Monday, January 26, 2009

Men In Tights

Here in sunny Buttonwood Bay.....oh it's 11:50pm so who am I kidding.......here in darkest Buttonwood Bay, I was going through some old photos that I'd taken around Leeds City centre in an effort to try and get some level of homesickness going on.

As I'll be heading back there in 60 days time, it would be helpful if I had happy thoughts about it to make the departure a bit easier - but it's not working. Still, 60 days is quite a long time away so lets not get too depressed, eh.

Sometimes I take photos and don't look at the results very carefully.  Sometimes it's almost the taking of them that is the most fun and closely viewing the results can wait for a few days, or in this case, a few years !!

On this particular day in 2007 I was in Thornton's Arcade just off Briggate, one of the oldest streets in Leeds but part of the huge pedestrianised area that makes up the city centre shopping experience. Leeds has many wonderful Victorian arcades and Thornton's Arcade, built by Charles 'Sweetie' Thornton at the height of the industrial revolution in 18 licketty spit, is the oldest.

I know, I know. It's getting  just like the Discovery Channel isn't it ?!   

Anyway these ornate arcades are like straight arteries, helping shoppers flow from the heart of the city along to the next major parallel street although on a busy Saturday, they get as clogged as my own.  They are basically covered streets like Fremont Street in Vegas - except none have audio/visual roof displays and they could never be called tacky.

What they do have is class, character and....men in tights.

At the West end of Thornton's Arcade is a clock.  Not just any old clock though.  Underneath the actual clock face, there are 4 animated figures surrounding the large bell which strikes as regularly as a Hollywood script writer.  When I say animated, you have to remember that this clock is in Yorkshire where men aren't known for being overly theatrical.  The 4 characters, Robin Hood, Friar Tuck, Richard The Lionheart and Gurth the Swineherd, don't exactly move a lot and any kid who has been to Disneyland and seen the animatronic creations there would be sorely disappointed with the Leeds Quartet.

Hang on. Back up a bit there. Gurth the what now ?

Gurth the Swineherd.....you know, the son of Beowulph ?  Oh THAT Gurth !

Well ok then, he was a character in Ivanhoe (1819) by one Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832) and the novel included Robin and Friar and King and lots more jolly people and......well who cares.  The fact is, they are all up there below the big clock face in Thornton's Arcade in Leeds, merrie olde England.  They move every 15 minutes, hit the bell with their fists and all is well with the world. King Richard and Friar Tuck strike the hours and Robin and Gurth strike the quarters.

Actually the sound comes from 5 bells hidden behind the characters and not from the big 'show' bells you see next to each character.

Who needs an atomic clock ?  Eat your heart out, Boulder, Colorado.


But when I looked at the photo more closely, I noticed that the tableau and all around it was protected by a mesh screen. I assume this was to stop naughty little scamps from throwing objects at the figures and damaging them and/or the clock face.  The little rascals. You just want to toussle their hair don't you ?  

Castrate them too.

It's certainly a bit offputting looking right up at these characters as you may notice that they are showing a fair bit of leg up there.  And as for Gurth, they've given him a Bet Lynch makeover !  What's going on ???  I blame the Victorians.  A repressed lot.

Leeds in January isn't the warmest place on earth.  It won't be much better in 60 days when I return but it's home after all.  I do miss it in some ways.  I even miss seeing the 'men in tights'.

Even if in January they run the risk of losing their bells.

5 comments:

Jennyta said...

Think about bringing Daphne over to see us, Ian. That should do it - bet you're packing your bags already! ;)

Katie said...

Well thanks for the history lesson, as I have only lived in Leeds for 5 years, I am still learning things about the city. This bell always catches me out and makes me jump when it strikes... it really echoes.
As for the mesh... I think it is probably to stop the little rascal pigeons perching and then pooping on the heads of the Friar and his chums. I have noticed that the town hall is also now covered in such a mesh.

Daphne said...

They certainly do look more Victorian than mediaeval - though the tights they are wearing appear to be from about 1977 in that then-popular shade, American Tan. I'm sure they didn't have that mesh screen when I was little.

Jay said...

I love those animated clocks! And it's such a pity that they have to mesh everything in these days.

If I'm ever in Leeds, I shall make my way to the Thornton's Arcade to have a butchers! :)

Brit' Gal Sarah said...

Sign of the times I'm afraid, never been here but did date a guy at Leeds Uni donkeys years ago.

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