If you are reading this blog from overseas (or perish the thought,, from Down South…) you might not know that much about Yorkshire.
Beyond The Usual, that is. Castle Howard, The Brontes, James Herriot, Yorkshire Tea, Alan Bennett… the usual Dalesy/ North Yorks stuff.
And this is a shame. Because as I said below – Yorkshire is actually THE BIGGEST COUNTY in the UK. Yes – hear me brag. Yorkshire has its North. It’s South. East n West. Never mind the weirdy in-between bits.
And one of the best freaky-frequentor places to visit on the tourist trail is right here – where I sit a-blogging right now. The backdrop behind me? A foreboding, ruined Abbey. Overlooking the stone-cold North sea.
Interestingly (and with true, honest serendipity) I have trucked up here again this year – just as the town reaches the cusp of Goth Week. Halloween brings out the Not Quite Dead.
So in celebration of all things just a little bit dark and unhinged, I am re-posting my blog on Whitby and Goths from nearly a year ago….
It still stands. Whitby and Goths Rock.
You may think Fish. Or Chips.
But, there is also a very strong chance indeed that you will guess the People who feel such a strong ‘yearning’ to BE – to simply, as they would say it – to BE THEMSELVES in this place.
It all began yesterday morning when my 4 year old boy screeched at me as we walked past Pannet Park.
“Mummy! Look! That man is wearing a SKIRT!”. I looked. It was more of a kilt to be honest . A fine, sturdy black affair, bedecked in silver studs. The Whitby Wind wasn’t going to reveal what the chappie was wearing under it. It was a Serious Kilt. But to the eyes of my 4 year old boy, a Skirt is a Skirt is a Skirt….
This was followed by my 7 year old, exclaiming with more than a little consternation:
“And look at THAT person! He’s wearing a gas mask! What on earth is that all about? Is he joining the army or something? Bonkers!”
And a few moments later. My husband groaning;
“Oh God. It’s Goth weekend. Can you believe this? Of all weekends to have booked a couple of family days away in Whitby – and its GOTH weekend!”
Of course, I say that my husband was groaning but I suspect that he wasn’t in the slightest bit put-out by it. (He likes to pretend that he has a sense of moral outrage. Although its usually directed at Radio 4 plays in the afternoon that exercise indiscriminate bad language in front of certain little ears. Or at people who drive too fast down our lane..)
In fact, we were all very much enjoying ourselves by the time the four of us had plumped our posteriors in our favourite ‘Not For Tourists’ café at the back of the harbour. After both children had glued their faces against the café window and created snot and saliva streaks, we all occupied ourselves with gawping at Goth Fest, with our youngest declaring that he was;
“Counting all the Well Scarwy Weirdo Ones with the Freaky Mask Fings”.
His sister, these days the more diplomatic child was:
“Waving at the people who have the most interesting costumes on. I’m counting how many of them I can make smile and wave back at me!”
I told her that this was an excellent idea, as most Goths are perceived to be miserable swines and that it would certainly be an interesting piece of social research if nothing else. I turned to my husband to ask him what he thought of this and he clearly hadn’t been listening. Another bevvie of black-bedecked beauties – busting out of their corsets bustled by.
I didn’t need to ask him what HE was counting. I suspected it was in double figures though.
As for me – I decided to count how many (normally dressed) people had the courage to simply stop and snap a photo of the Gothically Fashioned Ones. I was desperate to get my own camera out. But it just felt…well. A shade too touristy somehow.
In response to this, my husband commented;
“Oh come on. They don’t mind. None of them do! I mean – you dress like that to attract attention don’t you? You want people to look at you and to comment about you. Personally I find it all a bit tragic though. You talk to a Goth and they say ‘oh but we’re different than everyone else’. But these days its all Designer Gothdom. They’re hardly unusual or unique. Especially when they all truck up to the same place at the same bloody time.”
I was inclined to agree with his political take on the situation in relation to how Goth-ism has become just a little bit too much of a Capitalist Alternative. Black Consumerism Gone Mad perhaps. And also – harking back to the 80’s – I had a sudden yearning for a time when being ‘Gothic’ meant a bit of scruffily applied eyeliner, listening to Siouxsie and the Banshees and your brother beating you up because you put his boxers in with your best black frocks and the whole wash came out a nasty grey sludgy colour…
It was interesting though, to see how most shoppers reacted to the Great Goth Republic of Whitby. Most people trailing around the town for their fish n chips or for their Saturday Mooch were thoroughly enjoying the spectacle. Some of the costumes were stunning – both those of the men, and of the women. The occasional person I noticed, did have something bitchy or yobbish to say to the more outlandish figures. But as my 7 year old pointed out
“Well I just think this: if it bothers someone– people dressing a bit madly I mean – then maybe the person who feels all bothered about it are the ones who are a bit mad in the head!”
Nicely put Our Kid. So, in the main – it was all a bit of harmless, unusual and good fun. Albeit with a bizarre ‘edge’ to it.
Something did begin to bother me though. At least three hundred Goths had passed us on our first morning down by the harbour. And although I am quite sure that a lot of them had gotten out the palest Boots No 7 foundation that they could lay their fingerless gloved hands on…no amount of make up (or talc as it would have been back in 1982) could disguise the fact that I had not seen a single black or brown face. So – was being a Goth some kind of exclusive white movement? I could just about remember it being a bit of a white working-class phenomenon back in the days or yore. But was it really so unappealing (or excluding) of people who were non-white? As the weekend wore on, this feature began to niggle at me more and more. I wanted to stop random Goths and ask them about this, but quite frankly – I didn’t have the guts.
Finally, on Saturday afternoon, this gloomy mindset was reversed. I had just taken my first photograph of the weekend. It was a bloody great big shiny hearse. A Leisure-Hearse if you like. Complete with black feathered plumage waving aloft the roof of the hearse in an interesting parody of the old Victoriana Funeral Cart and Horses. But the best bit for us voyeuristic sorts was the see- through glass coffin. No Snow White here though. It containing a very dead-looking skeleton. Tasteful, like.
The hearse was parked outside of The Co-op in Whitby. I noticed that the vehicle had one of those little NCP Car Park sticker-tickets adhered to the driver’s side window. From this (with a very Gothically inspired Sherlock Holmes-esque inspiration) I deduced that its occupants (the live ones – not the poor dead sod) had clearly paid to park there. So, this frighteningly expensive and disturbingly artistic display was nestling amidst a dull-as-ditchwater dirge of Volvos and Citroens. Whilst its Darkly Obsessed Owners had nipped into The Co-op for Quorn, Lentils and Vats of Virgin Blood (no doubt on ‘Buy One Get One Free’ offer).
All of this made me smile. In a grim kind of way. Hardly black-hearted rebels the wee NCP parking ticket was saying to me. And despite it being quite a scene in itself, the hearse was receiving typical Yorkshire-Attention (i.e. I was the only person amongst the chocca-ful car park who seemed to think that it merited a snapshot). I couldn’t help but think to myself that; “If this was in London – there would be a dozen crappy TV stations out here, covering it as NEWS content. And before you know it – Simon Cowell would be conducting some new bloody-awful-talent show i.e. ‘X for the UNDEAD Factor’which would be performed on the roof of the sodding hearse’.
But the hearse is not the final nail in the coffin of this gentle diatribe. After crossing the road again (using the obligingly Gothic Whitby Harbour Zebra Crossing…yes – its amazing in how many places you can notice the contrast between Light and Dark when you are being culturally primed to think in those terms)… I FINALLY met my first ever non-white Goth. Bumped into the bloke. Quite literally. He was smoking a fag outside the pub opposite The Co-op and I wasn’t looking ahead of myself (busy checking to see if the skeleton had shown up properly in my quickly-snatched photograph.)
But there he was. As real as the Frigidly Cold Morning Daylight. The man whose toes I stepped on happened to be a very tall and very well-built black guy. He was attired in the usual Gothically bedecked Victorian morning suit. With top hat and a silver cane. He blew out a long stream of smoke and waved away my apologies, grinning with ease and obvious delight as I tried to disguise my surprise at encountering an much more unusual looking ‘Goth’ than the others that I had been ogling in the town.
And then, he managed to ‘top the bill’ for me. Bowling me over with an even more surprising Geordie-lilted “Nay Worries Lass!”, he reminded me yet again what a Glorious Place This Vast Tract of Land called Yorkshire is.
Whether Goth, North Yorkshire Biker Blokes or Bronte-Bores. Whether its folks who Hallow the Ground of Hepworth, Hughes or Herriot – or if its something as outlandish as Leeds Pride or as conservative and as ‘villagey’ a feel as the Longwood Sing … whether its Good Ol’ Compo or Norah Batty-Botherers…..
This paragraph could go on forever – but as THE biggest County in England, with an accompanying sleight of so-called ‘disadvantaged areas’ – us Yorkshire folk need to work longer and harder than ever before to stress the fact that despite experiencing some social problems and a lack of income per head, the UK economy, businesses and culture is finally accepting that Yorkshire leads the way! The mind-blowing BOOM of Goths In Whitby is just one tiny example of where we are creating a crazy-but-cool lead for the rest of the country.
I don’t mean for this missive to finish on a Tourist Board note, but as someone who has lived in many different regions of both the UK and the World, I can honestly state that there IS nowhere else in these Glorious Isles that can lay claim to such an eclectic, bizarre, friendly and accepting group of People – as Yorkshire.
We are a people who have the most fascinating ideas, outlandish business initiatives and artistic talents – to which the rest of the UK should really be learning from and mirroring….
Like Whitby, this Yorkshire Place has always been the Land of Anything Goes, where People truly make The Place. We don’t need Pride or Charity. Just bob up north and check up the (odd) event like Goth Weekend. It says it all…
NB – ‘Goth photo’ with thanks to www.whitbygothphotos.co.uk