Chapter 11

Out of the Wok and into the Aga

On reaching his manhood, Xero Slingsby left Skipton, his home town in the foothills of the Pennines and headed off to the rather more metropolitan life of Leeds and Bradford. In these Siamese cities, joined at the hip, there was a wonderful mix of people. There were Indians and Pakistanis with their aromatic foods and bright silk clothes and their entrepreneurial talents. There were West Indians with the thumping bass of their sound systems and the sweet scent of sinsemilla at their blues dances. Mixed in amongst them were the supposedly intellectual elite, students by the suburb full. Last but not least, there still existed some small pockets of the original Yorkshire folk who had in the past few decades been overrun by these newcomers.

Amongst the students was a liberal sprinkling of teenagers from the surrounding countryside - market towns such as Otley, Ilkley and Skipton - away to the city to further their education, to make something of themselves.

It was almost pre-ordained that Xero would become a professional musician.

When asked by a BBC journalist whether any other members of his family were musical, he responded thus (while continuing to pull apart the engine of his beloved Bedford van) :

" All my family has always played - both sides. Me Dad played saxophone. Both of me uncles sort of mess about. Their father was a professional musician, playing piano and trombone. Me mother's dad played saxophone. Both me grandpas played. One of them was a band leader and the other one played double bass. Me great-grandpa played an' all. Eugh - there's all bits falling off this engine!!"

On Slingsby's eighteenth birthday his Dad bequeathed to him his own father's antique double bass. He also passed on a knowledge of the basics of jazz musicianship. He instilled in his son a tendency towards unpredictability.

"But" advised Slingsby Senior "You must learn the rules first so that in future you will know how to break them".

To this end Xero enrolled at Harrogate Music College. He learnt to read and write music notation. He learnt the correct and incorrect ways to do things with all sorts of instruments. But within such stuffy confines, Xero could never have been at home. He felt as if he was drowning and found himself rebelling against his teachers and his peers, who all seemed so dull and downright bloody boring.

It was around this point in his trajectory that Xero was, early one bleary-eyed morning, freewheeling his push bike down Manningley Road when a dustbin wagon found itself blocked in a back street. The driver reversed back into the main road thinking that the warning lights and beeps were enough.

Xero slammed straight into the side of the truck. It was not a pretty sight. Somehow, the ambulance people managed to scrape him up, resuscitate him and piece him back together. He was transported to Hospital where the surgeons - and in the ensuing months, the nurses and physiotherapists - worked wonders to get him back on his feet. Xero possessed an iron will and the keenness of a cat to survive. Within a matter of months, he had left his family home once again to head back to the city. A long curving scar along the right side of his scalp was the only apparent legacy.

He was to go another eighteen months before his next major contretemps. In a thick November fog late on a Friday night (after chucking out time at The Royal Park) the number 56 bus was slowly wending its way along the side of Woodhouse Moor when two lights (one on top of the other) came from nowhere, straight towards it. At first, the bus driver thought it was a car on its side. Then, too late, he realised it was a man on a unicycle. He had an illuminated Miners Helmet on his head, a headlamp strapped to the unicycle - and he was momentarily squashed up against the windscreen of the bus before falling out of view. Thankfully, the bus had not yet picked up speed. The helmet probably saved Xero that time.

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