Last thursday evening saw me embraced by the ample bosom that is Yorkshire. I had an evening engagement in Sheffield, the oft-overlooked, Judas Priest-inspired steel town of the North. Every village, city and county has its rivalries. Dublin is divided by a river creating a historic division between the northsiders and southsiders; the west coast of Scotland labours under some delusional air of self-importance over the east-coast castle-keepers; and the dichotomy between the red and white roses of Yorkshire and Lancashire couldn’t be more documented in the annals of history. Over dinner I was offered various definitive definitions of a Yorkshireman (bear in mind, there seems no great interest in defining the women of those parts). Most descriptions alluded to the bluff, straight-talking nature of the folk, and the knockabout was most good-humoured. Then I heard a Yorkshireman described as a chap who was able to peel an orange in his pocket. Once I had settled the image in my mind, I struggled to comprehend its actual meaning. One-handed orange peeling sounds like a significantly skilled and decidedly dextrous task; add to that the limitation of having to peel ‘blind’, so to speak, the fruit remaining pocket-esconced during the entire procedure. I was soon warming to this idea of a Yorkshireman, although struggling to find any meaningful application for skin removal à la poche. It was only then I realised that a man who can peel an orange in his pocket does not need to alert the world to the presence of said orange, and therefore segment-sharing is fiendishly avoided. It still begged a single question: why an orange?
There is an artistry to food, a creativity, a craft. As a gastrophile, I am only too aware of the pictures painted on plates by the likes of Angela Hartnett, Martin Wishart and Bryn Williams. But equally there is alchemy and magic in less high-profile places. There’s an unremarkable looking restaurant in an unremarkable street in an unremarkable part of north London (the details of which I won’t divulge since I’d rather not attract further legions to join the already burgeoning queues). This place serves the finest Turkish food I have ever had the privilege to eat. The prices are low, the welcome warm and the diligence with which the food is prepared would match any Michelin-starred eaterie in town. As you walk in a huge open barbecue burns brightly, row upon row of mouth-watering pieces of meat move systematically right to left in an ever-changing spectrum of readiness. The diligence of the chef, the care with which each individual morsel of meat is cooked and turned and tested and turned is testament to the love with which the food is prepared; a love second only to the love with which we consume it.
Have we ever had so many laws? Statutes suffocate us, codes confine us and directives define us. The executive creates, so that the legislature can argue, so that the judiciary can interpret. We have never before been so ‘ruled’. Yet for all their attempts to temper and command our every action and inaction, the harsh reality is that we control our own destiny through a series of protocols, conventions and unwritten, unspoken mores. The overwhelming majority of us have raised ourselves from the quagmire of the savage by engaging in Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s concept of the social contract, accepting that the only way a society can run effectively is with the consent and the general will of the people. Take parking. A parking space is a space until an actual car is immediately parallel to the aforementioned space in an attempt to take the space and redefine it. It is not a protocol, convention or an unwritten/unspoken MO for an individual to stand in a parking space until her boyfriend (who is coming any minute with his BMW) moves his car and completes the space. I fear my protestations about this young lady’s street-standing actions being the beginning of the very disintegration of civilised society and consequently the death of Rousseau (and Locke) fell on deaf ears; deafer even than mine after receiving a barrage of her expletives.
Does anyone remember Marillion? I loved Marillion. Hours, days, weeks were spent with their gatefold albums spread across my teenage lap as I attempted to learn every lyric, every line, every stanza of the poetic lyrics that combined with the astonishing music that was the opus of Marillion. For those who spent the 1980s achieving meaningful goals and having ‘lives’, I ought to tell you that Marillion were a progressive rock band (which means that they rocked in a very progressive way). And while many ridiculed their pomp and circumstance, I revelled in their story-telling, their mastery and their music. I can vividly remember standing at the front of a devoted mass at the Barrowland Ballroom in Glasgow in 1984 to watch my heroes play. The last quarter of a century evaporated into the ether when, at the end of a high-powered business meeting last week, I discovered the CEO I had been talking to was in fact the spouse of one of the members of the band, a band still going strong. It seems I may have left Marillion but Marillion have not left me. I returned home and searched out the albums. The air around me filled with prog rock and I was 15 again. It’s amazing how many lyrics you can remember when you sing along.