‘Yeah, all right,’ I said, to a cheeky young lad,
The lad was standing outside Cartwright Hall.
Which is in Lister Park.
Which is on the edge of Manningham, in Bradford, West Yorkshire.
I’d been avoiding real world issues for a while, but knew I couldn’t hold out forever. And that ‘yeah, all right,’ or, more accurately, the place, the boys, the context, were a turning point.
Bear with me while I tell you a little about that context. It will make my post longer than usual, but it’s necessary, for it to make sense.
Bradford, with an estimated 534,300 inhabitants is the fifth largest Metropolitan District in England by population, after Birmingham, Leeds, Sheffield and Manchester.
That may come as a surprise to a lot of people (it did to me). We don’t hear about Bradford often. And usually only when there’s a problem.
Of Bradford’s population, 63.9% identifies as ‘White British.’
It has the largest proportion of people of Pakistani ethnic origin -20.3% – in England.
Manningham ward adjoins what was once an affluent, desirable residential area, Heaton.
White* people constitute 14.9% of Manningham’s population.
Pakistanis account for 60.3%.
A further 16.8% of people identifying as Asian* comprise Indians, 4.5%; Bangladeshis, 9%; ‘Other Asian,’ 3.3%.
By religion, the two largest faiths are Muslim at 75%; 12.7% Christian.
Manningham is one of 12 wards in Bradford District which are amongst the 10% most deprived wards in England. It is the most deprived ward in terms of income and employment.
In 2013-2015 life expectancy at birth for both males and females was lower than the District average. Males had the lowest life expectancy rate in the District.
17.8% of households in Manningham live in overcrowded homes, the highest rate in the District.
[All above statistics from City of Bradford Metropolitan District Council ‘Understanding Bradford’ Intelligence Briefing November 2017]
Lister’s Mill – completed in 1873, sometimes known as Manningham Mills – was once the largest silk mill in the world, famed for its velvet. In 1976 it supplied new curtains for President Ford’s White House.
At one stage it employed 11,000 men, women and children. A strike in 1890-1891 led to the formation of the Independent Labour Party which later helped create the Labour Party.
Bradford’s textiles, its woollen industry, once led the world. This is why so many immigrants from Asia but also Poland, Ukraine and Czechoslovakia (as was) came to live in Bradford. The jobs.
Lister’s Mill closed in 1992. The woollen industry that made Bradford rich had already withered and pretty much died. The city is littered with its vast stone carcases, studded like vacant eyes with broken glass windows.
Lister Park I’ve mentioned before, a place I roller-skated, played and nurtured a fascination for fossils on my frequent visit to Cartwright Hall.
The award-winning park is large, contains a boating lake, tennis courts, a botanic garden, Mughal water gardens, sculpture and more.
The image below is of a road off the back of the park, where seven-year-old-me spent a happy few months. My father had taken a job as head of a new school, which was yet to be built. We lived here briefly while my family sought a permanent home.
I took the photograph from the edge of the park. Before I raised my camera, several men were dotted around the scene. As I pointed the lens they vanished, in a flurry of long white robes. Probably a coincidence.
In the dying years of the 19th century, Samuel Lister offered Bradford Corporation £50,000 (around £1 million in today’s money) to demolish his old family home, Manningham Hall in Lister Park, and build a new art gallery and museum.
It was named for Rev Dr Edmund Cartwright (1743-1823), who invented the first power loom for woollen weaving but did not gain from it. All future power looms were developed from it, including those used and improved by Lister, who invented the ‘Lister nip comb,’ which allowed further mechanisation of the silk, Alpaca and mohair industry.
Completed in 1903, in a style some call ‘Bradford Baroque,’ it’s a classic example of industrial-era civic philanthropy.
Inside Cartwright Hall, things have changed a lot since I was small.
The fossil and stuffed creatures are gone. In the upper gallery, Asian art now mingles with pre-Raphaelites and grand-old-men in marble.
It would probably have shocked the original patrons to see not only the art in the new-ish Hockney Gallery, but its accommodation of the viewpoints of children.
It would definitely have shocked them to see the use to which Monty Python put Cartwright Hall in this song.
(Apologies if anyone is offended. Despite being brought up Catholic I find it a hoot)
But back to our visit.
We looked at art, we bought cards, we left the building.
Outside, though, I hung back, absorbing the massive scale of the stonework.
Then three boys irrupted into the scene.
‘Tek mi picture,’ yelled the sparkiest, in an Asian-Bradford accent.
‘Yeah,’ I said. ‘All right.’
One boy ran away, smirking.
The others posed. Such different boys, one evidently the leader.
’Well,’ I said, the moment now awkward, ‘want to see it?’
They shuffled over.
‘Looks as if it’s good,’ said Mr Jeans-and-t-shirt and, with a broad grin. And ran off.
It was then that the contrast with cheerful, smiling steam-train-enthusiast William, the day before, struck me.
And I realised, on neither of the occasions I’ve travelled on the old steam railway have I seen an Asian face. Despite the fact that Keighley, at one end of the short train line, has a large Asian population.
Next morning we sat chatting with a friend, who lives in a nearby town.
Her son takes the (mainstream) train from a nearby town to a grammar school, with his pals. He’s not Asian, they are – and they’ve all had to earn their places at the highly sought-after, selective school by sheer hard work.
One day, a white man sitting nearby repeatedly told his toddling child not to go near the ‘filthy Pakis.’
My friend’s son came home that evening and cried.
He’d realised he would never be treated like that, but his friends could be singled out purely because of their colour. Always would be. Always had been subject to such abuse. Their ‘otherness’ was visible.
We discussed how Trump, Farage and co have effectively given such people permission to voice hatred of the other.
I told her about my encounter with the boys. A good sign, I hesitated to suggest?
My friend’s response was blunt.
‘They were probably taken by surprise. Didn’t expect you to respond like that.’
Her face was a mix of sad and angry.
‘Boys like them are told by caring, liberal, white, women teachers that if they work hard everything will be all right. Get your qualifications, behave, be good and life will work out fine. Except it won’t.’
Several years ago my friend worked in a Job Centre. Used to speak to potential employers on the phone, about diligent, punctual boys available to fill real vacancies. When the employer asked for a name, if she said ‘Muhammad,’ ‘Yusuf’ or such, the line would go dead.
It’s obvious where that would lead, isn’t it? Expectations dashed by reality. Shunned by white, establishment world.
Immigration causes problems – has done for generations. Liberals (like me, or more so) try to avoid talking about that – but we must.
And, yes, that includes not turning a blind eye to criminal or other unacceptable forms of behaviour among incoming or established ethnic groups. This cuts both ways.
Keeping a lid on resentment only serves to make it fester. That resentment is then ripe for exploitation by self-serving troublemakers, fomenting division and populist indignation.
We don’t need more of their incitement. We need honesty, not fearmongering. Solutions agreed among mature, responsible politicians, not ambitious, selfish men posturing for personal gain.
But they’re exactly the kind of false prophets who now have arisen. Welcomed by resentful people. People who believed political correctness had gone too far.
It’s over, they said. You can be honest now.
Say what you like, what you really think about anyone – especially anyone who’s visibly different.
Go out there, make your fascist salutes. The President will blame lefty Antifa types. Well, as much as he’ll blame you.
Go ahead, call young schoolboys filthy Pakis, in broad daylight, on our British trains.
We’re taking back control,we’re gonna be great again.
We can do what we want again, now.
And lo, one brave man, freed of the shackles of political correctness, decided to murder an MP because he didn’t like her politics.
Tell me, friends, how do we put that freedom-to-speak-hatred geni back in its bottle?
*It struck me reading this through, that the demographic descriptors in the Manningham Ward stats list ‘White’ but then Pakistani, Asian, etc. This is odd, when you think about it. We whites are identified by the absence of colour – colourless. We used to refer to people of all the Asian origins as coloured, To call those of African origin black was considered rude. Today, in Zambia, people comfortably refer to black and white and in my experience seem to call all Asians Indian. When I spend time there I always leave feeling like a mutant – standing at the airport, having spent weeks in black company, and seeing other ugly, colourless people like me.