Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Hill Sixty

I’ve known Hill Sixty for as long as I can remember. It’s a steep hill to one side of the Arena in Roundhay Park in Leeds. In this photograph, which I took in yesterday morning's winter sunshine, Hill Sixty is in the background with the Arena in front of it.

I’ve never been told why it is called that but there was fierce fighting at Ypres on a place called Hill Sixty in the First World War and I think it must have been named after that.

When I was a child, the whole hill had been cut into neat grassy steps which you could sit on with your picnic whilst watching the events in the Arena.

The most interesting annual event was Children’s Day – we used to go every year when I was small and there were parades, sports, competitions and maypole dancing. Children from all over the city took part.

Finally, when I was seven, it was my turn. I was picked for Gledhow Primary School Maypole Dancing Team! I was thrilled.

We practised for weeks, at lunchtimes and after school. Every primary school in Leeds had a team learning the same dances. You stood in a circle, each with a ribbon attached to the central maypole, and then, to various English folk tunes, danced under one ribbon, over the next until they made a pretty plait down the central pole. I can still remember the wonder of it.

Finally the great event drew near and we all had to buy white cotton dresses with sticky-out skirts – I loved mine and was so excited by the idea of wearing it and dancing in the Arena.

Then the great day dawned and with it came the rain. Not just drizzle, but bucketing, impossibly ferocious rain. I couldn’t believe it. Not on Children’s Day!

After a couple of hours came the incredible news that Children’s Day was cancelled. It felt like the end of the world. Leeds rang to the sound of children’s sobbing.

There never was another Children’s Day – the city had lost heart. And now, although the Arena is still used for concerts and other events, the grassy steps have nearly gone and Hill Sixty is just a row of bumps.


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