The recent onset of autumn reminded me that I’ve called York my home for 18 years. Those with exceptionally high IQs might be able to work out that I therefore arrived in the year 2000, and that I was a fresh-faced 18 year old, ready to suckle on the teat that was university knowledge. What a lovely image to begin with.
Despite making this city my home for nigh on two decades, doing so wasn’t a part of my original plan. In fact, when interviewing for my first post-uni job, and when asked what my long-term plans were (at which point a hopeful interviewee might describe a desire to get that job and work hard at that job wherever that job might be located) I thoughtlessly blurted that I was planning on “giving it a couple of months, then buggering off to live in Bath, ‘cos it looked nice on an episode of Time Team”. Needless to say, I wasn’t offered the job.
I did, however, get the job anyway, as a result of what I used to refer to as ‘Howard Magic’, which I now recognise as a short-lived combination of luck and pestering people so thoroughly that they say yes just to get me to shut up. It’s how I actually got my place at university. And later, my wife.
In the end I didn’t move to Bath, and Bath remains a city I have regrettably yet to visit. My obsession with alternate timelines comes into play whenever someone mentions the place, and I imagine what the version of Howard who did move to Bath is doing now. I can’t be sure, but I bet he’s married to Natalie Portman and the two of them are living happily in LA, childless and loaded.
Unlike the vast majority of my course mates who moved to London to pursue careers in the media – y’know having just completed a media degree, and that – this version of Howard remained in York and pursued careers that I don’t even bother mentioning on my CV these days. A hop, skip, and a jump along the timeline to now, and here I am, a father of four, and very much a ‘York Person’. I scoff at cities that don’t have fully pedestrianised centres, balk at other cathedrals, and titter when people who live closer to London than I reveal that it actually takes them longer to get there on the train. Arf.
However, as great an impact that York has had on my behaviour and opinions, I must shamelessly admit to still possessing Doncaster DNA. New readers to the column might not realise, but I am, in fact, from Doncaster. You probably know someone from Doncaster. Whenever I mention that I was born and raised in “sunny Donny”, people inevitably comment that their housemate, or their ex, or their dog walker is from Doncaster. We get about. Because nobody wants to stay in Doncaster.
My residual Doncastrian traits were recently activated during a visit to said home town, when my mother announced some devastating news. “There’s a planning application to build 300 new houses on the field opposite.”
On hearing the news, I felt instant rage. How dare they build houses there? When young, I would sit on my skateboard and watch the crops swaying in the breeze. What, are they going to just dig all that up, the fiends?!? Damn their idea of progress. Damn it all to hell.
I then realised I was having this mental tantrum in a house that, along with 299 others, was built on what was once a field of swaying crops, 40 years previously. I pointed this out to my mum, and the possibility that this exact same conversation was had by people living in the houses that were built on the neighbouring field 80 years ago. I also pointed out that, in 40 years time in a house yet to be built, similar devastating news is being revealed about further development in the next-but-one field. It did nothing to calm her down.
So now I find myself returning to the mother country to fight for my people (because my mum wants me to). My weapons? A York-nurtured knowledge history. I’ll use Roman roads, forts, and the legend of Robin Hood to attack the dastardly developers and hamper their plans to build much-needed new and affordable housing. I’ll force them to undertake a long and costly archaeological survey, based on my late-night research sessions with old maps, Google Earth, and bits of rocks I found in that field when I was nine.
You just watch. I’ll bring the York big guns to Donny.