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Third series, episode 31

All 123 episodes are available here on the HebWeb.

In episode 31 there's how we colour in nature, a tapas and bar, a squeeze in a cafe, a failure to BOGOF, a young lord laid low, baby toads swallowed whole, a fairy tale, an absent king and race at the races.

May Day

The greening of England

Pretty in pink

According to James Fox in his recent book, The World According to Colour (Penguin, 2023), 'the sky isn't blue, the sun isn't yellow, snow isn't white and black isn't dark.'

As David Hume, the 18th century philosopher recognised, we make colours in our brains. Colour is merely, 'a phantasm of our imaginations.' Or, as Fox puns it, 'a pigment of our imaginations.'

Still, I'm glad I was able to enjoy this phantasmagorical display of pink outside Love Grows cafe.

Butter side up award

The Bar and Tapas in Mytholmroyd has attractive views of St Michael's Church, Scout Rock and the slopes unfolding to vistas of Cragg Vale, now that the skinny terrace that hugged the River Calder has gone. Hopefully, all the residents have been rehoused at a higher altitude.

There's prompt and friendly service at the B&T, along with a new menu each week, piped music that's easily blocked out according to taste, and ten percent off the Early Bird meals. The main dishes please different parts of the palate and are generous in size, and the chips are the best in the valley.

It's the Irish in me

Squeeze was almost empty when I ordered a coffee, so I chose a sofa by the window to soak up the sun's rays and read my papers.

Half an hour later, the place was packed. There was a young family group at the table next to me, but I was too engrossed in reading about the latest opinion polls to notice a second, older generation of the same tribe come in, until they started to shuffle close enough to make a human wall that blocked out my light.

A woman about my age, was paying particular attention to that part of the sofa where my new iPhone and scarf were residing. I was about to move my stuff when she turned about and unceremoniously sat down on them.

I tapped her shoulder.

'Oh, I'm sorry,' she said, 'Were you saving this space for somebody?'

'No, but you've just plopped your bottom down on my phone.'

Which comment made a younger member of her party hoot.

She arose slowly, with accompanying granny groans.

My phone had survived in one piece, so I secreted it upon my person.

Silence prevailed when she reoccupied her position.

I wanted to heal the rent in the social fabric, as we English are wont to do by apologising when someone stands on our toes, allows their dog to snuffle our privates or sits on our expensive new iPhones, but as she was also decidedly English I decided I would wait for her to apologise first, which I would then graciously follow with a typical burst of the full English, "Oh, no problem at all, I was too slow to shuffle along."

No apology forthcoming from her quarter, I role-played being relaxed, despite the wall of humanity standing over me. I toughed it out for at least another forty five seconds as I read that Labour should make big gains in the local elections. Then I collected my stuff and, tired of my tongue tied Englishness, I weaved my way through the surrounding wall of bodies, humming Danny Boy, as I recalled that my dad's tribe were after all on the RC side of previous battles, and I blasted them with my Derry Air.

Here comes the sun

I bought this painting at an exhibition some years ago, not only because I admired it, but I'd just got some royalties from Macmillan.

Also the artist was my friend and she deserved a red dot to get the sales going. But, I've always missed out on BOGOFs, and she confided that the Gallery charged fifty percent commissions and if I'd forewarned her, she could have withdrawn The Pennines in Summer from the sale, and then I could have also got its companion piece, The Pennines in Winter for the same price.

Still, who needs to be reminded of winter when you live in these hills?

Every day this painting by Amrik Varkalis of Huddersfield brightens my mornings when I pass it on the stairs.

Health beats wealth

At Haddon Hall, I photographed the effigy of Robert Charles John Manners, the nine year old Lord Manners, which was sculpted by his artist mother Violet, after his untimely death.

Leeches versus baby toads

David Attenborough has just celebrated his 97th birthday, and in his recent series about the British Isles the camera crew were surprised to see how much was going on next to their feet. They began filming the annual march of baby toads, migrating towards dry ground. But then they noticed that some were being eaten whole by blind leeches.

Twenty years ago, I was walking along the Scout Hostel road through Hardcastle Crags, when I was mesmerised by what seemed to be the road shifting in front of me, until I realised that hundreds of tiny, nut brown toads were inching themselves along the tarmac.

Each time I stopped to watch them the nearest toads stopped their progression too. Stillness was their only defence strategy. It felt magical, and magic is an essential ingredient in fairy tales, so I few years ago I wrote this …

Coming out day

A fairy tale of Hebden Bridge

The absent king

The most interesting person in the Coronation service, wasn't Penny Mordant (although A for effort), nor the bored young Prince Louis, and certainly not billionaire King Charles, but the man who was only there in spirit, (except in the wine and wafer apparently), the brilliant, storytelling King of Kings, the short lived man who did not get mentioned much in all the pages of newspaper coverage, the man whose entreaties to turn the other cheek were ignored (thank goodness) by the massed ranks of troops in the procession that followed.

Races, racists and royals

Watching Lord Coe take his place in the abbey, I remembered watching him run in the English Schools Athletics Championships in the early 70s. When the youngsters paraded into the stadium and the tannoy announced the turn of the multi-cultured London team, including future Olympic Champion Linford Christie, a posh sounding old guy behind us said, 'Is that London England?'

'Afraid so, dad,' said the blazered guy next to him.

Princess Anne was also there that day and when her entourage including the Duchess of Westminster, who lived just down the road at Chester, were announced there was loud applause.

'Oh, why are they applauding her lackeys?' I moaned.

When Anne strode across the red carpet to take her place on a raised podium and the National Anthem was played accompanied by a brass band, my wife to be and my mate Ollie remained seated, and whispered and giggled in rebellion.

Once the music stopped, I felt a prod in my back, which I ignored. Then I felt another. Finally the blazered toff left his seat, came down a few steps and stood over me.

He said, 'How dare you remain in your seat when the princess has so graciously given up her time to be here!' He tapped his Official badge and demanded to check our tickets.

Ollie, who would in later years coach an English Schools' 800 metres champion, reached for his ticket stub.

I said, 'Ollie, look at his badge.'

We'd both run in these events in the 60s. 'This guys supposed to be down there supervising and encouraging the kids in his County team, not sitting up here.'

A woman seated nearby said, "It's your choice whether you sing the anthem or not." Other speccies joined in. At which point blazer man retired wounded and went back to his seat.

Seb Coe's race was on late in the day, just when Kath wanted to head off, but blazer man told his dad that this would be worth waiting for. So he knew his stuff. In his autobiography, Coe wrote that he was the only lad in that race who hadn't reached puberty, but of course he won in a canter.

Fifty years later, I still think royalty has helped to maintain the status and prestige of the aristocracy, despite all the Royal shenanigans, and in their role they have long represented what most people have thought of when they say they are patriotic, which in turn rubs off on people's attachment to the 'ruling party.' Although, judging by the local election results, this might be about to change.

Seeing Boris Johnson with a front row pew in the abbey, I realised he may well have been elected as President for life if we chose to discard the royals, and that thought made me wonder if that's a price worth paying.

Princess Anne's was supposed to be the 'wedding of the year' that summer, but our wedding, up in a Durham mining village, was smaller but probably more fun, and our marriage has lasted a lot longer and might even become golden this summer.

Spring has sprung a sprog

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