Oliver Cross: Turning those grey skies Barwick Green

Drab days. Dark skies, muddy streets, chest infections and a permanent sense of late afternoon-ness, as if the day never bothered to get up properly and now just wants to go to bed and weep.

And, as a dark cloud on top of a dark sky, there's theimpending huge cuts in public services and private enterprises, which should unleash some lively debates but doesn't; politics is about quibbling, economics is about squabbling, television and radio are about filling gaps; nothing's about making life better.

(And did I mention that, like many others, I've been suffering from a terrible fluey cold, as you should have guessed from the glum look on my face).


Still, it's the continuing duty of this column to find light amid the gloom and to instil a sense of vision and purpose even in the most hopeless conditions. Which I will try to do, even though, to put it frankly, I'm working on the edges of desperation.

Last week, in another of my attempts to put a positive spin on things, I tried to explain how poor Nigel Pargeter's death plunge in The Archers had some bright sides, although I can't remember them now and the phrase 'death plunge' should be banned anyway because it only exists in newspapers and could as well describe a plumbing accident as Nigel's fall from the roof of Lower Loxley House.

And how fortunate it was that Nigel only fell from Lower Loxley House; his dying 'aarrgggggh' (disrespectfully described in some newspapers as a death yodel) lasted three-and-a-half seconds. This, by the laws of physics, meant a fall of at least 60 metres, which is tower-block class although clearly not as bad as a fall from Higher Loxley House, should it exist, might have been.


All of which is diverting me from my task of finding something to be cheerful about, which is (dum di dum did dum di dum) the Archers theme tune.

This is guaranteed to put a spring in your step even in the depths of winter and even though you know it will be followed by having to listen to some people you don't know (I've been half-listening to the Archers for most of my life without ever grasping it) talking about silage quotas.

I understand there's been some talk about making the tune the English national anthem, which I've previously objected to on the grounds that it's too southern, originating, I assumed, from somewhere in Mumblesetshire.

But no, I discovered from a friend who knows about this sort of thing, it's actually a 1950s maypole tune written by a Yorkshire composer, Arthur Wood, and entitled Barwick Green, so it's quite acceptable to cheer yourself up by humming it loudly in the street, on the bus or at your local DFS sale and I suggest you do it now, before things get even worse.

Cockroaches for Badgers

THE popular Leeds beat combo Biscuithead and the Biscuit Badgers have opened a new chapter in the history of participatory music-making by inviting anybody interested to suggest subjects for songs on their next album.

The rewards (various promotional goodies plus a kind of immortality through a mention on the finished recording) are great, but the task, if you know the ways of the Badgers, is even greater.

I mean, 'my girlfriend's left me' or 'isn't spring lovely?' won't really cut it; the Biscuits, when it comes to exploring difficult subjects through the use of tubas, ukuleles, drums, keyboards and moustaches, tend to skirt round the bleeding obvious.

Their songs so far have covered, among other things, land hermit crabs, Runcorn, flea-beetles, cheese, gloves and the immortal blond-haired heart-throb, the late Doug McClure.

So, trying to look inside the Badgers' minds, you could pick an easy, populist subject which will please everybody (cheese or Doug McClure for example), or go for something esoteric and obscure along the lines of land hermit crabs or Runcorn.

My own choice would a song about the Madagascan hissing cockroach, incorporating authentic sound effects and maybe demonstrating some of the simple tricks these affectionate and charming insects can apparently be trained to perform. (And please ignore the crassly insensitive link to Rentokil which appears on one hissing cockroach webpage).

Never mind the price, look at the values

OK, the new Leeds Waitrose store is pretty good but that doesn't mean I have to like it.

I've long been puzzled by the deference which Leeds, otherwise a rather chauvinistic city, pays to anything posh coming from London or the south.

I remember the fuss when Sainsbury's opened its first Leeds store – weren't we lucky to be allowed to spend our money in the same shop as people from, well, Kent even. And if it was a little more expensive, that was the price of joining the smart set and if you didn't have aspirations, you might as well live in Huddersfield.

Then came Harvey Nichols and Leeds reacted as if the New Jerusalem had manifested itself unto us, which made it hard to up the stakes when John Lewis announced plans for a new department store around Eastgate.

Of course, during this imported cultural renaissance, Leeds had lost two very serviceable department stores, Schofield's and Lewis's but, frankly darling, they weren't up to much... too northern.

But back to Waitrose, I really had abandoned most of my prejudices against it (I'm a Lidl type myself), until I came across this, printed on a pack of beef: 'Reared with care by farmers who share our values.'

Yuk, yuk, yuk. Even if the notice wasn't pretentious and self-righteous, it would still be meaningless – it doesn't say whether the meat is humanely or organically reared, or tell you anything at all you might like to know.

And what values? I mean, we're talking grocers here, not moral philosophers; I doubt if the values go much beyond maximising profits – and why should they, because even a posh shop from the south is still a shop.


Leeds, Sweet street, 28th March 1979'LIGHTING'Mr. Eddie Mullan, a lift engineer at the City of Leeds Public Works Department, Sweet Street, gives a last polish to one of the four old gas lamps that are to be sent to Germany.

Leeds nostalgia: Bits of old Leeds sent to Germany... in 1979