Chapter 18

Ant at home, Elephant abroad

                                                                                       ©Denis Dalby

It was in the eighteenth century that the northern English market town of Leeds really began to prosper. Its position on the edge of the moors and by the side of the River Aire made it an ideal location for those with wool to sell and process.

At the same time a market town in Belgium called Ghent was also beginning to feel the first winds of the Industrial Revolution. The people of the Low Countries had long been intrepid travellers and traders and Ghent, being near the port of Oostende, also found itself in a prime position.

A man by the name of Jacob van Artwelde can today be seen in the form of a large statue in the main square of Ghent. He is regarded as something of a figurehead for the town. The statue stands pointing, with his right arm and forefinger raised towards the horizon. He is actually beseeching his fellow townsfolk to take note of the progress being made in places such as Leeds. (Find out more about Jacob van Artwelde)

Jacob van Artwelde was killed by a mob of the Belgian equivalents of Luddites. He attempted to introduce a new spinning and weaving machine which the inventive English had developed. The local workforce saw this as a direct threat to their livelihoods.

There are many connections and similarities between the people from the northern parts of England and those from Flanders. Many of their words sound the same (for example "t'house" and "t'huis"). In about the fifteenth century, we English borrowed "focking", "krappe" and "bugger" from the Flemish and we liked them so much we never gave them back.

Both peoples possess a gritty, earthy humour. And both surprise the visitor by the warmth of their welcome. Maybe it is for reasons such as these that Xero fell in love with Ghent, and that the people of Ghent became so besotted with him.



In July each year, the town lets its hair down and celebrates. A ten day Feast takes place. Tens of thousands of visitors arrive and the cobbled streets and canal-side calm of the town are filled with scenes of wild merriment. Everyone gets caught up in the party atmosphere, day and night, sun and rain. The bars, cafes, theatres, galleries and streets are crammed with revellers. Like sardines they are, shoulder to shoulder. Barriers seem to break down between people. But by the ninth or tenth day of the festival, everyone becomes over-tired and the fine lines between love and hate, enjoyment and anger, laughter and tears become blurred. Ghent can become a Fellini movie before one's very eyes.












Slingsby had been making something of a pilgrimage to the Gentse Feesten every year for the previous seven years. This time, the four of us were going in his big black Bedford van. We were due to call into Ghent on our way south. This was it - the Big One. A Tour of France, Belgium, Holland, Germany, Austria and Switzerland. Forty nine gigs in fifty five nights.

The album had already been released to rave reviews. We were going to "make it" - for sure. Venues were inundated with demand for tickets. Journalists were as keen as mustard to interview them and preview their talents. We were going to return to Leeds from this tour with pockets full and futures mapped out. Maggie's money was due to run out, but I would be laughing all the way to the NatWest to pay off my now billowing overdraft..

We were all set to go, about to have a last supper at Xero and Sally's place (a take-away from the nearby 'Corner Café' Indian Restaurant: the best curry in Yorkshire) when Xero came in from the garage and slumped in a chair in the corner of the kitchen. He was in his overalls, covered in oil and shrouded in the glummest of moods. The mood soon grew and enveloped us all.

" It's no good, it's fucked. The Bedford's dead. I'll never get it fixed by tomorrow."


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