Saturday, 21 May 2011

Up North to Leeds

My son commutes from London to Leeds to his work each week so one week I went with him to spend some time with him and also to get an idea of what his commuting life is like.  He leaves London  each Sunday night and returns late on Thursday night.  All going well it takes three to three and a half hours each way.  Our trip north entailed two train trips and one on the underground taking a total of four hours, due to work being done on the railway tracks. I found it tiring and am pleased it is not something I have to do every week, however, I do like the way the trains in England have Quiet Carriages where the use of cell phones is banned and any conversation must be kept low and to a minimum.  It is restful, peaceful and Jacob finds he gets a lot of work done during the commute.

This was not my first trip to Leeds but nevertheless I had first impressions. We arrived at around 11pm and it was cold, much colder than London, and I was struck by how dirty the pavements were.  Not littered, just looking as if they needed a really good steam cleaning.

From my son's flat in the heart of the city it was easy to wander around the city centre.  I love the way the main streets are pedestrianised and Leeds has some stunning, perfectly preserved, Victorian shopping arcades.  In fact Leeds is pretty much a shoppers paradise with the only other Harvey Nicholls outside of London and every other shop you can image from tiny exclusive chocolatiers to Moorcroft to the usual high street chain stores.  Shame I'm not a shopper!  Still, it was fun to look. I had expected to find an air of depression in the north, due to the world wide recession which has hit Britain pretty badly, but there was no evidence of it.  This, no doubt, has something to do with the fact that Leeds is second only to London as England's leading business, legal and financial services centre.   The city market, contained within a large building, is like a step back in time.   Stalls there sell everything from craft supplies to meat, clothes, flowers and jewellery with the usual shouting, barrow boy patter filling the air.  This is the working man's realm and here you can buy a thick, steaming mug of tea for 44p at one of its many glassed in cafes.  If you prefer you can wander along to Harvey Nicholls and pay an outrageous price for coffee in more glamorous surroundings.  The choice is yours.

I always enjoy a visit to Leeds' fine art gallery which, apart from an excellent selection of paintings, has the world's biggest collection of their famous son, Henry Moore's, sculptures.  Adjoining the art gallery is a magnificent tiled hall, now a cafe and a favourite coffee stop of mine.

The Royal Armouries, further along the river, is famous for its collection of weaponery both old and new.  Housing over 8500 items which include war, tournament, oriental, self defence and hunting weapons it is a weapon enthusiast's delight.  Adjoining the Armouries is a new development, Clarence Dock, poorly designed it is a bleak place.  Although it contains large sparkling new apartment blocks and moorings for canal boats it is cold, windswept and of the twelve shops originally opened there only one is continuing to trade.  The others look sad and neglected with abandoned fittings lying about.  Somehow the designers got it wrong at Clarence Dock. What could have been a vibrant and happening place is sad, neglected and depressing.

Leeds is largely devoid of green spaces.  What they call gardens are generally paved areas with a few large trees in tubs.  This is disappointing and makes the city somewhat of a concrete jungle.   The other thing that strikes me when I am in the north of England is the northerners' complete fixation on high visibility vests.  Everyone seems to wear one. I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw a large school group walking through the town centre, every student kitted out in one.  

Unfortunately I developed a tummy bug and for most of my time in Leeds lay around my son's apartment feeling sorry for myself but I did enjoy the little time I had wandered around, looking forward to going back to the warmer south nevertheless.