Hebden Bridge, Huddersfield and blue Woo-Woos

‘It begins with a ‘H,’ I keep primly announcing as my boyfriend says our itinerary-‘ebden bridge, ‘alifax and ‘uddersfield. Most people in ‘ebden pronounce it with a H – I have written briefly about it before, a town where designer bunting can be more easily purchased than Tampax. A place where the original hippies have bred, left, mutated or come into money and embraced capitalism as long as it is in the form of organic cotton and not a nasty cheap Tesco’s. It is a very lovely place, pretty, bustling with men in nice shirts pushing designer pushchairs and has more vegetarian choices than I have ever dreamt of.

We loiter long enough to accidently eat a ‘Mediterranean platter’- Hebden should be sponsored or twinned with manufacturers of halloumi and hummus then leave this tranquil but strangely unreal little Yorkshire mirage and head through Halifax to Huddersfield.

It is somewhat reminiscent of Bath fallen on hard times. Huddled in a green valley, lofty multi-storeyed Georgian buildings house ramshackle little businesses; you have to remember to look up to see the curled and corniced remnants of a more ambitious prettified past.  It is not awash with Monsoons but take aways and charity shops-all the big chains have fled to the malls.  There is a huge outdoor and indoor market selling a large amount of faded Fisher price toys and supermarket brand clothing. I like it very much. There is a shop where all the clothes seem to be 49p near somewhere else selling military badges.

Huddersfield is interesting. But I am still not quite sure if I like it. I am trying to find that unique something about it to distinguish it from Everywheretown. There is no green surprise of parkland or a crumbling roped off priory, those little surprises you find in a new town to make up for the pebbledash of pound shops selling the same plastic crap as everywhere ever. It makes me a bit bored of Britain.

I like some aspects of it-it is the most multicultural place I have experienced since living in London-Caribbean restaurants and extravagantly boasting cheap curry houses nestle next to newsagents and clothes shops of the cheap nylon persuasion. But the old university building my boyfriend wanted to see, having been a student here is broken and desolate. There are no memories here for everything has changed. Everywheretown retains no sentiment for one crappy shop with personal memories becomes another crappy shop with none.

There is a food and drink festival on which means that the Head Of Steam, a pub renowned for its excellent cider and beauty is off-limits to us encumbered with pushchair and baby. The food and drink festival is busy, meaty but smells very nice from our vantage point by some sick on the stairs to the railway station.

The art gallery and library is excellent. We see abstract art and sculptures based on the textile industry that used to be Huddersfield’s life and blood. The toilets have UV lights to stop people shooting up.

You can see the green of the valley from the concrete and faded splendour of the town. Houses are cheap here, two bedroom terraces for around fifty thousand pounds. But Huddersfield depresses me. It is stuck between its rich heyday of a prosperous working place of importance and the ‘three curries for a fiver’ desperation of today. Yes, there are restaurants and busy bars, this is a university town but there seems little of a university counterculture, maybe it is hidden up a side street somewhere but we stop for a drink at a bar and it is all watered down expensive wine and cocktails in fishbowls for fifteen pounds. The cocktails look very unpleasant and mostly feature Archers or the words ‘Woo Woo.’ I feel somewhat out of place with the baby merrily chewing the laminated menu.

I would have liked to have liked it but feel vaguely claustrophobic and I am guiltily glad when we leave it behind and head back into to the green valley, which surrounds it. I am not travelling back to my home in another enchanted Eden, I live in another slightly faded around the edges Northern city but I failed to find the heart of Huddersfield and made me realise that things have moved on, the hearts of cities do not exist, they are now either malls of brand names, a gap-toothed boarded up straggle of pound shops and curry houses or middleclass preserves purporting to be ‘real’ but mainly selling bunting and halloumi.

And I feel I belong to nowhere.

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