My countryside: Michael Parkinson

Michael Parkinson

‘Christmas in my childhood home in Cudworth, South Yorkshire, was a wonderful mix of smells and sensations – the only day when the table groaned under the weight of food. We used to share a pig with three or four other families, taking turns to feed it throughout the year. The season really began when the  animal was jointed and made into pies and sausages, and divided among the owners. We’d then invite the whole street in for a celebration.

‘I was born into a mining community and we lived in a village with a landscape of two halves: sloping golden wheat fields but with the pits visible on the horizon, and the air full of smoke from the belching factory chimneys. I couldn’t quite get used to the idea that there was carnage going on beneath such beautiful countryside. It didn’t bother me that it wasn’t your typical rural idyll, though, because it had a charm of its own. Now the pits are no longer there, the scenery across the valleys to Lancashire is almost unrecognisable.

‘As a child, I had the freedom to play outside for hours on end. I would have adventures with my friends in a wood on the edge of our village. When I started working in the media, I ended up in towns and cities like Doncaster and Manchester, then, of course, London. My love of cricket meant that I still had plenty of access to green spaces, though. I’ve played at some of the most pleasant grounds, but my favourite is still Barnsley Cricket Club, where I was on a team with Dickie Bird and Geoffrey Boycott when I was a teenager.

‘For me, cricket sums up all that is best about Britain. Nothing beats seeing a pitch in the height of summer and the sound of ball on bat. It’s very romantic. When I bought my current home in Bray, Berkshire, in 1971, it wasn’t because it was on the banks of the River Thames or that it had decent pubs nearby – it was because I was attracted to the cricket green. It’s surrounded by trees, with a 13th-century church in one corner and a Georgian building next to it that used to be the rectory.

‘Living by a river is wonderful for the wildlife it brings to your garden. I often see herons, sitting hunched up like old men waiting to catch a fish, lots of swans, and we get the occasional kingfisher, too. It can be noisy in the summer when the waterways become busy with holidaymakers, but I enjoy watching the progression through the seasons.

‘I love travelling around Britain: Scotland, the Lake District, Lancashire and the West Country, where I did my National Service in Devizes. I recently visited Helmsley in North Yorkshire with my youngest son Michael and his family. It was a chance to show his children where their grandparents came from (my wife Mary was born in Doncaster). We had one wonderful journey across the moors from Whitby to Pickering. The heather in bloom was like a purple haze across the skyline and, wherever you looked, you only saw wilderness, with not a building in sight.

‘I think this country is at risk from overdevelopment. We’re losing a great part of our heritage through what I regard as bad planning decisions. It’s a particular problem where I live. I worry that we’re not protecting our green spaces as we should be and it distresses me, when I travel around Britain, to see numerous wind farms. A blot on the landscape.

‘As a journalist, I often have to work over the festive period – it’s a holiday that many people take for granted. When I do have the chance to enjoy it, my favourite way to spend Christmas is with my wife, our three grown-up children and our eight grandchildren. One day, I’d love to rent a big house in Yorkshire and take the family there for a traditional celebration.'

Parky’s Picks will be available from BBC DVD on 26 November. Parkinson: Masterclass begins on 13 November at 9pm on Sky Arts 1.

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