Marigold Says...

Random thoughts on travelling and life in general.

Legs in Leeds. Big legs ‘n all, ar tell thee

Into Yorkshire, even though they seem to say Yarkshire around here.

Marigold Says…

Just read there are waiting lists of three years before you can see an NHS dentist. Well whoopee doo. Do we assume they are too busy doing privates?

I once had a boyfriend whose family were Polish. The first time I met his father he was bloodied after coming out of his shed, saying he had just removed a troublesome back tooth with pliers, then proceeded to eat his dinner. I noticed the boyfriend’s mother had several teeth missing and assumed their pain threshold must have been off the scale. At the slightest sign of toothache bet you’d be dragged off to the shed.

The relationship didn’t last!

I wonder if every health problem would have been fixed in the shed. If the dad is still alive he could set up as Mr Pull and Go. I remember eating a lot of cabbage, which they grew in the garden.

Wonder if in the future if you have a bad rash you ring up the doctors and they say can you phone back in two years.

We need a shed to store our spare stuff. G has lots of very old tools which he insists are as good as new, plus things bought for his birthdays and Xmas by people who don’t know him very well, as a change from socks and liquorice. The worst thing he ever received was a miniature set of gardening tools for window boxes. We have never owned a window box but the minuscule tools could come in handy if we need a DIY brain operation or knee replacement.

G seemed more excited than I have seen him in months. He shouted “the tips open”. The poor car was groaning under the weight of lockdown sortings, with nowhere to dispose of it. Off we go early to miss the queues. There were already about 20 cars outside.

“Shall we go home now?” was all I could think of.

“No” came the reply.

“Nearly there” I was told after about an hour. It wasn’t pleasant in the car as some of the stuff in the back quite frankly stunk. We had had mice in the outhouse so maybe that was the reason.

As we came within sight of the barrier there was a huge notice saying even car numbers only today. We checked our number plate and of course we are not an even number plate. G said we will just carry on, act thick and see what happens.

As we are about to go in Mr Muscleman, show me your tattoos tip man ran at us with a huge brush and told us to come back tomorrow. We hung our heads in shame. Off we went to try another day. The car will smell worse by tomorrow as the sun is shining.

Somebody had fly tipped down one of the lanes. It was all over the path and mainly consisted of takeaway food containers, old toys and clothes. We saw the farmer on the way back who said “I got them”. He said he had found a letter which he was brandishing in front of us. It had a bit of tomato sauce on it. Hope it was tomato sauce. The letter was addressed “to whom it may concern”. He said “I will get them, whoever they are”.

Talking of tips, or should I say Environmental Re-cycling Get in the Queue Centres, our favourite was one many years ago that used to put to one side anything saleable and put it in a special shed. Anything you wanted was always a couple of quid. For us it was the best part of the week. We have still got a book cupboard we got from there. It was already shabby chic, so has stood the test of time. We also got a couple of mattresses, not badly stained, joke, joke, joke.

The man in charge of the shed was called Reg and he used to sit on an armchair shouting out prices. He was very knowledgable about rubbish and where it should go. His sales pitches were very fair. I once heard him saying to one woman “You don’t want that, it stinks”. Am sure she was very grateful when he imparted his opinion.

Sometimes his dog was with him, a very old mongrel called Mickey. It shared the armchair and a blanket on a cold day. I once took Reg a slice of homemade cake. He said “thanks but I am diabetic” and gave it to the dog. We never saw Mickey again after that. It wasn’t a chocolate cake by the way.

They must have made quite a good living out of the shed. Anyway about a year down the line it was all locked up as new regulations came in and Reg was no more. Would like to think he made a pretty penny and is happy somewhere surrounded by his finds, hopefully not stinky ones.

The bus dropped us off here. A bit posher than most bus stops

G Says...

For some people, the biggest symbol of hope as lockdown eased wasn’t the reopening of schools or pubs, not even the much delayed opportunity to meet and greet, after a fashion, estranged friends and relatives, it was a distinctly more prosaic sign that normal life may soon be restored – the reopening of ‘The Tip.’

The tip, the dump, the household waste recycling centre – actually only the local Council ever calls it that – the place where we are once again allowed to dump the unwanted detritus of our lives being available once more was a great landmark. When the tip reopened after lockdown, the queue of cars waiting their opportunity to get in was vast. I hate queuing for anything – life’s too short to queue – but even I make an exception for the tip, my favourite example of municipal infrastructure.

Of course, even the tip isn’t what it used to be. Rummaging is not only discouraged, it’s actually forbidden. In the good old days I frequently returned from the tip with more than I’d set out with. The municipal tip of St Varent in the Loire Valley, the nearest ‘facility’ to the first house we renovated in France was a treasure trove. We used to arrive with an overloaded car and trailer and after emptying everything out set off for home again with a full load of ‘treasure,’ mostly stuff we didn’t even realise we desperately needed until we saw it languishing there, unwanted, unloved and obviously in urgent need of a new home.

Tips, Council run Dumps, didn’t really exist to the extent that they do now until comparatively recently. You don’t have to go back too far back in time to discover an era when most households contained far less possessions and the concept of built in obsolescence was unheard of. Household objects were valued, repaired when a fault developed and went on to second, third and fourth lives. A kettle or a toaster is now both cheap and disposable You can buy a kettle for £5 in Tesco – we own one of them - it will probably last for a year and it is then not economically repairable. Off to the tip it goes.

During the eight months we lived in Morocco we realised the concept of the tip didn’t exist there. Recycling was a way of life. Nothing was ever thrown away, even the most humble objects had appeal to someone. Everything we regard as junk was treasured and given a new lease of life. Old car tyres, threadbare carpets, plastic bottles, we saw people make footwear out of all those.

A friend of ours back in England regards anything placed in the rubbish bin as a personal declaration of failure. Avid recycler or plain old hoarder, it’s a fine distinction. His wife claims he only visits the tip to 'collect' and has a Loyalty Card there. We finally got to the entrance after sitting in a long line of cars for what seemed like entire days.

There was one more hurdle to be overcome in the shape of a villainous looking creature wearing an oversized fluorescent jacket over a string vest who held up an imperious hand as instruction for us to stop and made a ‘wind the window down’ gesture – universal sign language for an action that died out thirty years ago. He thrust his entire face inside our car barking, ‘wotcha get then?’ I gave a brief description of our soon to be discarded treasures and received vastly detailed orders relating to at least ten different areas of the yard where I would find the appropriate skips.

‘Did you get any of that?’ Marigold asked as we drove into the yard. ‘I was too busy discovering what he had for breakfast,’ I replied, having suffered the multiple stains and aromas associated with our interrogator’s sudden appearance in very close contact to my face. The skips were labelled in a rudimentary fashion: cardboard sheets tied to the guard rails on which descriptions of the desired contents had been written. ‘Metal, wood, garden waste’ and my personal favourites, ‘house stuff not for recycling’ and ‘TRADE WASTE, SEE JIM.’ I loved the terminology (house stuff), but ‘JIM’ failed to make an appearance.

I threw a recalcitrant printer, the cause of untold stress over the entire period of my ownership, into the skip with as much force as I could muster. It had demanded fresh ink cartridges after minuscule amounts of printing, refused to work at all on numerous occasions and yet never failed to irretrievably imprison any sheet of A4 paper that I had placed in the paper tray. Is it just me or do other people own baleful printers with a mind of their own? Judging by the number of them in the skip already, I suspect I am not the only sufferer.

Marigold showed little interest in removing our own rubbish, her attention captured by what other people were throwing away. A leather three piece suite, scruffy but splendid, for example.

‘Look at that, there’s nothing wrong with it,’ she said.

‘Do you want it then?’

‘No, but it’s too good to throw away.’ There’s the problem. One person’s tat is another person’s treasure. Almost everything we saw being dumped retained value in some form. Apart from printers, obviously.

The rubbish, as a society, throw away today may spark unparalleled joy a few centuries hence as artificially intelligent robots unearth the remnants of our 21st Century civilisation. The Stone Age, the Iron Age, the Bronze Age all long gone, we are living in the Plastic Age. Will they imagine Lego was a primitive form of currency?

Those robots of the future would certainly struggle to understand the speech patterns of the couple next to us at the ‘house stuff, not for recycling’ skip. Marigold nudged me in the ribs ferociously at one point. Her elbows should carry a Government Health Warning. The couple, dressed for the privations of winter despite the sun beating down on our heads, weren’t interested in talking to us. Their non stop ranting was aimed only at each other. Fortunately.

Verbal insults can be considered a crime these days. The era of ‘sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me’ belongs to a different age..

The monumental effort of conveying appropriate insults had long since passed. Anything would do now as long as it hit home. Each item removed from their van was a metaphorical stick to beat the other party.

‘Thirty quid I paid for that and you used it once,’ the man snorted, flinging a carton bearing the words ‘fondue’ on the side into the skip.

No surprise there, I thought.

‘Reclining chair gone? How will you cope now, Cyril?’ The woman responded, obviously determined to heave a presumably heavy chair out of the van on her own. Not that her doleful companion showed any sign of offering to assist.

‘I’d rather spend a day standing on my head, on my own, than live another thirty years in my armchair next to you and your big gob,’ he bellowed.

An interesting variation on Mussolini’s quotation in 1930s Italy: "Better one day as a lion than a hundred days as a sheep."

I always assumed El Duce appropriated his slogan from elsewhere, the only point of similarity that springs to mind being a biblical offering: “Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere” from Psalm 84.

(Yes, I looked up the precise wording; woe betide the blogger who misquotes a biblical reference).

John Goti amended the Mussolini quotation to “It’s better to live one day as a lion than a hundred years as a lamb,” as did Donald Trump.

Interesting; a Facist Dictator, the notorious head of the Gambino crime family in 1980s New York and Donald Trump – all with the same philosophy. There’s a faint suggestion of a common personality theme there.

Freedom Day. Restrictions lifted on pubs. Night clubs reopening. We aren’t overwhelmed with excitement yet, but it’s early days. I did say to Marigold, ‘Okay, free choice, anywhere within England/Wales, where do you fancy?’

‘Leeds’.

Always expect the unexpected with Marigold, but Leeds it would be. I booked a hotel with plans afoot for the Great Yorkshire Tour. York to follow, then where? Skipton, the Dales, Harrogate, Scarborough, the North Yorkshire Moors? So many choices.

We love Yorkshire. Yes, I know that’s a massive generalisation as there are many areas of God’s Own Country that are distinctly unlovely, but starting off in Leeds was certainly a point of difference. Other than visiting the football ground for away games, not usually a joyful experience, and playing rugby many years back, Leeds has escaped a visit from me in a long time and Marigold has never been there. Hence the off the wall choice of a trip out.

We leave our car at the Park and Ride outside Elland Road, Leeds United football club. There’s a statue of Billy Bremner there. You need to know your football to recognise him. Looks more like Rory Bremner. Off we go, the only passengers on the Park and Ride bus with the world’s most miserable driver behind the wheel. Obviously, charm, tact and a friendly nature aren’t prerequisites of the job.

Never mind, we cope. After fifteen minutes of traffic chaos, we were finally dropped off outside a very grand office block, The Bourse, in the city centre. More to come, hang on..

Continued

First impressions; Leeds is all arms and legs. There are leg statues and arm statues. Actually there are a lot of statues, but that’s okay, we like a bit of sculpture. In Millennium Square we found a welcoming pair of outstretched arms, cast in bronze, called Both Arms sitting on an impressively high pillar in front of Leeds Civic Hall. Sculpted by Leeds artist Kenneth Armitage, it’s slightly reminiscent of a work of art we came across at the chateau formerly owned by the Marquis de Sade in Provence. Not that there’s ever been any hint of sadomasochism in Leeds!

Kenneth Armitage – who’s obviously considered important enough locally to be termed Kenneth rather than the far too familiar ‘Ken’ or even ‘Kenny’ – turned up again in City Square, (Leeds has a lot of Squares), and this time it’s Legs Walking, the title says it all.

A friendly local, or busybody, take your pick, followed us around the plinth like a tour guide. He said, ‘the Council are only borrowing this one, it belongs to some rich bloke who hasn’t got room for it in his house.’ Hmm! The owner would have to be very, very wealthy to have a front room big enough to put these massive legs in.

Our would-be tour guide insisted we should be visiting ‘the arcades’ which he insisted were the eighth wonder of the world and better than anything in Milan. That’s a claim we were to hear repeated more than once, but as we judged the best way to lose our chatty (Marigold said ‘gobby’) new best friend was to follow his advice we set off to look at arcades.

In fairness, Leeds is great for shopping and the arcades are spectacular, but we were not remotely interested in anything more than a bit of light browsing, so the shopkeepers gained no benefit whatsoever from our visit. Queens Arcade, Thornton’s Arcade, Grand Arcade and the jewel in the crown, in my view, the twin arcades making up Victoria Quarter, the actual buildings were magnificent. Victorian facades, glass domed roofs and original floor tiles, a slice of history faithfully preserved and given over to indulgent shopping.

Our personal favourite, even though it lacked any real ‘shops’ was The Corn Exchange, a true architectural gem.

‘I need a coffee,’ Marigold announced after we’d traipsed around for a bit. I noted the specific ‘need’ rather than ‘want’ and cast my eye about the place for adequate choices of refreshment.

‘If it’s coffee you’re after, follow me,’ announced a man wearing beach shorts and a Hawaiian shirt, ‘my coffee is the best in Yorkshire (pronounced Yarkshire) and I’m an Independent, not a Chain.’

Marigold, without hesitation, accepted these unfrequented blandishments at face value and set off into the arcade, I forget which one, at top speed. The café was quite evidently Independent being a total one-off in style. The coffee smell mingled with pungent smoke from a man with an enormous moustache smoking a pipe on a chair outside the entrance.

‘Not here, Hugo,’ Hawaiian shirt man said, ‘not allowed’ and the pipe smoker reluctantly departed, still puffing away.

‘He’s tried vaping, can’t take to it,’ said café owner.

‘He’s a regular then?’ Asked Marigold.

‘He’s my chef, brilliant he is and all. Hang about until he gets back and he’ll do you proud.’

We settled on just a coffee, served by a young lad who looked about 12. It turned out his name was Eric, he was 16, (yes of course we asked him), and this was his first job. Eric, who was very chatty, told us the café was ‘dead’ since the onset of Covid but the owner kept going out and bringing back strays like us.

There was a big, really big, picture on the wall, a likeness of David Hockney. I liked this, a lot. Eric said, ‘that’s an artist, he came from here I think.’ Well, he didn’t actually he came from Bradford and soon decamped to Los Angeles but Bradford is close enough. I’m pretty sure Damien Hirst came from Leeds, but the picture on the wall is undoubtedly of Hockney. He painted literally hundreds of self portraits, including a quirky one I remember seeing in the National Gallery.*

*Yes, we ‘do culture’ occasionally, it’s not all coffee stops.

‘You like that?’ The owner sidled up to me as I was studying the picture.

‘Very much. It’s not actually by Hockney, is it?’ I felt pretty safe asking the question, a genuine Hockney, this size, would be be worth a fortune.

‘One of his students did it. I bought it at a charity auction. Paid a fair bit for it an’ all. Make me an offer if you want.’

I looked at Marigold who appeared more interested in her coffee than art appreciation just at that moment.

‘I turned down £16,000 a few weeks ago, reckon it’s worth a bit more than that,’ added the café owner/fine art dealer, somewhat expectantly. I told him I’d give the matter some thought and rejoined Marigold.

I’m still thinking. Mainly thinking, it’s a no then.

Coffee drunk we told chatty Eric we were heading for the indoor market. ‘You’ll never find it’’ he said, ‘I’ll take you.’ They’re a helpful lot in Leeds.

‘Are you sure it’s okay for you to be out, hadn’t you better ask the boss?’ Marigold asked. Eric shrugged. ‘He won’t even notice,’ he said, ‘I went and had my hair cut yesterday and he never even noticed I’d gone.’

We set off, after a slight delay as I realised after we were two minutes away I hadn’t paid for our coffee. Despite Eric suggesting ‘forget it,’ I trudged back and left the money next to the cups as the owner had evidently gone off to drag someone else in off the street.

I rejoined Marigold outside a cat café which Eric advised against visiting as it was ‘full of cats.’

Really?

We got to the market eventually and said goodbye to Eric who wandered off to see if any of his mates were ‘knocking about.’ I suspect he’s significantly lacking a full understanding of what an actual ‘job’ entails.

The Leeds Kirkgate market with yet another splendid domed roof, is the largest indoor market in Europe and Leeds folk are not shy about mentioning it. Despite it being nowhere near the coast, the fish section of the market has become one of the most important fish trading sites in Yorkshire and the Yorkshire fish trade is vast.

Kirkdale Market is also where a certain famous name on the High Street first set up in business as a Penny Bazaar. Michael Marks turned up in Leeds 130 years ago as a penniless immigrant from Belarus and after a period as an itinerant pedlar set up as a market stall holder.

Belarus remains the only country in Europe we haven’t visited – we were turned away at the border, which still rankles with me – but that’s ancient history now.

Grumble, grumble.

Michael Marks spoke very little English, but obviously had a ferocious work ethic (Eric, take note) as he soon needed to find a partner to help develop the business. A local man named Isaac Dewhurst turned him down, but suggested his senior cashier, a Mister Tom Spencer instead and the firm of Marks and Spencer was born.

There’s now a very handsome clock commemorating the Centenary of the company. M and S offered an entirely different form of shopping, unique to them, in their Penny Bazaar Stores with the slogan ‘admission free.’ It may sound odd now, but back then the offer to shoppers to wander around, browsing but with no obligation to buy, was unheard of. It certainly caught on!

We walked, browsed and shopped until we (almost) dropped, without significantly enriching any of the shop owners and had lunch at a restaurant attached to Leeds Railway Station. You see all sorts in a Railway Station and we certainly did on that occasion.

The opportunity to see a group of middle aged people wearing togas with Roman helmets on their heads enter a restaurant is unusual, but even more so when they were followed by four very overweight cyclists wearing unforgiving Lycra who brought their bikes in with them. Four men, but only two bikes. It’s difficult to overstate the chaos caused by four fat men wheeling two tandems through a restaurant in a busy lunchtime.

‘It’s not dull here, is it?’ Marigold said. No, indeed. The middle aged couple at the next table had a slice of cake each in front of them. If you must know the details, I suspect carrot cake, definitely, and, almost certainly, coffee and walnut cake. The man took immense care to slice each portion, lengthways - not an easy task - into precise ‘halves.’ The woman watched him, impassively, then after he had carefully arranged one half of both cakes on their respective plates to form ‘sharing platters,’ announced, ‘you can have the lot, I fancy an Eccles cake.’

They then launched into a fierce argument that only appeared to have been interrupted by the arrival of cake. Marigold muttered, ‘I really hate it when a couple argues in public, and I’ve missed the beginning so now I don't know whose side I'm on.’

She re-tuned in to their conversation after hearing the woman announce, ‘when we get back, remind me about the kitchen fitter arriving on Tuesday to discuss waste pipes, I must tell Tasha not to come.’

‘Tasha,’ hissed Marigold. The name pleased her immensely.

More to come, after some photos.

We missed a treat here. Possibly

Cheap at the price? Yet another wasted opportunity

That's the self portrait in the National Gallery. Yes, I prefer the one in the cafe too.

Eric advised us to avoid the Kitty Cafe - it's got cats in it. He misses nothing that Eric

One of many arcades

Trendy shopper. Wearing a neck mask as a spare. Marigold ready for anything

Probably our favourite building in Leeds

Legs Walking, from a different angle

Not just legs, there's arms as well.

More big arms at the chateau of the Marquis de Sade. Very big arms

Nowt to do with Leeds, but we had our best ever outdoor meal here, in The Luberon, right next to the Chateau of the Marquis de Sade

Finally...

We were booked in for the night at a very grand hotel just outside Leeds. I booked last minute so it was about the same price as a Travel Lodge, but there the resemblance ended. Oulton Hall was originally a ‘modest’ eighteenth-century house owned by the Blayds family. Modest is a fine point, leaving semantic issues aside for now it struck me on first sight as anything but modest.

In 1807 the house was left to John Calverley, who was a partner in Beckett's Bank and Mayor of Leeds who changed his name to Blayds in order to inherit the property.

Pretty shrewd manoeuvre.

In more (comparatively) recent times the Hall was used during the First World War as a hospital and convalescent home for soldiers diagnosed with neurasthenic – ‘shell shock’ to the non medical brigade.

Officers only, obviously.

In 1925 the hall and its extensive grounds were sold by the then owners to the county council and used as a hospital for psychiatric patients until 1971. A new owner took over but was battered by the costs of restoration and by 1974 it was derelict.

De Vere Hotels acquired the lease and rescued it, spending £20 million to turn the Hall into a hotel set in an estate of 300 acres with gardens, a 27-hole golf course and a spa.

Just about right for our visit.

We parked between a Bentley and a Range Rover before realising that this provided insufficient room to open the car doors. Yes, we could have lowered the roof and clambered out over the bonnet, but Marigold wisely said, ‘it’s not that sort of place.’ We found a different parking space instead, near the ‘bins.’ No Bentleys in sight.

The hotel was lovely. We didn’t require a seat at table for the Formal Dinner, any of the vast array of Spa Treatments or a round of golf, but instead sat in the gorgeous Champagne Bar and watched our fellow guests.

People watching; its free, harmless and invariably entertaining. Today was no exception. Men wearing bright red trousers may imagine they look stylish, but I deferred to Marigold’s opinion – ‘prats.’ Despite this, the trend appeared almost universal here. This being deepest Yorkshire, despite being in the Champagne bar the tipple of choice was invariably John Smiths Best Bitter.

The all male bar staff were very young, mostly with tattooed arms and Peaky Blinders haircuts, who were far more interested in ogling the waitresses than serving customers, but I cut them some slack as the waitresses running in and out to the terrace wore uniforms more commonly associated with ‘schoolgirl themed’ hen parties. It was also pretty obvious from what other female guests were wearing that the waitress outfits were pretty close to what they would have chosen to wear on a night out.

Marigold decided the Champagne Bar waitresses were becoming a threat to my blood pressure and we moved next door to the empty Library with vast armchairs awaiting our arrival.

A solitary waitress, about thirty years older than the others, was clearing away the remains of Afternoon Tea. She was very friendly and asked if we wanted ‘a cuppa.’ We did.

Polly had been silver service waitressing for many years and offered the opinion that the ‘juniors’ under her command were ‘a useless bunch, but lovely with it, if you know what I mean.’ She lived ‘walking distance away,’ had worked at the Hotel since it opened, was born in the village, went to school here, had never travelled outside Yorkshire and only ever visited nearby Leeds on two occasions.

‘Why would I? I love it round here.’

Okay, it’s the biggest English County, but it’s pretty rare these days to find such a homebody.

Mary Shelley wrote in ‘Frankenstein,’ “How much happier that man is who believes his native town to be the world…” She could have been referring to Polly.

‘If you want cake, sandwiches or whatever, just say so,’ said Polly, explaining that the Hotel always added ‘loads’ more food than had been booked in case anyone else ‘turned up’ - which rarely happened. We must have looked half starved as she brought us a heaped cake stand each.

The Afternoon Tea Experience, to give it its full title, cost £28 per person, so that was (at least) £56 we saved, thanks to Polly.

Definitely not a Travel Lodge

Acceptable!

One tray each. Thank you Polly.

No words necessary

Can anyone spot Marigold?

Yes, she probably would do this all day long...