Sidelines - Andrew Martin compares Leeds to New York
How to get yourself an education in a Leeds market place
To Leeds with a colleague resident in London. We had an hour to kill between trains, and he wanted something a bit more adventurous than a railway sandwich. I lead him to Kirkgate Market, and there I recommended he spend 90p on a meat pie with peas and gravy. When he'd had a couple of mouthfuls, I asked what he thought, and he said: "Mmm . . . interesting." I suggested he follow it up with a big bag of cinder toffee for 25p, this stuff - which is what you get inside a Crunchie except boulder-sized - being to my mind the definitive Yorkshire confection. He wouldn't go for that, but he greatly enjoyed the market, with its silvery banks of fresh fish and its abundance of freshly hacked meat.
This colleague of mine is a great carnivore, but they were selling animal parts here that even he'd never heard of. He asked what a certain pinky, potted mush was, and when the woman at the counter told him - I forget the word - she added flirtatiously, "Consider yerself educated." He loved that. As we walked back to the station, I felt that Leeds, while still very Yorkshire, was also rather New York-like: all high-rise buildings with fancy restaurants at their base.
When I was growing up in York in the Seventies, things were different. Leeds was a dead place, accessible by dusty Diesel Multiple Unit. It was like the house over the road from your own that's constantly in shadow, and that you're glad you don't live in. It was my habit, when visiting Leeds as a kid, to buy ten fags from a very sparsely stocked newsagents near the station. "Do you have ten Benson and Hedges?" I'd ask the little fellow behind the counter. "That's one of the very few things we do have," he'd mournfully reply. The only thing it had going for it was its strange, violent football team, which you used to have to pretend you supported, even in York, and it became instinctive to shout "Lorimer!" (after Peter "Hot Shot" Lorimer) every time you wellied a ball. Whenever Leeds United FC are in the news - as they have been this week - I get a cold feeling.
For all his success, I used to feel sorry for Alan Bennett because he came from Leeds. But I'd love to see a documentary in which he revisited the place, to find out if the transformed, thriving city could jolt him out of his habitual minor key.