Local writer and storyteller, George Murphy interviews local characters and personalities
Nicola Jones moved to Hebden Bridge in 2003 and, despite commuting and working full time during most of that period, she has taken a very active role in the life of the town. Many people will have witnessed at first hand her support for Gay Pride events and her work for the Civic Trust.
In this interview she describes her commitment to gay causes and how this was deepened during the early years of the Aids Pandemic. She celebrates her love of music and recalls fabulous gigs during the Manchester music boom of the 1980s. She explains the challenges of living through lockdowns as a single person and the strategies she used for coping.
Find out about her love of travel, becoming a narrowboat owner and her love of cats!
Nicola Jones Q&A
Can you describe how you first became involved with the gay community?
‘Involved’ is an interesting choice of words, we’re all involved, we all have friends, family members, colleagues who are gay. The difference is whether you choose to recognise your position of privilege. As a straight, white woman who can offer allyship. In simple terms, I guess I choose to proactively stand up, speak out and stand hand in hand with my friends who’ve had a different experience about how they’re treated by society and try and even things out a bit. As a single, childless woman, I also hear some of the same presumptuous rhetoric, but I’m not generally picked on, ostracized or bullied because of it.
You have written very movingly about the Aids crisis after watching It’s a Sin. Can you discuss your experiences during the early years of that pandemic?
Thank you – the blog was triggered by how close to the facts Russell T Davies got. I was surprised by how much I’d suppressed of the reality of that time. Reminded me very much of the song ‘Memories, may be beautiful and yet …’ – my friends and I chose to remember some exciting times, but behind that, friends were being victimized and dying. I recall meeting friends in a club one night and they’d had acid thrown on them in the street on the way in. My best friend at the time was admitted to hospital with suspected AIDs and they left toast outside his door because no-one would even take his food into him. Many friends were scared to come out to their families, simply because being gay was synonymous with having the virus. The hysteria was horrific and Thatcher’s anti-gay speech that led to Clause 28 was the first time I’d been stirred to take a stand politically and participated in the Manchester rally.
Growing up during the music boom in Manchester in the 80s must have been fun?
Absolutely, I loved listening to John Peel under the covers, recording the ‘Festive Fifty’ and kept an index of every song I had recorded either on vinyl or cassette, with my own rankings. I went to my first club in Manchester at 15 and was hooked. I saw every gig I could, either at the Apollo or in the clubs. When I started going to the Hacienda, it was half empty, but I saw some amazing bands in their infancy, Eurythmics, Erasure and a plethora of punk bands – The Clash, Undertones. The night before my O Level results I was in a tiny club watching Altered Images till the early hours. It was ‘raised’ as just one of the reasons for my failure to get the grades I should have. I lost interest in academia entirely.
Which were your favourite bands and best memories of that scene?
Touched on that above, but getting to meet the bands was definitely a highlight - Divine in his dressing room at The Ritz (still have the autograph), watching Blancmange with their family members on the balcony of The Apollo. Eartha Kitt being carried on to a stage by muscle mary’s on a leopard chaise longue purring through her hi-nrg hits. Meeting and chatting up Adam Ant in a club when he was performing in Joe Orton at The Royal Exchange. Forming an enduring love of all things Pet Shop Boys and Kylie. I’ve seen both so many times I can’t count them. But summing up – smoke-machine filled dancefloors, cold cans of Breaker (strong lager produced in Stoke) and surrounded by sweaty people dancing their heads off.
Oh god, too many. Being Boring, Pet Shop Boys sums up so much. You Spin Me Round (like a record) – Dead or Alive. Kylie, Better the Devil; I Just Wanna Dance, Alison Jiear – mainly for the euphoric use of swearing. But it completely depends on the day and my mood. Spotify for me is the greatest invention and has introduced me to so many new artists and gives the chance to explore new genres I’d not normally. On repeat currently is Rumer, who I came across via my love of Ren Harvieu (similar style, been around a long time, but somehow missed her work).
Best holiday ever?
Oof, tricky one. With friends, Ibiza in 85 changed my life in so many ways and was my rite of passage to meeting my lifelong gay friends. My 50th with my best friends in Majorca was the most love and laughter. Japan culturally the most incredible experience and something I’d love to do again, pandemic aside.
Cats or dogs?
Cats. Had a familiar in my life, most of my life. Current resident Elsa has been my lockdown savior.
When and why did you move to Hebden Bridge?
2003. I was still married, we wanted to get out of Leeds for a lot of reasons. You got more bang for your buck the further out you got and it was actually a shorter commute than the traffic jammed bus route from my old home. I nearly went to Holmfirth, opposite Nora Batty’s but the sale fell through. We drove one lunchtime into the Valley and I fell in love with the location. He left, I stayed. I see it as my forever home.
What’s the good and bad of living here?
Community and flooding. Ironically the two are interwoven, it’s very yin and yang. I love that I can wonder into town and there’s always someone to say hello to. Friendly folk and glorious landscapes fundamentally.
You got involved in the Civic Trust. What drew you into that?
There was a particularly controversial planning application in for the town (about 2005) HebWeb will evidence the uproar it caused. As a much maligned and fairly fresh offcumden, I was keen to show I cared about the town beyond its commuting convenience. I offered to type up the minutes from a meeting (I can do about 80wpm still!) and ended up as Chair for about 3 years. It was rewarding, but stepped aside when I had personal and work commitments that were being overshadowed by it. It’s a pivotal organization for any town and does great work. I’m very proud to have stepped up and been part of it.
I know that you were very close to your parents. How was childhood and schooling in Greater Manchester?
I’m blessed to have had great parents and in particular a mum who had managed to overcome her own poor background in Salford to be grammar educated, return as a mature student after having my brother and me, to retrain as a Careers Counsellor. My dad was in the navy and worked at Manchester Airport. It gave me incredible opportunities to travel the world on cheap tickets and embedded in me a love of travel. I was convent grammar educated; it could be either the subject of a biography or counselling, depending on how you look at it. I made lifelong friendships, but ‘wasted’ my talents a bit as I wasn’t particularly excited by the regimen of classic learning. I went into retail initially after school, then got bored and jacked it all in for Uni at 26, Youth is wasted on the young. I did far better second time round studying something I was interested in.
As a single person, how has Lockdown been for you?
First lockdown: pretty shit, frankly. I kept myself going with Isolation Disco, basically dancing around my living room most nights with an online community. Thank god for social media and the ability to Facetime/ Zoom/ Messenger my friends. No magic potion really. What’s left of my family are mainly in Manchester so I didn’t see them. The winter one, I’d have gladly burrowed into a hollow oak tree and hibernated if I’d had a choice. The government was focused on family centric advice. Single people definitely had a tough time of it. I’m lucky to have a good neighbourhood at least. But many don’t - the aftermath of mental health issues will doubtless endure for some time.
Tell us about work. Have you worked from home during Lockdown?
Yes, 14 months. One of the reasons I’d changed jobs in 2019 was the opportunity in the role for travel. I went out to Pittsburgh in the first month and then Munich, but that’s all changed. I work for an international law firm encouraging adoption of tech tools (kind of ironic given the expansion of people’s use of that during lockdown). I do a fake commute each morning to say hello to people in the real world and make a tangible transition between home and work. I enjoy my job, but the monotony is difficult. As a generally social person, I miss bouncing ideas of colleagues in a busy environment. First day back in the office next week, by choice.
You’ve been sharing photos of your walks. Is that a new hobby?
Nah, I just like to see the beauty in what we have on our doorstep and try and take some interesting snaps as I go. Others seem to enjoy them too, which is a bonus. I was renowned in my clubbing days for being the one who captured our nights out. I’ve lost as many cameras as I’ve owned. Now having one on our phones make it so much easier to just capture a moment. There’s also something about just evidencing our existence. Going back to the lockdown point, there’s been times I’ve felt completely invisible and the photos kind of helped me feel physically present. I wish I had the discipline to write my blog more regularly. I enjoy the reflection and the cathartic nature of self-expression through writing. Writing was the one thing I could do effortlessly at school and wish I did more of. Someday I may finally write that one novel that we’ve all got in us apparently.
What have been the achievements of the Gay Pride movement?
Too big a question! Marriage is a biggie.
How does it feel being a narrowboat owner?
Ha – skint mainly! It was a whim of a purchase and I realise how little I know about any of it. It’s a bit of a moneypit, but I’m hoping this summer I’ll get the work finished and actually make some trips beyond the back of our house. I don’t regret the impulse, just my utter naivety at what is involved in keeping it afloat.
Favourite places to hang out in Hebden Bridge?
My default is The Old Gate. Love it. The Trades is possibly the thing I’ve missed most during lockdown. I can’t wait to get back in there for a dance. I’ve heard it’s looking splendid after a refurb and the fundraising. My name should be somewhere on the wall, which is a better use of my money than many a forgotten bar bill.
Which question do you wish I had asked and how would you answer it?
‘Can I get you a drink?’
‘Chilean Sauvignon please, George.’
More HebWeb interviews from George Murphy
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