Tag Archives: Halifax

Merry Wives (& Daughter)

12 May

Since falling out of love with Simon Le Bon in 1986, I’ve never considered myself to be much a ‘fan’ of anything or anyone. Joining a fan club, following an idol or developing a slavish devotion to something usually involves both financial outlay, travel or inconvenience. None of which I care for.

But … I’ve seen the light now. I’m a born again evangelical filled with missionary zeal. A fan – burning with desire to tell and sundry about the object of my affection.

Nope. Not a man, a band or even a footie team. It’s actually a theatre company. Northern Broadsides to be precise. Surely you’ve heard of them? (Call yourself a Northerner? Or an honorary one? Shame on you!)

‘Merry Wives’ as performed by NB at the Lawrence Batley Theatre in Huddersfield marked the fifth time that I’ve left one of their shows muttering; “Ruddy hell! I could have watched that some ten times over!” (which, from a woman with the attention span of a gnat’, is no mean feat.)

This particular Halifax-based theatre company have this knack of keeping you pinned to your seat. Even – and especially – when it comes to one of their Shakespeare performances. Because let’s face it, much as we’d all love to aspire to be a Bard-freak, the dude from Stratford isn’t always the most readily accessible of writers – especially to those of us who are more au fait with text-speak than with the iambic pentameter.

And this is why Northern Broadsides have proved themselves to be wonders of the world of words. You don’t need to have a degree, to be a Guardian reader, to be bessies with Boris Johnson, to have had an inordinately patient English O Level teacher (cheers though, Mrs Fidler) in order to be utterly spellbound; catapulted into the 17th century – because this theatre company do all of the legwork for you. Established in 1992 by artistic director Barrie Rutter OBE and aiming at ‘a distinctive northern voice’ the company tour the land with productions both classical and new – but always with one eye on making the patter of dialogue and complex storylines more accessible to those of us who are a bit shakier with the likes of Shakespeare.

Broadsides excel in adding a modern twist to the almost-ancient thanks to their designer, Lis Evans. In ‘Merry Wives’ for example, the backdrop is formed via a 1920’s style country club. And even if you were fretting about following the multi-layered twists and turns of a Shakespearean comedy-farce, every single member of the cast makes it easier for you, thanks to their formidable acting (for example – we all came away knowing the exact meaning behind the phrase ““I will find you twenty lascivious turtles ere one chaste man.”)merry wives flyer

Barry Rutter himself plays the greasy, ageing wannabe-philanderer Sir John Falstaff. And inevitably, he steals the show. Closely followed by a sparkling double act of the Merry Wives themselves, played by Becky Hindley and Nicola Sanderson. The duo beautifully brought to life the Bard’s quite feminist intention of celebrating middle-aged women as being the stars in society; capable of being warm, witty and wise.

My eleven year old daughter attended the production with me; her second Shakespeare at the hands of Broadsides and she was itching to contribute to this review. Her favourite performer turned out to be “the guy who played the French fella who was clearly in need of Ritalin” (otherwise known as Dr Caius played by Andy Cryer). She found it to be hilarious – Shakespeare writing a French accent so that the character pronounces the word ‘third’ as ‘turd’ (“I shall make a de turd!”) – meaning that a 21st century audience could unite with the Elizabethans in having a good old slapstick-chuckle at those annoying French-folk. She also admired John Gully who played “the welsh vicar-bloke” (Rev Evans). “But why was Shakespeare so horrible about the Welsh? What did they ever do to him?”

And this is the thing about Northern Broadsides. Without such down to earth but consummate professionalism and their desire to bring the entire audience along with them – someone who isn’t classics-savvy might miss the in-jokes and the social commentaries. Plus there’s another ingredient that they toss into the melting pot, with my girl describing it as; “And the best thing is, that they do it all in a proper, northern accent – like us. Without making us sound thick. Like what the media do, innit?”

In fact,” came her final conclusion post-performance; “I reckon that every kid in the country should have to go and watch Northern Broadside do Shakespeare and stuff like that. It’d be money well spent for the Government. We’d learn way-more. And it’d be way less stress for us – and for the teachers – than making us do SHATs.”

Excuse me!?”

Ha. I heard you saying to Dad that ‘SATs’ should be renamed SHAT’s. Take it, that ‘shat’ is a bad word?”

Yes. And quite northern too. So maybe I’ll let you off for once.”

Good. And I bet they’ll use it in the next Northern Broadsides show. You just wait and see, Mum. Have you bought the tickets yet? You’re like one of them groupies now aren’t cha…?”

***NB If you’re up north and want the chance to catch the Broadsiders before the tour ends – there are two more venues left – York and Liverpool. See www.northern-broadsides.co.uk for details ***


The Old Fashioned Shopping Addict (or All Shook Up In’th Shops part 2)

14 Nov

Yesterday’s blog was all about how giddy I got after visiting a certain department store named Harveys of Halifax. I promised to tell you how I managed to overcome the lustful consumerist excesses that I was tempted into whilst visiting their hallowed floors. So read on…


I hopped back onto the road back home and located the equivalent of what (for many) would be a cold shower. Or a shot in rehab. What exactly am I referring to here?  Well. Some people call them ‘charity’ or ‘second hand’ stores … but my kids call them ‘treasure shops.’  And normally I utterly, one hundred per cent adore them. I would live in the damned things if the men in the white coats would let me. But this particular one happened to take the edge of my getting flash with the cash afternoon.

I entered the charity shop, based in a certain west Yorkshire village. I rooted about, poked and nosied around and then approached the till which was being manned by a woman who seemed to be in her late 70’s.  Here is how the conversation went:

WOMAN ON TILL:  Oooh you’ve got your arms full there, love.  Let’s tot that up for you. (Counts items out).  Oooh – have you got a budgie?

ME: Yes. (slightly defensively.) Why?

WOMAN: Because you’ve just bought ten little budgie toys here.

ME: Yes. I know.

WOMAN: And it’s funny isn’t it? Buying second hand budgie toys…

ME: I suppose some might think that… but – look (waving random tinkly ball thing at her) See? There’s no old budgie poo on it. I’ve checked all of them.

WOMAN: No, we always clean everything here. Doesn’t it bother you though? That it could have belonged to a dead budgie?

ME: Well, it must be dead.  Surely. I mean – what kind of a rotten sod of an owner would give its little toys away….like… “Oh Chirpy! You’ve been such a bad boy headbutting your mirror every 5 seconds! I’m taking all of your toys down to the charity shop!” Haha. That would be really mean. Mind you – I do that with my own children actually – take their toys to the charity shop when they’re really naffing me off. or headbutting things. Haha!

WOMAN: No. (not getting it). No-one would do that to a live budgie. I was thinking more of Bird Flu. Although like I said – we do wash everything here. Still. I don’t suppose your budgie will know that they used to belong to a dead budgie. They aren’t like dogs. They probably can’t tell through scent, or whatever.

ME: Exactly. And if you think about it. I mean – I imagine that a lot of the clothes in this shop belonged….to people who are no longer with us. You know.

WOMAN: I suppose. Not really thought about it before. Funny though. You having a budgie. Right old fashioned pet that, isn’t it?

Slightly soiled? But much loved...

Slightly soiled? But much loved…

ME: Yeah. Everyone says that. But they’re very loving and chattier even than…. a husband can be. And you throw a blanket over them when they’re really annoying. You can’t do that to a fella, can you? Haha!

WOMAN: (looking at the next items). Oooh – and …. did you realise that these are actually cassette tapes, love? They’re not CDs you know.

ME: Yes. I always look for casettes.  Was really chuffed when I spotted them.

WOMAN:  I didn’t even know we had any in the shop! So – how are you going to get them to work?

ME: A tape recorder… We have three at home. Not counting the Walkman.

WOMAN: Really? I don’t know anyone still using tapes.

ME: We’ve got hundreds of them. Audiobooks mainly. But lots of 80s heavy metal and stuff like that. Even older actually. Beatles. Elvis… Actually – that’s the name of our budgie. Elvis.

WOMAN: (chuckles) Elvis? Now that’s very old fashioned too!

ME: (getting edgy now) Well, you know…they don’t write songs like they used to!

WOMAN: Yes. My dad always used to say that. He died fifty years ago now and…And oh my Lord! You’ve got a Black Beauty audiobook! When’s the last time that was on the TV eh?  1978 at a guess! Oooh – and a Last of the Summer Wine audiobook here!

ME:  Well… we do live in Summer Wine territory. Nice to support out local economy and all of that.

WOMAN: (giggling) You know, I’m only laughing because I’ve never really found it to be very amusing. Last of the Summer Wine, I mean. Do you? I mean – does it make you laugh?

Does it make YOU laugh? If so - you are either 80-plus or 10 years old. So the lady in the shop reckons...

Does it make YOU laugh? If so – you are either 80-plus or 10 years old. So the lady in the shop reckons…

ME: I don’t … well. These tapes are for my daughter.

WOMAN: Your daughter? How old is she?

ME: She’s 10.

WOMAN: She’s 10? And she likes ‘Last of the Summer Wine?’ Next you’ll be telling me that she likes ‘Dad’s Army’ and ‘The Good Life’ …

ME: (frostily) She does.

WOMAN: Ha! Well, righteo-then. That’ll be £4.25. Thanks.

ME: Yeah, thanks. See you (heads for the door).

WOMAN: (calls out) Yes – have a lovely day! Enjoy playing with your budgie toys and listening to your old cassettes!


And so, dear chums – you will be relieved to hear that I was cured of my desire to SHOP. Whether in the brand spanking new classy sector, or in my usual comfort zone of the charidee shops.

Until later on, that is… when I found – in our bathroom rubbish bin – Bon Jovi’s ‘Slippery When Wet’ (1986). Of course I knew who the culprit was. The 6 year old, who has developed a disturbing interest in the more soft-metal side of things (although I suspect he is rebelling against my own death metal tendencies.)  The cassette looked pitiful. Tape all chewed out and a-dangling all over the show. I waved it at him; “I’m really cross about this!  VERY cross! I’ve had this since I was a girl. I looked after it all these years and you’ve just ruined it and then chucked it in the bathroom bin without even telling me!”  He explained that his tape recorder had “just pulled it out all by itself. I didn’t poke a pencil in it and try and put it all back together. Or anything.” At which point I sighed and said, “Oh well. Maybe it’s time we got with the 21st Century. Maybe I should stop getting you things from charity shops. I know. I’ll show you how to use CDs. Or maybe even an MP3 player or….” But I was interrupted by a howl of “Noooo! I love my tapes! CDs are too shiny and get scratched! Please don’t ever stop me going in the charity shop with you, Mummy!”

So, like all too many recovering addicts I am forced to blame my family for my relapse.  Hampering my progress. So I’m off to smooth out the lovely pink satin bedspread I recently picked up at our local hospice charity shop and which my other half said “looks like something Joan Collins would have seen a bit of action on, back in the 70’s…”

But what would he know? The man has no taste.

(And he still hasn’t bonded with the budgie yet.)

Even Joan Collins wouldn't turn down her nose at some second-hand action on this lovely bedspread!

Even Joan Collins wouldn’t turn down her nose at some second-hand action on this lovely bedspread!



All Shook Up In’th Shops (part 1)

13 Nov

Some readers of this blog will know that I don’t really do shopping. Well, high street shopping I mean. I hate the same blandness that 95% of the stores here in the UK  represent these days. I despise the way that the big chains and the corporates assume that we’re a bunch of brainless, zombified sheep – sleep-walking our way to unecessary consumer tosh accruement and purchasing-oblivion.

I am a big fan of Quakerism. Of keeping the material things in our life plain and simple. Of spurning the constant need that many of us feel – To Have, To Be, To Own.  But a great number of Quakers themselves – were actually the leading capitalist-philanthropists of their day (I am talking pre-1950s here – I am talking the Rowntrees, Cadburys, Frys and hundreds more who were committed to Quakerist life and practice in business.)  So I can’t really blame the Quakers for my horror of anything that involves numerical transaction. They were quite happily pootling along – selling widgets to punters. In as ethically and perhaps as paternalistically a way as possible of course…

So, no. Instead, I nominate Bill Bryson to blame for all of this anti-shopping malarky. Bill’s ‘Notes from a Small Island‘ had a huge effect on me when it was first published. This book is one of our 20th Century travel and civic classics.  A must-read where Bill charms us with take on Brit-life but also comments on the monotony – the bleak and barren landscape which now forms the shop frontages of most UK towns. His hilarious anecdotes and sarky-arse commentary precisely depicted what I was feeling as I hung out in various abodes during my late teens and early twenties; “Bloody hell! Am I in Manchester or Oxford or Oldham or Birmingham? It all looks the sodding same, these days!”

Still one of the funniest books that I've ever read...

Still one of the funniest books that I’ve ever read…

And don’t even get me onto some of the crimes of the built environment that have been carried out here in the UK. The wanton destruction of stunningly beautiful architecture – some of them hundreds of years old – in order to slap a franchised ‘Coronary 2 Go! Geddit it Gulped!’ cladding for your latest fast food outlet. Yes, Bryson’s gripes got into my head. So much so, that I’ve been pathologically avoiding Britain’s High Streets for many, many years now. (Mind you, thinking about it – the man has clearly saved me a bob or two. Cheers Bill!)

But this aversion to all things-high street extends to my other half. And the kids too. A suggestion of “let’s hit the shops” in my family is tantamount to saying “anyone fancy a bout of gastroenteritis this weekend?” So yesterday’s little excursion messed with my head somewhat. I visited a department store…. I know! A business named ‘Harvey’s of Halifax’.

Now, not being a born n’ bredder of Halifax (me being an East Mancunian defector now living on t’other side of the Pennines)  I was informed beforehand by ‘real locals’ that this trip to the shops might be a slightly less traumatic experience for me than giving birth without pain-relief in the Kalahari (which happened to be a barrel of laughs, believe you me.)  “Oooh – Harvey’s is lovely!” one friend said.  Another neighbour told me that she was “reet jealous!” that I was popping out to this particular shop. My mother also said that she had heard of them. And my mother is a lady for whom Lidl simply doesn’t cut the mustard…

So, I was all set to visit the shop. And okay, the plan was to just have a quick brew in their cafe. But I was initially impressed by the presentation of the building. And oh…dear, dear reader – if you are at all interested in urban design and heritage – you HAVE to check out Halifax for some stunning examples, the Piece Hall to begin with of course, as a ground-breaking bit of architecture. But Harvey’s building is also rather impressive.  The business began back in the 1920’s. But today it stands proud – with three historical buildings merged – to form the modern-day Harveys.  Although, I have to use the term ‘modern’ loosely – because the minute I stepped into the place I was catapulted back into the past. A reminder of that wonderful store named Lewis’ in Manchester. Many childhood memories of accompanying my Granny there via her Datsun Cherry (one of Granny’s first jobs back in the 30s was as a shop assistant in Lewis’).

The original Harvey's store

The original Harvey’s store

Immediately, I breathed in….what was it? Old World gentility. But not old-fashioned. No – it was far more upmarket than the Grace Bros (anyone remember ‘Are You Being Served?‘) Meaning that Harvey’s clearly rings those top class bells.  But … without that sense of snootiness. Without making you feel that you can only shop there if you enjoy the feeling of Being Better Than Thou. So the place doesn’t possess the up-itself attitude of your Harvey Nicks.  Sure, it’s enormous in size, but had been designed so that you didn’t feel too lost (although you probably were – if you were me – it happens to me a lot. I have a tendency to walk round ten square feet at least fifteen times without realising it.) The place was utterly bustling with what clearly were very loyal customers.

And I can tell you why the customers were loyal. This is because it’s a 100% family owned and operated firm. I witnessed many sales staffs assisting customers. Dealing with them in such a way that was a zillion miles from the  USA-induced corporate Stepford Wives customer-service faux friendliness. And I also saw the owner and Chairman himself stopping and chatting to at least a dozen customers – filling in for his daughter who is MD of the business. I noticed the Company Secretary dashing over to assist a disabled customer, I clocked her getting read to help with clearing up tables in the restaurant…

These customers don't need free booze to stay loyal (although wesh frobably likesh it!)

These customers don’t need free booze to stay loyal (although wesh frobably likesh it!)

This was down to earth, genuinely-give-a-toss-about-people northern customer service. To date, the closest I have seen to this attitude has been – not from a high street shop – but from a social housing landlord (the award-winning North West’s Irwell Valley Housing Assoc.)  Irwell Valley’s Tom Manion will tell you that employee happiness levels are utterly transparent to the general public and convey immediately either very good or very poor management. Roger Harvey would probably agree with him. Of course, there is the off-chance that the staff at Harveys are not *truly* a happy crew and that they’re  just damned good actors (and are being bribed to put on a good show for the consumers as their families are actually being held at gunpoint in the lingerie section.)

But the bees-knees of this particular visit was when I learned about the charity work that Harveys are involved with.  Again – none of your off the shelf corporate big charidee names stuff. The store is heavily involved with a range of local charities and arts groups. Many of them being the smaller names that you may not be familiar with, but which (in my opinion) are more worthy of praise than the Big Guys in terms of bang for bucks. And real heart. Indeed, I happened to meet one of their latest recruits – a member of staff who had been part of a programme run by Halifax based charity ‘Project Challenge’ and who had been unemployed but was now working at Harveys and still dedicated to raising money for them.

And best of all the store is an INDIE!   Not part of a big chain. Independent…going it alone…sailing the seas of creativity and entrepreneurship. Like me in many ways. But with better underwear. Yes indeedy, inspiring people in an inspiring place. I came over all giddy. So much so that I actually ended up buying things from the place. Flexing the old plastic. Now, this is a dangerous practice for me. The flabby muscle of rampant consumerism was beginning to twitch. I was only saved from purchasing a new coat by the fact that I was about to wet my pants (excessive caffeine) and that my parking ticket was about to run out. And we all know how evil, twisted and jobsworth those West Yorkshire Parking Attendents are…

Modern day Harvey's.  Perhaps the only store in the UK that could make me blog about it. Without any brown envelope exchanges or cash for question deals...

Modern day Harvey’s. Perhaps the only store in the UK that could make me blog about it. Without any brown envelope exchanges or cash for question deals…

Driving back towards homeland, I realised that I needed to break this new buzz of mine. All recovering addicts know that if you feel a new, heady vibe – you had better get back on the waggon – quick.  Try a spot of ‘what used to work.’

So tune in for Part Two (“Breaking the Addiction – with thanks to a local charity shop. And the consumer demands of my budgie.”)