So long, Leeds

unnamed (26)I’m leaving Leeds today and my emotions are far more mixed on the subject than I ever would have thought possible when I moved here eight years ago.

I came across the Pennines from Manchester where I’d lived, studied and partied hard for five years. I felt at home there and for good reason – it had been the big city in my life since even before my student days, when I spent my teenage Saturdays in Affleck’s Palace buying purple hair dye and baggy jeans that soaked the rain up to my knees.

It was the first city I sneaked, underage, into a disco night at the Ritz, back when bouncers looked the other way at the date of birth on your provisional driving licence. When I filled in my UCAS form, it was the University of Manchester at the top of my list and when I got offered a place, I couldn’t have been happier.

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When I finally arrived a deferred two years later (that’s a story for another day), I knew I could handle the hurdle of permanently leaving my parents’ home a few miles down the A34 in Cheshire. And for those few years, I loved Manchester – the way the sun hit the Victorian red bricks; the sticky dives sadly no more (RIP Roadhouse); my attic flat with the Velux windows that had views over the Northern Quarter’s roofs; the bars, the history, the swagger, the accent, the music, even the rain.

So I approached moving to Leeds in 2010 kicking and screaming. My friend Amy patiently kept me company during those bleak weeks when we went back and forth on the rattling Pacers to look at depressing basement flats in Headingley. When the time came to leave for the new job I packed a van, sobbed across the M62 and moved into a (much nicer) flat on North Street with a girl I’d met on Gumtree.


The following year was a difficult one as I struggled cluelessly through my trainee reporter paces, and though I wasn’t altogether happy, I had started to try and make the best of things. I was lucky enough to have a gracious and relaxed roomie (thanks Carmen). I was introduced by a mutual bud to the positive life force that is Gemma. I reconnected with my best pal from university, Emily, who had moved to Leeds and whose support and friendship I am lucky enough to enjoy to this day. I started writing for a local blog and going to gigs, finding refuge in Nation of Shopkeepers and North Bar and spending weekends covering festivals like Live at Leeds and Constellations.


But I still hadn’t entirely warmed to the place. I spent most weekends either going back to Manchester or escaping to my best mate’s house in London. It was only when my new flatmate moved in and tweeted about our housewarming party that things took a turn for the better, because who should turn up but the man who would bowl me over by throwing a record on to the NCP from my balcony.

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Ewan was (and still is) a big-time advocate for Leeds and its surroundings, and was a more than willing tour guide. We drove out to Ilkley, to Golden Acre Park and to Yorkshire Sculpture Park. We went to Otley car boot on Saturdays and took in the view from the Chevin.

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We picnicked in the grounds of Kirkstall Abbey, built snowmen in Horsforth, petted animals at Temple Newsom and visited the meerkats at Tropical World. We walked down the canal, saw the viaduct at Knaresborough, played on the beaches in Whitby, Robin Hood’s Bay and Staines.

We ate at the Man Behind the Curtain before it got its Michelin star, got really drunk at Cosmic Slop, went to Belgrave’s opening party, consumed delicious roasts at the Adelphi and the Reliance. We drank beer in Friends of Ham when it was the size of a cupboard, saw bands in a field near Skipton, and made a home for ourselves in Burley, where we were lucky enough to live a stone’s throw from literally all our friends.

It’s only as we are leaving for Birmingham I realise how much I will miss the latter and the ease of drunkenly stumbling a few hundred yards between our houses. I’ll miss the fact that in the summer we would sit in the park together on a random Wednesday evening, or on the stoops at one of our houses, and drink cans until it got cold. And that every Christmas we would set aside a date to celebrate our own December 25 by each bringing a dish to the table.

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In addition to the pals on my doorstep, I was also welcomed into the Armley fold – a warm and wonderful bunch of musicians and creatives who lived a few miles away. It meant I was doubly lucky because I had two crews to hang out with, all of them patient and funny people who taught me everything from yoga, to how to change a baby’s nappy, to how to party just that bit harder.

Our house was a gorgeous end terrace on the steep streets, with stripped floors, amazing afternoon light and views from the top room that allowed us to watch the fireworks at several different parks. Leaving the first home we made together makes me too sad to type.

Yesterday, as I walked around Leeds on my final day as a resident, I realise how much it has changed into this wonderful, creative city. Its independent scene has blossomed, to the point where it may even surpass Manchester’s.

I already know I’ll long for the food at Bundobust, the meat at Ox Club, the brunch at Layne’s and films at Hyde Park Picture House. Where I once missed the red bricks of Manchester, I will miss the bleached sandstone of Yorkshire. Also, &Other Stories. I will definitely miss that.

But the sadness I feel about leaving Leeds is different to how I felt about leaving Manchester eight years ago. The desire to start again in a new city is similarly lacking, but whereas back then I couldn’t envisage anything living up to what I had left, I know now that Birmingham will be what we make it.  For Indian street food, we’ll go to Zindya; for films, The Electric. For excellent brunch, there’s a whole host of amazing looking places to try, and the Jewellery Quarter beckons. When we crave the countryside, we’ll drive to Warwickshire, or the Cotswolds.

And if it doesn’t work out, Leeds isn’t going anywhere.


Yorkshire’s answer to Billy the Kid


Ben Thompson; pic courtesy of G.R. Williamson

THE words “Wild West” conjure up images of saloons and sheriffs; gun-slinging cowboys knocking back whisky like water on their way to a dusty showdown at the nearest corral.

It’s possible I put too much stock in the historical accuracy of 1980s Emilio Estevez films, but when I hear the words “West Yorkshire”, the same images do not spring to mind.

But thanks to the digging of an American historian, the two worlds are about to collide in a new book, The Texas Pistoleers: Ben Thompson and King Fisher.

Texan author GR Williamson has chronicled the life of an outlaw born in the Five Towns, with a reputation for being one of the Wild West’s most feared gun fighters.

The book, which is the culmination of years of research, describes in detail the short life of Ben Thompson – Knottingley’s answer to Billy the Kid – who died in a hail of shotgun bullets at a San Antonio saloon in 1884.

Mr Williamson, who hails from Kerrville, Texas, came across Ben Thompson as a teenager, spawning a lifelong quest for the truth behind the Yorkshire outlaw’s chequered past. 

He said: “Ben Thompson, in his day, was one of the most feared pistol fighters in the American West. Yet oddly enough, the chronicles of the Old West have largely ignored him.

“While volumes of books and accounts have been written about the exploits of his contemporaries, very little has been written about Thompson and his lethal skills with a pistol.”

According to records, Thompson, was born in Knottingley in November 1843 and spent his first few years in the former mining town before his family emigrated to Austin, Texas.

It was in America where the local lad carved out a reputation as a fierce dualist, unscrupulous gambler and in a bizarre twist for a full-time crook, a law  enforcer.

Mr Williamson, 68, said: “Thompson was certainly not a saint and was most definitely a sinner, but how should he be judged in light of the violent times of his era?

“He did break the law at various times in his life and was responsible for a number of premature deaths. To his credit, Thompson fought his gun battles ‘straight up’ against men trying to kill him.

“Unlike some of the other gun fighters of the Old West who jumped at the chance to shoot their victims in the back, Thompson faced his opponents with cool determination to stand his ground – win or lose.”

Thompson led a colourful life, turning to crime at 15. It was only a matter of time before he landed himself in trouble with the law and he was jailed at 22 for murder.

He bribed his way out of prison and fled to Mexico, where he became a mercenary fighter, and returned to Texas four years later where his days as a hardened gambler began.

For the next few years, life was quiet on the western front, in fact, despite the occasional shoot-out, the people of Austin twice elected Thompson as city marshal.

According to Williamson, this was due to him being “honest, loyal, generous and very proficient with a pistol”.
He added: “Billy the Kid, Jesse James, etc, were all immortalised in dime novels, newspapers, magazines, books and even theatrical performances.

“But in the view of some of the western writers today, none of these shooters would have emerged the winner in a stand up, face-to-face fight with Ben Thompson.”

Thompson met his end in shotgun bloodshed after a two-year feud with a San Antonio barman came to a head.  The long-running dissension between the Yorkshire gunslinger and Vaudeville Theatre and Saloon owner, Jack Harris, ended in a roar of gunfire when Thompson shot his foe dead.

A murder trial followed, of which he was miraculously acquitted, but he got his comeuppance two years later when an ill-advised return to the Vaudeville saw two of Harris’ friends ambush Thompson in a revenge attack which cost him his life.

The Knottingley-born criminal probably led a rather more exciting life than his Yorkshire contemporaries, in fact, news of his death made the front of the New York newspapers.

Mr Williamson said: “The Wild West was a magical time in the western movement of the pioneers that settled our nation.
The Texas Pistoleers is an honest attempt to tell Thompson’s story as accurately as possible – warts and all.”

Article originally appeared in the Pontefract and Castleford Express