Martin Kelner: The dry wit of the residents may baffle Chelsy – but she should stick around


I have some sympathy with Chelsy, bless her. She has come to Leeds as a student and may well have had expectations unrealistically raised by the glossy literature produced by the city's seats of learning. This tends to go long on the myriad ways in which Leeds is like Kensington, and rather shorter on the ways Leeds is like, well, Leeds.

Possibly Chelsy had a look at some of the Leeds sites on the internet – or got someone to do it for her – in which case she may have been seduced by the pictures of bright, young, immaculately coiffed things crowding waterfront bars and world-class restaurants.

Fair enough. There are plenty of fashionable bars in Leeds, and restaurants where they will serve you a seared something or other drizzled with something else, at a world-class price, and naturally the city – slogan: Leeds, Live It, Love It – likes to crow about it. Like most of our great northern cities, Leeds has suffered decades of industrial decline, so we are busy – along with our neighbours in Newcastle and Manchester – making a living, strolling up and down the worldwide web, made up to the eyeballs, skirts hoisted up, saying: "Hello dearie, want to study here, live here, visit for a short time?" We have been doing fairly brisk business in this fashion too.

Not that this PR is inaccurate, exactly, but it is far from the whole story. Leeds is not as easy a city to love as the publicity suggests. When I first arrived 26 years ago, like Chelsy I found the locals a little dour. I stepped off the train at Leeds City station, approached a young chap and said, maybe a little too diffidently: "Excuse me, I am looking for The Headrow." To which he responded: "Are you now?" And went on his way.

What I misinterpreted as rudeness, I now recognise as mordant wit. Another example: a lavish publicity campaign by the council vaunting Leeds as a "24-Hour City" was followed within hours by a website set up by local wags listing all the things you can do in the middle of the night in Leeds. Top of the list: "Buy a king-size Snickers from the service station on Roundhay Road."

Of course, there are other reasons Chelsy should give our city another chance, quite apart from the dry wit of its residents: the Henry Moores in the City art gallery, and out in the open at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, the beautifully preserved Hyde Park Cinema, home of the Leeds International Film Festival, great fish and chips, Roundhay Park (and not just for its confectionery), fine music venues where the Kaiser Chiefs, the Pigeon Detectives and others cut their teeth, and many more the tourist office would be delighted to enumerate for her.

But it was the sarcasm that reeled me in when I first came here as a tyro broadcaster. My radio station was doing a promotion in a local nightclub, where I was approached by a young woman: "Are you on the radio?" she asked. "Yes," I said, as self-effacingly as I could manage. "Well, I can see why you're not on the telly," she replied.

Reader, I married her, and I am still here.

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