THE BARD OF BARNSLEY PROVIDES HIS WHIMSICAL LOOK AT YORKSHIRE LIFE
MY dad wasn’t a very demonstrative chap; he wasn’t one for the big gesture or the huge statement, and so it was quite a surprise to see him running up that hill in Scotland that day in the late 1960s towards where me and my mam were sitting in the car, she knitting and me reading, waving his arms like somebody guiding in a plane at Leeds Bradford Airport. He wasn’t only waving, he was shouting, which wasn’t like my dad at all. We couldn’t work out what he was saying because he appeared to be wearing a balaclava back to front but it sounded a bit like he was shouting “Open the door! Open the car door!”
As he got closer he began to slap himself around the chops and batter his own head with his hat as though he was taking part in one of those ritual fertility dances that only survive in the more remote parts of Arkengarthdale. As he approached the car we saw the reason for his odd and eccentric behaviour; he wasn’t wearing a balaclava the wrong way round, his face was covered in midges, and every time he belted one away another 500 would take its place. The Scottish midge is a fearsome beast, renowned in legend and folklore, and despite my dad’s Lanarkshire blood millions of them had attacked his exposed skin as he stood fishing by a remote loch in the highlands. He collapsed into the car and the midges came with him, causing my mam to tut and me to flail about with my Beano. “The little devils!” my dad gasped, which was as close as he ever got to swearing. A midge settled on his nose but I got it with my rolled-up comic. My dad didn’t thank me as effusively as I thought he should have done so I fell into a deep sulk. I thought about my dad the other day when I was standing in an early West Yorkshire morning waiting for a lift to Hebden Bridge station with my mate Cliff. We were high up above Heptonstall at Lumb Bank, Ted Hughes’s former house which is now a centre for writers, and the night before I’d read my musings to a group of young people. And now here I was waiting for a lift to the station, and now here I was becoming, as I often do, just like my dad. Cliff and I chatted and as we did a casual observer would have noticed that were waving at each other despite the fact we were only a yard apart. The same observer would have noticed us scratching our heads (our own heads, of course, not each other’s) vigorously. They would have seen us begin to slap our own foreheads like people who’d just remembered they’d left the tap running. They would have seen us waving, scratching and slapping at the same time. From a distance we looked as though we were wearing balaclavas back to front. Yes, Cliff and I were being attacked by West Yorkshire midges who were tearing chunks out of my South Yorkshire flesh and his West Midlands skin.
We looked up and saw clouds of midges hovering above us like vicious steam, so we moved across the lane and the midges moved with us. Suddenly the lift arrived and I shook Cliff’s hand and jumped in the car as fast as I could, leaving him to run back to the house. “If you think it’s bad here you should go to Midge Hole,” the driver said. No thanks! Drive on!