Ian Mcmillan

THE BARD OF BARNS­LEY PRO­VIDES HIS WHIMSICAL LOOK AT YORK­SHIRE LIFE

Yorkshire Post - YP Magazine - - Front Page -

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!

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