Leeds vs York, the new John Lewis and Stallone’s thick neck and locked jaw…

OUR daughter returns from a weekend in London grumbling that people are too unfriendly – “I think I am a northern girl at heart,” she says.

We’ve just had our own weekend break all of 25 Yorkshire miles away in Leeds. Once you would have been mad to swap York for Leeds, unlovely, scruffy Leeds, with its magnificence long since lost down the back of life’s collapsing sofa. Not anymore though, the city is defiantly off its knees nowadays.

We went to lay our hands on the middle-class altar that is the new John Lewis store – the newest and biggest outside of London. This church of good taste consumerism is parked round the back of the market and close to the bus station and the West Yorkshire Playhouse.

Once inside it is just another John Lewis store, never knowingly undersold on selling you stuff you can’t afford and only half-need, but fancy having anyway. “Never knowingly undersold” has been the company’s motto since 1925, by the way, or so it proudly proclaims on their website. Is it a price promise or a phrase of runic meaninglessness? I have never knowingly been sure.

Whatever the case, Christmas shopping was duly done. It’s a large store, and very nice if you like that sort of thing. Mostly I do – although I seriously lose patience with the serve-yourself, button-press cappuccino machine that coughs and splutters out a poor cup of coffee.

Most notable of all, this store has what must be one of the most impressive ‘hallways’ around. This takes the shape of the new Victoria Gate arcade-cum-glittery stadium of shops (mostly expensive). What a lovely bit of architecture it is – even if my mistyping digit just hit the £-sign rather than a capital ‘W’, an appropriate sort of finger accident.

Light falls from a fine high roof to be reflected in the mirrored floor made, or so I read in the Observer, of polished concrete. You feel as if you have wandered into Milan rather than Leeds, not that I have ever been to Milan. This new arcade follows on from the city’s old arcades, which now sparkle with expensive splendour.

We shopped until we dropped for lunch – not anywhere costly, but at Humpit, a hummus bar in the Corn Exchange, where the food is delicious and cheap and the surroundings unbeatable. The Exchange has been restored and filled with shops (yes, more shops – but they are quirky and independent), and has a curving span of roof that is worth an admiring gawp.

After that we did more shopping, met friends for a machine-coughed coffee, then trudged off to the Novotel behind the station. There then followed a restorative snore and a spot of knitting – I’ll leave you to guess who did what – before we went for a drink, and then a pizza, and returned with a bottle of wine to watch a terrible film on Channel 5, home of little else.

The Expendables 3 is an arthritic action moving starring Sylvester Stallone and his locked jaw, with a supporting role for his clenched neck. Assorted other actors are in there, including Harrison Ford (not his finest moment) and Jason Statham (who has never knowingly had a finest moment).

My, this film is rubbish, but the sort of garbled nonsense it can be entertaining to half watch over a glass of red. In the morning, we did a bit more Christmas shopping, and then returned home.

York and Leeds have traditionally not been the best of friends, a little like Manchester and Liverpool, but perhaps old antipathies should be overlooked now, as Leeds has brushed itself off.

Like Glasgow, another city that’s had a blood-transfusion, Leeds is newly smart, without having lost the beat of its tarry old heart.

One comment

  1. Hi Julian – pleased you enjoyed Victoria Gate. I had a fabulous day in Leeds last week getting there by bus (free), exploring JL and seeing the Fabulous Mr Finch at Anthropologie, lunch at Le Pain Quotidian and then Strictly Ballroom at WYP. I am now smitten with Leeds!

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