The Whiston-born author of the bestselling Pies and Prejudice returns with another book about the north, focusing on what its people do for fun and when they go out on the town.
The Pie At Night (Ebury, £16.99) is a book “in search of the north at play”. I can’t imagine you had to search very hard.
Well, no. But I wanted to make the point that northern and working class leisure is not simply a matter of orgiastic boozing and football and bingo and whippets, although all of those are in the book (except whippets, though there are greyhounds). The book does take as its watchword one of my favourite phrases, “all things in moderation, including moderation” and it’s our appetite for fun that’s one of our most appealing features. But I wanted to talk about other things: poetry, opera, industrial history, zombie re-enactments.
What surprised you on your travels?
That there is a semi-secret professional crown green bowling league on which people gamble that meets every day of the year in Westhoughton, near Wigan.
Is a lot in the north “born of frustration”, as you write?
Not always frustration, I think, as such as a desire to leave the working day behind. As the great JB Priestley once said, it’s all very well for Hampstead middle class leader writers to bemoan what young people get up to in their spare time but then they have well-lit book-lined rooms to unwind in. Working lads and girls have always gone to the library, or concerts or generally sought to improve themselves. But we also like to let our hair down and go nuts when the hooter goes.
In looking to improve the north, do you think we make the mistake of looking to London for examples, when we should be looking to ourselves for answers?
I don’t think we need to look to London for anything. This of course is what London media people call being “chippy”. Yes, I have a chip on my shoulder, pal. But at least it’s a decent chip with gravy and mushy peas (bad-um tish).
Where is the one place from your adventures you would take co-presenter Mark Radcliffe?
To the Huddersfield Contemporary Music festival to educate him about modern jazz, classical and experimental and wean him off all that hoary old rock music.
You’ve railed against stereotyped reporting of the north in the past. Isn’t there a danger that your book titles play into that?
I believe it’s what they call establishing a brand. I take your point but a) it’s a little joke and b) anyone who gets past the cover will see that I am a serious academic and cultural commentator hellbent on overthrowing existing social structures. Also, I like pies.