Bradford

You are currently browsing articles tagged Bradford.

Three things happened in July. Firstly, I took a ‘vacation’ to Lake Arrowhead. The week unsurprisingly involved a lot of wild swimming in the glittering mountain waters, and as I revelled in the feeling of nothingness beneath my feet and my heart pounding with each stroke; somewhere in the back of my brain I started wondering why on earth I hadn’t been to a swimming pool once since I moved to Los Angeles. The same week, my mum accidentally attended the celebrations of David Hockney’s 80th birthday in our shared hometown of Bradford and she kindly sent me a photograph of the giant birthday cake that was made depicting one of his vibrant acrylic swimming pool paintings. Finally, my dear Kerry started sharing photographs of her regular visits to Bramley Baths in Leeds. The Edwardian baths have been there in some form since 1904, and are a now a Grade II listed building. Amongst these occurrences, an urgent desire burned for me to revisit a thread that has run consistently through my life and last weekend I finally because a member of the The Culver City Municipal Plunge.

1. Shipley Swimming Pool

I started swimming lessons at a very young age. I had an amazing terrycloth swimsuit that was bright blue with an orange goldfish on the front; that I’d enviously watched my older sisters wear before me, and was crushed when I too grew out of it. I splashed about in the baby pool working towards my Watermanship Badge. I can very clearly remember the terror of ‘jumping in’, the excruciating rub of pulling armbands onto dry skin, the ‘lightbulb’ moment when I thought that if I just walked along the bottom of the pool, but did the correct arm movements, I would fool everyone into thinking I could swim (clearly forgetting that the pool water is, in fact, transparent) and the heavenly taste of the raspberry slush puppy I was allowed after each class. I was an instant water baby and threw myself into taking as many classes and exams as possible. I quickly worked up from regular classes, to underwater skills during which I  remember a misguided test that involved picking a brick off the bottom of the pool whilst wearing pyjamas. I moved onto my 10 metres, 25 metres, 50 metres, 100 metres, 200 metres, and eventually so many metres that I did a charity swim for OXFAM where I swam for three hours without stopping. Next it was time to take the bronze, silver and gold certificates and after that my Saturday morning routine, which had existed for half a decade at that point, was ending. With no more classes to take, I had two choices. I could specialise in either diving or, synchronised swimming. I am pretty sure I took one look at the high-board and figured I would rather spend my time in the water than standing 10 metres above it, most likely paralysed with fear.

2. Belle Vue Swimming Pool

I’m smiling to myself as I type out the name, as I am guessing that Belle Vue means Beautiful View and there was absolutely nothing aesthetically pleasing about this building or the part of Bradford that it existed in. I tried to find a photograph but went down a Google rabbit hole and can only assume it’s long since been demolished; which would not surprise me. My secret life as a synchronised swimmer began at the age of 11. I can’t even tell you how UN-COOL ‘synchro’ was in the mid ’90s. There was none of this kitsch or quirky association of the now-Olympic sport; it was something I could not admit to anyone that I did. I went to great lengths to hide my swimming kit on practise days, and was forever having to scuttle off to the pool from school before anyone could ask me to walk home with them. My time as a synchronised swimmer was my one and only experience of competitive sport and having a coach in anything. I was part of the “City of Bradford Synchronised Swimmers” and would participate in meets and competitions around Yorkshire. It was quite a shock to the system. I arrived at my first lesson to be directed to a white board that had written on it: 20 x breaststroke, 20 x front crawl, 20 x back crawl, 20 x butterfly, 20 x sculling – which is the arm + hand movement that you do during synchro to keep the rest of your body looking completely still on top of the water. Yes, 100 laps was just the ‘warm-up’ before we even began doing our routines and positions. No wonder my body resembled a spaghetti strand at that age.

I wish someone had the foresight to make a documentary about pre-teen synchronised swimmers in Bradford in the nineties. The stranger-than-fiction lengths of bitchiness that a group of competitive pre-teen girls will go to is staggering. Tickling feet mid group-routine, hiding nose-clips before a big competitions and endless vying to be the one that was selected to perform a ‘solo’ routine at the next competition. I enjoyed the training and the craft, but back before the sport was taken so seriously there was still a strong ‘beauty pageant’ element to any competition. We wore ridiculous matching sequinned outfits, vaseline on our face to stop the caked-on make up running and our hair was covered in yet-more-sequins, flowers and then set with gelatine; which you could only remove after with near-boiling water. Each swimmer would perform various positions and then have a panel of judges hold up scores. It’s a tough age to receive a wall of 1’s for your wonky ballet leg. My one and only solo routine featured a self-selected musical accompaniment of East 17, Ace of Base and Eternal. Oh and The Power by SNAP! and you can just imagine how special that was for everyone. The clearest memory that stays with me from these days is the way the music vibrated through your body and cued the various moves. You couldn’t wear goggles, so vision in the deep water was pretty murky and it was the beats that guided you. As I slunk into my teens and puberty crept in, I started to buckle under the pressure to stay a certain shape that my body just wasn’t blooming in to. The previously harmless in-fighting took on a darker body-shaming tone, and I was absolutely sick of training when all my friends were ligging about watching telly or shopping at Bay Trading Company or planning sleepovers.

3. Central London YMCA Club

In my early-twenties I finally made the move from Yorkshire to London that I had been craving since my teens. My timing could have been better; as a week or so before moving, we found out that my mum had a serious health issue. She was still adamant that I go, and of course I did, but my heart was very much back home with her. The big smoke is a tough, rough and gritty city. I do adore it, but I am pretty sure nobody gets out of their first year unscathed. I had my chirpy, friendly northern edges quickly rubbed off. I missed everyone back home like crazy. I was in a disastrous house-share with two friends in a black hole part of Streatham that was nowhere near any form of transport; clocking my commute up to over an hour each way. I was working in my first high-pressure ‘career’ job, for ‘expenses only’. Looking back I was just completely clueless and bumbling through each day as best I could. It was at this time that I retreated back to old habits and spent every spare minute I could under water. I found a swimming pool at the YMCA just off Oxford Street, that was under a ten minute walk from my office. It’s not an exaggeration that I would sometimes go there morning, noon and night; re-using the same soggy costume after a quick blast with the hair dryer. The swimming pool at the time was in the basement of the building. You accessed it from the changing rooms by taking a long spiral stair case deeper and deeper until there was no noise and no natural light, which was as creepy as it sounds. The stairs led you to a dark dingy pond-pool that was actually demolished (there’s a theme to these stories!) later. In all my memories, I am alone in the swimming pool. This seems absolutely impossible with hindsight; as it was a busy central London facility. Why wasn’t there even a lifeguard for company? Maybe it really was that unappealing? Or maybe it was the fact I was probably there on a Saturday night when most people were spilling out of pubs. When I look back to this time, it has that sepia nostalgia film of un-realness. I think I owe those hours spent slowly-pruning, for transitioning me through that first foreboding year and into a London life that I loved.

I wrote a short story called ‘Chlorine’ at the time, about this swimming pool. I desperately want to edit it as it feels so clunky and cheesy now, but that would be cheating.

The shock of the air against my damp skin caused a blanket of goosebumps to sprout across my arms and chest. The swimming pool was empty, and I was alone apart from the echoing of my wet feet slapping against the tiles. An hour of monotonous lengths and playing chicken with my lungs, as to how long I could stay under the surface, hadn’t helped to clear my mind. The watery salvation absent that usually comes with tracing my fingernails along the lines on bottom and starving myself of oxygen until a thousand sparkles swarm my vision. Instead I ripped myself from the stillness that always looks such an enticing aqua marine from the edge. The stench of chlorine followed me as I stood at the top of the staircase back to the changing rooms. The one that twists and turns in spirals that seem to last forever, forcing you to spend an excess amount of time out of the water lusting for the hot soapy shower waiting only moments away.

Your figure shocked me as I turned the last corner. My swimming costume clung and creased into an itchy second skin. I told you my eyes were scarlet due to the chemicals that make the water that tempting toxic blue. You knew I was lying as you reached a long arm around my tiny frame. The one that shrinks and shrieks since I moved to this stupid city. Crevices appearing where softness existed before. Bruises sprouting on corners of my body that protrude instead of retreating coyly. The walls sang back the drip drip drip from our soggy embrace and our bones creaked as we broke away.

4. The Culver City Municipal Plunge

My last blog post talked about anxiety and taking control over unwieldy thoughts and feelings. Well I think it’s evident that there has been quite a key location missing in my life. Every night that I now pack my swimming cap, towel and locker padlock in advance of a morning dip, I feel some of the days stresses and strains just melting away. I’ve made no secret that moving countries and re-setting life has it’s ups, and it’s downs. When we first moved here I actually bookmarked the swimming pool information, but instantly found the prospect of working out when I could fit in going, what the membership fees were and just not knowing the etiquette of lanes and lessons completely overwhelming. I’m angry at past-me for giving up so quickly and taking nearly two years to fall back on what is clearly such a tried and tested method for my brain. On my first trip there, everything was a disaster. I paid the wrong fee (I should have got a ‘resident’ discount) and I misjudged the lanes so badly that I got into the fast lane, and was instantly yelled at by a butterfly-ing man. And it was FINE. I retreated to the medium lane and basked in the fact that I can swim outside, in an unheated pool, all year round. My view from doing backstroke is palm trees, and bright yellow diving boards. I like to do my laps underwater, watching the the sunshine dancing on the tiles and the bubbles from my nose obstructing my view.

I get into the swimming pool with questions, and I leave with only answers.

And this time around, I get to do it inside a real-life David Hockney painting.

 

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

I was recently tagged my my long-term blog buddy Laura (of Make Do and Mend) in the 11 Things round-robin blog post. I haven’t posted anything like this since I very first started my blog a whole seven years ago, so I think it’s a fortuitous time to share a few secret facts and feelings.

Step one of 11 Things, is to list 11 random facts about yourself. I have such a wealth of weird and wonderful facts about me that I live for this type of question! It especially seems to crop up when I start new jobs and in the introductory email sent round the company, they want to say something additional to just my name, job titles, CV history etc. and I never know which fact to pick; as you’ll see… some are stranger than others!

Processed with VSCOcam with g3 preset

1. I still have all my baby teeth (except the top front two.) I never got a second set, which means my baby teeth were never pushed out. This means, once my baby teeth fall out, I will either have to have big gaps or hope to win the lottery; as every replacement tooth costs in the region of £3k for an implant. I’m a freak of nature and my childhood dentist had an x-ray of my teeth on his Wall of Fame! No one can predict how long they will last, as they shouldn’t have lasted until now, but I try not to sweat about it. In the scheme of things that you could have wrong, this is just a vanity issue really. I mean, if they ALL fall out, you can blend cheeseburgers right?

2. My middle name is Jean, which I used to dislike but now that old lady names are fashionable again I have a new appreciation for it. It does however give me the initials BJ; which wasn’t ideal at high school.

3. The chubbiest part of my body is my KNEES. Which is funny because they are the bees-knees, ho ho. I used to hate them and wouldn’t be caught dead getting them out on display (I lived in jeans or black tights) but these days I care so much less about worrying about what other people think of them. The fact Nick finds them cute helped with that a lot too!

4. I plan to turn Vegetarian in the next five years, because it’s what my 96 year old Gran holds responsible for her hulk-strength health. She stopped eating meat some time in her 30s; so I’ll enjoy a few more steaks first.

5. I did competitive synchronised swimming for my city and county until I was 13; when unfortunately I discovered things like boys and music. At the time it was mortally uncool, so I never told my friends from school that I did it and made up excuses for missing social events when I was actually training or competing. I’m happy to see that nowadays it’s viewed as an Olympic level sport and treated with so much heart; because it is seriously gruelling stuff. When I competed we could do solo routines where we selected our own songs and I once performed to a medley of Ace of Base, East 17 and Snap! – The Power. Sadly synchro swimmers these days aren’t allowed to chose their own tunes!

IMG_7601

6. I have amazing family who inspire me constantly. We are all very strong individual characters, but have remained fiercely close as adults. I have my mum, my dad, a big sister, a little brother and a sibling who identifies as non-binary gender. They wrote an amazing article about it here which I would implore everyone to read.

7. My favourite book is The Great Gatsby. I read it at least once a year and it breaks my heart every time, despite me knowing it word for word.

8. Until last year, I thought that aeroplane pilots worked out how to get to their destination using vision (e.g: “Look! the Eiffel Tower! We must be close to Paris”) I realise now this is monumentally stupid but sometimes I excel myself at a lack of general smarts.

9. For a long strentch of my life the only two celebrities I had met were Richard Whitely and Jeremy Beadle. And look what happened to them (shortly after). My sister used to want to “set me” on Jim Davidson.

10. Dynamo tried to kiss me when I was 17. He’s a really lovely guy and although I squirmed away (I reckon he gets a few better offers these days though ey?) it’s so heart-warming to see how successful he; as he definitely deserves it.

11. I used to be a nervous flier, because I only did my first flight when I was 18 so just wasn’t used to it (and probably because I thought pilots were following landmarks, hmm…) but now it’s one of my favourite bits of any holiday. I love everything about the Care Bear cloud views, the movies, the no one bothering you and the serenity of being so freakishly high in the sky.

10313067_10154516030980284_6746969279171318006_n

The second stage of 11 Things is to answer 11 questions set by Laura. So here goes:

1. If you could recommend one great book you read in the last year what would it be?
I just finished an incredible debut novel by Jessie Burton called The Miniaturist. For me it had definite shades of Kate Morton Sarah Waters and Angela Carter “The Bloody Chamber”-ness to it (and these authors are all favourites of mine). As someone with tiny desires to be an author one day, the fact that someone could create something this accomplished, intricate and compelling at their first attempt is completely daunting and impressive! I rarely splash out on hardback copies of books; but the design on this jacket is so beautiful, and the book so perfect, that I’d highly recommend it.

2. What job did you aspire to as a child?
Like many children who grew up watching way too much telly in the 90s I was obsessed with being a forensic scientist (blame Mulder & Scully!) which I find hilarious now because I am so squeamish that I could barely look at my own Frankenstein stitches after surgery, so the prospect of grizzly crime scenes being my day job would not be a good fit. The fact that sciences were my worst subject at school soon shattered the dream anyhow!

3. Who was your first crush (famous or not)?
Wow Laura, you have unknowingly touched on quite a sore spot of mine! But since you asked, maybe it’s time to make the horrifyingly cringy facts public knowledge. My first crush was… Colonel Sanders. Yup, the KFC man. I can’t imagine what it was that struck me about him, but as a toddler when we passed the signs I used to point at him and say I was “going to marry that man”. At least I’d have always been well fed.

4. What song makes you super happy when it comes in the radio?
TV on the Radio – Wolf Like Me. It just never fails to get me dancing and has an impossible amount of happy, nostalgic early-twenties happy footed memories attached to it.

IMG_7384

5. What really gets your goat?
I guess it’s a good sign that I really have to think hard about it. I try not to get riled by much these days! I think my biggest bug bear is bullying of any kind. As much as I adore Twitter; it seems to bring out that cliquey, bitchy side in some people (celebs included; Ricky Gervais has been a recent “block / mute”) and sometimes I absolutely despair at what people think is cool/acceptable on there. I shudder at the thought of that type of interaction existing when I was in school; kids are cruel enough in person without layers of anonymity to hide behind.

6. What is your favourite dish to cook?
I have a speciality called “Northern Fried Chicken” (and I swear this isn’t related to my childhood crush living on into my adult years!) where I cook chicken goujons that are coated in a special secret batter, which I couldn’t possibly reveal!, and a ton of butter. I serve them with sweet potato wedges and corn on the cob, slathered in the hottest sauce I can find (currently a Belizean bottle from our travels) It’s super easy but seems to be a crowd pleaser; plus helps me push my hot sauce obsession onto anyone who’s visiting.

7. Do you have a skill no one else can do?
I don’t know! Being from Yorkshire I do a pretty good “you know nothin’ Jon Snow” impression? I’m also dead good at hook a duck but don’t get much opportunity to show that off.

8. Who’s your current favourite comedian?
Don’t hate me but I’m so out of the comedy loop and just not that into it. I like comedy TV shows however and recently discovered Broad City which if you haven’t seen, you need to stop reading this and go watch now now now.

IMG_7134

9. Do you collect anything?
Kirby grips. I leave a trail of them like breadcrumbs in a fairytale! I also collect Starbucks mugs from cities Nick & I visit together. We have New York, London, Stockholm and Lima. I’m not even a Starbucks fan but these city-specific mugs are the perfect size and with really neat artwork. However! They just got discontinued… So it will remain a small but perfectly formed collection.

10. What is you favourite way to spend a Sunday?
I love to LIE IN, have some morning cuddles and lazing about with Nick, then a cup of tea and some reading in bed. The sign of a GOOD Sunday for me is if I don’t change out of my PJs; but this takes the type of organisation (e.g getting food in the day before, not making plans to see anyone etc) that I usually lack. If I do venture out, I love a big ramble over the heath and visiting the doggy swimming pool because I don’t have a dog so have to lurk on other peoples.

11. What one thing do you love about your hometown?
It’s the underdog of the UK! No one ever has nice things to say about Bradford in general and in the media. But this attitude completely unites Bradfordians in a sort of “we know it’s a bit rubbish, but it’s OURS” mentality that I never experience anywhere else. The sense of community is fierce. Also, it’s really not rubbish. It has a world of amazingness to offer anyone brave enough to visit!

Thanks again Laura for tagging me. I really enjoyed this quizzing!

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Anyone who follows me on Goodreads or who has scoured my book review posts will know that I’m very predictable in what it takes to pique my bookworm interest. A big spooky house, unexplained goings-ons, eerie family curses and perhaps an apparition or two to boot. Little did I know that I had just this in real-life form, and under a mile from my family home in Yorkshire. My dad is a local historian and had been researching various local heroes from Bradford’s industrial glory days such as Lister, and perhaps the more widely known Titus Salt, and it was through this that the story of Milner Field was told…

photo 3 (10)

Milner Filed was commissioned to be the family home of Titus Salt Jnr (youngest son of Sir Titus Salt) and built in 1869 to the plans of decadent architect Thomas Harris. No expense was spared in the building of Milner Field; and it would certainly have been one of the most opulent mansions in the north of England at it’s time; which is clear from the fact it received royal visitors twice. Amongst many unusual luxuries the house had an orangery, vast glasshouses filled with tropical plants imported from around the world and a boating lake. Keen to show off their wealth and home, the family would host huge parties with absolutely no expense spared. Unfortunately, the house may have looked set to provide its owners an idyllic life, but this wasn’t the case. Titus Salt Jnr died unexpectedly young, leaving the house to be passed on to a new family; that of James Roberts. Upon moving into the house bad luck dogged him and his family. His eldest son died of pneumonia, his youngest son drowned, his second son died of an unexplained illness and his remaining son was badly injured in the great war. On top of this – whilst his daughter Alice successfully married, she was then unfaithful and her high profile husband murdered her lover, causing a national scandal. Poor Roberts ey? The final occupant of Milner Field was quickly dispatched of by the curse, in perhaps the worst way yet! As a result of a nasty infection of the diaphragm he hiccoughed to death!

photo 2 (13)

As a result of the endless misfortune heaped upon owners who resided in Milner Field, paired with the fact that these rambling grand houses were falling out of fashion given the vast amount of staff needed to maintain them, by the war it was near impossible to sell the property. Despite various attempts and glossy sales pamphlets being created, the house sat empty and eventually fell to rack and ruin. Local children in 1940’s and 50’s recall playing in the roofless mansion as children; which must have been an incredible playground given that all the rooms were still intact. It was at this time that local newspapers reported various tales from visitors to Milner Fields of apparitions being sited amongst the ruins; the most commonly known story being that of an Edwardian man dressed in green carrying a flute! In the 50’s, with health & safety being sited as the reason (although perhaps it was more likely that the council was getting spooked by all the stories!) Milner Field was demolished and flattened. Isn’t it an incredible story? That within the space of less than a century, one of the grandest houses ever to be built in England could be set upon with dynamite and diggers and left to rot in the moss.

photo 1 (12)

The above photos are taken from Milner Field; The Lost House of Titus Salt Jnr which I’ve had my nose permanently shoved in on my staycation up north this week. The photo just above gives you a glimpse of the change from Milner Hall as it was, to how it is now. On the blue skied, beautiful Bank Holiday Monday; my dad, Nick and I headed off to Saltaire to explore. As we entered the woods in which Milner Field sits, we weaved our way up a winding mile of driveway. I could almost taste the previous anticipation of those privileged to be invited to stay with Titus Salt Jnr when the house was in its hey day.

IMG_4478

IMG_4479

If you just stumbled across the site of Milner Field, you could be forgiven for writing it off as a pile of old rubble and moving along. However having my dad as a guide, he could point out that two large pieces of stone that we walked between would actually have been the two pillars attached to a grand archway at the entrance to the house. It’s with this eye that you can suddenly look around yourself and with a bit of imagination, envisage the house as it once must have been. The ruins sit very isolated in a patch of woodland, as over the last 60 years nature has taken Milner Field in its clutches. It’s definitely not a place I’d feel comfortable being on my own, I’m not sure if it’s the fact it’s steeped in bad fortune but there is a definite atmosphere that has the hairs on the back of your neck prickling at every crack of a tree branch or wind that picks up around you!

IMG_4480

IMG_4506

This spooky sensation didn’t put me off having a little solo pirouette in what would have been the grand ballroom. In the close up, you can see that parts of the floor are still present and covered in a beautiful mosaic. In the book I read about one incredible party in-particular for Isabel Roberts “coming out” 19th birthday party which was fancy dress and attended by the creme de la creme of society at the time; royalty, film stars and local business directors. Apparently Japanese lanterns were shipped in and strung around the ceiling, and an obscene amount of port was ordered! I shut my eyes and imagined all of those bodies packed into the space around me, and wondered what an earth happened to them all after this snapshot in time.

IMG_4505

IMG_4504

Nick & had a good clamber over the rubble (cursing my footwear, £4 brogues are not adventures shoes) and had a kiss where the kitchen would have been. Upon closer investigation to the hunks of remaining stone, you can see that the odd one has ornate carving or moulding and it’s worth trying to work out where it might have fitted in the house.

photo 2 (14)

photo 1 (13)

The most recognisable area of Milner Field left standing is the entrance to the cellars that would have stretched the whole length of the house. I wonder how many brave bodies have wormed their way inside and scampered around? If it hadn’t been filled with stagnant rain water and litter, I think Nick might have been tempted.

IMG_4503

IMG_4481

If you find yourself in Yorkshire I can’t recommend a visit here enough. It’s one of those rare treasures that passes by word of mouth and won’t be in any rough guide or tourist information brochure…

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,