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Gervase Phinn

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Each Saturday in the colour supplement of 'The Yorkshire Post newspaper Gervase writes a light hearted feature called 'Yorkshire Life'.
The first, published here, appeared on the 12th January, 2008.

The Heart of the Matter

‘There’s nowt as queer as folk. They’re all on ’em queer, bar thee and me – an’ sometimes ah’m not that sure abaat thee.’ I was recalling this old Yorkshire saying the other day when I was signing copies of my latest Dales book in a large shopping centre.
I was positioned at the very entrance to a massive bookshop, sitting at a small table, surrounded by towers of books and feeling not a little embarrassed. People passed and glanced in my direction but not a soul stopped to talk to me or to buy. Then an elderly couple approached. They observed me for an inordinate amount of time, as if I were some rather strange specimen in a museum case.
‘Are you anybody?’ asked the woman eventually. She was dressed in a thick black coat with a multicoloured headscarf wrapped around her head and tied in an enormous knot under her chin.
‘I beg you pardon?’ I asked pleasantly.
‘Are you anybody? ’Ave you been on anything?’
‘No,’ I replied simply.
‘Do you know who he is, Ron?’ the woman enquired of her companion, a small man in a flat cap with the face the colour and texture of a mouldering russet apple.
‘No, I don’t,’ he replied.
‘What’s it about?’ asked the woman, picking up my book and flicking through the pages.
‘It’s about my life as a school inspector in the Yorkshire Dales.’ She screwed up her face. ‘It’s a humorous account of the children and teachers I have met – sort of gentle, life affirming, observational writing. There’s no sex and violence and bad language,’ I added.
‘Doesn’t sound my cup of tea,’ remarked the woman, putting down the book.
‘Cookery books sell,’ the man told me.
‘And gardening books,’ added the woman. ‘Person they ’ad ’ere last time wrote one of them gardening books and there was a queue right out the door and round the corner.’
‘Mind you,’ said the man, ‘it were somebody.’
‘Really,’ I sighed. ‘Who was that then?’
‘Charlie Dimmock,’ the woman told me.
‘And what’s he got that I haven’t?’ I asked mischievously.
The woman shook her head. ‘It’s a woman,’ she told me.
‘And she digs the garden without a bra,’ added the man.
‘So do I,’ I said.
The man threw back his head and laughed. ‘Aye, but you ’aven’t got what Charlie Dimmock’s got.’
My mother always advised me never to try and be clever with people. It never pays off. I should have heeded her advice.
‘So, is that the main criterion for writing a book then?’ I enquired.
‘What?’ asked the woman.
‘Digging a garden without a bra?’
She thought for a moment before sharing her thoughts. ‘It might not be, love,’ she told me with a small smile playing on her lips, ‘but I reckon she sold more books than you’re ever going to sell. Come on Ron.’
And with that they departed, leaving me sitting by my lonely self amidst the piles of unsold books.

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