I’m watching the first session of the Boxing Day Test at Leeds- it’s ages since I watched cricket on TV- finishing my ice-cream, basking in the general middle-of-vacation bliss. I’d expected my English Christmas to be mostly solitary, confined to a few outings to Brighton beach and maybe one to Hove. How wrong I was.
Yorkshire has haunted my daydreams for years, and today I’ve scrambled up slippery rocks on Ilkley Moor for a spectacular view of the English countryside, to watch clouds come scudding in and settle like a thin veil on the distant hills. I wanted to see for myself the bleak, cheerless, rain-swept moors that have inspired some brilliant literature; thanks to this lovely branch of the family that I’ve just met, what once seemed like mere pipe-dreams are turning into reality. I’m deliriously happy.
Last Friday, I was met by my uncle at London Victoria and we went on to Maidenhead, where I saw a proper English house, and stayed with family I was meeting for the first time, before driving up north with them the next evening. A three-hour long drive in India would have been greeted with trepidation. Here, it is something to look forward to on the marvellous motorways where you can go full throttle without having to worry about a stray cyclist or cow. It was a treat just watching the names of places on signboards flying by, and to pretend I could make something of them in the dark: Silverstone (with a chequered flag icon beside it- I thought I was seeing some grandstands when I realised we weren’t even there yet), Sherwood Forest in Nottingham (with the trees looming in the dark), Sheffield (of which what I saw was Meadowhall, decked out for Christmas), all telling me that I was really and truly in England and that I could stop pinching myself. Three months on, you see, the incredulity is as strong as it was when I arrived.
The roads climbed uphill as we entered Leeds. December is such a cheerful month here, even if dusk sets in absurdly early. The towns are brightly dressed for Christmas and the houses which haven’t been shut down for the holidays are done up splendidly, Christmas trees all alight, a few from head to toe without looking showy. (If only some women could learn from them!) The roads are chock-a-block with cars and people; the unusually mild winter is probably bringing them out in hordes, despite the recession and consequent reticence in shopping habits. My hopes for a white Christmas have been mercilessly dashed, but I’m rather glad of the fine weather. It means we can go out for walks and I can see a bit of Yorkshire without having to be cooped up at home. I would have liked to watch snowflakes drift down softly, form white sheets on the ground and leave pretty icicles hanging off leafless branches- which is how I suppose snowfall is- but I suppose it’ll have to wait for later. It doesn’t make sense to have everything at once, after all, and what would I do without something to look forward to!
My stay at Leeds opened with a trip to a mall at York for some Christmas shopping. The Yorkshire countryside treat began on the drive to and from York, beautiful vistas opening up on either side of the road, the sun going down in a fiery blaze of colours over vast, open fields, with skies that seemed to stretch out endlessly everywhere at once. The skeletal silhouettes of trees stood out against a silky swirl of rich colours, and I knew I was going to be swept off my feet very soon. Trips to Blackburn and Birmingham were still to come; Bradford was yet to astound me with its cultural incongruity.
Leeds is a lovely city, quite a refreshing change from Brighton. The undulating roads are lined with houses that appear very bookishly English to my enchanted eyes. The sky is almost perpetually grey, and blue patches are rare. This is the kind of weather that really enthuses me, but I’m often hard-pressed to remember that over 300 days of grey weather a year isn’t exactly fun. I was caught in the rain one morning on a walk with my uncle, and I’m quite sure he didn’t enjoy the walk as much as I did. The relatively sunny south has me chuffed about the vaguest prospect of rain.
The rate at which I’m falling in love with English towns is alarming; much as I’d like to scour every inch of the country, practicality rears its ugly head. But I, for one, am going to hold on to my dreams like a limpet.