and when I was given a book called Nine Modern Poets. There were nine photographs of the people featured, but none had a name underneath them, so I grew up believing that Mr. Hughes was rather small, rather scholarly-looking and wore glasses. Turns out I'd been looking at TS Eliot. Oh dear.

If a stranger to Yorkshire only had time to visit one place, it would be?

I would take them on a whirlwind tour – to Cusworth Hall, near Doncaster, then on to Brodsworth, and then over to Hickleton Churchyard, which is an overlooked gem that is so frequently bypassed by drivers….it is on land once owned by the Earl of Halifax, who was a pit magnate of his day, and who called it his "jewel in a sea of coal". It's really somewhere quite special, and I do like to introduce people to it, and to share it with others. That's a great pleasure, isn't it?

YP MAG 8/1/11