When I went ‘up North’ last week, I was surprised at just how beautiful our Northern cities are. I had the opportunity to have whistlestop tours of Bradford and Leeds, both of which were huge centres of manufacturing in the 19th and early 20th centuries, but in recent times have experienced a decline. Bradford especially has suffered; its once majestic crescents of beautiful Victorian homes are largely split into bedsits, the masonry crumbling, the paint peeling, with little about them to suggest that once upon a time, prosperous families would have been proud to live there. The city centre has pockets of majesty; mellow Victorian red brick sits alongside Belle-Epoque style pale stone, both with elaborate carvings and sculptures adorning the facades. These have now become soot blackened, their beauty practically invisible, hidden away on dingy, down at heel streets. Above the city rises the spire of Bradford Cathedral; once a parish church, it was much enlarged in the 20th century and has some stunning William Morris and Edward Burne-Jones stained glass. From the cathedral grounds you can see across the skyline to the beautiful, undulating dales that surround this once fine city, and amongst the scars of demolition and decay, you can still make out how lovely it once was. I wish I had been able to see it in its hey day.
Leeds is much more cosmopolitan and aesthetically pleasing than Bradford; there is a large central shopping area, some amazing Victorian municipal buildings, a fantastic Art Deco hotel and the most beautiful shopping arcade I have ever seen. It is a bustling university city, and there is clearly a lot of wealth around, as Harvey Nichols would certainly not have set up shop there without a guaranteed clientele. It felt like Kensington, but with fresher air, and I wish I had have had more time to explore before rushing off to catch my train. Does anyone have any suggestions if I visit again?
Thanks to Mary, I managed to catch this wonderful film at the BFI at the weekend. Do go if you have the chance; it really is magnificent and so finely acted. What I found particularly fascinating was the use of genuine wartime London as a filming location; actually being able to see buildings boarded up, sandbags everywhere, ‘Careless Talk Costs Lives’ posters pasted on every available surface and smouldering bomb sites was a real eye opener. I asked my Nan about it when I visited on Sunday, and she recalled a trip to see a friend in London during the Blitz when on leave from the WRAF; ‘I was stepping over fire hoses on my way across London Bridge; there were still fires burning from the night’s bombing.’ When I asked her whether it was scary, she laughed, and shook her head. ‘Oh no, love. We just got on with it. People still had to get around.’ I love my Nan and her matter of fact reminiscences of what to me is completely unimaginable! It’s such a gift to still have her here to ask.
Finally, I have started re-reading Emma and am having a marvellous time. Mr Knightley in particular is providing me with much pleasure. Discussion post forthcoming. I happened across this wonderful Austen article in The Guardian this week; it seems a new book on reading her works will be released soon and it sounds brilliant.