This Speedway Life: Through the Mill
"If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him...We need not wait to see what others do." (Mahatma Gandhi)
Fine words and sound philosophy, of course, but this is the world of SpeedwayPlus and what in the name of the Great Dane would Gandhi know about speedway?
Ok, he'd be very familiar with the imposing frame of an Indian elephant; that much I think we could all concede. But he'd surely be totally unsympathetic to the imperialist adoption of the Asian pachyderm's magnificent profile for the purposes of satisfying a Duke's need for an ideologically motivated, morale boosting regimental motif. Bah! Knowing Gandhi he'd have named Halifax's speedway team the Salterhebble Salt Tax Rebels, or something, with no battle flag on the body jackets but a triptych-of-peace that included an image of the Ashoka Chakra, a star and crescent moon and a charmed serpent, perhaps.
Yeah, and I dare say if he was to relocate the team just 8 miles away to Bradford he'd still refuse to acknowledge the military legacy of Arthur Wellesley and continue with those preposterous notions of his regarding the plight of the poor, democratic rights, national self-determination and his own sense of history and cultural identity by naming his team the Bradford Bengals or someth...oh, hang on...tigers. Of course! Tigers! The Bradford Bengal Tigers!
Eh, this chap might have been onto something after all. Tigers swapping places with (Duke) elephants - Gandhi's speedway credentials intact!
And you know what? Through some weirdly reconstituted existential switchback loop, in place of Asian elephants the big cats have actually moved into The Shay. Take a look...it's Halicat! Whoo hoo! And by some strange twist of fate Halicat is exactly the same colouring as the Walsh's last family cat, Gibby. Hali-lujah! Talk about cat 'ayes' reflecting in the dark and seeing the light! Though not quite a black panther that cat can ride with me anytime, that's a given, and all that stuff in Parts V & VI about the Glasgow Dukes? I take it all back. So to our super furry feline friends of all persuasions, please, by all means, Roary on!
But all of that's just fanciful thinking, of course. After all, the winners of the inaugural Elite League Championship under Gandhi's promotion would surely not have been known as the Tigers, let alone Dukes, but the Saltaire Salt Tax Nay-Sayers, the hypertension, mill-loving communist! Jeez, anyone would've thought speedway was all about turning left, or something. Come on Gandhi...sort it out! You only needed to put a road cone on Wellington's head!!
Anyway, all of that considered (and very seriously too, I might add, oh yes. No pinches of salt here!), it's probably time to rid SpeedwayPlus of this brakeless obsession of mine because, to paraphrase the top quote, "be the change you wish to see in the world" may not have been a reference to the speedway world at all (who'd have thought?) even though during his life Gandhi certainly did get 'deep down in the dirt' and 'scored a few bonus points' in a 'radical programme' of 'premier league daring-do' (you see, it's becoming really quite irritating!).
No, I think we can assume that by such sentiments Gandhi was trying to encourage those who might wish to change the actual world, and for the better. Though whether he was aware of the trap he'd be setting for the well-intentioned hypocrite would be an entirely different matter altogether!
But to put Gandhi to one side for a moment - 'tac sub' him, perhaps (nooo...note to self...STOP IT!) - if only for as long as it takes to consider the wisdom in his words...
It seems increasingly the case that the lives we now lead, along with the many pressures, challenges and pernicious interests that abound, render any notion of creating a "better" world seemingly impossible. In any case, "we've never had it so good," have we not? But we all have within us the power to do at least a little something (might just be a change in attitude) for the better. Many can do more.
Though I think it a good idea many in the world of SpeedwayPlus will find this next bit pretty preposterous and not a little self-indulgent (quelle surprise!), but here it is anyway:
According to values that have evolved, at times painfully, over a lifetime but particularly since 1999, for the rest of my life it is my intention to put Gandhi's statement into some sort of practice. Yes I know, better late than never. Very funny! But the first act in this period of "attitude" will be to make my own Gandhi-inspired statement right here:
I endorse the socialist ethos and environmentalism!
In support of such a statement I...I...
[I originally intended to continue here with a long, politically orientated polemic about the many and growing man-made crises that now seem set to have an acute and adverse impact on life on this planet, but decided against that because, well, this is a speedway website! Instead I'll just advance the proposition that if, post-2008, you were still inclined to accept the framing of current affairs by a systemic exercise in "public relations" and dismiss out of hand the enduring relevance of Marx, then that would be laughably unreflective! Moreover, when an ex-speedway rider feels compelled over a period of eight years to write in such terms, then you know something is really up!]
...if there's just one thing, then, I'd hope readers might pay serious attention to after all of this, it would be this proposition: in this day and age, as in every day and age, though based on an abstract concept yet one that has occupied a place at the core of human cultures for millennia, there really is nothing more important than the content of each and every individual's soul. If anyone might care to disagree with that then I'd be tempted to ask: what exactly does your soul look like and was it ever moved by the rhythm and beat of a humane heart?
Hmm, somehow it's still got very un-speedway, this, has it not? But whether you like it or not you'd have to admit that, together, we've certainly been Through the Mill. Ah yes...
The Mill: built in the valleys below the wuthering, elemental and epically beautiful West Yorkshire moors from whence hardy flocks of noble ruminants render the wool from their backs for the clothing on ours. And we also devour their young.
The Mill: built from the building blocks of shorn raw material, baled on an industrial scale and transported in; then carded, drawn and spun into a yarn from which all the pieces known to man (and woman) were made. And during that painstaking process, while out riding the "OLE OLSEN" bike during those long summer nights but pausing at a side door to peer inside the machine shed, and deafened by the cacophonous racket, I was my father's witness.
The Mill: built from hot coals and the hard graft of its stokers who turned water into steam which powered the looms that churned-out the wealth that in turn built a society, in this case Halifax; its waste product, so much scorched earth, used to pave a cindered way. By now you ought to know exactly where!
The Mill: built of a piece-worker's nightmare whose wages were pinned to each garment sown and to her very heart and soul, but whose intense graft and highly skilled craft was rewarded with a cut in the unit price for the nurses uniforms she made, her barely fair share in "stakeholder value" denied. The only surprise? Years later, merely pretending to stitch together something worthwhile, and casting it Into The Fire, a remarkable woman was granted, and indeed bestowed upon others, some kind of post-modern/industrial kindness and validation by "The Steward of Christendom," and again at Belle Vue.
The Mill: built in a bid for efficient productivity which was then itself deemed no longer viable in an even cheaper "rationalised" world; abandoned and demolished it became a new testing ground for future sliding, while at least one gigantic other would survive only to become the home for a Courier of bad, bad news. The "dark satanic mill:" shot-blasted and refitted, doing what it does.
The Mill: of the "whispering wind" where the heavy-stone grinding of rough-hewn husks separated the wheat from the chaff, its finest flour mixed and given over to create life's great staple. But where has that staple gone now? Where is the bread? The mill now closed, has a growing majority now to make do with circuses alone?
For a SpeedwayPlus answer to that question might I suggest returning to the coping stone church, then, after seeking out the starting point of the Via Magna (Great Way), follow the ancient track to its highest point this side of Wakefield, on Beacon Hill. Then, looking west, survey the whole scene. That's the town of Halifax spread out below. From right-to-left you will find...
Godley Cutting: from this angle indiscernible, but it's there - hacked deep into solid rock, retained and lined with millstone grit, it gorges a way for Godley Lane and a route out of town to the rest of the West Yorkshire conurbation. Spanned by a crowned bridge, the steps down which my pregnant mother once fell (no harm done), the Cutting renders the Via Magna obsolete; though not quite, for that too is still there albeit neglected.
Dean Clough: once the largest carpet mill in the world that, as if by some sort of inter-woven magic amongst its tenanted movers-and-shakers and bad news makers, was more recently the home of a successful worker-led food cooperative.
Town Hall: designed by Charles Barry after the Palace of Westminster, a worthier legislature in waiting?
Jamia Mosque Madni: a relatively recent addition to the profile of Halifax's low-lying skyline. Whenever cycling home from work through the backstreets that surround the mosque - the air thick with spicy aromas from the teatime cooking pots - it always smelt great, somewhat exotic and otherworldly yet by turns welcoming and homely, particularly on cold winter evenings. And in a certain kind of way the mosque's imposing presence reflects that of a church, including the one in Cologne about which the Handsome Family once sang.
The Gibbet: interest in which these days would surely only come from yesterday's men (those capital barbarians, from whichever state, still moronically roaming the earth), Ye olde Halifax's abominable curiosity is located close to the Hall Street 'Blues,' erstwhile suppliers to the NHS despite suggesting the characteristics of a socio-economic class whose wet dream would appear to be a suicidal labour force from Shenzhen, or wherever. With neat symmetry, yet quite incredibly, ladies and gentlemen, I give you this dis-united kingdom's HM health secretary", the fourth-great-grandson of Lord Eldon.
George Square: twinned by name with a fine public space some 200 miles to the north. I like George Square, and the Duke resides just round the corner!
The Square Chapel: unusually for Halifax built of flame-red brick, it was non-conformist (as was my own nominal denomination) yet perfectly square all the same. Saved from ruin, it's now an arts venue. Celebrate!
The Borough Market: made by girders, i.e. cast iron, it's covered, concealed and...clocked! Yes, time itself stands at the heart of this great Borough hall. And when the right hours strike, the space all around teems with life, assorted goods and the craic. You'll even find a copy of the Speedway Star if you know where to look, and have a stomach for the news.
Wainhouse Tower: elegant and Delph-ic in the distance, Halifax's panoramic, far-sighted folly from which across the valley to the west, on the slopes of Crow Hill, the view includes the shadow cast from Sowerby St Peter's Church over the maternal hearth and home. And when the wind blew in a certain direction you could hear the speedway over there, too!
Halifax Bank: formerly the come-to institution for carpetbaggers and now occupied by publicly funded bailout blaggers, its imposing HQ was once described on vox pop Yorkshire TV as a "bloody monstrosity," while in that same bygone era of mutuality Ian Nairn was impressed.
The Part V haunts, again: The Piece Hall, Civic and Minster, and one I've yet to mention...
Eureka!: look directly below from whence you came via Via Magna, back down from the top of Beacon Hill to the church and the point where a significant noise made on any Sunday would be guaranteed an echo. Then, just a little further to the left you will see Eureka!, the only museum I know where adults can only go if accompanied by a child. I don't suppose I'll ever see what's inside! But if in the Spring of 1983 anyone from Halifax can recall hearing from that very site across from India Buildings (yup, a reminder of those tigers and "Duke" elephants again!) a Weslake speedway bike making itself heard all over town, I'm afraid to say that that was mine being ridden round the then trackless old railway yard, father by my side and me desperately trying to learn how to slide like a world champion. It never happened. So you might say that was my Eureka! moment, right there, though I doubt that's quite how the local residents who'd spent the previous night at the Ring o' Bells would have described it. Nor, for that matter, those directly behind the pub who were trying to discern some kind of reason in their lives, though I dare say the coping stone Dukes would have absolutely loved it!
The Shay: and finally, at the far left of this great Via Magna vista, back to the (departed) speedway again.
It's now 30 years since The Dukes last rode at the "circus" called The Shay. My earliest speedway memory from there would be watching from the 3rd bend as Eric Boocock and Dave Younghusband came cruising toward us down the back straight after securing a last heat 5-1, arms aloft and shaking hands to signal the perfect team-ride complete. Then, sitting on the upper deck of an orange-and-green Halifax Corporation bus with my dad on the way back home, I remember studying the coloured blotting paper-like tickets and the two letters at the beginning of each serial number, trying to think of a speedway rider with the same initials: for some reason CG and Colin Gooddy comes to mind. I do hope memory serves!
As illustrated (hopefully) over the last few weeks, it would be fair to say that speedway played a huge part in that particular life, that being the operative word.
Recent developments, especially on an international scale, might well lead a former sports mover 'n' shaker and agent provocateur, Eric Hall, to agree that speedway's now "monster monster," but there are far too many non-conforming, civilising books to read (again) and at least one Orphean, creature-soothing saxophone to master. It goes without saying, too, that even This Speedway Life's surrogate flying machine, the Xanthus, is to be retired and 'put out to grass' just whenever a suitable field of golden SORN can be identified.
Therefore, though The Gambler's promise is self-evidently still pending, what you've read here will be the last you hear from me on SpeedwayPlus, you lucky people you! Or, to put that another way...
This article was first published on 8th November 2015
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