Rlpponden looks very much like Holmfirth, chosen long ago by the BBC as the location for Last of the Summer Wine.
But those terrifying battleaxes, with wrinkled stockings and nylon overalls crackling with static, are noticeable by their absence.
The women of Ripponden and district evidently look after themselves.
This small West Yorkshire former mill town is now blessed with a tanning salon, a beauty therapist and at least three hairdressers.
In other words, it has been feminised. Ironmongers and 'gent's outfitters' are noticeable by their absence.
At least the last unreconstructed middle-aged men hereabouts have managed to keep a corner that is forever northern England.
You'll find them every Saturday evening, sitting in their reserved window seats at the Old Bridge inn, putting the world to rights
and discussing events on the football, cricket or rugby field. Some of the chat is punctuated by a volley of flying crumbs. After all,
the main business of the evening is the discussion and analysis of pork pies. Rarely in the field of human conversation have so many
words been devoted to pastry, jelly and cured meat. Almost every one of those words is recorded in black ballpoint in a thick,
hard-backed diary by Bob Letven, scribe of the Pork Pie Appreciation Society. He writes with the neatness and deliberation that you
would expect from a primary school head teacher. Among the other members are a lorry driver, a haulage contractor, at least a couple
of engineers, the health care development manager of a pharmaceutical company and someone who works in human resources at Yorkshire Water.
A disparate crew, united by a common love of pints and pies. Particularly pies. 'We don't chat like women at a coffee morning,"
says Peter Charnley, the secretary. 'We meet for a purpose." "And the purpose is the pie," puts in society member Richard Neville,
resplendent in a t-shirt that advertises Timothy Taylor's draught bitter. 'If we had to say to our partners that we were going for
a pint it might be different.
A pie club meeting gives us a good excuse. Wives and girlfriends are, apparently, quite happy to stay at home on a Saturday night.
"They're glad to get rid of us," says John Hirst, licking crumbs from his lips before inserting a small cigar. The only exceptions
to the men only rule are visiting spouses, like my own wife, to whom I've promised a main course and pudding at the Italian
restaurant up the road once we've sampled a starter of half a pork pie a piece. She's made welcome and listened to with respect on
the subject of pastry. In the meantime, Bob has managed to knock over her glass of red wine and spill it on his trousers.
he reassures us. "They've already got pie jelly on them." "He's got a wife to get the stains out," says Peter, dryly. While
I'm replenishing one wine glass and many more pint glasses, official business is underway. Topical world events are being discussed,
carefully minuted by Bob. As far as I can make out from my position at the bar, it's a civilised debate with no political rancour.
Members save their passion for pies. Peter is tonight's "fetcher", to use the society's term for the man whose turn it is to source
and supply them. At least his Tupperware container looks a good deal more hygienic than the ancient wooden tea box used as a receptacle
for pie-carrying in the early days.
Today it contains nothing more perishable than the torn-up Christmas cards on which members are invited to write their marks and
notes before holding forth to the assembled company. Carved into the polished wooden side are the names of the founder members,
including Bob, Peter and Chairman Kevin Booth, a lorry driver who is currently away on holiday in Benidorm. It all started back in 1982
through a Ripponden health club, believe it or not.
The men were in their late 20s and early 30s at the time. After a strenuous workout in the gym, they adjourned to the pub,
whereupon one of them started tucking into a pork pie, supplied by his wife. The others looked on enviously. This ritual went on
for several weeks until somebody had the idea of bringing in a pie for everyone from his local butcher. The seed of a tradition was sown.
But it would never have taken root had it not been for the co-operation, then and now, of licensee Tim Walker. "We don't serve any food
on a Saturday night," he says, "so I don't mind this lot bringing their own, especially as I'm quite partial to a pork pie." He breaks
off from pulling pints for a moment positions one of Peter's imports on a beer mat and slices it open. "Oh dear," he says, pointing to a
hole where meat should be. "That's what we call a rat run." Back in the society's corner, three newcomers have joined the company.
"Their opinions need to be treated with some caution," Peter warns, eyes twinkling with mischief. "He's saying that because
he brought the pies tonight," Bob interjects over his Bic ballpoint it soon becomes apparent that the fetcher feels obliged to
defend his choice of supplier against all-corners. John is one of the first into the ring. "It's a classical-looking pie," he concedes,
"squat and round like a French aircraft carrier. But mine was a pie of two halves one slightly burnt and the other a bit lardy. The gravy
[jelly] had run to one side. It was nice-tasting gravy; I'll give you that. And the meat was quite succulent All in all, a poor effort.
Four and a half out of ten." Peter gasps in shock horror. "Hang on," he protests. "You have got to say a bit more to justify a mark
as low as that" "All right," John sighs, as he exhales cigar smoke.
"It had a rat run like the Mersey Tunnel and it wasn't seasoned too well. All I could taste was salt on second thoughts,
I'm revising my mark downwards. Four out of ten." Before Peter can say another word, one of the newcomers butts in.
"I tend to agree with him," says Graham Haig. "I'm not too keen on a crimped edge," he ventures." The jelly was okay but a bit runny.
And as for the texture..." "What's wrong with the texture?" Peter demands.
'I don't know. It just didn't suit my palate." There's worse to come. Another newcomer, Nigel Heseltine, gives a mark of just two,
proclaiming it to have too much jelly and too little taste. I demand a steward's enquiry," Peter retorts. "If the chairman was here,
have those comments struck out of the minutes. He's got a few things to learn has Nigel. I think you should have to serve a twelve
month apprenticeship before you're fit to comment on a pie.
" Undeterred, Nigel comes back with more swingeing criticism and, up against the ropes, Peter is forced to defend his pies.
They were procured, he reveals, from a normally reliable source in a suburb of Huddersfield. "My God, they were fresh this
morning when I bought them. It's sharp is that pastry. If you hadn't got a full set of teeth, it could cut your gums.
It was left in the oven a bit too long," he concedes. "As for the meat, I was looking for flavour but I got after-burn.
They're not the best the man has cooked, I'll give you that but I still say they're good pies. Eight out of ten."
By now it's nearly 9.30. In order to secure our restaurant table, your reporter is going to have to make his excuses and leave.
As my wife and I slip out into the night, they are still arguing away happily, enjoying the banter and the beer amid the
crumbs and cigar smoke. Strikes me that the BBC could set a new series among the pork pie men of Ripponden. How about the
Last of the Summer Swine?
Performance poet radio and television personality Ian McMillan is an avid pork-pie fan, having made an in-depth study
of the subject for Radio 4 and Yorkshire TV. "A Melton Mowbray pie has grey meat like a pork joint, while the filling in a
Yorkshire pie is pink because the meat has been cured," he confides. No prizes for guessing which he favours. "I like the crust
of a Yorkshire pie," he confirms. More specifically, he likes the pies at Potters of Wombwell, close to his native Barnsley.
'They have a special ingredient in the crust" he says. "When we filmed there, we had to promise to turn the cameras away while
they put it in.
Candis October 2005