Tell All The Truth But Tell It Slant

Today there are exactly 2023 days to go until the year 2023.

You heard it here first.

I’ve been a big fan of the Leeds bid to be European Capital of Culture 2023 from the beginning; went to all those big early meetings at the Town Hall, followed developments on their website, kept in touch with what’s going on through Twitter

I’m happy to be a cheerleader. Just pass me a pompom.

I’ve always wondered what else we can do besides the cheerleading though.

Not many of us will get to be “Leeds 2023’s agreed spokespeople.”

Very few of us will have “ideas for an ambitious, exciting, astonishing, diverse and experimental programme to bring the bid to life.”

The “one voice” they need “to impress and convince a panel of European judges of our story,” won’t be your voice, your story. It’s a necessary fiction. Cultural spin.

We won’t win ECoC 2023 if we don’t have a brilliant bid writer, a great PR team, an amazing programme of events planned and “agreed spokespeople” who are bang on message.

You wouldn’t want to trust me with any of that. I don’t know many people who could do what we need to do to have a chance of winning.

They are the “cultural jewels” of Leeds. A phrase I’ve heard a lot when people mention 2023.

Jewels are rare. Jewels are for best. And you really wouldn’t want to go showing them off in the part of town that I live in.

The rest of us are the cultural clinker (that’s actually quite an appropriate metaphor if you know anything about the history of Leeds.)

That’s not an insult. I’m clinker too.

And the clinker is the real Leeds. We won’t win any bids though.

So it is hard to imagine how the clinking many of Leeds support the bejewelled few.

The Leeds definition of culture in the Cultural Strategy is:

“Culture is what we do and who we are, encompassing a broad range of actions and activities which have the capacity to transform, challenge, reassure and inspire, giving a place and its people a unique and distinctive identity.”

I agree with all of that. Culture is how we pass the time of day. So obvious and ordinary that we don’t even notice it. It’s unspoken.

“We want Leeds to be a city where we all have a voice.”

Yes! Wouldn’t that be great… but those voices won’t necessarily be ambitious, exciting or astonishing. And they’ll say things you wouldn’t want a European Capital of Culture judging panel to hear.

Because they are real voices. Not approved spokespeople.

So, from today, for the next 2023 days (or until we run out of stories) we are going to publish one story a day in, about, and from Leeds. Everyday Leeds. No spin. No “one voice”. No “official spokesperson”. But every story will have a Leeds slant. And build into a kind of cultural collage of the city.

Most of the stories at least at first will be written by me (and a couple of mates) but the idea is to get contributions from anyone who has a story. And we’ll get them read (not by me!)

The rules are simple:

no longer than 750 words – that’s 2 sides of A4, or about a five minute read. Anyone can come up with 750 words or a five minute story. That’s the point.

It has to be real. Something that really happened. In an actual place in Leeds.

No drama. Life isn’t like a script, you don’t have to cook the books. Serve it up raw.

No ranting, venting or whining. It’s not therapy.

Write the best you can.

And if you want to read, it has to be your own voice; no accent coaches!

I’m not very good at rules and regulations so I’m sure these will change as we go along.

Originally I was going to call the project the Armley Real Story Experiment, after my own part of town, the place I write about most. But someone pointed out I’d never get funding for a project called #ARSE.

(Did I mention we don’t have funding? We aren’t official… but we’ll try to get some funding to keep the thing going if it works out.)

For most of the past week or so it was going to be called Made Up Leeds Everyday, or the #MULE. I always like The Moth as a name (the American live storytelling project) though I could never stomach the insistent uplift and tedious moral finger-pointing they have to impose on every story. But The MULE is a bit daft when you come to think about it.

Yesterday I was sitting in the garden with a glass of wine reading a book of American poetry (I know, in Armley! Don’t worry, I have a high fence, nobody saw.) And there was this…

Tell all the truth but tell it slant —
Success in Circuit lies
Too bright for our infirm Delight
The Truth’s superb surprise
As Lightning to the Children eased
With explanation kind
The Truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind —

Emily Dickinson nailed it in 40 words.

Tell all the truth but tell it slant…

I’d already said I wanted stories with a Leeds slant, and no spin. So there it is, Stories of Leeds (and Nearby Towns.) #SLANT…

I quite like that for the name of a project. What do you think?


  1. And these jewels were once clinker too. Unless they were born fully formed. Will EC2023 provide the support for clinker to progress? Or will it treat it like so much ‘slag’?

    I suspect the current approach to city development in Leeds favours the import of jewels from afar, or the exploitation of our city for profits elsewhere. How might that change?

  2. “Et tu Philippe” – what a fallen idol you have turned out to be. What next in your cultural aspiration an appearance on the Peg Alexander show on Made in Leeds with that media tart The Leeds Citizen?

    I’m especially appalled when I had assumed that a man of your insight would have realized that all nation states and the city states within them develop cultural projects to encourage conformity or “social cohesion” and marginalize dissent. Sadly, however, the result is that citizens from places as diverse as the former German Democratic Republic and the New York City all end up wearing tee shirts and carrying cloth bags proclaiming their undying affection. Bringing this argument back home, what did that attractive local merchandise have written on it? Oh yes – I remember now “Leeds Live it Love it”.

    As far as the Capital of Culture bid is concerned I can’t really believe it is meant to “transform” or “challenge” anything but I can guarantee it will seek to “reassure”. As far as place attachment is concerned I’m getting increasingly confused now as whether I’m supposed welcome having a “unique and distinctive identity” or recognize with respect to anywhere else “that we have more in common than that which divides us”. It’s frankly getting too much.

    But not to spend too many words pissing on your chips, keeping to your word limit, and entering the spirit of your new project – here is Monday in the life of a North Leeds pensioner.

    Warning some hard-working families may find what follows offensive and it may contain unfortunate ageist stereotypes.

    Got up – had a shower

    Had breakfast and read the paper

    Took my meds

    Got on the computer

    Took wife for physio appointment

    Got home had a cup of tea and read another paper

    Made and ate lunch

    Went for a walk round the streets

    Sat in a shady spot and read a book

    Had a cup of tea

    Got the vac out and tidied up

    Made and ate dinner

    Took my meds

    Watched the C4 news, On the Aire (recorded) and a DVD from a local charity shop

    Went to bed

    Hopefully tomorrow won’t be so taxing

    Finally, will anyone from the authorities reading this please note Good Citizen Sour is responsibly caring for an infirm loved one, fulfilling the expectations of his care plan, interacting fully with his local community and avoiding social isolation through social media.

    Over and out


    (411 words)

  3. Hi Phil

    At the moment, sad to say you don’t appear to be getting much of a slating on here unless it is down to your hem hem “technical difficulties”.

    So, despite a few anxieties around what you could possibly mean by “real” in today’s cultural climate I thought I would pitch up with a topic which good citizen Sour feels passionately about – “bringing the community together”.

    Now as you know I live in vibrant upscale north Leeds suburb where there are almost overwhelming opportunities to meet your neighbours at events organised by various community leaders and faith groups. So, to clear my head and highlight some of these I thought I would provide a short guide for your readers.

    (1) Private neighbours’ parties where they don’t actually invite you but bring round the remains of the Waitrose home delivery summer fayre with the hope that you haven’t been disturbed by the billowing smoke from their barbeque.

    (2) Virtue signalling street parties commemorating some contemporary or historic cultural event. Here invites are strictly by postcode rather than by the audio range of the swing band, or jazz singer. With these you may have some problems getting in or out of your house with road closures. Appropriate fancy dress is clearly expected but is billed as optional.

    (3) Craft fairs – unfortunately I really wouldn’t want any of it in my house.

    (4) Farmer’s markets – I try with these – but being a person who dines on pot noodles, boil in bag fish with sauce, economy ready meals with occasional treats from Romano’s (not real name) inclusive Italian, Asian and traditional Yorkshire Fish bar – frankly nothing really appeals.

    (5) Summer fayres – here things get really complicated because they are going on all the time locally in the name of some school, community organisation or charity. The only way I can get on top of this and decide where to engage is to look at the “offer”.

    Of course, there is the inevitable social hierarchy involved where the more virtuous middle- class event have more on in terms of circus acts, pet animals, vintage-ware stalls and demonstrations of worthy leisure pursuits for the retired such as bee keeping. The music can comprise anything from school brass bands, through Dad’s “rock bands”, and hand over the ear folkies to string quartets. For kids, there are the commonplace non-competitive parachute games, art workshops and magicians.

    Down market of these elite events are the more mundane attempts to bring the community together offered by those with, shall we say, less social and financial resources. Here you would expect the more traditional tombola, bouncy castles, second hand books and clothes and face painting.

    Now, I’m pretty selective at my age to be frank so face painting and bouncy castles don’t appeal. But rather than be harangued by some organiser over why I have come by car I think a trip to community centre for a weak tea and swingy cake will as they say “take the biscuit”.

    1. Hopefully the technical difficulties will be resolved tomorrow when the new Virgin box is connected. Until then I am having to tether my very cheap phone to a very old Chromebook, and I don’t have much data left on the pay as you go deal.

      The question of “reality” is a good one. And I was going to tackle it in another post, a review of David Sheilds’ Reality Hunger, which is kind of a manifesto of post-post modernist literary non-fiction. A good book, worth a read.

      You can probably find a copy at the next second hand book stall at the Armley Gala.

      See you there?

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