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A Shout From The Attic: Huttersfield

...The slow rate of passing trade brought out the shopkeeper to sit with us. He ignored Eric and me, but engaged Alfie in animated conversation well within earshot of we two Tykes who were mostly busy wrapping our lips around bottle necks and melting cornets. And that is how it might have remained until it was time for us to press forward on our joyful journey, had not the proprietor asked Alfie where we were from.

“Huddersfield,” said Alfie. The shopkeeper’s response from that moment made Eric and me disgrace ourselves, for he echoed Alfie’s naming of our hometown but pronounced it as “Huttersfield.”...

Ronnie Bray and his friend a driven to boyish fits of uncontrolable laughter by the mispronunication of the name of their home town.



Huttersfield

...The slow rate of passing trade brought out the shopkeeper to sit with us. He ignored Eric and me, but engaged Alfie in animated conversation well within earshot of we two Tykes who were mostly busy wrapping our lips around bottle necks and melting cornets. And that is how it might have remained until it was time for us to press forward on our joyful journey, had not the proprietor asked Alfie where we were from.

“Huddersfield,” said Alfie. The shopkeeper’s response from that moment made Eric and me disgrace ourselves, for he echoed Alfie’s naming of our hometown but pronounced it as “Huttersfield.”...

Ronnie Bray and his friend a driven to boyish fits of uncontrolable laughter by the mispronunication of the name of their home town.


My first introduction to ‘Huttersfield’ was during a trip to Hardcastle Crags with Alfie Cleaving and his stepson, Eric Hindle. Hardcastle Crags is a beautifully wooded valley craggy ravines that supply its name, steep streams rich in natural history. It is the locus of the hairy wood ant, and enterprising species that inhabits huge mounds. Every bend of the pathway exposed new and pleasurable prospects of an unspoiled and surprising corner of an area that lay between robust industry and sheepful moorland.

Once we had left all signs of the handprint of mortal necessity the place we entered yielded up an enchantment as potent as any spirituous libation. Enraptured, we breathed in its heady aromas, quaffed with our eyes its pleasant spectacles, and enjoyed the nourishment to our souls that the place provided that was beyond the reach of our words.

It was a green and balmy day full of springtime sun and that sense of freedom that comes when winter has been driven away and out of mind, and the earth breathes again as it drinks deep of April’s blessing and thrusts the shoots of green through the softening ground to match the greening of the trees, and hope fills tired hearts as the days of warmth return to spread their glow over and into everything.

Such days live long in the minds of boys from austere and greenless hardpaved valleys of brick and stone where the only signs of nature are ambling carthorses, aimless stray dogs, wheeling birds the colour of smokegrimed buildings, and gently mewing cats licking the sunshine into their fur on a warming wall of the industrial landscape.

It was liberating to escape the sandstone canyons where gardens of any consequence were rare, and the bitterness of existence bit into the lives of its hard working people, who had little to look forward to except more work, and the scant provisions of looming old age, loss of friends, place, and expectation.

Getting away from the everyday harshness was a cherished but infrequent gift of a dimension and character totally alien the very antithesis of normal existence, a prize of unspeakable worth whose memory, though distant in years still warms my heart with the thrill of the lush surroundings, broken landscape, and unexpected transitions in the wooded vales around the craggy sides.

Besides the enchantment of that place, the throat-choking joy of a bright spring day, and the ebullient company of a normally lugubrious Alfie and the friendship of Eric, a boy of my age who was no stranger to suffering, delightful consummation came when we happened by a wooden hut that sold lemonade and ice cream.

The day invited us to sit on a low wall next to the shack and eat and drink our treats leisurely. The slow rate of passing trade brought out the shopkeeper to sit with us. He ignored Eric and me, but engaged Alfie in animated conversation well within earshot of we two Tykes who were mostly busy wrapping our lips around bottle necks and melting cornets. And that is how it might have remained until it was time for us to press forward on our joyful journey, had not the proprietor asked Alfie where we were from.

“Huddersfield,” said Alfie. The shopkeeper’s response from that moment made Eric and me disgrace ourselves, for he echoed Alfie’s naming of our hometown but pronounced it as “Huttersfield.”

“Ah, Huttersfield! Yes, I know Huttersfield. I have family in Huttersfield. I often used to visit Huttersfield.”

He not only had family there, but he had lots of family there and each time he enumerated one of them he said “Huttersfield” over and over again. Now, princes in royal palaces are taught from an early age not to react when someone says something out of the ordinary, but we were not princes and the only royalty we could claim was the royalty of the British Working Class.

Besides which, Yorkshire folks are illustrious for being outspoken and at times, tactless, and we were both Yorkshire lads raised in the traditions of our fathers and others who went about speaking their minds and reacting just as the moment demanded without reference to protocols, niceties, etiquette, or much in the way of sensitivity for how others might receive our intonations and blunt offerings, not that it mattered much anyway. You either liked it or lumped it and that was that.

There are harmonies between people and at this point the harmonics between Eric’s sense of humour and my own were vibrating like quartz crystals on the same wavelengths, and we just about fell backwards off the wall as we, first, tried not to laugh, and, second, laughed all the harder when our pealing squeals finally burst through the “Thou shalt not titter” barrier.

Although we utterly disgraced ourselves, neither the patient and kindly shopman nor Alfie remonstrated with us, but continued as if we were not there at all. Perhaps it did not strike them that our laughter was occasioned by “Huttersfield,” and thought we were merely in the middle of a private jest of such lightness that causes uncontrollable mirth in schoolboys.

After we had laughed ourselves sore and breathless, we settle down to recover and drink the rest of our lemonades, when the talk between the big men turned to war, and fighter planes in particular. We lads knew about aeroplanes and what they were called, but the kiosk proprietor introduced a novelty that was not only alien but mirth provoking. He spoke enthusiastically of the Spad. Alfie obviously knew all about it, for he joined in with fulsome praise, but we derelicts had a huge gap in our education and the fame of Louis Blériot’s aeroplane manufacturing company had not hit our radars. We laughed because the name was odd and because it sounded like ‘spud.’ And then he said “Huttersfield” again.

It was a blessing when our time at the green shed was done and we left our friend behind to delve deeper into the greenwood, abandoning our intemperate laughter as we found other things to take our attention, although in afterdays we could always make each other explode into laughter by uttering the incantation, “Huttersfield.”

And there among the delightful day the matter might have rested, had I not come across a reference to Huttersfield while researching British Mormon history. I was fascinated. In between finding that reference and sporting at the Crags, I met Gillian Robson, a Bradford historian, who said that Bradford was once commonly pronounced as “Bratfutt,” and thought we had a pair of brothers.

The Mormon reference is from the autobiography of Alexander Neibaur, a Jewish dentist who converted to Mormonism in eighteen forty-one took his family across to the latter-day saints’ gathering place in Nauvoo, Illinois. Later, he returned to the land of his birth to serve as a peripatetic missionary, giving his address as, in care of Joseph Widfield of Gritta Mills, near Huttersfield, Yorkshire, England. Whether Dr Neibaur practised dentistry during his missionary service, I do not know, but if he did this advertisement published in the Nauvoo Neighbour of October 29, 1845 lays out how much you would expect to pay him.

ALEXANDER NEIBAUR DENTIST.

In returning his thanks to the Brethren and Citizens of the City of Joseph
[as the City of Nauvoo was renamed following the martyrdom of Joseph Smith]
for past favors, he would inform them that he continues his practice,
and has fixed the following prices:
Teeth inserted, $2 each;
Teeth cleansed, 50 cents;
Filling a tooth, 50 cents;
Teeth extracted with great ease.
Every operation warranted for 5 years.
Meat, wood and money taken.
A constant supply of Matches always on hand.


All of which is very interesting but only slightly related to Huttersfield, but as there is little to laugh about when having wooden or ivory pegs fitted into one’s bleeding sockets I will abandon thoughts of dentistry and return in my mind to that glorious day when besides the trilling of Hebden Water, the stream noisily tumbling over half submerged stones in its course, and the ringing of birdsong, irreverent laughter also rang through the glades of Hardcastle Crags as two lads forgot they were born to be miserable and enjoyed the stimulating flavour of a stranger who spoke in the old way.


**

To read earlier chapters of Ronnie's autobiography please visit http://www.openwriting.com/archives/a_shout_from_the_attic/

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