David Parkin on eccentricity and bitterness and looking forward to a legal high

YORKSHIRE used to pride itself on being the global capital for eccentrics.

I’ve been so worried that the bragging rights on bonkers people may be slipping away from this region that I’ve been doing an informal survey of existing and some new eccentrics in these parts.

There’s the tramp that plays a penny whistle and does the odd dance in City Square, Leeds. I think “playing” the penny whistle is a trifle generous; he just seems to blow down it and is pleased at any sound that comes out.

At the other end of the sartorial scale is Yorkshire tailor James Michelsberg who I spotted striding through Leeds the other morning in velvet collared overcoat, a striking fedora and a tightly furled umbrella.

He was on his mobile phone so I didn’t interrupt, but I was impressed by the swagger of this modern day boulevardier.

In an age when the majority plump for open necked shirts, jeans and anoraks, it is nice to see someone who dresses for the occasion.

And it is also a great advert for his business.

Then there’s Eric the Yorkshire Evening Post seller. Strictly speaking Eric doesn’t sell the YEP, he spent 43 years in the distribution department at the paper and its sister title the Yorkshire Post and spent so much time at work it was always rumoured he lived in the bowels of the old Wellington Street concrete bunker.

Then he was made redundant, like many other loyal and hardworking people at newspapers across the country run by management whose only perceivable strategy to try to staunch plummeting sales and advertising revenues is to chop already trimmed to the bone staff numbers.

But it was then they realised that loyal hardworking people don’t grow on trees and Eric is back. I bumped into him giving away free copies of the paper outside the Trinity shopping centre the other afternoon.

Even giving out the paper for free wasn’t generating much interest from passing commuters and shoppers. It shows how times have changed if you can’t give away a product that you try to charge 72p a copy for on other days of the week.

Truth be told, all these individuals aren’t eccentric, but just interesting, hardworking characters (you try blowing a penny whistle six hours a day).

In my opinion the Crown Prince of Yorkshire Eccentrics is Humphrey Smith.

I’d heard stories about the boss of Tadcaster-based brewing and pubs firm Samuel Smith’s, but never quite believed all of them.

He is certainly a controversial character. There is a Facebook page which proclaims plenty of negatives about his brewery, while an unofficial blog set up for staff and customers has had more than 2,000 posts – not many of them trumpeting any positives.

In 2012 a story emerged claiming that Humphrey Smith had closed the Junction Inn in Royton near Oldham on New Year’s Eve 2011, because the landlords were dispensing too much beer in their pints. It was claimed that he subsequently issued a retrospective surcharge of £10,733 for lost stock over a 12-year period.

And now it looks like he’s taking on the residents of the very town in which his business is based.

Some of the most memorable images of the floods which hit Yorkshire over Christmas and the New Year were those which captured the collapse of 300-year-old Tadcaster Bridge which spans the River Wharfe in the centre of the town which is home to two breweries – Sam Smith’s and John Smith’s.

Earlier this month the Government pledged £3.3m to re-build the grade II listed bridge as well as provide a temporary footbridge while work is carried out.

Currently those who want to cross must embark on a six-mile trip to get to the other side.

North Yorkshire County Council has proposed a temporary bridge while it repairs the old stone bridge but that would be on land owned by the Samuel Smith’s Brewery and so needs permission from present owner Humphrey Smith before it can go ahead.

However Mr Smith has refused to give it his blessing, saying the £300,000 cost of the temporary bridge doesn’t represent a good use of public funds and that poor maintenance by the county council was to blame for the collapse of the old one, something the council denies.

So the council has had to look for an alternative place to put the temporary crossing and Humphrey Smith’s Tadcaster fan club has dwindling numbers.

Yorkshire’s torrential weather has really created a storm in a pint pot in Tadcaster.


ANOTHER week, another lawyer who I’ve annoyed.

Last week’s comment that an invitation to the Leeds Law Society annual dinner is a bit like being told to walk the plank by Blackbeard, prompted a call from Philip Jordan, partner at law firm Ward Hadaway and, president of Leeds Law Society.

He told me that the annual dinners are nothing like I remember them and this year’s, on March 3, is a sell out with a waiting list of 50 people.

He’s so keen to dispel my bad memories of the event he’s found one extra space to invite me along this year.

Mind you, given that waiting list, perhaps it might be worth flogging it on the black market?

But then that might not be a good idea.

Philip said that I might have forgotten that he’s from Hull and they put your windows in for lesser comments than mine.

Or even pull your teeth out. And not necessarily through your mouth.

Come March 3 I’ll be enjoying the hospitality of the Leeds Law Society.

And smiling at the packed audience through clenched teeth.

Have a great weekend.

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