Tuesday, July 22, 2008

All Points North by Simon Armitage (Penguin Books 1998)

Colne Valley once had a reputation as a hotbed of radical thought and political activism. It figured strongly in the Luddite uprisings. Enoch Taylor is buried in Marsden, whose looms were pulverized by the hammer of the same name, and William Horsfall was, aptly enough, shot from his horse in Milnsbridge, after saying he'd rather ride up to his saddle girths in blood than give in to the demands of the rabble. Out of the dozens of mills along the valley floor, a handful are still working with wool. The rest are converted into units, full of New Age hippies brewing patchouli oil and making ear-rings out of circuit boards, or moored at the side of the river, rotting away like decommissioned ocean-liners. Weavers' cottages with their double-glazing look down from the hillsides, like old faces wearing new glasses.

In the 1970s, the Valley fell into a long, pleasant afternoon nap. In their sleep, electors stumbled along to voting booths in junior schools and village halls, and put a cross next to the name of Richard Wainwright, Liberal, who held the seat for donkey's years. He was a good man, and that was all anybody needed to know. On your eighteenth birthday he sent you a signed letter on House of Commons stationery welcoming you to the electoral register, and you sold iy to your fifteen-year-old friend for ID in the pubs in town . . .

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