Tuesday, April 14, 2009

[The Life of Shaun #337] The British Mason-Dixon Line

Like America, England has a deep psychological divide between its North and South. Conversely to America, Southerners scoff snidely at the provincial Northerners, Northerners cast the Southerners as snooty with upside-down values. Being largely a unipolar country, London is the glorious jewel in the crown and, roughly, the farther away you get from London, the more Philistine you are supposed.

Prior to moving here, my only experience as an adult outside the M25 was Manchester, which I absolutely love, at least Canal Street and its environs, which really is all I ever see, so I never really believed it was that bad (er, different) up North. But now that my Northern exposure is growing - Middlesbrough, York, Blackpool, Preston, Nottingham, Birmingham (these last two aren't strictly Northern, but they're not exactly Southern, either) and now Bradford and Leeds - I am beginning to understand the truth in the generalisations.

Bradford and Leeds form two ends of a single conurbation (in Britain, 1.5m make a metropolis). My plan was one night in Bradford and two in Leeds, the more urbane, vibrant and worldly of the two.

Bradford is soul-destroyingly bad. Physically, it's not instantly offensive like, say, Middlesbrough or Croydon, but there is no discernible life in the city. Even Middlesbrough had a pulse (as chavtastic as it was); Bradford literally seemed to be draining the spirit out of me as I happened from one lifeless spot to the next, and its gay scene was the worst I have seen this side of Reno.

I can say just one thing to Bradford's credit, and this is that I had one of the best curries of my life there (and, truth be told, this was all I really hoped to get out of the city) at the "world famous" Mumtaz (replete with cardboard cutout of the Queen dining there). This comes from the South-Asian population that has become the majority in the city. I have to say, I think it's rather nice. It reminds me of Detroit - both are cities whose residents abandoned to die, and Muslims have immigrated from around the world to take their place. Now, they haven't turned either into a new Mecca, but at least they are giving the cities some chance of a new birth in some form. I say, if migrants are willing to try and rebuild dead and dying cities, we should cast an open door to them*.

As soon as I woke up the next day, I packed and headed East to Leeds, which was instantly an improvement. It is actually quite a lovely little city. I am not sure what brought the city into obscurity in the 1960s, but whatever it was, Leeds should be thankful as its centre is largely devoid of the concrete travesties that proliferate most British city centres. Its streets are lively and vibrant, its shops and pubs full, and there is a general air of contentedness. The gay scene is small-to-medium, but diverse and there is a compact, but distinct, gay district in the heart of the city. It would be a great city to live some years younger in life, when your ambitions and prospects are fewer, and I can see why it's so popular for university.

I had very nice night exploring the half dozen or so bars and ended up in bed earlier than is normal for me on a gaycation, but I wasn't disappointed. I then woke up at 08.30 the next morning, completely awake, and not able to think what I was going to do with myself for twelve hours in Leeds before I could start drinking in earnest again. I just didn't feel like staying, so I impulsively packed my bags and headed back to London on an early train. And then I got to London and wondered if I should have stayed. I fettered away the day, restless but uninspired. I wanted to want to go out, but didn't. I eked anxiously from one idle task to the next, till I gave up and settled in with a valium, glass of red and a book and put an end to my testy day. Turns out what I needed was a potato day with a friend, which I had with Argie for an Idolathon on Monday. I felt totally reset and revived afterwards. Travelling is my obsession, but sometimes nothing's better than eight hours of TV and conversation with a friend at home.


*Canada has a policy where if you are willing to settle in less popular areas, you can migrate more quickly than those aiming for Toronto, Montréal and the other hot spots. It's caused some controversy, but I think it's a brilliant idea.

Full pics:

Bradford: http://www.facebook.com/p.php?i=713081334&k=4XGUPYVS4X4MYJ1FSD64W

Leeds: http://www.facebook.com/p.php?i=713081334&k=4YA4XXU6WVXMYJ1FSD64W

A selection:

01. DSC00002 - Not a pic from the trip, but I love my new PJ top :-)

02. DSC00003 - View from my window, and the first signs of the crime of the 1960s (of course!) planners who razed acres of the Victorian buildings to build "The Bradford of Tomorrow!"

03. DSC00007 - This one escaped

04. DSC00011 - "Student Record Officers' Conference" - I could tell I was in for a wild night in Bradford!

05. DSC00012 - Islamic McDs?

06. DSC00013 - I've never had such a holy pee!

07. DSC00014 - Going my way?

08. DSC00016 - The Sun, Bradford's main gay pub. The mostly-destroyed attached building adds a certain charm, no?

09. DSC00020 - Candy, Bradford's gay club. I love the delightful patio area, but mostly I love the barbed wire lining the outside of the club.

10. DSC00024 - The buildings that stood where I stayed obviously did not make it

11. DSC00031 - Leeds is a vibrant, alive, Northern city

12. DSC00041 - And a very pretty city too!

13. DSC00044 - Leeds is the capital of the housing bust in the UK. Tons of high-rise new developments went up in the city centre without taking heed of the fact that the kinds of jobs that attracted people who wanted high-rise city-centre living are mostly in London. People who move to the North want a house, yard and car. Many units are empty, and those that aren't have lost 2/3rds of their value.

14. DSC00047 - A fat drag nun - what's not to love?!

Shaun H. Coley
Shadwell, Tower Hamlets
London, UK


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