Wigan-born writer, broadcaster and journalist Stuart Maconie is clocking off and heading out… to discover the leisure pleasures of his fellow northerners.
It’s seven years since Maconie’s bestselling book, Pies And Prejudice, took readers on an entertaining odyssey to discover where all those northern clichés end and the truth begins… and now he has spent a year trawling the North’s high peaks, low valleys and seaside promenades to watch us all at play.
The Pie At Night is a revealing State of the North address, delivered from barstool, terrace, dress circle and hillside, and more of a companion piece than a sequel to his previous tour of what is now a rapidly changing northern territory.
As Maconie tells us, this is a book about ‘love and work and the debatable land between… the place where the two come together and have a good time.’ The tapestry of our culture, he says, is woven from play.
Factory, mine and mill, industry, toil and grime, the area’s manufacturing roots mean the North of England is still seen as a hard-working place. But, perhaps more than anywhere else, the North has always known how to get dressed up, take itself out on the town and have a good time. Indeed, working and playing hard would appear to be its specialty.
And so from this diverse landscape, whether that is Blackpool’s famous Golden Mile, a chip shop in Wigan, a Westhoughton bowling green, Manchester’s curry mile or a Lake District fell, Maconie compares the new and old North, with some occasionally surprising results.
Northerners, he discovered, like having a flutter, visiting museums, playing bingo, climbing hills, eating out, going to comedy clubs, joining brass bands… and even taking part in large-scale ‘zombie apocalypse enactments.’
And when they are not watching rugby league’s ‘crunch of bone’ and inhaling speedway’s ‘heady tang of burning fuel,’ they are enjoying ‘the gentle click of polished wood’ around the North’s vast collection of crown green bowling clubs.
The pubs and inns of Lancashire have long been a crucible of what became an unlikely big money ‘glamour’ sport from the 1830s. Top bowlers, like Gerald Hart from Blackrod and Tom Taylor from Bolton, could demand the equivalent earnings of today’s professional footballers, F1 drivers and golfers.
When it comes to that great northern ‘delicacy,’ fish and chips, Grandma Pollards in Todmorden, which first opened in 1957, is up there with the best, serving ‘every kind of fish in every kind of format’ and with a ‘flummoxing’ selection of specials and deals.
It was in Southport, home of the quirky Lawnmower Museum, that Maconie had his ‘first ever proper curry on a proper night out’ at the oddly named Oriental Grill in Lord Street, now the overflow storage room of an electrical shop.
And further up the coast, Blackpool still saves a little jollity for the end of the summer season with ‘th’ Illuminations,’ an annual feast of ‘light’ entertainment and the seductive promise of a trip to ‘the Tower,’ a building ‘erected just for fun, and for the profit that comes from fun.’
Via dog tracks and art galleries, dance floors and sports fields, Maconie’s perceptive and humorous expedition takes us to forgotten corners and popular haunts, digging out the truth about Lancashire’s leisure time and proving once and for all that northern folk simply refuse to stay at home, ‘mortgaged, munching and slack-jawed in front of the telly.’
(Ebury, hardback, £16.99)