Today my taxi was driven by that bloke who was in a Bond movie, and Thatcher’s infamous Rottweiller was buying himself some sausages in the butchers. Up the hill some poor tourist girl was weeping next to Sylvia’s grave, not for herself of course, but on behalf of the global Sisterhood. Tripping over the TV cables that will deliver Gemma her 15 minutes of fame I finally get to the fields and moors of Ted’s curlews and malicious crows and Glynn’s gritty outcrops, looking out towards Emily’s Heights. It’s all a far cry from those Hovis streets off Valley Road, and it is all very Hebden Bridge.
Looking back it seems that you were always a bit of a star, even before the media circus. I’m told that my great great granddad would run a pony and cart to meet the hoards of visitors from the station and take them up into the Crags, conveniently stopping at his farm gate, where refreshments could be had at a price. Not content with the great outdoors, the visitors indulged in the dubious pleasures of Gibson Mill, with its roller rink and dancing girls. I dare say some folk like that sort of thing. It must have seemed like it could last forever, but already that mill was selling ice creams instead of cloth. It was only a matter of time before the cancer spread down the valley.
I grew up in time to see the last dying breaths, literally in the case of Cape Asbestos, of your hulking mills and clattering weaving sheds. From Riverside School we watched the Hebble End dyeworks set the canal boiling with steam every lunchtime, observed by that strange stony face carved into the aqueduct, with the clickety-clack soundtrack of the looms in the background. Even as I sat there watching Mr Spencer’s face turning purple with rage, as my parents had done before me, I had one eye on the hills planning my escape. I wasn’t the only one, a lot of us deserted you when you really needed us. But if I stayed, Thatcher was going to make me dig out that canal to earn my dole, and I knew what was in it! It didn’t seem like a ‘Youth Opportunity’ to me Bernard! Besides, who would actually ever want to cruise past some disused mills, the back of a cinema, a funeral directors yard and the Chevron Garage?
Only I didn’t ever quite manage to throw you off. There was something appealing about that ‘twanging’ noise that it makes when you walk through the snicket at Foster Lane. Then there’s that smell of coal fires, damp and fresh air mix when you step off the train at the station, and the crowning glory of wild Widdop, which feels even better when you’ve earned it by toiling up the hill on a bike.
So I’m back, with my ‘offcumder’ wife and kids, to wish you a happy birthday and to stay for good this time.