There’s a row / squabble / disagreement going on over at Hebweb (and reported elsewhere) about the signs that have been welcoming people to, and saying goodbye from Hebden Bridge for the past year or so. Of course, it’s not just about the signs. I think (though I’m not sure) that the most recent bubbling up came when someone asked what it was like to live in Hebden (apologies to Hebden, N.Yorks, I know I should add the Bridge but I’m lazy). Their partner had seen bad publicity about problems with drugs and suicide in the area, possibly stemming from the recent documentary by ex-local Jez Lewis,Shed your tears and walk away. But then contrarily, there was all this other publicity about the place being full of creativity and nice people, so she decided to come to the horse’s mouth and ask those actually living here what it’s like. Not sure she was expecting the response she got, but all credit to her she took it well and realsied that in any place there is the rough and the smooth.
Is the argument really between “locals” and in-comers / offcumden / immigrants? Is it between poor and less so? Is it between left and right? There are clearly those who don’t like the image sometimes projected of Hebden as funky, diverse, full of hippies, artists, lesbians, whatever. Neither do they like it when someone like Lewis holds the flaws of the place up under a magnifying glass and makes the town look bad. I don’t blame them for the latter. And if their point to objecting to the former is that that’s not the whole story – that Hebden is more than that, or more as-well as that, then ok, I see their point. Though I don’t know why they seem so annoyed about it.
The controversial sign, is largely the one you see in your rearview mirror as you leave town towards Mytholmroyd or Todmorden. Or would, if you drove, which I don’t. I says “That was SO Hebden Bridge”. Some people think it pretentious. Some think it’s silly, or self-regarding. Some see the kindly intended joke. In one sense it’s just accurate. That wasn’t Hebden Bridge. It was SO Hebden Bridge. (as in the silly arguments you see American teenagers have on TV programmes) But that’s not what was meant. What is meant, I assume, is to comment on the fact that a lot of people who live or visit here see something special / different / unique about the place, which can have something to do with all that funky, creative, diverse stuff, or the peculiar mix of old and new here. Some of it’s pretentious, yes, and the only way pretentiousness can be tolerated is to gently take the piss out of it until it stops taking itself too seriously. I’ve often thought of doing someting along the lines of “Overheard in Hebden Bridge” – like it’s New York counterpart. Because sometimes you just hear things which are SO Hebden Bridge. Once upon a time that might have been people having an intense debate over the various merits of Fustian or Corduroy, but sadly those days are gone, and the Hebden which has risen up since the sixties is quite different. And varied.
It isn’t all lesbians and houmous, windmills and wallets. Not everyone has a degree, or a job, or money in the bank. Not everyone is a parent, or left wing, or from Reading, or practices Yoga. There are kids drinking and smoking weed in the park, there are problems with Mental Health, there is a paucity of decent paying jobs nearby.
But you know what? Show me a town that doesn’t have problems. Show me a park with no teenage drinkers. Not that there isn’t a need for more aimed at the mid to late teens in the town, but I promise you even if there were excellent provision there will be some kids who go find somewhere for a sneaky drink because they live in Britain, where Alcohol is worshipped like a god, and it’s just what you do. Kids like doing shit they’re not supposed to. More severe drinking and drugs problems will come along, for many reasons, just like they do elsewhere.
I don’t know what the other side of the argument is about really. Is it a bad thing to have lots of creative options in the town? Lots of clubs, fitness evenings, musical events, community parades, educational facilities? If you don’t want to go to them, nobody forces you. Is it somehow embarrassing? Ok, I can imagine that there are those out there who aren’t happy about the fact that lots of lesbians have made Hebden and the surrounding area their home. Perversely I imagine that in some families, Hebden might be one of the hardest places to grow up gay. (Though in other ways it’s fantastic.) I don’t have a lot of time for homophobes – or those people who might say “I’m not homophobic but…”, though I’m happy to debate with them and find out why they are uncomfortable.
One comment was something about the campaigns going on to try and prevent more supermarkets in the area. It kind of saddens me. Believe me, we’re not short of access to supermarkets here. There’s a co-op, which ain’t brilliant but it’s better than many small supermarkets. There’s Spar and Oasis – convenience stores. Mytholmroyd has a co-op and a mini sainsbury’s. Todmorden has Lidl, Morrisons, along with other convenience stores. Sowerby Bridge, a 10 minute train journey away has a huge Tesco’s. Oh, and there’s the Internet, where you can get deliveries from all manner of places. And, before someone (presumably reading this on the Internet) yells about people with no Internet access, there is still (for the time being) the Public Library where the lovely trained librarians will help you do whatever you need to do.
The important thing though, is that here in Hebden we have two butcher’s shops. A greengrocer’s where you can get fresh fish, veg and fruit. Other lovely shops where you can get, should you be that way inclined, organic goods, lots of specialist veggie provisions, fantastic cheese and wine, and a lovely bakers (albeit one which is inexplicably closed on Saturdays). Todmorden has more of the same, and a truely wonderful market. This is what those campaigners are trying to preserve. Because convenience is all to some. I do my best, but my plans of buying everything from the local shops didn’t last long – because when you aren’t here much when they’re open it’s difficult to be organised enough. So I’m not saying there aren’t other things small shops could do to help themselves. But I’ve lived in other towns and cities where these wonderful shops are pretty much gone. And once gone they don’t come back. (Not to mention the crushing blow to the people who run those shops).
Believe me. Hebden Bridge is special. I won’t say unique, because there are plenty of places I haven’t lived. There are other nice places. But the reason I came here is because it made me feel at home. Immediately before, I lived in Morley, where my local councillor was BNP. Now, there are BNP voters and sympathisers in Hebden Bridge I am sure. But I prefer to live somewhere where they aren’t the vocal majority. Where people don’t automatically assume I agree with their racist views just because I am drinking in the same pub as them. Ditto – in Morley, if you didn’t get up really, really early – you had no chance of getting one of the two Guardian newspapers they bought in. My first visit here I saw a pile of Observers up to my chest in the Spar. Now, Bob and Yvonne, who run the post office up here in Old Town, they sell their fair share of Telegraphs, Mails and Expresses. But they’ve even got plenty of Morning Stars in stock. I don’t say everyone in Hebden and its surrounds shares my politics, but I’m not in the minority I once was. And if you ever chance to see the locals in the pub having a debate, you soon realise the broad spectrum of opinions reflected here, but you also see them getting along. Discussing, thinking, sometimes even agreeing.
House prices are coming down, but they’re still out of my reach. As they will be out of reach to many “locals” (not sure how you qualify, but I certainly don’t yet.) But then, I’d need somewhere around £250,000 to buy a house where I grew up, and that’s only in Leeds. If I’m going to be forced not to live there (though to be honest, I don’t want to) then I’m going to have to live somewhere. And the hour commute to work is a pain, but only the same time it took in rush hour from Morley. I’d love to work locally, but until such a time as they need a new librarian, or I can work for myself (hey, and maybe employ someone…) then commuting is what I do. Surely it’s better to have people who can bring money into the town? Because what little spare dosh I have, I do spend locally as much as I can. More than I can afford, probably.
As I write (and I realise I am waffling on and on), I keep wondering what the core problem is. Someone who feels left out by the “funky” image of the town – or doesn’t want to be a part of it. Fine, but is it a bad thing? Does all journalism and marketing have to be completely balanced? Hebden Bridge is a small town in the Pennines with some funky shops, some traditional shops, quirky architecture but also some quite boring looking but well built town houses. There are a higher than average number of lesbians living there but also some straight people and bisexuals and those that really can’t be bothered? Many people are involved in creative or media based careers and commute to larger centres of commerce, but there are also those who work locally in shops and services or travel to Halifax to work in call centres. It just isn’t very catchy.
Maybe it’s that the town isn’t what people want it to be. What is that? I’d love to know. Really. If you want chain stores, they’re within reach. If you want BNP councillors, hey, didn’t Mixenden have one recently? I can recommend Morley, though they don’t have one any more, the people are generally quite nice if you don’t feel uncomfortable with that one aspect of life. People come to Hebden Bridge often because it hasn’t blurred into a copy of everywhere else, and there are a lot of what they feel are “like-minded” people there, albeit in and amongst others. Can’t we get along? I don’t like the pretentious arseholes who use long words in their posts on hebweb either. Not because I don’t understand the words, but because I think it’s rude and contemptuous, and not very friendly. But please, realise that it’s better to have people who love Hebden than people who don’t care – because it really isn’t quite like anywhere I’ve lived before. And it’s the people, locals and newbies and inbetween, who make that true.