Magazine article The Spectator

All Human Life - and a Bit More

Magazine article The Spectator

All Human Life - and a Bit More

Article excerpt

ALL POINTS NORTH by Simon Armitage

Penguin, L6.99, pp. 246

In the winter of early 1974, when the miners were on strike and Ted Heath was experimenting in hara-kiri politics, my news editor on the Times asked for a profile of a mining constituency. So I went home to Normanton, west Yorkshire, where there were six pits when I was a boy, but only one remaining.

I found the strikers cheerfully congregated at Sharlston pit gate, warming themselves at a blazing fire in an old oil barrel. Why they were picketing in the morning cold was beyond me, since the stoppage was solid. They were a bit on the monosyllabic side, so I asked the NUM branch secretary, Charlie Churm, a notorious right-winger (in Labour terms) over to the miners' welfare for a chat. After the usual exchange of pleasantries, I asked him the question I knew was constantly on the lips of my editor, William Rees-Mogg.

`Isn't this a political strike, Mr Churm?' He frowned and hesitated, before replying firmly, and without a trace of irony, `Nay, lad, we're not political here. We've always voted Labour.'

This is the North I share with the poet Simon Armitage, though he is infinitely better at conveying the barmy beauty of it. All Points North, now simultaneously issued as a paperback and a CD spoken by the author, recreates our home country in prose and verse that catch the spirit of the people and the places. He has chosen to stay there, in Huddersfield, when most successful Yorkshire artists and writers tend to head straight for where the money is, even if it pains them. He quotes Delius approvingly: 'I was demoralised when I left Bradford for Florida.'

Here is Marsden, his birthplace on the border with Lancashire, which has a sheep problem (the right of residents to impound stray lambs and sell them back to the shepherd at market prices - or see them sold and eaten), and a history of radical thought and political activism. …

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