We’re not much given to hyperbole in Yorkshire. I’ve heard that there are old men in the Dales who haven’t spoken in words of more than one syllable for at least two decades. This week though, only the most taciturn of Tykes can fail to have been moved. First the Tour de France, now the Great Yorkshire Show. What a week it has been for us.
It’s not my intention to add to the reams of guff written in the national media about Yorkshire recently. Oh, I’ve read some rubbish and spotted some serious misconceptions and mistakes. Top marks to the tabloid which couldn’t even get the name of The Headrow right in a picture caption. I’m sure the people of Leeds were very impressed to see it written as “Headway”. Anyhow, there I go, being all stereotypically Yorkshire. Stroppy and belligerent.
I was going to say that this week has gone a long way towards challenging such stereotypes. And it has. However, it’s definitely true that we’re not much given to hyperbole. We’re not much given to introspection either. This week has forced us to turn our attention to both. In the same newspaper which couldn’t get the name of one of our major thoroughfares right, I read that this year’s Tour de France will be memorable because it has demystified cycling for the public. For years, this has been a misunderstood sport, typified by jokes and generalisations about men in tight Lycra. There are more than passing similarities with us in Yorkshire. For centuries, we’ve been a misunderstood county, typified by jokes and generalisations about men in flat caps.
What the Tour de France proved was that our towns and cities are stunning and characterised by great architecture. That our countryside can compete with anything in the world. And that the people who live here are as sophisticated and diverse as anywhere else. The television coverage opened up the region as never before, from the punishing splendour of Holme Moss to the equally punishing urban climbs of Sheffield. I don’t know if the competitors even had time to think, never mind turn around to take in the view, but I would love to know what went through their minds as they went up Jenkin Road in Wincobank, with the steelworks in the valley and kids of all nationalities cheering them on.
This was the macrocosm. This was how the world saw us. Now it’s time for the microcosm, to think about how we see ourselves. And there can be no better place to do this than at the Great Yorkshire Show in Harrogate. The Tour de France was a once-in-a-lifetime thing, but every year this event showcases – literally – all that is great and unique about our region. Whether you’re lucky enough to have a ticket or watch the coverage on television, all you have to do is observe.
The parade of people who pass by are as interesting as anything you will see in the show ring. There are the farmers of course. And the landowners. And the ladies who see it as one huge opportunity for a day of retail therapy, buying up waxed jackets as if they would ever go out of fashion. And then there are the busloads of visitors who come in from towns and cities all over the region. They are here for a nice day out of course, but I think they are drawn – even if it is subconsciously – back to their own agricultural roots. How many families can say that they don’t have a link to the land somewhere in their lineage? What an event like this does is remind us of all where we come from.
It also reminds us, crucially, of where our food comes from. If I had my way and the funds, I would pay for every school-child in the county to go there, just to witness the farmers and see the livestock and look at a tractor close up. This week, my 11-year-old son went to Drayton Manor theme park on his school trip.
Not much will stick in his mind in years to come except the fact that he went on a couple of big rides and sold his cans of pop for 50p each on the bus. At first he’d probably turn his nose up at the prospect of looking around an agricultural show, but I know it would make an impression. Being a big hungry lad, he is much interested in what he eats. He has views, not only on cuts of meat and where I buy my bacon from, but wider issues such as factory farming. There are men and women at the Great Yorkshire Show who could answer any question he had. They might not be much given to hyperbole, but they would be proud about what they do. And if I had to say one word which sums up Yorkshire this week, it’s pride. I see it’s more than two weeks until Yorkshire Day on August 1. This year, let’s not wait for the official festivities to start. We should start celebrating now.