The Tears of a Clown

Now if there's a smile upon my face…

The Cockle Man of Nottingham

I like this man. Dave Bartram, The ‘Cockle Man’ has been a familiar sight and local character around Nottingham’s pubs since before my first student steps into the city’s many and varied hostelries in the mid-seventies. Dave’a cry of ‘cockles, mussels’ often bringing a response of ‘alive a live-oh!’ in the likes of the Elizabethan Bar in the Bell Inn where I would often see him and the many other public houses where Dave can be found doing his rounds, as he has been since the 1960s

Additionally, each pot of seafood sold to people in Nottingham’s bars these days sees a donation heading towards the Rainbows Hospice for young people and children.

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Dave Bartram, Nottingham’s ‘Cockle Man’

I applaud these fabled great characters of the city like the Cockle Man, people such as Sally the ‘painter girl’ and the late Frank Robinson, also known as ‘Xylophone Man’. In a bland generally characterless modern society these individuals bring colour, fibre and identity to a city.

At the age of 70, Dave, walking along a precinct from The Thurland Arms to The Old Dog And Partridge, was jumped and attacked. As he has professed before, he tried to protect himself with his big basket, what a man. After the incident, whilst being examined by doctors at the Nottingham City hospital, Dave was found to have a cancer diagnosis. Crucially however, a very treatable one that was fortunate enough to be found in its early stages.

I’m happy that some somewhat unlikely good has come out of this story.

Long live ‘The Cockle Man’.

‘The show must go on’ for Nottingham’s famous cockle man after mugging attempt and cancer diagnosis

March 26, 2017 Posted by | Ripping Yarns | , , | Leave a comment

Denis Law – The King

I came across the below pressing clipping on Twitter on the excellent Scots Footy Cards @ScotsFootyCards account. It reminded me of what was a quite pronounced Indian summer to my number one football hero, Denis Law’s career. The memories came flooding back. I will write more extensively about ‘The Lawman’ on another occasion but just wanted to acknowledge this nice snapshot into his latter dynamic career.

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I remember this period of Denis’s career very well. Manchester United’s glory days receding into the distance at the time. The legend of Sir Matt Busby pushed ‘upstairs’. Bobby getting older and the Belfast Boy sadly succumbing to the drink.
Denis was 33 years-old and by some people’s reckoning it was pretty much all over for the mercurial ‘Lawman’. Injuries had seemingly taken their toll. And then…a new lease of life and an eventual Scotland recall in time for the World Cup in West Germany.

Around this time I remember Jimmy Hill waxing lyrical about Denis’s performance on Match of the Day one Saturday evening. Back from injury or suspension – the latter hardly a rare occurrence – he dominated the whole game covering every inch of the pitch with his electric pace. I swear sparks were flying off him in all directions. Clearing off his own line one minute, buzzing menacingly in the opposing penalty box the next. He was totally irresistible He was Denis Law.

March 5, 2017 Posted by | Sporting Tales | , , , | Leave a comment

Tommy Gemmell ‘Lisbon Lion’

TODAY SAW THE PASSING of the great Celtic and Scotland full back, Tommy Gemmell, immortalised ‘Lisbon Lion’, and formidable warrior in the green and white hoops for a decade between 1961 and 1971. Tommy, a driving force of nature from his defensive berth scored in two European Cup Finals for Celtic, most memorably the pile driving hammer blow that bulged the much-fancied Inter Milan’s net in 1967.

The Craigneuk, Wishaw man played on some 418 occasions for the Bhoys, scoring a remarkable 63 times and making 18 appearances in the Dark Blue of Scotland. The Celtic defender was also a fearsome penalty taker with a success rate of 34 goals from 37 attempts. It is my belief that the Celtic side of that era was not only the finest club side in the world but certainly the best I have witnessed in my fifty-something years of watching the beautiful game. That every player in that side hailed from a reasonably close radius of Glasgow made their greatness even more notable. it is a great and wonderful player indeed that can dominate in that kind of company for such a prolonged and consistent period.

It was a memorable night indeed 25 May 1967 when I ran home from playing football on the local recreation ground with my friends to find a place with my dad in front of the small black and white TV in the corner of the room. Although dad and I were died in the wool Hibs fans, Celtic represented not only themselves but also Scotland that night and we sat in great excitement whilst home-grown Celtic imposed themselves on the great Milan giants of the game. Dare I say even, a team of our own ‘ilk’ in Celtic, speaking as a Hibs fan.

Tommy was hugely instrumental that night and we cheered wildly when his rasping right-footer from the edge of the penalty area hit the net to do Celtic and Scotland proud. The first British team to win the trophy, as is sometimes overlooked south of the border I have to add.

European Cup winners, 1967 Celtic ‘The Lisbon Lions’

Even as a youngster, I was always struck by Tommy’s great likeness to the superb entertainer, Danny Kaye. So alike, they seemed almost interchangeable at times. It amused me today to read in an obituary that Tommy himself was very aware of this fact and indeed saw himself as a master entertainer!

Big Tam was not a man to be messed with though as West German internationalist, Helmut Haller found out to his cost after taking a sly kick at the Celtic man in a 1970 World Cup qualifier against Scotland. Tommy chased Haller down and simply kicked him up in the air after the whistle had blown. The full back would tell a tale in later years that he was ‘still looking for his foot’ after the incident! Unfortunately, Celtic Chairman, Sir Robert Kelly was not amused, claiming that Tommy had besmirched the name of Celtic with his aggressive behaviour which resulted in Celtic Manager, Jock Stein dropping him for the Scottish League Cup Final the week after. Not best pleased, Tam immediately slapped in a transfer request which he later withdrew. Damage, perhaps lasting, had been sustained to his relationship with the legendary Parkhead Manager though.

Tommy later played 39 times for Nottingham Forest and on 94 occasions for Dundee before retiring to a stint in management with Dundee and Albion Rovers. He will be remembered for his dynamism, power and irresistible, surging ability from his defensive position. He was most certainly one of Scotland’s greatest men.

God Bless, Tommy. Sleep well.

Tommy Gemmell 1943-2017 ‘Lion of Lisbon’

March 2, 2017 Posted by | Sporting Tales | , , | 2 Comments

Queen’s Chambers, Nottingham

Queen’s Chambers, Old Market Square. One of my favourite local buildings and one that I always think of as quintessentially Nottingham when away from here. Many a time caught a bus home to the suburbs from the shadow of this showy and stately building, in the days when buses and other vehicles were actually allowed to use the city’s roads extensively.

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Queen’s Chambers, Nottingham

Designed by Watson Fothergill, (1841-1926), a feted local architect with a penchant for turrets, towers, tall chimneys and wall decorations of horizontal blue-black bricks.

Fothergill, who designed some 100 buildings in Nottingham and the East Midlands also enjoyed a little Gothic imagery through the addition of gargoyles, animals, plant life and heavy dark wood beams in his unique designs.

His striking buildings remain testament to his imagination, dotted around the Lace City still to this day.

March 1, 2017 Posted by | On The Road | , , , | 2 Comments

On A Hillside Far Away

I’ve no idea where this is, or is supposed to be, more accurately but I’ve decided that I’d really, really like to live there, especially if there is a beach to walk on nearby too.

World: ‘(Knock knock) Hello, are you in there, Stuart?’
Stuart: ‘No, go away’.

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January 22, 2017 Posted by | Ripping Yarns | 4 Comments

Goodbye, Philippe Montanier

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NOTTINGHAM FOREST BOSS,  Philippe Montanier’s reign of just seven months ends making the club increasingly rudderless. Perhaps surprisingly quoting Churchill, the Frenchman departs with the words ‘Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts’. Poignant words for us all to consider.

Montanier evidently made a few mistakes but he is a decent man of honour and one with considerable experience and success. Crucially, I don’t believe he was allowed to run his own team due to the meddling of crackpot Chairman, Fawaz. This was most spectacularly seen when Scotland starlet, Oliver Burke, was offloaded to Red Bull Leipzig for £13M and replacing with very little – despite promises to the contrary.

His leaving mirrors the departure recently of John Sheridan, from Notts County – another good football man and talented manager, also after seven months.

Is anyone else utterly bored stiff with the stupid and pointless managerial merry-go-round that is professional football these days?

January 15, 2017 Posted by | Sporting Tales | , | Leave a comment

Christmas Approaches in Southwell

THE PICTURESQUE MARKET TOWN of Southwell in Nottinghamshire is a place that I’ve felt drawn to talk about on several occasions on this site in the past. Often those times reflect pleasant days of clement weather in the warmer months with time spent outside strolling, perusing it’s elegant and historic buildings and it’s architectural jewel in the crown, the magnificent Minster.

The town lies on the gently rolling River Greet which provides a relaxing walk through the scenic surrounding countryside whilst the centre of the conurbation owns several sites of significant historical interest such as the National Trust owned Workhouse, built in 1824 and the Saracen’s Head hotel, dating back to 1463 and the scene of King Charles I’s capture by Scottish troops in 1647 when it was known as The King’s Head.

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The Saracen’s Head

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Southwell Minster

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Southwell is also notable as owning one of the former homes of romantic poet, Lord Byron in it’s pretty spot on the Burgage and being the site of the original Bramley apple seedling which spawned what many to believe to be the finest of all cooking apples. It is a small town which punches very much above its weight in terms of significance and interest.

Something I like to do each year though is take the short drive to Southwell during December as Christmas approaches. The atmosphere and classic aspect of the town somehow lends itself to a Christmas-like feeling. This is not least due to the local custom of Christmas trees attached to the buildings on King Street and leaning out into the street at an attractive angle.

On this visit, the town was bathed in gorgeous Winter sunshine with skies reminiscent of the high days of Summer. A healthy smattering of shoppers and visitors were going about their business through Southwell’s narrow street and alleys in it’s small, independent shops and outdoor market. I ambled, bought a little food, took tea and spent some moment at the Minster. After so many years of visiting, going back to school days, taking walks with friends, drinks in its attractive pubs and relaxed and pleasant lunches, not least many a historic sojourn and even working in a university building nearby, Southwell is the Nottinghamshire town I would surely miss the most.

December 22, 2016 Posted by | On The Road | , , , | 2 Comments

Ice Bars

PAH! NOTHING new about ‘ice bars’ in Nottingham. As a lad doing my drinking apprenticeship in the late 1970s, several pubs here were absolutely freezing in the winter. I even recall a portable calor gas heater being wheeled into one hostelry, The Wilberforce Tavern, as the landlord fought valiantly to stop friends and I from entering an extreme hypothermia induced coma. (It was either that or the local, infamous Shipstones bitter which owned an over-optimistic anagram of ‘honest p*ss’.)

Video inside Nottingham’s first Ice Bar – what the punters are saying

 

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The former Wilberforce Tavern, Wollaton Street, Nottingham – several Trent Polytechnic students may have perished on these premises in the 1970s. At least there was a good chippy next door for the wake.

December 21, 2016 Posted by | Ripping Yarns | , , | 7 Comments

Nottingham Exchange Arcade

One of the most attractive places in Nottingham’s city centre in my estimation, the Exchange Arcade in the Council House in Old Market Square. Despite its situation at the very core of the city, the arcade often appears a little deserted as thousands of Nottinghamians hurry-scurry through the thronging streets outside.

Opened in 1929, the Council House succeeded the Exchange building which housed the city’s own ‘shambles’ – an area where the butchers of the town and country would show their meat for sale. The word shambles was derived from the invading Normans who used it as a term for those tradesmen, ‘flesh hewers’ as the Saxons had called them, and indicates how long that trade was carried out on this site in the city.

In more modern history, the arcade housed a fabulous and much-loved food store, Burtons, which local people still talk of in fond terms. If I close my eyes in today’s arcade I can still easily imagine the wonderful aromas from the store and picture the pre-Christmas visits there as a child with my mum, Grace, to buy those special items for the festive fayre in our family home.

December 15, 2016 Posted by | On The Road, Times Gone By | , , | Leave a comment

Nottingham’s Medieval Town Wall

Nottingham was one of the ancient cities that had a wall for defence purposes. It stretched around a good part of the conurbation for well over half a mile with the remainder protected by a large earth bank and ditch and the natural obstructions of a river and marshes to the south.

After the Norman Conquest of England, Nottingham became a town divided into two peoples. The former Saxon settlement which is now known as the Lace Market area came to be known as the English Borough whilst the area stretching from the castle east towards the Lace Market came to be called the French Borough. It is my understanding that the two peoples lived in relative peace side by side with the original Saxons being allowed to continue practicing some of their original indigenous customs. It is also my understanding that the people of the French Borough were considered more educated and enjoyed a superior quality of life to their neighbours. The Nottingham Town Wall was built in response to the wars of the Barons and linked both French and English Boroughs

Map: The Nottingham Heritage Gateway

The town wall construction, comprising blocks of local sandstone bonded with mortar, is thought to have been initiated in around 1260, taking approximately 60 years to build.The majority of the wall was demolished by 1540 and almost totally by the end of the 17th century. Little of it remains uncovered in the 21st century. A small section of the wall is still extant and is visible inside a city centre hotel near Chapel Bar from a viewing platform, it being unearthed during the excavations of 1964 when building the city’s Maid Marian Way thoroughfare. A road that has been seen as unlovely and unloved due to its bland appearance and the fact that it butchered its way through a number of historic and mediaeval streets. Nottingham’s city fathers do not have a good record in the matter of preserving the city’s heritage in these respects.

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Local dignitaries inspect the Maid Marian Way excavations of 1964

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The last remaining viewable evidence of Nottingham’s Town Wall, situated in a city hotel

The impressive construction is estimated to have stood some 8m/26ft high at its tallest with a walkway along the top and protective battlements.

The old wall briefly showed itself again some years later in 1970 during further excavations in Theatre Square to build a pedestrian subway, ironically now closed and buried itself. The image above shows the ancient defence surfacing once more and re-opening the history book at the beginning of the seventies.

December 10, 2016 Posted by | Times Gone By | , , , | Leave a comment

Hibs open Easter Road on Christmas Day for those less fortunate

Hibernian FC is a football club that in recent times has rediscovered and unearthed overtones of its original purpose in the community it represents. That early initial purpose, born and conceived back in the 1880s, is one of the cornerstones of why I love this club so much, that together with family tradition, truth, loyalty and the glue it embodies to me.

Christmas time should be one of joy and yet sadly, we understand that it can be distressing, lonely and heart-breaking for many, many people.

I am happy to read today that my Hibs are opening the doors of Easter Road on Christmas Day to those in need, providing up to 250 people a Christmas lunch, carols, a Christmas movie and other festive activities.

How proud can you be? Perhaps no more proud than I am at this precise moment at reading this announcement. You know what too? I have come to expect no less of them.

Bravo, my beautiful football club. x

http://www.hibernianfc.co.uk/news/7039

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hibs-chris

 

December 3, 2016 Posted by | Sporting Tales | , , | Leave a comment

My Generation

Is this really what we have descended to? Most people that know me understand that I’ve been a fan of The Who since i was old enough to reach a record player and spin a vinyl disc.

Now I see that ‘Wholigans’ (what the hell are they?) can purchase a bath robe with the Mod roundel on to display their appreciation of the boys from Shepherd’s Bush, or maybe a ‘onesie’ with a Quadrophenia logo on it. Their sales blurb is taken straight from Wikipedia I note.

Dear marketers, please just go away and die will you. You don’t understand and you will never understand.

My Generation indeed.

November 28, 2016 Posted by | I CAN HEAR MUSIC | , , | 1 Comment

‘Reviewed by Shilpa Shetty’

Actress, Shilpa Shetty has an interesting conception of book reviewing. I had never in fact realised that George Orwell’s classic political satire, Animal Farm, written in 1945 was about animal husbandry.

I’d like to offer a one line book review of my own too and would like to encourage you to do the same…

‘Oliver Twist – a book about a young boy named Oliver who invented a dance craze popular in the early 1960s.’

 

November 28, 2016 Posted by | Ripping Yarns | , , | Leave a comment

Some thoughts on George Best

On the subject of George Best…

One could easily write many thousands of words, whole essays elucidating his dynamic story and life. For now though, just a few words on why I  believe George was he greatest of them all.

I count myself fortunate enough to have seen George in his pomp playing for Manchester United alongide Denis Law and Bobby Charlton and also with Hibs and Fulham.

I consider George to be the best of all-time, simply because at his peak it was impossible to understand how anyone could play this beautiful game any better.

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His dribbling was mesmeric and artistic, quite different to anyone else’s and he had an ability to absolutely demoralise opponents by beating them again and again. His surging breakaway runs from deep were something to behold, likewise his fabulous and insightful passing which seldom seems to be mentioned. He was tough and durable too as many a hard man defender in the sixties would testify. It’s accepted that football habits are different now but going down under the slightest pressure for George was not something he did. Notorious defenders such as Ron Harris, Norman Hunter would hack and chop at him and he’d just get up and make them look stupid.

Georgie was not only a supreme attacking talent but would also run back after players and was an excellent tackler. For not a big man his heading was superior due to his athleticism and superb timing.

I’m not one to decry the modern greats but for me it’s a fact that if George was around today, with better playing surfaces more protection from officials and better diet and training he would be the best player in the world…by a significant degree.
He was utterly magic and you couldn’t take your eyes off him when he was on the pitch, so blindingly brilliant was he and so charismatic and stylish.

What’s more, he had a wee time at my club and I for one am happy that is woven into the fabric of Hibernian’s rich history.

November 27, 2016 Posted by | Sporting Tales | , , , | Leave a comment

Remembrance

A somewhat sobering moment for me. Watching Songs of Praise on Remembrance Day evening as it shows Highland soldiers in their kilts running into battle on a World War One battlefield. This was followed by footage of the barbaric and frightening conditions experienced by the Merchant Navy personnel on an Atlantic convoy.

Then you remember that this was your grandfather and your father…

Those handsome and proud Musselburgh men:
Henry Frew of the Gordon Highlanders
John Archibald Frew of the Merchant Navy

This evening I salute you both and each and every one of your brave comrades.

November 13, 2016 Posted by | Times Gone By | , , , | 2 Comments

‘Market Square, Nottingham’ by Arthur Spencer

‘Market Square, Nottingham’ by Arthur Spencer, 1950.

I really like this fine, atmospheric painting which, as the winter draws inexorably closer, reminds of colder, less hospitable days. The Council House and it’s huge  dome containing Little John”s quarter-hourly chimes, standing sentinel over the city landscape as Nottingham’s citizens brave the snow and ice, huddled against the cold in their winter clothing.

A magical image that evokes a wintry Nottingham of a different era.

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October 15, 2016 Posted by | On The Road, Times Gone By | , , | Leave a comment

‘We Must Always Love Our Own, Stuart’

Nottingham Goose Fair memories: ‘Big George, The Gentle Giant and my dad.

UP UNTIL THE EARLY NINETIES, ‘George the Gentle Giant’ was a Scotsman who would visit the fair each year who I remember as a youngster being a travelling attraction. Big George Gracie was a Lanarkshire man who measured fully 7ft 3ins tall, weighed 28 stone and stood in size 18 shoes. His size was caused by a brain tumour in his pituitary gland, as I understand.

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Gentle Giant – George Gracie

The big man’s living was to allow people to come and stare at him on a fairground sideshow stall for a few pennies. People would pay their money and file around his pen. The big man was a most affable fellow, in spite of it all.

I recall dad took me to the Goose Fair one early October Saturday afternoon. After the various round of coconut shies, rifle ranges, Waltzers and confectionery, dad decided we would go and see George after spotting a garish ‘Scotland’s Tallest Man’ sign..

What followed was extraordinary to my young eyes. Dad walked in, me trailing behind him hand in his huge strong hand and greeted George like he had known him all his life – as he did everyone in fact. Big George instantly recognised dad’s very strong Scottish accent and they began talking like two brothers…far from home. It should be remembered that this was the 1960s when distances had a different conception and where having family 300 miles apart in England and Scotland, as I did, felt like having relatives on the moon.

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George was from the village of Forth in Lanarkshire whilst ma daddy and me had family just a few miles away in Uddingston and Bellshill. The two men sat and talked and talked for what seemed like a very long time, maybe an hour passed instead of the prescribed two or three minutes, everyone else,the sightseers filing past being ignored, These two ‘brothers’ from the auld country, talking of young days, people, places. In a world of kinship and brotherhood, of blood being thicker than water. Two Scots lads who had found themselves meeting in strange circumstances.

I learnt something that day from this extraordinarily tender scene between that giant of a man and my big rough, tough dad.

‘We must always love our own, Stuart’ John said as he bade a fond goodbye to a newly met friend in George,

And I always have…

~

In 1993, after having mobility issues from an overworked heart, gentle George passed away from cancer, the same illness that had made him so large claiming him at the age of 53 years.

God Bless, George.

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October 8, 2016 Posted by | Ripping Yarns | , , | 1 Comment

Southwell Minster, Southwell, Nottinghamshire.

Southwell is my favourite town in the county of Nottinghamshire by some distance. It has many places of interest and charm in its beautiful aspect and storied and historic environs.

The Minster dwarfs the centre and is barely commensurate with the reasonably modest acreage of Southwell. It is impressive, notable and loved.

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The first time I recall visiting this impressive structure was as a child in school when it was a firm favourite for school educational visits. I recall being instructed to take brass rubbings and playing the game of trying to find where all the ‘church mice were. The interior has a number of ‘mice’ carved into and secreted about the building. In those days the West entrance shown to the left of the image above was most often used and is, as I understand, the oldest part of a building which was constructed in stages as so many older churches were.

Another story I find interesting regarding Southwell Minster is of its ‘Eagle Lectern’ which apparently at the time of Cromwellian distaste for Catholic tradition and imagery was disposed of unceremoniously. It was later discovered in a lake at Newstead Abbey, romantic poet Lord Byron’s stately home situated some miles away. The lectern was lovingly restored and stands proudly in the Minster.

I have visited numerous times over the years and grand though the building might be there is always a friendly and helpful welcome. There is no admission pay but you are kindly asked to make a small contribution.

October 1, 2016 Posted by | On The Road, Times Gone By | , , , | 2 Comments

Rest in Peace, Jackie Sewell

In this past week, the news came through that former Notts County hero and England forward, Jackie Sewell has passed away at the age of 78 years young.

Jackie was pretty high up in my English uncles’ estimation when I used to get taken to the games in Nottingham as a youngster and I recall the hushed tones in which he was spoken of by them, referring to when they watched him at his peak in the 1950s.

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Jackie played alongside the legendary Tommy Lawton for the Magpies as his inside man and rattled in a startling 104 goals in 193 appearances for the Meadow Lane side. He later featured in the British record transfer fee at the time of £34,500, to Sheffield Wednesday and also appeared six times for England among a galaxy of star names.

It’s fair to say that Jackie was a legend of Nottingham football and his presence upon his passing at 89 years will be sorely missed. Not least at Meadow Lane where he was often to be found attending games into his senior years.

Jackie was quite some player  and ‘Lawton and Sewell’ were quite the thing in the Lace City in their day by every account and they were synonymous as a pair. England centre forward, Lawton was the perfect, classical number nine according to accounts from people I have spoken to whilst Jackie feasted expertly and clinically from the prowess of his partner. They must have been a pretty awesome pairing, to employ a sometimes overused word

Good night and God bless, Jackie.

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September 30, 2016 Posted by | Sporting Tales | , , , | Leave a comment

Three Things About Nottingham

I have today been asked by a new friend to consider three things that I like about Nottingham. I took about twenty seconds thinking about this one and came up with the following:

For the first, I am tempted to say ‘the view of Princes Street in Edinburgh’. It’s 275 miles away precisely and I think you can see where my real love lies as a qualifier…

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1. I like the way that it is very easy to access the countryside – even from the very centre of the city. Nottingham, though one of the relatively larger UK cities, has a smallish, concise city centre that is easily navigable on foot. Genuine country villages lie perhaps only 15-20 minutes away. Like this one:

https://stuartfrew.wordpress.com/2016/08/06/in-and-around-lambley-village-nottinghamshire/

2. Underground stuff. Back in history, Nottingham was known as ‘Land of Cavey Dwellers’. There are literally hundreds of man-made, hand-carved caves burrowed out underground the cities buildings by local people. They have been used for all manner of things such as tanneries, gambling dens, food and beer stores. living accommodation and air raid shelters in World War 2.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-nottinghamshire-37429173

3. The rebellious nature of the locals is something I tend to admire. The world’s first Socialist, Robin Hood, if you choose to believe the ancient ballads, resided here and it was notable as the home of Ned Ludd the legend from whom the word ‘Luddite’ was derived. The Luddites were a decent bunch of lad who smashed factory textile machines to keep the poverty stricken in work. People over the ages have rioted about practically everything in Nottingham. including the price of cheese. They even burnt Nottingham Castle down because they didn’t like the Duke much. Bravo!

There may be three negatives to come…

September 26, 2016 Posted by | On The Road | , , | Leave a comment

Jeremy Corbyn and Labour

I WAS GLAD TO HEAR that Jeremy Corbyn won his ‘re-election’ today. It had seemed totally unfair to me that he had to go through this process after his resounding win to become leader just a short while ago – just because some Labour people didn’t agree about what he had to offer and weren’t prepared to accept him. Or the fact that the media and to some degree the electorate, seem to believe that owning a somewhat unkempt beard and not dressing in power suits are relevant political portents in a leader. We rue the fact that Jeremy is not a ‘smart young man’, like Blair and Cameron for example. Excuse me while I rid the thought of them out of my mind… Jeremy Corbyn however, appears a thoroughly decent, fair-minded and scrupulous individual by comparison. That will never do in 2016.

What’s noticeable is the miserablist attitude of the losing Labour side today who seemingly would happily like to see him hung out to dry in a General Election as they were unable to divorce him from his position – by quite some margin actually. Albeit, I do agree with reservations regarding Jeremy’s leadership abilities. Another of the many reasons why the Labour Party is heading nowhere –  apart from oblivion, sadly.

I’m afraid though, after being a solid Labour supporter all my life and a member in the past it all leaves me somewhat cold these days and it is unlikely they will ever receive my vote again. Their duplicitous attitude, when they stood shoulder to shoulder with the Tories over the Scottish referendum has seen to that. Many of us will not forget talk about armed border controls between England and Scotland by the ridiculous Labour leader of the time and the sickening deceit and lies of Gordon Brown. I have family in both countries and this is unacceptable to me. I actually spoiled my voting slip for what it is worth at the last General Election, scribbling the candidates out and adding SNP – this in Gedling Borough constituency in the heart of England.

Good luck Jeremy, you’re going to need it, my friend. Far from being the raging lefty you are presented as, you merely represent what a mainstream Labour Party should be all about. As distinct from the red Tories they have scandalously become Labour died in this decade I’m afraid. They are sadly, no longer.

‘Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.’

September 24, 2016 Posted by | Ripping Yarns | , | Leave a comment

The Strange Saga of Hughie Green

IN THE 1960s, when game shows were king, perhaps one man stood out for the sheer bulk of presence on our television screens. Hughie Green a Canadian born in London, UK hosted Double Your Money a show that ran for fully 260 episodes until 1968. Based on the US 64,000 Dollar Question the programme was the required viewing on ITV when there were but two and latterly three channels only to choose from as many families would gather to watch Hughie’s antics.

His popularity went from strength to strength as a household name and celebrity as he then hosted Opportunity Knocks the classic talent show which then ran on Thames TV up until 1978 with Green at the helm.

Green, at times, displayed a less savoury side to his character and many were the stories regarding his heavy drinking and generally obnoxious behaviour. The former was said by some to have been the reason that the popular show took a hiatus and he lost his position heading it. Green complained bitterly, even to the degree of a remarkable display of self interest on-air at the end of the final episode when he waxed lyrical, boasting about his wartime service as a veteran.

He was central to something of a scandal at the time when it was revealed that he was the biological father of TV presenter, Paula Yates – a fact she found out through the press.

I recently came across a recording of Green making a personal appearance at the Cavendish Woodhouse furniture store in Nottingham at the time, when he had recently had his show taken off the air and was not at all happy about it. I recall it being reported at the time in the local press that local radio station, Radio Trent, had been there to cover the occasion but refused to air the recording made of journalist, John Darby, also a Canadian, as Green rounded on him in bizarre fashion. The recording can be heard here and is transcribed below.

Green seemed to take umbrage straight away at being corrected on the name of the radio station. He then pounced on where interview Darby hailed from:

Green: Hey listen, we’ve got John Darby from Radio Nottingham, is that right?

Darby: No, it’s actually Radio Trent.

Green: Oh, it’s Radio Trent so…It’s Radio Trent we’ve got John Darby from…and we’ve got some special customers here this morning, John.

Darby: It’s rather fun to be here but one thing I was just thinking about and that is that we’re both Canadians.

Green: Well that’s great, where are you from?

Darby: I’m from Toronto.

Green: You’re from Toronto, well I’m from Montreal so let’s fight. We’ll have a fight right now and have a fight between Montreal and Toronto. So go on, what else have you got to say?

Darby: Well, we want to know what you’re doing now?

Green: What am I doing now? Well look at me, I’m surrounded with beautiful women. The most beautiful women in the world of course come from Nottingham and we were really having a marvellous time, are we having a marvellous time? Come on over here madam (interviews an onlooker).

It was at this point that Darby, unintentionally or not, somewhat hamfistedly admittedly, found Green’s achilles heel when he mentioned the loss of the presenter’s show:

Darby: Hughie, do you think that now that the show (Opportunity Knocks) is now over you may be forgotten?

Green: I couldn’t care less whether I’m forgotten or not, I mean that’s that, doesn’t matter, you can see all the people (shouts) have you forgotten me? Have you forgotten me? I mean that’s the kind of a snide remark you would get from someone from Toronto. That’s why people in Montreal hate Torontonians. They all say you know (affects voice) ah so and so, you’re all so and so. And we’ve got a much nicer city in Montreal than you have in Toronto. Now go on, ask something else nasty.

Darby: Well what are you going to be doing now?

Green: That’s none of your business. Now ask another smart question.

Darby: You must have some future plans?

Green: Never mind. Now may I ask you a question?

Darby: You certainly may.

Green: Why don’t you shave? Ladies and gentlemen, we have just been talking to the four-eyed interviewer from Radio Trent and it has been a delight. We are all enjoying ourselves, now why don’t you go back to your morgue and bury yourself. Thank you very much indeed.

Hughie Green spent his latter life as a recluse in his Baker Street flat. After a life time of heavy drinking, pipe smoking and a latter recreational barbiturate habit he was diagnosed with lung cancer and passed away in 1997 at the age of 77.

September 19, 2016 Posted by | Ripping Yarns | , , , , | Leave a comment

Notts County 1975/6

This is Notts County pictured in 1975/6 when they finished fifth in the old Division Two. Apparently this was the last time the Magpies finished above neighbours, Nottingham Forest in the league. Of course, a genius had just taken over the reigns on the opposite bank of the Trent and truly amazing things were just about to happen in Nottingham…

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At that time I watched a lot of football, each Saturday afternoon visiting Notts’ Meadow Lane or Forest’s City Ground. Most Tuesday and Wednesday night fixtures too. These familiar and affectionate imposters in my football allegiances were however only ever secondary to my one true football love residing at Easter Road and the always treasured trips home to see the green and white. What a team and what players we had in that era too…

The interesting thing about this shot to me is that I can instantly, without hesitation, name every single individual in that team photo, even the reserve goalie. In these times, of numerous loans, Bosmans and short term contracts we can barely even remember who played for our team the season before last.

Just to prove the former point, here goes:

Back row: Dave McVay, Kevin Randall, Pedro Richards, Les Bradd, Arthur Mann
Centre: Ray O’Brien, Steve Carter, Eric McManus, Frank Lane, Dave Needham, Ian Bolton
Front: Jack Wheeler (Trainer) Eric Probert, Paul Hooks, Ronnie Fenton (Manager) Brian Stubbs, Ian Scanlon, Mick Vinter.

September 18, 2016 Posted by | Sporting Tales | , , | Leave a comment

The Beatles – Practice Makes Perfect

I’m always interested in stories of big bands and artists that played in more humble environments in the early stages of their career – particularly intrigued if they had already earned a degree of fame and popularity at the time. As an example, way back, I was fortunate enough to see The Specials, Madness and The Selector in the perhaps surprising surroundings of Kimberley Leisure Centre in Nottinghamshire. Another memorable night in a similar era was of The Police appearing at Rushcliffe Leisure Centre in the same county. They were pretty big at the time too.

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The greatest band of them all, The Beatles, played Nottingham on four occasions in 1963/64, earlier in their recording career. Once at a banqueting suite above the main Co-op store in the city and three times at the Odeon cinema, cinema gigs being popular in that era. My own sister was at a couple of the Odeon performances where nobody heard much apart from a crescendo of screaming girls. Nobody cared.

The building that housed the Elizabethan Rooms still exists these days as a casino on the main thoroughfare, Upper Parliament Street. The Odeon, which had the distinction of becoming Nottingham’s first multi-screen cinema is sadly, no longer, having been demolished in 2012. Flats now stand on this hallowed and very centrally situated site in the city,

At the beginning of their career The Beatles played more than two-hundred times in Hamburg in Germany, including a ninety-two day residency at the Top Ten Club. It’s estimated that they spent over five-hundred hours entertaining the crowds in Hamburg alone, polishing their skills, musicianship and stagecraft.

Kids, this is how you get good.

September 16, 2016 Posted by | I CAN HEAR MUSIC | , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Prince

THE LEGENDARY Cecil Bustamente Campbell, aka Prince Buster, the ‘King of Ska’ has died on the 8th of September 2016 at the age of 78. The Prince was a great pioneer of Jamaican music and bequeathed a legacy of the music to the many that he influenced.

Buster was born on the famed Orange Street, the main thoroughfare in Kingston, Jamaica and gained the name ‘Prince’ due to his boxing ability with his early singing being in church and private family faith meetings.

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Campbell became involved in the operational side of running Clement ‘Coxsone’ Dodd’s sound system in Kingston in a variety of roles, one as security in which he put his boxing ability to good use. Before long, using his experience to create his own sound system, the ‘Voice of the People’.

The singer’s career took off in the sixties with appearances such as on Ready Steady Go! and his first top twenty UK hit, ‘Al Capone’ in 1967.

He is widely credited as the foundation of ska’s revival vanguard in the late 1970s – the 2-Tone movement. With Madness naming themselves after a Buster song and their first single, ‘The Prince’,  recorded as a tribute to him. Contemporaries, The Specials, also recorded a Buster track in ‘Enjoy Yourself’ in 1980.

I’m going to resist the temptation to link ‘The Ten Commandments of Man’ or ‘Big Five’ (uncensored version) here and go for perhaps the most obvious one, ‘Al Capone’. Happy memories for me as it was one of the early Ska songs that I first heard and that me and my friends danced to in local youth clubs. Happy days.

(Dedicated to Frankie Allan. Rest in Peace, buddy)

September 9, 2016 Posted by | I CAN HEAR MUSIC | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Focusing on Suicide Prevention

Today marks the first day of Suicide Prevention Week 2016 in the US and World Suicide Prevention Day on September 10th. Much is said about talking to people who are in difficulties and appear in need. I’m going to add to that the suicide survivors – those who survive the suicide of a close one, whose life changes forever and who are dropped into a strange and frightening world of self-survival, grief, trauma, guilt and anguish.

I unfortunately, became a member of that group over two years ago and the attached article from that time illustrates just some of the myriad ways it affected my life.

The Twenty Truths of Losing Your Partner to Suicide


The only benefit I understand is that in my work, it has allowed me to talk to people who have suicidal feelings, clearly, concisely and without judgement.

I kindly ask you to talk similarly to these people. Please help them the best way you know how.

In those momentous days afterwards, I called The Samaritans – not primarily because I wanted to die but because I wanted to understand how to live. You can find them on:
Tel: 116 123
Email: jo@samaritans.org
http://www.samaritans.org/

Suicide Prevention

http://www.suicidepreventionapp.com/

September 5, 2016 Posted by | Ripping Yarns | 3 Comments

The Left Lion and Nottingham’s Old Market Square

NOTTINGHAM’S OLD MARKET SQUARE has been central to the city’s life and times for approximately a thousand years, formerly as a large outdoor market as the name suggests, home of the historic Goose Fair each October and a meeting place renowned over the city and wider county. The wide area, arguably the largest market square in Europe reputedly, now changed from it’s last design of a handsome processional way with trees, fountains and plentiful seating for the public was much-loved by Nottinghamians but is now comparatively sterile and bland in appearance. The re-design, reputedly ordered to allow more freedom and capacity for the various events that are held in ‘Slab Square’ as many local people have called it over the years and a is somewhat controversial decision some years later still.

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The lions, known perhaps most commonly as ‘Leo and Oscar’ are also known by some, more grandly, as ‘Menelaus and Agamemnon’ and also ‘Lennie and Ronnie’, take your pick . They were sculpted by Joseph Else, the Principle of the Nottingham School of Art at the time. His name is now commemorated as the name of a public house nearby in the Square.

This quite severe looking chap below is the ‘Left Lion’ and whilst both lions have been used over the decades as traditional meeting places it is the Left Lion that holds the greater popularity. ‘See you by the Left Lion’ a (or the lions) has especially been a place to meet a romantic date. I’m told it’s ideal to check out a blind date from a distance and it has been my observation that people circling in the nearby vicinity are occasionally apparent. Other than that I couldn’t possibly comment…

Another piece of historic Nottingham folklore was that the lions roar when a virgin walks past. i couldn’t possibly comment on that either.

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The ‘Left Lion’

In the 1920s the former Exchange Building overlooking the Square was replaced by the current Council House construction designed by architect, T. Cecil Howitt, with its 200 foot high dome housing the ‘Little John’ clock, weighing in at over ten tons, which chimes throughout the day as a backdrop and part of the soundtrack to Nottingham city life. Outside the building, two large stone lions stand sentinel, guarding the grand old building opened by the Duke of Windsor in 1929.

Nottingham’s Old Market Square has seen much activity and a few joyous occasions in its history. The annual Goose Fair, so named due to poultry being walked to the event from deepest Norfolk and Lincolnshire was and is a huge landmark on the Nottingham calendar, continuing as it does on the Forest Recreation Ground around a mile away and now over 700 years old. ‘Gooseh’ must have been quite some occasion in the old days as not only did it have such ground breaking innovations as the early travelling cinemas but one could buy practically anything there – even a wife! I think the latter custom has discontinued now.

Football and other sports celebrations have always been a nice feature as the Champions are paraded on the Council House balcony. Notable were celebrations for Nottingham Forest’s European Cup winning teams and, before my time, their great 1959 FA Cup success after they had won their Wembley final with nine and a half fit men on the field. Perhaps Slab Square’s greatest celebration occurred on May 8, 1945, when the war in Europe was over and the people of Nottingham let heir hair down in grand style.

Walking through the square these days I am always disappointed at it’s bland, grey appearance – which cost the council an awful lot of money incidentally. There is a water feature but it isn’t handsome as the previous fountains were – even when students chose to create a bubble-a-thon with washing up liquid emptied into the originals! The seating is at a minimum and the vegetation that saw the Square win awards for its attractiveness is no longer. Instead there are ‘events’ which leave the area looking a little forlorn when they move on.

Other random memories of Old Market Square come to mind of Mods and Rockers gathering there in the 1960s in their two factions at either end of the Square, shepherded apart by the local constabulary. One of the latter’s number was ‘Tug Wilson, a formidable and well known character, standing some 6ft 8ins and fully 7ft 2ins in his policeman’s helmet!

The fabulous mosaic of the Nottingham heraldic crest has disappeared and the ‘feel’ of Nottingham’s Old Market Square appears long gone and spoiled. In balance, there are some good points though. A German Christmas Fair appeared some years ago and was a pleasant winter addition. These days the ‘German’ has been taken out of it and, to my eyes, ears and taste buds has unfortunately become not only expensive but mediocre too. A great plus though is the outdoor ice rink which adds significantly to the winter atmosphere.

Conversely, each summer now, the Square welcomes the ‘Nottingham Rivera’, an urban beach constructed for some weeks in the high season with its sandy beach, padding pool, funfair rides and popular beach bar along with special events throughout its duration.

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As a visitor to Nottingham, it is difficult to become lost in it’s concise city centre as all roads lead to the Square and its dominant Council House dome. Unlike many cities, it is easy to discern exactly where the centre of ‘town’ is and for that reason and a few others, wherever I roam in the world, the Council House and it’s lions will always symbolise Nottingham to me.

September 5, 2016 Posted by | Ripping Yarns, Times Gone By | , , , | 6 Comments

Lewis Stevenson – Celebrating Ten Years

HIBS LEFT BACK, LEWIS STEVENSON’S  100% service to the Hibernian cause is celebrated tonight with a testimonial dinner. Many have quoted his unique position in being both a League Cup and Scottish Cup winner with the club and that is indeed impressive. It’s a different factor that I always think of with the solid Hibs left back though.

Lewis Stevenson – Hibernian FC

Lewis has never been a flashy or eye catching player, he is though totally dependable and fights with every breath he has for the cause in that green and white shirt. He knows that the name on the front of the jersey is more important than the one on the back. He is a modest and unassuming character which is becoming more of a rarity in professional football these days, Many times over the years he has been maligned by a section of the support. There have often been frustrating times for the team, generally, in fairness.

My favourite memory of Lewis Stevenson, apart from watching him lift the Scottish Cup, was his incredibly mature and influential performance in midfield for Hibs on the day that Kilmarnock were destroyed 5-1 in the League Cup Final of 2007. He was immense that day, controlling the game to a large degree from his midfield berth, spraying passes all over the field. Just terrific.

It occurs to me that, by my reckoning, Lewis has played under no less than EIGHT managers in his decade at Easter Road though. Each of those managers has realised his worth to the team and sent him over that white line to represent the only team that’s worth supporting. That will do just fine for me.

Well done Lewis – here’s to many more!

September 3, 2016 Posted by | Sporting Tales | , , | Leave a comment

Joe Baker – Gentleman and Legend

I talked to a man a few nights ago, just a little older than me, a Forest man all his days. Joe Baker was his great hero as a youngster. He told me that in 1968, when he was just a boy, Joe visited him in the General Hospital in Nottingham. Joe took that little boy a football annual as a gift and signed a photo of him playing in Forest’s dashing away white strip of the time.

Please now flash forward to the early 2000s, not long before Joe passed away. The great centre forward came back to meet his adoring fans from the 1960s in Nottingham. (Joe and his memory continue to hold a very special place in Nottingham – just like everywhere he travelled.) My friend took his football annual from that hospital visit when he was a child to a tiny city pub, The Falcon Inn, where Joe was meeting old friends in town. The landlord who had informed of his visit him asked him to keep it quiet as he didn’t want the wee howf overrun with admirers and fans.

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Another meeting some thirty-five years on and my friend got to meet his hero again. Joe apologised profusely to my friend that he couldn’t remember him as a child. He happily said that he’d signed many annuals for the sick children of Nottingham. My pal told him that he’d been his great hero and Joe simply replied, very humbly, that truly, he could never understand why he was so hero worshipped. He said that he was just doing his job which was being paid to score goals. He also said that his time in Nottingham had been the happiest time of his career and that he loved being here.

I’m a Hibs fan, born with it, I have green and white blood but boy did that last comment bring a warm feeling inside.

Joe Baker – gentleman, legend. God bless him.

August 31, 2016 Posted by | Sporting Tales | , , , | Leave a comment

Football Disconnected From its Supporters?

Reasons why professional football is a ‘bit rubbish’ nowadays, number 7062:

Oliver Burke, is a promising winger who has spent his fledgling football career at Nottingham Forest, recently breaking into the Scotland international ranks at just nineteen years old. Yesterday, he was sold in a shock move to German club, RB Leipzig for thirteen million pounds – despite the fact that he has played only twenty-five times (six as sub) for the Nottingham club. As an aside, the club’s Manager, Phillippe Montanier apparently received very recent reassurances from Forest Chairman Fawaz Al-Hasawi that the player would not be sold as the transfer deadline approached. Those reassurances clearly mean little when coming from Mr. Al-Hasawi as has been noted previously.

It’s my view that although it appears on the one hand ‘good business’ selling such an inexperienced player for such a vast sum, it is though pretty depressing for fans of any club outside of the elite – and Forest are a good, sizable and well supported English Championship club with a fairly glorious history – to know that as soon as clubs outside of that elite unearth or nurture a good prospect, it’s a very short journey to losing him to a bigger club, often as a mere bench filler.

I don’t think anyone is blaming the player or players and it can be levelled that every footballer has his price but then, so does every fan of every team have the choice of walking the other way when they’ve had enough. Football shouldn’t just revolve around a tiny favoured group of elite teams as it now does. We may as well just produce a generation of Sky TV watching Barcelona fans and be done with things.

It’s an interesting comparison that can be made with North American professional sports. Contrary, arguably to the political complexion of that continent, top sports are run on a more egalitarian system, i.e. the NHL and its draft system which allows teams to rebuild from the ground up by receiving first choice on the top young players emerging into senior ranks and therefore with astute trading and team building becoming competitive. I think it works well. Our football though is run on purely selfish and greedy lines which do not serve the majority of fans but rather entertain business first and foremost instead, often to the detriment of the supporters.

The most important factor is the health of any sport itself and to think otherwise is short-sighted. I’ll go further to say that the most important part of a sport is its fans – a much outdated concept I know these days. Unfortunately, the governing bodies in British football don’t behave in a way that suggest they understand or care about that.

Something really needs to change again in football to connect the fans back to their clubs and players as was once the case. To have that close relationship of being ‘as one’ with your club. It’s just sad to observe these days and it just doesn’t feel the same…

August 29, 2016 Posted by | Sporting Tales | , | Leave a comment

And Now For Something Completely Different

I really want to like some of these Monty Python reunions and various documentaries that keep getting aired on the Gold channel and elsewhere. but I’m struggling with them. I loved these guys and grew up with their amazing humour and sketches, recited the lines with pals in the school yard religiously and carried it through the teen years and beyond, like so many people.

Now it feels as though it should just be left alone. Like telling the same gag over and over but it just doesn’t ‘fit’ or feel fresh any more. Nor perhaps should it after all these years.

The re-runs are classic, ground breaking and wonderful and I’d like to make the distinction there – they always will be, the reunions though with the troop on stage in their dinner jackets hamming it up for a late pay day (and who can blame them)  seem to amuse the Python members more than me, sad to say. It feels tired and the laughter forced. There’s no shame in that I suppose – they are arguably the greatest and most innovative comedy group of all time. Indeed, it is difficult to comprehend that those genius sketches are the best part of fifty years old.

Luxury…when I were a lad…

August 20, 2016 Posted by | Ripping Yarns | | 6 Comments

Lasse Viren – ‘The Flying Finn’

CONGRATULATIONS GO TO Mo Farah on a ridiculously good run to retain his Olympic 10,000m title in Rio de Janeiro.

Mo actually hit the ground after being accidentally tripped, picked himself up, controlled the race and won it in style and with absolute class and qualty. With a few hundred metres to go the experienced Brendan Foster commentating, was urging Mo not to look around over his shoulder at the possible threat from the runner in third place but rather concentrate on the man leading him in first place. Mo kept a cool head however, trusted his great ability and reeled the leader in, in classic style to finish a comfortable winner.

There were emotional scenes for Mo afterwards, understandably, as he was obviously recounted in his mind the long hours away from his family whilst training.

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Lasse Viren

His performance reminded me of my own middle distance hero, the ‘Flying Finn’ Lasse Viren who fell in the same 10,000 metre event in the Munich Olympics in 1972. Lasse defeated Australian, Ron Clarke’s seven year-old world record although falling heavily during the twelfth lap when getting tangled up with Belgian, Emiel Puttemans. Mohamed Gammoudi additionally fell over Lasse’s legs during the incident.

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Lasse falls on the way to his classic win

In under 150 metres, Virén raced back up to the leaders however, after losing approximately 20 metres to them. With around 600 metres left, Virén initiated an amazing and totally unprecedented one-and-a-half lap ‘kick’ that only Puttemans could respond meaningfully to. The great Lasse Viren ran through the tape to win the classic event in 27:38:40, still the record for the Olympiastadion München forty-four years later.

August 14, 2016 Posted by | Ripping Yarns, Sporting Tales | , , , | Leave a comment

Rest in Peace, James Murtha

THE SAD NEWS reached me from Burbank, California this week that a much-revered old friend and correspondent of mine had passed away.

Jim Murtha was a man like no other – totally unique. A good man, an intelligent man – and one who possessed the heart of a lion.

His genuine, raw courage was a sight to behold in the way he faced cancer on more than one occasion. I recall him reporting to me that the cancer had returned in his little finger, if I recall correctly,, and his saying to the doctor, ‘just cut the f*cker off, doc, I don’t need it’ – as if it was an absurdity for the cancer to challenge him in such a ridiculous way.

Jim brought a different way of thinking about things in general, to read his words was absolutely inspirational.

I can barely believe that cancer had the temerity to return to his world but it did and for that I shall be eternally sorry. I guess Jim had already had his fun kicking it’s ass on several occasions and ‘opening a can of whoop-ass’ to it as he would tell us.

What a man. What a great, great man. He will be sorely missed but never, ever forgotten.

My deepest condolences go to his family, friends and all those who loved him, of which there were many.

Rest in Peace, Jim. The memory of your courage will live on.

Stu

A few words I wrote back in 2008 about Jim’s story and in particular, his Marathon in Dublin:

A Special Day: James Murtha The Tears of a Clown

August 12, 2016 Posted by | Ripping Yarns | 2 Comments

Remembering Ali Tait

More than two weeks on and I have barely known what to say about the passing of my friend Ali Tait, so shocked was I at his death. it seems so many feel the same way and during these recent days there has been an avalanche of love and respect for him like non I’ve seen in the Hibs community and wider social media among people that knew him.

 

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I called Ali a friend and met him a few times. Like many others we talked and shared comments online frequently. One evening we were pondering our shared background with both our families originally having people from Fisherrow. We mused that, living very close together, our grandfathers couldn’t have failed to know each other and be friends – just like we had become a couple of generations on. I couldn’t have been prouder or more happy at that thought because I loved the guy.

Ali’s politics, football favours and music tastes are documented widely and it’s perhaps for those things that many people will remember him. They were certainly all things that bound he and I together. Those of us who were fortunate enough in life to have met him and known him will remember his tremendous warmth and intelligence. He was an entertaining man and one you always wanted to listen to at length, so much did he have to say.

The next time I’m in Musselburgh I’ll raise a glass in his favourite, Staggs, to our old friend.

I’ll sink another one to you in our favourite Cafe Royal too if that’s alright, Ali?

God rest and keep you pal. There’s none like you.

Deepest condolences to his dear wife, Tiina, his family and friends and all who knew him and loved him.

God bless
Stu x

August 12, 2016 Posted by | Ripping Yarns | Leave a comment

Free Sister Mary

I do enjoy the scarecrow competitions around the local villages in the summer. This is ‘Sister Mary’ from Caythorpe  Nottinghamshire who was abducted two years ago. Last seen with her feet ‘poking out the back of a grey car’. Sister Mary’s owner offered free cupcakes to anyone with information, which seemed quite appropriate…

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Sister Mary

It’s recorded that although the ‘nun-nappers’ had taken Mary away she still finished a creditable joint second in the competition alongside a ‘zombie scarecrow’. First place went to a witch stuck in a tree, accompanied by a sign saying ‘Don’t drink and fly’.

Bless you, Sister Mary.

August 8, 2016 Posted by | Ripping Yarns | , , | Leave a comment

In and around Lambley village, Nottinghamshire

THOSE WHO KNOW ME will understand that I have a special affinity with some of the pretty villages local to me. This relationship has been formed over many years of running, walking, cycling, eating a drinking around those villages which I have a I have come to think of as my ‘playground’ since being a youngster.

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Early days in and around Lambley village meant a cycle with schooldays pals to the Lambley Dumbles. A dumble is a local word for a steep-sided stream. We would play in the dumbles – and my favourite, the ‘Little Dumbles’, making dams, rafts, climbing the overhanging trees, wading, fishing and generally getting lost in those hazy 1960s endless summer days as they seemed to me. The limited sustenance taken on these all-day country safaris tended to be a jam sandwich and some fizzy water. Our bikes consisting of all shapes and sizes – mine had just the one pedal – were the only things we needed to transport us to this heavenly weekend delight. We usually arrived home at dusk, exhausted and hungry. Muddied, sometimes bloodied, unbowed.

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This very afternoon I took myself in my car down to lovely Lambley, beginning at a favourite tea-stop, Floralands garden centre, ‘Wickes’ as we used to know it. These days, as is the way of garden centres generally, there is modern decking to sit outside and take tea and a bite to eat. What remains the same though are those beautiful emerald green rolling hills of my youth to look out to.

Today there is a petting zoo for the children and not-so-young children right here! Goats, ducks, chickens, lamas. A peacock is screeching insistently in the distance.

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Descending the intriguingly named Catfoot Lane, I entered the pretty and ancient village of Lambley, ‘Leah of the lambs’ by origin and named in the Domesday Book. Nestled in its cosy valley are a church built around the 13th century and the Woodlark and Robin Hood inns. I pass by the footpath to the Lambley Dumbles, perhaps less known to the cars that cruise steadily past in 2016.

Further on in years, I used to walk these hills as a young teenager, with my favoured notebook and pencil, to settle in one of the many sweet-scented grassy meadows in the sunshine and write my early young poetry. I yearned to be a Byronic figure, writing romantic poetry as Lord Byron had done a century before, leaving his indelible mark on the Nottinghamshire landscape and around the world.

August 6, 2016 Posted by | On The Road, Ripping Yarns | , | 4 Comments

Tolerance and Acceptance

THIS WEEKEND HERALDS the annual Nottinghamshire Pride march through the city and its surrounding festivities. The March began at Castlegate in the city at 11.30 am and concluded a short distance away on Broad Street in the ‘Creative Quarter’ of Nottingham around and about the nowadays, trendy Hockley area. Along the way, near Thurland Street, a minutes’ silence was held for the victims of the recent sad atrocities in Orlando, Florida. A street fair and entertainment is part of the celebrations in a day for everyone that chooses to let their hair down a little.

In my view, these types of events add a significant and vivid splash of colour, energy and vitality to the city centre and should be welcomed. I observe at times though that this particular event draws some mixed reactions which extend across the full spectrum of tolerance and acceptance. I occasionally despair for the state of humanity when we cannot manifest those qualities to any degree, to understand and acknowledge diversity in all its hues, to open our minds and, where necessary, build bridges between older thinking and new conceptions.

A couple of days ago, I read an internet forum thread which focused on the subject of Nottingham Pride’s annual March and festival. Among the highly predictable, monumentally unfunny and ignorant, 1970s stand-up comedian terminology and general ‘Angry of Tunbridge Wells’ bristling was one splendid individual who actually ‘hoped it would rain all day’. How very, very bitter. That someone should actually wish the participants’ special day and celebrations to be ruined by bad weather.

Homophobia, racialism and a wide range of other general bigotry are unfortunately part of our daily lives to some degree but this single comment really struck me for it’s ultimate sadness and lack of generosity of human spirit. I feel that, especially in a world clouded by hate, fanaticism and animosity, love – in all its forms – can never, ever be a bad thing.

Peace, love and understanding.

Stuart

July 30, 2016 Posted by | Ripping Yarns | , | Comments Off on Tolerance and Acceptance

Good Luck, The Hibees

When I was a very young boy, barely old enough to understand, I was informed by my dad and my granda that there really was only one team worth supporting, that it was the only true way. This especially applied in my family where tradition lay strong and was not in any way to be tampered with.

Not in the least.

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All these years later that feeling remains strong and true. Down through the decades those colours green and white have woven themselves through my life. That makes me happy.

I love this team and all it has stood for, both widely and personally for me. I will always love this team, especially for the reasons it was formed which are dear to me. I love the people that support it.

I’d like to wish all my Hibernian brothers and sisters a wonderful day out tomorrow and the best of all incredible conclusions to it. As my good pal likes to say to me, ‘I hope your team win’.

Dedicated to the bravest Hibby I know, Shaun McKinley. Keep your chin up, pal. I’m thinking of you.

May 20, 2016 Posted by | Ripping Yarns | 2 Comments

Bobby McKinlay – a Portrait of Loyalty

RECENTLY, I CONTRIBUTED to a discussion regarding ‘loyal’ footballers. Those two words together seem an anachronism these days and personally, I don’t see players who deign themselves to stay with the likes of the Manchester Uniteds et all of this world receiving out-of-this-world remuneration

The first player that came instantly to my mind was one that many will not have heard of.

Bobby McKinlay was a Fifer from Lochgelly in Scotland who was associated with Nottingham Forest between the years of 1951 and 1970. Over those years, Bobby made 614 appearances for Forest, his only top class club and scored nine times.

Bobby, though uncompromising enough on the field of play, was a gentleman on and off the pitch and was renowned and loved at the City Ground for that. Young supporters were always, in particular, treated well and kindly by Bobby, him making sure they all got team autographs and bringing treats to share out among the kids when they would gather after Forest training mornings for signing sessions in the club car park.

After retirement he became an officer at the local Lowdham Grange Borstal in Notts, where his even-tempered and understanding way with young people brought him great credit in his new career.

Though playing at centre half, Bobby wore the Garibaldi red fully 439 times before being even booked. The irony is that it was after being pulled up for a foul on an Arsenal player and booting the ball into the crowd, a player by the name of Joseph Henry Baker – a dynamic centre forward who not long afterwards became his teammate at the City Ground starring in a terrific tilt at both the league title and FA Cup, both of which were punctuated by Joe’s lightening quick, exciting forward play, littered with goals and much adulation.

When I think of loyal football players, yes, I think of Bobby McKinlay who left the game of life in August 2002. Times have sadly changed but if there only a few like him now.

April 8, 2016 Posted by | Sporting Tales | , , | Leave a comment

Arise You Gallant Sweeneys!

ON OCCASION, I mentally register a subject to write about and file it away until a window of opportunity and the inclination to explore it arises. This might be some record for me as I began writing these words some five years ago, for what it is worth. These years later and with much water having flowed under the bridge I still feel it is a subject worthy of talking about.

At that time, in October 2011, I attended a function for Mental Health Awareness Week which was being held in the excellent, independent Broadway Media Centre in Nottingham. The film, Arise You Gallant Sweeneys! had been organised as a private showing for the Framework charity’s 10th Anniversary celebrations at the cinema and I was fortunate enough to receive an invite due to my research work in the area of mental health. Framework, should also be commended here for the excellent work they carry out with the homeless and the vulnerable.

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Arise You Gallant Sweeneys! was a small budget documentary film that told the story of four elderly Irishmen living in a hostel in Nottingham, who left their home shores for economic reasons during the United Kingdom’s building boom of the 1950s and 1960s. None of the men, for disparate reasons, had ever returned home to Ireland since migrating all those decades ago, living the rest of their lives in exile for different reasons in different parts across Great Britain.

The four now-elderly alcohol-dependant men whose tale was documented were Sean Lynch, who was but ten years old when he left his home, Tom Coffey, who departed at just eighteen years, Tom Sweeney, who was of similar age and lastly, Pat Kelly, aged twenty four when he bade farewell to his home country.

The story documents a road trip to their original homeland for the four men and relates a poignant tale of homelessness, penury and alcoholism against a background of exploitation as ‘navvies’ creating the roadways of England, Scotland and Wales with its hard labour and equally hard drinking. Tangentially, folk singer Ralph McTell told an echoing lamenting story in his beautiful and haunting ballad, From Clare to Here:

‘There’s four who share this room as we work hard for the Craic

And sleeping late on Sundays I never get to Mass

It almost breaks my heart when I think of Josephine

I told her I’d be coming home with my pockets full of green

And the only time I feel alright is when I’m into drinking

It sort of eases the pain of it and levels out my thinking’

In the Broadway Cinema as I took my seat, an Irish fiddler played at the corner of the auditorium. Maybe it’s just me or maybe it’s because of my own origins but there is something that seeps into one’s very soul when the strains of Celtic music sound, it’s lilt, it’s sadness, sometimes it’s pure joyousness too. Presently, after a , heartfelt and dignified spoken introduction, the film began and we saw the inception of the road trip – men who after a drink or two would always talk about home – how they’d perhaps like to see it for one last time before it was too late and they met their maker. To the good people who organised it, great credit, including Framework I understand. Soon, a small party including the four men set sail with a provided mini-bus, back home to Ireland after all those years.

One might be forgiven to imagine this to be a sentimental story but this is not the case. The men’s humour and character serve to make it not so.

Of course things had changed for the men over many years. Families had become fractured and information was hard to find in some cases, even to the point of one of the group discovering that the brother he had thought was long passed away was in fact still very much alive, leading to some emotionally draining scenes. The returning brother showed little love for his long-lost sibling, even claiming he should be ‘drowned in the Atlantic’.

‘Come all ye loyal heroes and listen on to me.

Don’t hire with any farmer till you know what your work will be

You will rise up early in the morning from the clear day light till the dawn

and you never will be able for to plough the Rocks of Bawn.

Rise up, gallant Sweeney, and get your horses hay

And give them a good feed of oats before they start away’

(From The Rocks of Bawn by Patrick Kelly)

The little film, whilst roughly-hewn was extremely moving as we were taken through the decades and on the road, explored each of the men’s home towns. It engaged and yet was disturbing at times, even by turns wickedly funny. As a viewer, I had the feeling that I wanted to somehow ‘make it right’ for the men and to understand the real reasons they had never returned home before.

Many men of this ilk worked their hearts and guts out in those days, they took their pay, often drank it and lived from week to week or from day to day. The men in our story it is explained now lived in supported accommodation in Nottingham. One is no longer with us, God bless him. The others’ road will most likely end here. Thankfully though, after this one final visit of their roots.

It would be true to say that there was little sentiment in the film. It was nevertheless, an engaging one, at times unsettling and more than anything, ultimately a moving one.

 

Watch the original trailer here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k3ara2Pfo7g

April 4, 2016 Posted by | Ripping Yarns | 1 Comment