Castle Pillock: The Best Place To Live In Britain

    The Castle Pillock bunting is a bit moth-eaten, and the flag pole hasn’t had anything run up it for a while, but the staff are on orders to do their best and get us up to scratch.  After all, we do live in the Best Place To Live In Britain.

    I can see why the Sunday Times thinks York is The Best Place.  Parts of it are beautiful.  I would pay money to see parts of it.  In fact, without the York Card that doubles as a library card, I would have to pay to see parts of it. 

    The Sunday Times is, like me, white and middle class.  The Sunday Times, like me, has somewhere to live, and time and sufficient loose change to pay for a cup of coffee in one of our ‘cool cafes’.  Unlike me, the Sunday Times probably has the card balance to pay for a meal in one of our ‘destination restaurants’ without having to raid what passes for a savings account.  I’m obviously not sufficiently middle class to understand quite what a ‘destination restaurant’ is.  I think it might be what my daughter calls ‘posh frocks’.  This doesn’t actually mean posh frocks. For her, it means leggings from H&M rather than Primark.  For me, it means changing the handbag to the one that isn’t grubby and doesn’t have a layer of unused Boots No 7 vouchers at the bottom.  For my son and his girlfriend, it means nothing at all, because she looks gorgeous in a bin bag and he doesn’t give a shit. 

    Apparently, according to the Sunday Times, we also have the fastest broadband in Britain.  Who knew?  Oh, was that why they were digging up all the pavements for weeks?  I thought it was the water mains again. 

    I love York.  I first came here as a student in 1973 and, after a brief sortie to work in London after graduation, returned in 1980 and never left.  I brought my kids up here, and it’s a great place to bring up kids.  I now get over-sixties rates at the Theatre Royal, where I once got student rates.  I’m a member of our local Picturehouse Cinema, where I meet friends in the café overlooking the river, and of the York Museums Trust, which for eleven quid a year gives me free entry to the Art Gallery and the Yorkshire Museum and the Castle Museum.  I attend events at the Literature Festival and the Early Music Festival.  I go to Public Lectures at St Peter’s School, the oldest public school in England. My son, an actor and musician who first trod the boards with the Theatre Royal’s Youth Theatre, earns a chunk of his living on the flourishing live music scene. I am the embodiment of the person for whom York is the The Best Place To Live In Britain.

    It’s all bollocks, of course.  Neither of my kids have a hope in hell of being able to buy a property here, but at least son and girlfriend have contacts  which mean they’re renting a decent flat at slightly less than market rates.  I know many who have no chance of that.  Because of the stupidly high rents, York has a massive problem with homelessness.  There are people on the streets, and there are many more ‘hidden homeless’, sofa surfing and caught in that endless soul-destroying bind of no job and nowhere to live.  There are areas of York that receive a special subsidy because they qualify as among the most deprived places in Europe.  Good luck with that after Brexit. 

    The Sunday Times article identifies York as a ‘mini-metropolis’.  Like ‘destination restaurant’, this term bemuses me.  According to the Oxford Dictionary, a metropolis is the capital or chief city of a country or region (check), and/or a very large and busy city (definitely not check).  So we’re either a scaled down version of ourselves or a small large thing.  A better description would be: a very small city that has bet everything on service industries and tourism and will do anything it sodding has to in order for that to work. 

    I don’t have a problem with that, even when I’m negotiating crocodiles of tourists down Stonegate of a Saturday afternoon, or stopping for the nth time while yet another young couple take absolutely bloody forever to properly frame that selfie in the Shambles.  It pays for my bins to be emptied and my streets to have lighting (though not my pavements to be repaired, honestly, if you’re coming for the first time and you’re remotely dodgy on your pins, look out is all I can say, if Petergate doesn’t get you then Fossgate certainly will).   When the traditional industries go, you make the most of whatever else you’ve got.

    Of course, if you’re looking for diversity, York is definitely not The Best Place In Britain.  York is overwhelmingly white.  We’re still at the stage where, if two people of colour get on a bus, everyone else assumes they know each other.  The only exceptions are the routes to the University and the Hospital.  The largest ethnic minority in York is Turkish people, who overtook Chinese a few years ago, and if you didn’t know, you wouldn’t work it out from a stroll around town.  Not that long ago I worked with a woman of Pakistani heritage, who used to commute in from Leeds.  She reckoned she might be better off paying the higher rent and saving on the commute.  And then she changed her mind, because friends from the Pakistani community in Leeds advised her not come.  York, they said, did not have a particularly good track record in welcoming people of colour.   

    People in York are friendly and it certainly isn’t a hotbed of overt racism.  Indeed, with two universities and all those cool cafes and hipster bars, it can rustle up a decent turn-out for a march in support of refugees.  But if you think that maybe The Best Place To Live In Britain should reflect the composition of the country then, much as I love the beauty and the cultural life of my adopted city, I don’t think we even make the short list.

    I don’t suppose that worries the Sunday Times, though.








nothing worries the Sunday Times but poor people gettig a bit uppity. enjoyed the ramble.