Tag Archives: Leeds

Bicycles … Yorkshire … Africa?

19 May

Me. Fresh as a daisy! Yeah, right.

Back from sub-saharan Africa … a houseswap … a work-related project … and a ‘holiday’ (employing inverted commas here because is it *ever* a holiday when accompanied by humans under the age of 21 who happen to be your own, delightful offspring?)

So much to report on  and to ruminate over after our little jaunt to The Motherland. To begin with – how we dealt with such an enormous lack of internet, cell phones, a TV, doorbells and immediate neighbours (none within a mile …)

All of this was utterly weird at first. And then it became incredibly wonderful.  And I am missing it already. After the first few hours of adjustment, we began to see it all as a bit like a gift from the big guy upstairs (NB – apologies to my Brit next-door neighbour, Lisa  – who really shouldn’t take offence at the above paragraph. Our Lisa is welcome anytime of the day at our slum – especially if the cuppas are accompanied by our usual bitch-fest with regards to certain Kirklees household refuse collectors!)

But one thing that I am really noticing since we got back is the sheer volume of giddiness with regards to Le Tour Yorkshire here in The Valleys.

Don’t get me wrong – I am chuffed to mintballs about the fact that Le Tour is going to be wheeling it’s way through God’s Own Country. Many of our local writer-sorts worked their batties off in order to get a teensy bit of grant-funding so that we could mix n’ mash writing and the arts and expose the usual wheely-obsessed sorts to our local scribbling talent (YOU GO Holme village and the Yurt and our postcard project!)

But having had many conversations with desperately poor people in southern Africa as to the the tiny things that would improve their lives, I cannot help but have a slightly different perspective on things on my return home.  Apart from food, healthcare and education – one of the things that cropped up time and again was ‘transport’.

“Just a bicycle to share between our families, would really make such a difference,” was something that we heard an awful lot…

Owning a bicycle would mean that those people in Namibia, in rural Botswana, Zambia, Zim or South Africa – those who might live out in the former townships and who are the fortunate ones to have jobs out in the towns – don’t have to spend one-fifth of their meagre wages on transport. Owning a bicycle would mean access to emergency help when problems arise. Owning a bicycle would mean true independence – a foothold on the ladder to dignity. Owning a bicycle would mean having enough food in order to stop your children from dying of malnutrition.

And really, I am not exaggerating this last point. I’ve just arrived back home to the UK. I witnessed a deterioration in circumstances for the poorest people in Namibia since only a few years ago, when I lived there myself. I saw what a difference just a few pennies a week can make. In terms of life and death amongst the bairns in the Kalahari…

But more on that, later.

So. for now.  Let’s celebrate our marvellous chance to show the world how Yorkshire Rocks in terms of our hills and valleys – but let’s also have a serious think about how we can turn some of the media spotlight and the inevitable money involved in Le Tour – into something that will actually benefit the world’s poor.

And yeah. I am inviting Answers and Ideas On A Postcard. Please!

Le Tour Yorkshire – and indeed Holmfirth – came with us. But we would have loved to have left a permanent legacy in a land that so desperately needs two-wheelers…



Mr Benn, Bob Geldof and an annoying African Drummer

14 Mar

Politicians eh? You can’t trust ’em, can you? They’re all in it for themselves. Well, most of us have said that at one time or another. But it simply isn’t true.

One of the reasons that I wrote ‘Mind Games and Ministers’ was to try and tackle this question. What would happen if a posh-boy politician ended up stranded on a northern sink council-estate…faced with the rather sticky situation of a demented pensioner, a flooded home, victims of domestic violence and psycho wife-beaters? Would the guy be able to hack it? What kind of stuff ARE our politicians made of? (Note – you have to peruse the book to find out what next, dear reader…)

Tony Benn would have been able to deal with it. Tony Benn would have won over the women, the E-numbered up ASBO kids and would have talked down nutter smack-head wife-thumper. Tony Benn would have…Yes, by now – you will have gathered that I am a bit of a Tony Benn fan. So, I was gutted at hearing of his death today.  I’ve heard him speak, I’ve met ‘his people’ and I’ve always admired his words and his work. In fact, I adored the chap so much that I simply *had* to mention him in one of my chapters (Ch 15 where the female victims of domestic violence discuss politicians and where dear old Tony Benn gets mistaken for Tony Blair -‘Well Tony whoever…they’re all a  bunch of rich, lyin’ bastards.’)

So Tony Benn is a leading light for me. But he isn’t the only one. I was going to produce a little list here of ‘the good guys n gals.’ But that would be far too toadying of me, eh?

Still, I am going to make one exception to my rule and tell you how and why the spirit of Tony Benn hasn’t left the building. One of his sons, Hilary Benn happens to be an MP (and former Minister for International Development) and this fella embodies the principles, the style and the devotion to making the world a fairer place that we all surely hanker after. He’s also an MP for the Leeds area (so the northern-prejudice boxes are ticked there.)

Now here is where I get to do a bit of name-dropping. A few years ago I was in London at some United Nations related affair. I was introduced by (another one of the *nameless* good guys) to Hilary Benn. He was wonderful to talk to – a real listener.  Super-duper smart. Knew his onions. ***(((But I kept wanting to say ‘Hilary. I think that your dad is just amazing!’)))***

Unfortunately we were standing right in front of some African drumming – which was all very atsmospheric but a little too high up on the decibal scale of things. I managed to catch Hilary saying something about  ‘Come and meet Bob’ and he turned to hug another bloke.Who turned out to be Bob Geldof. (NB for those of you who are curious – Bob was wearing A SUIT and he is, I have to say a very handsome chappie in the flesh….I had to stop myself from wondering why I had always had a thing for John Travolota back in the 70s when Bob and the Boomtowns were available as pin-ups…well, okay. I was only 7 or something.)

So Bob and I chatted away. Or rather, tried to. The conversation went something like this;

Me: Yeah, we’re just working on shortening the supply chains and business education for the farmers so….

Bob:That sounds…..nmmmfff….mffff……

Me: Pardon?

Bob: I dunno it’s this…..mfffnnn….mnfffff……millenium development goals are…..mffhfh…mhfhhhfff

Me: Sorry? I can’t hear you with these drums. They’re driving me nuts!

Bob: Can’t hear you… I tink it’s the Manchester accent…..mfff……mmffff……..drums…..mrmrffffff

Me: Don’t you go blaming MY accent – I can understand Hilary here – you’re the one with the Irish accent!”

So I had a nice little – somewhat muffled – chat with Bob. ***((((But even then I wanted to say to him – to Sir Bob himself – ‘Don’t you think that Hilary’s dad is… just ace?’))))***

But I managed to stop myself.

A few minutes later a rather drunken Labour party hack trundled over. He clearly hadn’t met Hilary before and was soon regaling him with tales of elections won (and lost) and just before I moved away in order to hear Bob’s speech, I caught the tipsy fella saying ‘But Hilary – I have to say…your dad is like, SO cool!’

I was kind of relieved that the words hadn’t come from my mouth. And I’m sure that Hilary must have heard it a thousand times before.

But he was.  Super cool.

benn and wife

Going for A Special Massage…?

15 Aug


INTERIOR: Kitchen strewn with fishfingers, damp washing, playdoh and paperwork. A (still) 30-something mother is attempting to persuade her 6 year old to tell her about the day’s events…

MOTHER: So did you enjoy today then? Did you like Daddy looking after you all day?

DAUGHTER: Yes. Sort of. (Shrugs). It was a bit weird though.

MOTHER:  How do you mean weird?  Didn’t Daddy take you to the park and the carnival? Or the pottery workshop?  All of that stuff I wrote out on the list for him last night?

DAUGHTER: Nah. I told him about the list and he said he had lost it.  I was a bit cross about that actually. But he said we would have fun just doing Our Own Thing, without Being Organised Like Mummy.

MOTHER: Hmm. I can believe that.  So. What did you do?

DAUGHTER: Well. First of all we got on the train to Leeds and that was good as we went down the spooky old tunnels on the way there.  And not everyone on the train was grumpy this time. They’re always cross when they have a little child on the train and they are going to work as it reminds them that life for everyone else outside in the nice world is fun. When they just have to be in work and they can’t ever see a day it will ever, ever all end.

MOTHER: Oh? Did your father tell you that?

DAUGHTER: Well yes, that’s what he said in a loud voice when I was singing The Runaway Train Came Down the Track over and over and this man, just kept shuffling his newspaper and sighing.

MOTHER: Well, maybe some of the people on the commuter train just don’t like children?

DAUGHTER: Don’t be ridiculous. We’re much nicer than grown-ups!  Anyway.  What we did then was get off the train and run for the bus as we were late.  But Daddy left me behind as he ran too fast.

MOTHER: Oh yes? He left you behind? In the middle of Leeds?!

DAUGHTER: Well, he had to run back when he remembered I only have little legs. But the bus driver let us on in the end. And then we went to the hospital and I helped the nurse give Daddy his injections and it really hurt him, as he was all sort of WINCING and I could tell that it stung him badly.  He looked like he was going to have a poo.

MOTHER: (Interrupting). Yes – well. It sounds like you have had a lovely day. Did you eat your lunch?

DAUGHTER: Er no. Daddy forgot it and left it in the fridge. He said it didnt matter though as I could have a snack at the hospital. So I had some Monster Munch and some loveheart sweets and 3 lollipops from the cafe there.

MOTHER: (Shaking her head) Very healthy.     And then you got the train back again?

DAUGHTER: Yes and on the train these two people were driving me MAD with their stupid music Pie Pods in their ears.  One of them was this lad who was all stuck full of pin things in his face and he had this rubbish music on SO LOUD so we could all hear it.

MOTHER: Yeah – I hate people who do that too.  So rude.

DAUGHTER: I know! That’s what I said! ‘SO RUDE’! Very loudly – about TEN TIMES.  Daddy was saying it too. But he was more annoyed with this woman near him as he said he couldn’t believe that an old person who is probably collecting their Ben-Churn could be so stupid as to be listening to Beyonce. Anyway. It was rubbish and it annoyed me so I sat with my hands on my ears all of the way back.

MOTHER: Collecting their what?

DAUGHTER: Their Ben-Churn! It’s what the Guvvermen give to old people when they decide they might fall over too much at work so they let them have some money and they just lie in bed all day.

MOTHER: It’s pension sweetie.  And did Daddy say that?

DAUGHTER: Yes. He says its funny when I sleep over at Grandad’s as he has to get up before 11 when I am about!

MOTHER: Hmmm (Shaking her head).  And didn’t you do anything else when you came back from Leeds?

DAUGHTER: Yes. We went to the special massage place for the rest of the time.

MOTHER: (Shocked) The WHAT?

DAUGHTER: You know. The massage place. Where you get a special massage?

MOTHER: (Incredulous). No I don’t know. Tell me all about that then…

DAUGHTER: Well, we got there and there was this really pretty lady who said hello to us and then Daddy had to go and take his clothes off and they said I had to sit and wait nicely outside.

MOTHER: (Sounding suspicious) Oh yes?

DAUGHTER: But there were no children’s toys to play with like when you go anywhere else. So I asked her for something to do – you know to draw or make things and all of that?  And she gave me this magazine. It just had women prancing around in clothes in it or pulling faces like a gawpy goldfish, thinking that they’re dead sexy.  But they looked like weird scarecrow trees in tinfoil.  I was bored. It was boring at that bit.


DAUGHTER: So when she was on the phone to her friends and talking all squeaky and giggly, I sneaked past her and went into the room where Daddy was. And you’ll never guess what I saw?

MOTHER: Go on….

DAUGHTER: Daddy was lying on this bed with most of his bum showing, and as I got into the room – this bloke just LEAPT on him!


DAUGHTER: Yes!  This man just JUMPED on his back!  It was so funny! It was a sort of special massage.

MOTHER: Ah. I think I know the place that you went to with Daddy.

DAUGHTER: Yes I remember now. It was called The GYRO-CHAPTER.  Anyway. Daddy said not to call it a ‘Special Massage Place’ or you might get a bit crabby.