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…
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:
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.
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…
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.’
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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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)
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 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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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…
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…
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.
A few words I wrote back in 2008 about Jim’s story and in particular, his Marathon in Dublin:
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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
I WAS CONSIDERING THIS subject recently after reading the question on an internet forum, ‘Do we live in an unheroic age?’. In answering this, I suppose it all depends to some degree on your conception of what constitutes a hero. Acts of bravery, selflessness, possessing a special talent etc. Maybe manning a lifeboat, fighting for a just cause or quietly going about the business of being an unsung hero, helping others.
‘Man’s goodness is a flame that can be hidden but never extinguished’ – Madiba
In a looser sense, where we might think in terms of simple admiration, I have many ‘heroes’ if you may term them that way. Sporting heroes such as dynamic Scottish football legend, Denis Law, Canadian, Terry Fox and his beautiful and heart-rending ‘Marathon of Hope’ and Finnish middle distance running phenomenon, Lasse Viren. Then there are the musicians, the likes of Otis Redding, Peter Green and so on. There are revered literary figures to me too such as Oscar Wilde, Dylan Thomas and Byron and perhaps most significantly, the inspirational figures that, in my belief, are/were an unstoppable force for good, Nelson Mandela, Mother Teresa and Martin Luther King Jr. but then we’re moving into a different area in my humble opinion, that of sainthood.
It is interesting to note that some of these people and examples no longer walk among us – but that their legacy lives with us and affects our lives. Perhaps that legendary eminence is part of the necessary make-up of a ‘hero’, I’m really not sure.
For me personally though, my real heroes were my mother and father. For their selflessness, courage, principled ways and strength in what were at times life threatening situations in their own acutely difficult situations at times in their years. In addition, for all the lessons in life they taught me which were many.
I’m going to suggest that there are countless other mothers and fathers out there all over the world, doing the same for their children, every day, doing those things for their children out of selfless and pure love.
For that reason alone, yes, for me, we still do live in heroic times.
SO CURRENTLY, we have the world’s oldest league football club, Notts County negotiating stormy seas by way of the club being for sale and the team toiling somewhat in the lower reaches of League Two, it’s play-off hopes diminished to a practical state of no return. Unpopular Chairman, Ray Trew has been quoted as saying that ‘oh so brave keyboard warriors’ and their comments on social media about him and his family have finally drawn the conclusion that he wants out – at a price.
On the opposite bank of the River Trent, Nottingham Forest flounder listlessly mid-table with perhaps greater concerns over the ownership of the club than on the pitch. My understanding is that £70m is still owed to former owner, Nigel Doughty’s estate and that a sum in excess of that is owed to the current ownership in loans. I stand to be corrected. Court appearances for non-payment of debts are now becoming a way of life for the City Ground club with the latest set for March 14th for an unpaid tax bill. Only last week Forest were in the media for late payment of their staff which chairman Fawaz claimed was due to a Bank Holiday in his home country of Kuwait. In addition to this, the club still find themselves under a transfer embargo with no guarantee of emerging from it at the end of the season, or if they do, to no great avail.
On the pitch, Notts County have a huge squad of players, particularly at that level of football, who have underperformed and not gelled by all accounts. It would be easy to suggest that it is a case of ‘quantity not quality’ but the truth is that the club acquired some useful signings for this campaign. They have though shipped goals consistently throughout the season and are now struggling manfully under new manager, Scot, Jamie Fullarton’s stewardship. The ex-Forest coach is arguably the least popular manager in County’s long history whilst the atmosphere at Meadow Lane is absolutely poisonous.
Angry scenes as trouble erupts between the Notts bench at spectators during Bristol Rovers’ visit
Forest’s quite recent unbeaten run, characterised by many uninspiring draws is now a memory and the support appears increasingly unhappy and disgruntled about manager, Freedman’s cautious ‘style’ of play which encourages teams to come on to them and take majority possession of the ball whilst the Reds sit back and wait for a break.
This is clearly not Nottingham Forest football.
Back at Notts and one thing about this whole sale matter that appears to have emerged is that although chairman Ray Trew claims it is personal abuse that has driven him out of Meadow Lane (and I have no truck with that) it appears emphasised that this kind of thing has become much more apparent since his appointment of Fullarton as Notts’ Manager which is a deeply unpopular decision among the support. We see from reports though that Trew was actually in negotiation with a ‘Danish billionaire’ before Christmas. to take over the club.
Trew has done some good things for Notts County, especially initially when he basically rescued them from administration and possible oblivion and that should be recognised but his apparent arrogance and inadvisable decision making has since caused the club great harm. I do believe, for example, that a great number of the support have viewed the appointment of Fullarton as a ‘two fingers’ at them and this is one of the reasons for the angry ructions at Meadow Lane since. There is a huge gap between the ownership and the support causing a divided and aimless club.
What’s more, I wouldn’t particularly trust Trew as far as I could throw him the way he is conducting business to sell the Magpies. Only when he finally leaves can that club turn a corner and begin rebuilding this great damage sustained. Hopefully a sale will happen sooner rather than later.
What with the happenings on the black and white side of the local football community and Forest’s apparent inability or refusal to pay their bills on time and now the delayed payment of their staff due to a Bank Holiday in Kuwait. I have no confidence in the state of the way either of our city clubs are being run. I particularly felt for the rank and file staff at Forest, in ordinary jobs, waiting to be paid what they have earned last week. In Forest’s case I think the owners are beginning to make a fine old club look a little disreputable and it’s not good to see. On a practical note, potential signings for the club too will make themselves aware of what is happening in terms of the financial irregularities at the City Ground and be much less likely to sign for Forest.
Sad stuff then from both sides of the Trent. Let’s hope both clubs can turn a corner at some point in the near future.
MINORITY CHANNEL, BBC ALBA recently excelled themselves once more after other excellent documentaries about Scottish football legends, Jim Baxter and Jock Stein when they produced a beautiful step back into post-war Edinburgh and five of Hibs’ ‘greatest men’.
These were some of my personal thoughts on an emotional viewing of it to my good friends on the Hibees Bounce website:
‘I recorded the documentary last night, went out for a drink and sat down to watch this alone when I got home around midnight.
It’s a little while since I have been touched by anything about Hibs so much – even though I am used to a great emotional closeness with the club since being a young boy.
I understand the criticisms (in the true sense of the word) regarding the production but for me they were easy to put to one side as I was given the privilege of an insight into some of the sights and memories of people intrinsically wrapped up in my club. Who could not feel for ‘Nicker’ Johnstone’s daughter, Nicola as she lovingly spoke of her father and his teammates and suddenly and obviously in front of the camera, felt a sense of loss for her dad. The word ‘Family’ is occasionally an overused one when referring to this wide and disparate group of people we are that follow this club down its generations and enjoy it’s meaning. It’s in brief moments like that though that I really understand and cannot deny it.
The background of Meadowbank was not significant for me. A great story can be told anywhere and I really liked the way the young team assumed a fun and youthful swagger as they emulated our old heroes. I thought they looked great and played their part well. Well done lads. The simple and striking kits were a thing of beauty too against the sepia backdrop. Hibernian kits are invariably a thing of beauty.
So, as you can see, I’d rather celebrate this documentary for what it was – a loving and affectionate glimpse into a time before many of us knew. Yes, it was one or two things short of the full and complete story but much more significantly, it carried and nurtured with care the deep feelings that we all have about this club and yet sometimes have difficulties explaining why.
I’d a tear in my eye before the strains of Sunshine on Leith were gently introduced. I sat there remembering exactly why I bleed green and white, why I am a Hibernian supporter and why this thing matters so much to me so a ‘thank you’ to the programme makers is offered.
As the credits played out on a look back into a golden Hibernian era, an era inhabited by my father and grandfather and other family members, it was all I could do to not desperately want to be there, at Easter Road at that very moment.
These are the ties that bind us. Hibernian Football Club.’
THE END OF SEPTEMBER 2015 is nigh and this means that the streets of Nottingham around the Nottingham Trent University city campus are once again thronging with ‘Freshers’. The areas including Shakespeare Street and Goldsmith Street adjacent to the Arkwright and Newton buildings being particularly awash with new students, locating their accommodation and general whereabouts for the coming academic year.
Nottingham Trent University
With my own place of work being quite close, a saunter through the area on Thursday brought the sight of a teeming group of young intakes to the streets, identically dressed in a uniform of bright orange t-shirts proclaiming the legend ‘FRESHERS CREW across the chest and personalised names on the back, football jersey style. The faces were those of young people principally just having left home for the first time, expressions of excited expectancy, underlined in some cases with a slight etching of self-doubt and apprehension as they settle in to making new friends and locating their place in various groups and pecking orders.
Next week will probably see the beginning of the processions of large groups of students in fancy dress, heading along Mansfield Road and other main thoroughfares, congregating in the city centre and its clubs, pubs and inevitable ‘student nights’. It’s a familiar sight each year and brings a knowing smile to my face
Nottingham, being a city that boosts the two places of learning, Nottingham Trent University and the older, illustrious University of Nottingham, is very much a university town these days. Sometimes, there have been reports of the city’s students bring problems to inner-city residential areas where they have tended to colonise and indulge in boisterous, noisy and non-neighbourly behaviour as young people often inevitably do. It should be said though that, for me at least, the city is breathed new life when they return each September. Apart from economic factors alone, I feel they bring something to the modern culture of Nottingham and of course, I have walked a mile in those shoes years ago and therefore don’t feel so far removed from them and what they are experiencing, although my own home was in Nottinghamshire.
Nottingham Trent University, Arkwright Building, Shakespeare Street
A happy thought is that many of these young people will be making friends for many years or even a lifetime. They’ll form new allegiances with the city’s sports teams, visit places with friends that they’ll recall fondly as long as they are able to remember. Some will meet their life partners and some may even settle that well they never leave the city again and call it ‘home’.
Autumn term beckons, good luck to the returning and new students of the Queen of The Midlands.
Work hard and play hard.
It’s great to sense the early days of the feel good factor reappearing and people with more reason to be positive. I’m heartened generally by the relative calibre of player being brought into the club. I do wonder if there is some kind of injury ‘problem’ going off beyond pure bad luck, notwithstanding that some players are being brought in when not fully fit.
John McGinn – midfield strength
I hear a lot of concerned comment about the amount of chances that are being created and the relatively low strike rate from them. It’s a fair point of course but I’m not necessarily worried. I do feel it’s much more worrying when chances aren’t being created. That’s a bleak landscape and one we witnessed particularly under Fenlon for example, arguably. I was schooled on a team in this city that people would complain incessantly about them trying to ‘walk the ball into the net’. It never got tiresome watching them win practically everything available while doing so though. Patience is required.
Regarding goal scoring I often find it interesting the comments about Jason Cummings. He’s maybe a limited footballer in some ways but who really cares? He does what he’s paid to do – put the ball in the back of the net – with monotonous regularity. I hear some talk of the need for a ‘twenty-goal striker’. We already have one. Possibly more than one given a clean bill of health.
It’s going to be another long fight this season to get the club where it should be and that is slightly hamstrung by an understandably disenfranchised section of the support staying away from Easter Road. I’m afraid the club has to suck this up at the moment. Many old and new fans will be back with a higher status restored and winning ways returning. Expect a few more three and four wins at Easter Road during the coming months as this useful squad gels together. It’s strength is based on some very good performers in the middle of the park.
There are really only going to be a couple of outcomes to this season aren’t there. Hibs either finish as champions, and they have begun a little off the pace, or a play-off situation at the season’s death which we’ll either lose – or more likely, considering the form we’re likely to be in then win. Importantly, at that time I think Hibs will show that they have proven goal scoring power – always important in one-off ‘cup’ type games and that in my view would likely see us through. The usual disclaimers apply.
Get on for the ride, Hibees, it’s going to be an interesting and entertaining season.
FOLLOWING THE WEEK which contained World Suicide Prevention Day, a few words for those suffering a new and tragic loss.
It may be very early days for you and I’m sure all sorts of things will be going through your head as you try to make sense of what indeed appears senseless.
Some of the reactions and support you will receive will be of comfort, some thought provoking, nearly all will be heartfelt. Accept the love and support that people offer, especially those close to you. I gained a tremendous amount of strength from my friends in general. I felt almost overwhelmed at the kindness and it taught me a lot about people, myself and my relationship with this world. In the midst of a sad situation, it is a gift to you. A natural equaliser and healer in life.
If you are a person of faith then there is no better time to call on that. Personally, I found it difficult to take part in Mass but would rather spend time in my local place of worship alone, finding peace, healing.
Forgive people if they are awkward around you. It is very difficult for some people to understand what to say or do in such circumstances. Know that all will feel for you, despite their apparent reactions.
I’m sure you will still be reeling with the shock of what has happened at this time. My main words to you would be to simply hang in there – survive it day by day – and let the future take care of itself when time inevitably works its miracle healing. It is a first-aid situation currently so don’t have too many expectations of yourself right now – just get through it the best you can. One day at a time, one hour at a time if need be. When you feel able in some way to return to your routines, if you have not already, undertake them slowly and be kind to yourself because you deserve it.
At the darkest of times it can help take your mind off things to think of others in the situation. There may be children in the situation or significant others who you can engage with and support each other. Look after each other – be a team.
Perhaps all or many of your days will feel bleak still at the moment and that is to be expected. Some days may feel unbearable but I am here to tell you that these times do decrease, though you may not be able to comprehend th
at right now. Have faith that this will happen and give time the chance to carry out its great work.
Whilst still very early days, when the pain becomes more bearable try to gently place back into your life, one-by-one, those elements that will help you, friendships, work, a little exercise, socialising. Take your time with them and go steady.
I’m sure that many have already offered but I’d also like to extend the hand of friendship and support to you. Write to me anytime, even if you just need to spit it out whatever is hurting you. Stay with us here, you are stronger than you think.
IT WAS BACK to the Vale of Belvoir, the Beautiful View’ to run on the towpath of the Grantham Canal this Saturday, for the first time in a few years actually and I had forgotten just how striking it is in that scenic area that sits astride the three counties of Nottinghamshire, Lincolnshire and Leicestershire.
My leisurely mid-morning drive took me over the River Trent via stately Gunthorpe Bridge, passing through the attractive market town of Bingham and on to pretty Redmile. Soon, the impressive sight of Belvoir Castle came into view standing over a hazy hinterland, gently bathed in hazy early September sunshine.
From Harlaxton Drift Bridge, the Grantham Canal
The Vale of Belvoir has always been a popular choice for a some out-of-town relaxation for me, being only a modest forty-five minute drive from my Nottinghamshire home. I love it because it is under-populated by visitors and all the more peaceful for it. I have to say some do not know what they are missing as it is an impressive slice of countryside, all the better for having the atmospheric Grantham Canal running through it, a thirty-three mile ribbon beginning in Nottingham and ending in the Lincolnshire town it was named after.
Meeting my friend outside the Rutland Arms, better known as ‘The Dirty Duck’, near Woolsthorpe-by-Belvoir. I parked up canal side and noted how much the reeds had colonised the water since I had last visited. There were few people around at the adjacent camp site providing a peaceful and serene scene.
The Rutland Arms on the Grantham Canal
A seven-mile run took us alongside the old waterway, punctuated only by the odd walker, cyclist or angler on it’s quiet banks. The run took us down to Harlaxton Drift Bridge and a return to The Rutland Arms passing locks and ancient turning circles for the canal barges.
Afterwards, it was time for lunch and with the Rutland Arms’ doors firmly closed it was a mile drive down the quiet road to the village and the welcome of the superb Chequers Inn at Woolsthorpe. It’s hard to imagine a much more impressive pub-restaurant environment than this beautiful and historic 17th-century inn with it’s stone fireplaces, bar and rabbit warren of attractive and well-appointed rooms. A restaurant/banqueting suite had evidently been extended on to the old building earlier this year adjacent to the attractive garden where we had our lunch in the sunshine, accompanied by the pub’s friendly resident rooster which patrolled the garden.
The Chequers Inn, Woolsthorpe-by-Belvoir, Lincolnshire
All good things come to an end so they say and my regular Saturday runs at Woodborough in Nottinghamshire are no longer, at least for now. After a moderate and pleasant drive through the neighbouring counties though, back to The Vale of Belvoir offers an outstanding replacement.
The end of August 2015 beckons as I write, leading to those days of ‘mellow fruitfulness’ of Autumn that can be so stimulating, atmospheric and enjoyable. Enduring sun and crisper days.
I’d an enjoyable and familiar run from nearby Woodborough, Nottinghamshire yesterday which took my friend and I through the pretty and adjacent Epperstone village and return. Grateful for a pleasant, sunny and warm late Summer day, we afterwards headed to a local garden centre cafe for our customary and welcome sandwiches and tea for lunch.
Lowdham Lane, Woodborough
Just as we were setting off on our run, it was good to see the bright green tractors with massively stacked healthy-looking hay bales piled on trailers heading to their destination along Main Street. It brought back memories of school days and cross-country running afternoons where a certain couple of class members hitched a lift aback to travel up one of the steep local hills!
There probably aren’t many better places to be than lying atop a haystack with big blue skies above, the sun generously blazing down on you, recharging you.
Yesterday’s run was a marker towards the end of the Summer as it is likely there will be a change of destination on Saturday mornings in the future. Next week will be a drive down to the Vale of Belvoir ‘the Beautiful Vale’ for a run along the Grantham Canal and a crossing of three counties, Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire and Lincolnshire. It has been my custom to run and walk through all four of God’s good seasons since I have known how and that will continue. Onwards and upwards
You can play this as an accompaniment if you would like.
A few final thoughts on the Scott Allan-Hibs situation. Hibernian Football Club did very much all they could in a challenging situation and played out business (or lack of it) with great dignity, as they have always tended to do in their dealings with other clubs. Well done, Hibs.
I can’t join in the general triumphalism over the situation regarding thwarting the new Glasgow club as the Easter Road side has lost its most talented player. There are early indications however, that more than adequate and importantly, motivated replacements, will develop in the youthful Henderson and McGinn.
I think most Hibbies will be happier if and when the excellent and committed Dylan McGeouch signs on the dotted line.
For the player the furore has surrounded, Scott Allan, I do believe that by signing for Celtic he has potentially placed himself in a whole world of trouble regards his career but more likely his off-field life. He has some quality, that is not in doubt (though not proven consistently at this point, albeit a sublimely skilled 23 year-old midfield player. Hi notorious Rangers allegiances will see him reviled by his boyhood team’s supporters for not signing for the Ibrox club after expressing a wish to do so. To magnify that issue he has defected to the hated ‘other side’, perhaps almost unbelievably. It’s always a possibility that Celtic’s supporters may turn on him for those same allegiances should Scott not perform.
We should of course remember that Allan is first and foremost a professional footballer and the sport and his earnings from it come first in what is a short career, as we always told. I can’t help feeling though that implementing one of those body swerves and sidestepping both Rangers and Celtic to pursue a career at a quality club in the English leagues at an appropriate point would have been much more beneficial to him for career development, earnings and a relatively sane life away from the field of play. For me he has manifested a parochial and short-sighted attitude towards his career and a lack of insight into how his lifestyle is going to be in the pressure cooker atmosphere with all it’s side issues that is Glasgow football.
WHEN YOU BLEED GREEN AND WHITE and your famous old club celebrates its 140th BIRTHDAY, what better to do than recount its past?
A Short History of Hibernian Football Club
Welcome to a short history of Hibernian Football Club, the Green and White side of the Edinburgh professional football scene. ‘The Hibees’ play at Easter Road Stadium in Leith and have a proud, honourable and intriguing history stretching all the way back to 1875.
Hibernian Football Club has been part of the fabric and culture of Scotland’s Capital since its early inception. The club’s name is most usually abbreviated to ‘Hibs’ by fans and media alike. The club sports an impressive 20,421 seat facility in Easter Road Stadium where they play their home games.
Standing sentinel over its local community – Easter Road Stadium
Hibs have traditionally played in green and white strips since their formation, a pointer back to the Irish origins of the club. These origins emanate and embrace Irish emigration into Scotland and its Capital during the dark days of the Irish potato famine when many were displaced into the country and further afield around the world. The club badge has had several incarnations and its most recent one refers inclusively back to history and to the geographical placing of the organisation in its emblem of the Irish Harp, the castle depicting Edinburgh’s garrison and the ship signifying the port of Leith, respectively.
The club enjoys something of a high-profile fan base amongst its regular faithful fans. Notably, author Irvine Welsh has featured the club in his novels on many a memorable occasion, even hitting celluloid in the case of Trainspotting. Singing duo The Proclaimers contributed a modern-day and much-loved theme to the Easter Road terraces in their emotional ballad ‘Sunshine on Leith’ – recently also transferred to film in an excellent musical production. Further regular literary mentions also abound in Ian Rankin’s Inspector Rebus stories in which his assistant, Siobhan, is depicted as a ‘Hibby’.
Charlie and Craig Reid -The Proclaimers
So who are this team then? What is the lifeblood that has characterised this enigmatic green and white phenomenon since its inception? Let’s take a leisurely and enjoyable stroll through the history book to find out a little more about the team’s rich past.
The club was originally formed, largely by the efforts of Canon Hannan, an Irish priest originally hailing from County Roscommon, and Michael Whelahan in the environs of St. Patrick’s Church in the heart of Edinburgh’s ‘Little Ireland’ of the day. The church still remains in the historic Cowgate area, now a world heritage site. The club’s famous name, ‘Hibernian’ was chosen for its reason of being the Roman word for Ireland, Hibernia. The initial and very laudable aim of the early club was to keep young Irish Catholic immigrants on the ‘straight and narrow’. To play for the Hibernians in those days entailed membership of the Catholic Young Men’s Society and an adherence to an abstemious lifestyle and regular attendance at Mass.
The Cowgate, Edinburgh
The early days of the club were also characterised by the club’s ceaseless work in aid of charitable causes – looking after and tending the impoverished of the community from which the club rose.
Hibs became an early power in Scottish football despite much prejudice and suspicion shown towards them by the authorities and within a few years were instrumental in the formation of the Celtic club in Glasgow and indeed myriad other teams of Irish heritage throughout Scotland.
Early mismanagement of the football club saw a temporary demise and hiatus in Hibernian’s history in 1891 when they ceased to exist for a single season. Before this however, the club had managed to become ‘World Champions’ by defeating the mighty English giants Preston North End! Hibernian re-emerged a very different club, open and inclusive to all, masterminded by the drive, ambition and loving care of Philip Farmer (ancestor of present owner Sir Tom Farmer), and his associates.
In 1892, Hibernian Football Club moved into its present home, Easter Road, often known as ‘The Holy Ground’ from those early years and traditions, and the club never looked back. Hibs enjoyed some moderate success on their reformation but it is perhaps the 1950s that most ‘Hibbies’ would claim as the club’s golden era and undoubtedly the club’s most successful and romantic period. The Hibees helped revolutionise attacking forward play in this glorious decade with their world-famous and revered forward line ‘The Famous Five’, comprising of Gordon Smith, Bobby Johnstone, Lawrie Reilly, Eddie Turnbull and Willie Ormond. The ‘Five’ were renowned for their brilliant and dynamic attacking play which would often employ the five stars interchanging positions mid-game – unheard of in the rigid tactics of the time. The ace in the pack was undoubtedly right-winger Gordon Smith – who many rate as the best Scottish player of all-time, his mercurial talents exciting the big crowds of all persuasions of the day. The present day Easter Road Stadium still has a stand named in ‘Hibs’ greatest men’s’ honour.
The Famous Five – Smith, Johnstone, Reilly, Turnbull and Ormond
In many ways, the Famous Five gave the club its reputation for open, attacking and attractive play which still prevails. At various junctures over the years, perhaps in seasons of struggle, it was difficult to justify that image but let it be said that Hibs’ most memorable teams are still those that brought great excitement, exuberance and enjoyment to the terracing faithful. It is difficult to generalise but many of the club’s dedicated supporters still adhere to the notion of the team playing the ‘right’ way – the ‘Hibernian way’.
Amidst great excitement and huge crowds, The Famous Five and their talented teammates behind them brought unprecedented success to Easter Road in the form of three Scottish Championship trophies. Nevertheless, the Scottish Cup still eluded this team of shining stars as it has done to this day since 1902, a notorious deficit in the history of the proud club.
Innovation has often been a feature of Hibs’ history and the club became the very first British outfit to take part in European Competition when they were admitted by invitation to enter the 1955 European Cup. The club acquitted themselves well in this inaugural foray onto the continent beating Rot-Weiss Essen 5-1 on aggregate before finally ending their involvement after being defeated by Stade Reims in the semi-final.
In the latter days of the 1950s with the ‘swinging sixties’ about to be unleashed on an unsuspecting public, one of Hibs’ finest talents of all surfaced. English-born, Scots bred Joe Baker, a young centre forward, became the club’s most prolific scorer of all time and, unusually for the day, was eventually transferred in a big money move to Italian club Torino where he spent one stellar season alongside soon-to-be Manchester United and Scotland legend, Denis Law. The talented Baker, a player of great speed, dynamism and deadly finishing enjoyed a productive and much-loved playing career and returned to the Hibernian fold eventually as a player and ultimately, later in life, as a match day host.
The ‘Baker Boy’ – Joe Baker
Hibs enjoyed a fine reputation in Europe during the 1960s with many a famous victory for the men from Easter Road. Such giants of the game as Barcelona, Napoli and even Real Madrid in a specially arranged friendly, were unceremoniously put to the sword in cavalier style ‘down the slope’ by the men in green and white. The slope refers to the prominent dip that in those days was part of the Easter Road pitch.
Perhaps one of Hibernian FC’s most admired sides was the team of all talents of the early 1970s dubbed ‘Turnbull’s Tornadoes’ after Eddie Turnbull who returned to Easter Road as Manager after a successful period in charge at Aberdeen. The team, whilst ultimately under-achieving and being broken up prematurely, played a hugely exciting brand of football and boasted two genuine world-class talents in John Brownlie, an early overlapping full-back of the day and the great Pat Stanton. Stanton – still a much-loved and revered figure amongst the Easter Road faithful traces his Hibernian roots all the way back to Hibernian’s origins being a descendant of the important figure of the afore-mentioned Michael Whelahan, one of Hibs’ first on-field greats and a seminal figure in the formation of the club.
Patrick Gordon Stanton
Turnbull’s Tornadoes won silverware on several occasions but it is perhaps one particular day in 1973 that they are best remembered for by Hibbies everywhere. On the first day of January that year, Hibs were indeed in celebratory mood as they demolished city rival Hearts to the tune of seven goals to nil away at Tynecastle Stadium. That famous day is still very much a feature of the bragging rights between the two sets of Capital football supporters.
In the mid-1970s Hibs courted some controversy when they were again in innovatory mood in introducing sponsorship to the front of the club jersey. This gained television company’s ire – curious when one thinks of the corporate nature of the present day game.
That era was probably most notable for another story that revolved around one very special man. Towards the end of the decade Hibs famously signed an errant George Best who was already poised for a journey of self-destruction. Paid per game out of Chairman Tom Hart’s own pocket, the Irish genius scattered a little much-needed stardust around the club in a time of struggle before finally leaving the club for the United States and the next stage of his mercurial story.
George Best in the famous green and white
There have been some enduring themes in Hibs’ history. Glory and frustration, along with the benevolence of the early years being just a few. In 1990 however, the spectre of mismanagement returned to the club when they faced financial ruin and anxious times which almost lead to closure. During that year, Wallace Mercer, the Chairman of Hearts, launched a proposed merger of the two city clubs under the banner of an attempt to challenge the two big Glasgow clubs, Celtic and Rangers. The proposal however was viewed as a hostile takeover and an attempt to close down Hearts’ old city rivals. It was at this time that the pressure group ‘Hands off Hibs’ was hastily formed in order to protect the club and ensure its survival.
Local businessman, Tom Farmer, (now Sir Tom) originally a Leith native, came forward to acquire a controlling interest in Hibernian FC. One of his quotes of the time was that he was ‘tired of seeing so many miserable faces around Leith’ bearing in mind the community was nigh ready to lose its old club. Here again was another twist in Hibs history with Sir Tom’s ancestry lining back to Phillip Farmer who had performed a similar deed in helping save the club in its early years.
Sir Tom Farmer
Under the stewardship of Farmer and with a mobilised fan base, the club, after some desperate and worrying days eventually survived, being lauded as ‘The team who wouldn’t die’. For many present-day fans these were Hibs’ darkest hours until the daylight of survival was assured.
After a barren time of survival and existence for the enduring club ,save for a magnificent Skol Cup win in 1991, Hibs entered several seasons of consolidation and sometimes struggle. Former Scottish internationalist Alex McLeish was appointed manager but was unable to prevent the club dropping down a division in 1997-98. Hibs bounced back in fine style however under the on-field guidance of the talented former French internationalist Franck Sauzee and midfielder Russell Latapy. It was a return to an expansive style of play which was much-lauded from the Easter Road terraces and the springboard for where the present day club finds itself placed.
Further progress was recorded under the managerial tutelage of new appointment, Tony Mowbray and the club enjoyed an ‘upward spiral’ with a galaxy of young stars breaking through into the first team at a similar time and playing quick, attractive and controlled football on the ground as preached by the philosophical Mowbray.
Many of that team are now spread far and wide but the legacy of the financial gain they brought to the club by way of transfer fees now sees the club in a relatively enviable business position.
Another former hero eventually returned in the shape of former midfield star, John Collins. Collins’ stay was a tempestuous one in many respects but saw the club record one of its happiest days of all with a magnificent League Cup win to the tune of 5-1 over a hapless Kilmarnock at Hampden in March 2007.
Hibs Manager, John Collins celebrates with the CIS League Cup 2007
When this resume of Hibernian’s history was originally written, another former player, John Hughes, was in the managerial hot-seat at Easter Road. Early on-field signs were encouraging with ‘Yogi’ attempting to impress a passing game on the team with some encouraging results to follow. Relations subsequently soured, however, Hibs still managed a fourth-place finishing spot in spite of a disastrous run of form latterly. After his departure by mutual consent, Hughes was replaced by Former Nottingham Forest boss, Colin Calderwood to poor effect. Many fans reflected on this era being one of Hibs’ historic low points before and during his exit in November, 2011.
Irish club, Bohemians gave Hibs permission to speak to manager, Pat Fenlon who was drafted into Easter Road to make the many changes that were viewed as necessary. It is recorded that Pat, a likeable and principled character, whilst bringing a little more grit to the team, presided over some of the poorest Hibs results in several generations. A heavy loss to the team’s local rivals in the 2011-12 Scottish Cup Final, billed as the ‘Salt and Sauce Final’ in the media and a 0-7 European home debacle – a record Scottish defeat – against Malmo from Sweden in 2013 followed. The latter was particularly keenly felt due to it being the first home fixture after the sad passing of Hibs hero and legend, Lawrie Reilly. After major rebuilding work post the 2011-12 final, Hibs once more appeared at Hampden in pursuit of the Holy Grail in the 2012-13 Scottish Cup Final against Celtic. The result however, was a rather tame surrender to the ‘other’ team in green and white by three goals to nil.
Fenlon dutifully fell on his sword eventually to be replaced by the much-vaunted Terry Butcher and Maurice Malpas management team from Inverness Caledonian Thistle where they had experience moderate success. At the time of writing, Hibs are still making good after what became a disastrous, short-lived tenure under the big Englishman’s stewardship. From relative mid-table obscurity under Fenlon, Hibs, after early encouraging signs under Butcher, slipped slowly inexorably into the relegation zone which resulted in a two-leg play off against Hamilton Academicals. Hibs began with a heartening 2-0 win at Hamilton but surrendered to a late equalising goal and subsequent devastating penalty shoot-out defeat. Hibernian FC now face the immediate future in the Scottish Championship with some tough-looking competition from Glasgow Rangers and once, again Hibs’ local neighbours. After the dismissal of Butcher, former Celtic player and Everton coach, Alan Stubbs has been installed with the job of bringing some pride, style and success back to Easter Road. Early signs appear encouraging. There is however, much work to do.
A major change in the club also occurred in the close season before the big kick-off in 2014, that of new CEO, Leeann Dempster being installed from her previous position at Motherwell FC. Ms Dempster appears to have big plans for the old club, notable amongst that is a ‘return to the community’ feel about her approach. During this period, former player, Paul Kane has headed a pressure group to oust former CEO Rod Petrie from the club and subsequently wrest ownership from Sir Tom Farmer and Petrie towards a fan-based ownership model. At the time of writing, negotiations remain in progress.
Perhaps the bigger picture to be seen at this time is Hibernian Football Club’s relative financial surety – a feature that has not always been so during the Leith institution’s history. With the final piece of the Easter Road redevelopment jigsaw, the replacing of the East Terracing complete and the construction of a magnificent new dedicated training complex at East Mains – the envy of many a club and a development that will see the club’s future progress for the coming decades – the infrastructure for future success certainly appears in place
One might say that Hibernian Football Club’s greatest days are yet to come…
‘Glory Glory to the Hibees!’
ON A LUNCHTIME BREAK recently, and enjoying the slightly short-lived recent summer weather, I spotted a quiet Nottingham landmark, something of a curiosity in the middle of the city that few local people might ever pass by. I decided to re-investigate a city feature which I hadn’t trodden for many a year.
The Park Estate is a smart, historic and characterful residential area, well-known to city residents. It perhaps surprisingly, held an annual tennis tournament that was often used by top players on the professional circuit as a grass court warm-up event, immediately prior to Wimbledon each year.
The Park Tunnel, Nottingham (south entrance)
The Park Tunnel which leads most inauspiciously from the busy thoroughfare of Derby Road was originally built back in 1855, its purpose to facilitate access via horse-drawn carriage, into the Park Estate. The Estate has a history as a former hunting park for the Duke of Newcastle, the owner of nearby Nottingham Castle, in truth a mansion or palace rather than a castle, replacing the former structure which was burnt to the ground by unruly and unhappy local people. The area became renowned as a popular part of the city for local wealthy luminaries to reside and to this day boasts many fine homes.
A sober sight: the north entrance sits under the white arch, in 2015, stranded in the car park of nearby local businesses
Proceeding further, the entrance remains unapparent
Down the steps and the hidden tunnel comes into view
Typically carved from the local sandstone, the tunnel boasts extensive brickwork above
Looking back: the tunnel surround displays signs of erosion of the soft sandstone
It’s said that the Duke of Newcastle originally ordered for the tunnel to be built with a specification of a gradient of no more than 1 in 14 feet. The grand tunnel however, was constructed to 1 in 12 foot dimensions, thus making it somewhat redundant from the inception of its life due to its unsuitability for horse-drawn carriages. These days, the Park Tunnel is used as pedestrian access to the Park Estate, largely forgotten and hidden from sight at the Derby Road end in the car park of some commercial businesses. Remaining yet another curiosity of the city of Nottingham, which are indeed numerous.
I love this picture of my old school’s football team appearing on St. Mary’s ‘Rec’ at Redhill. Memories of wearing that red shirt a good few times, Denis Law-style with the cuffs pulled down over my hands and giving the ‘Lawman’s’ single fist salute after scoring and dreaming that I was playing for Scotland. In the background is St. Mary’s Church which has stood on that spot for a mind-boggling thousand years. The church around which the town was built.
I recall one particular sports session at school where we were due to play football and a few of us turned up without kit as there was a foot of snow on the field. The games master who was very much a 1970s stereotype with his nylon track suit and bullying nature threw a pair of gym shorts each at us and made us go out and play bare-chested with no shoes or socks in deep snow and sub-zero temperatures. We survived – thought it was a bit of a laugh actually (except when you caught the rock hard size 3 football on your bare flesh). I’m just imagining what the authorities would make of that now.
The rec was the scene of many. a multiple-hour game of football between me, my pals and basically anybody who passed by. We played in all weathers in much worse conditions even than pictured I remember being engrossed in many-a-side games on the evenings in the late sixties that both Celtic and Manchester won their European Cups, running home hell-for-leather for a place in front of the black and white TV at kick-off time to watch the games with dad. Probably with a bowl of mum’s Scotch broth in front of me. Those were the days.
Looking to the future with one eye on the past.
For those interested in history, I’ve taken charge of an overhaul of my local history group’s website. The Arnold Local History Group is an established and growing organisation that offers education courses, events and exhibitions based on the town of Ernehale ‘The place of Eagles’, as it was formerly known.
The Old North Road of ‘immemorial antiquity’. Mansfield Road, Redhill, Nottingham pictured in 1925
Mansfield Road (above) which travels through our borough and close to my home fulfilled the role of joining the North and the South of England together and is arguably one of the oldest roads, if not the most ancient, in the United Kingdom. Almost certainly, a Stone Age animal path wending its way through Sherwood Forest originally it rose to prominence and importance as the main road from London to York. There are records of a 9th Century Danish Viking invasion marching from York to the city of Nottingham four miles to the south along the predecessor of the byway and accounts of William the Conqueror travelling what later became known as ‘The Turnpike Road’.
The site has some unique and high quality content for anyone with an interest in or link to the town and thereabouts or for those with a liking for history in general. The Arnold Local History Group site is available at:
Regular updates can also be found on the ALHG Twitter feed:
A very Happy New Year to all my friends and family
and visitors to The Tears of a Clown
Happy New Year, Grace Marian and John
Thinking of you on this special day and every day, mum and dad. It feels like forever since we hugged and kissed at New Year. One day we will be together again.
Whatever I am, you made me and gave me the determination and strength to carry on. Thank you. Love you.
And I find myself in the ‘wrong’ place at the top of the year. In truth, I wrestled with the idea of going home to Edinburgh for the celebrations but didn’t feel quite up to things emotionally after a difficult time this year and so chose a quiet, sometimes solitary time in Nottingham. I knew I’d have some regrets about this but didn’t know what else to do really. I hope for better times, times when I can truly enjoy myself with my many faithful pals in Edinburgh, in better condition to give a bit back to the people in particular who I’ve become very close to over the years.
I’ll miss my buddy and his partner’s house, the chat, the banter and laughs, I’ll very much miss my ‘little sis’, the People’s Republic of Leith, roaming down the shore. I can only think about past times at Easter Road for the moment and my dear home place of Musselburgh. Portobello’s esplanade and a run into the sea breeze along there lies in my imagination at the moment. A brisk stroll down Princes Street and a meander up the old town will have to wait.
There’s an Edinburgh derby game going on with my beloved Hibs taking on ‘them’ from across the city. Friends will be there and win, lose or draw it will all result in a blurry, long post-match amongst a gang of old mates and new. We are all one.
Not for me this year the Edinburgh Street Party celebrations nor a stool at the bar of the beautiful Cafe Royal or negotiating the revolving doors of the Guildford Arms and warm welcome of many other hostelries I’ve inhabited for so many years. There will be no house parties. It’s what I appeared to choose. All I could do.
People are not here now, things have changed and in their place just memories remain.
There’s no sorrow though in knowing that I will be back, hopefully in better fettle, not feeling weighed down by a ton of emotion laced with grief. Ready to move forwards again. I know those friends and that beautiful city will still be there.
As I write it’s too early for New Year’s wishes but my thoughts are with you all.
Here’s to a better 2015 and a hope that surviving will turn into flourishing and steady growth.
Goodbye and good riddance, 2014 – a year that almost broke me. I’m still standing – just.
The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.
Here’s an excerpt:
The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 54,000 times in 2014. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 20 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.
The recent cold snap providing Boxing Day’s significant snowfall an enduring life over the past few days reminds me of many winter snow days in Canada. Indeed, I think back wistfully to those times. That is in spite of the intensely cold temperatures one often has to cope with in that beautiful country.
During my many visits I had the good fortune to ski, both downhill and cross-country, ice skate and snowshoe through incredible and out-of-this-world landscapes. I went on snowmobile trips, engaged with wildlife and generally lived the life. Hugely influential on me were trips to stay in a genuine 1930s Canadian log cabin by Wabamun Lake in Alberta. The cabin was an experience like no other as it had little in the way of home comforts or even basic utilities. Water was gained by walking on to the frozen lake and using an auger before dropping a bucket down into the icy water. There was wood to be chopped, fires to be maintained, coffee to hand-grind and so on. It felt grounding to be released from modern technology and to get back to life’s most basic things.
There is nothing quite like ice skating – and even better, playing hockey – outdoors. It is an absolutely exhilarating experience. I remember one Canadian saying to me that skating was ‘the nearest thing to flying’. I particularly knew what he meant the first time I managed to achieve my own ambition of playing for fun outdoors on Wabamun Lake, thirty miles from Edmonton, Alberta.. What a memorable day that was. A small party of us set out, wrapped up well, carrying sticks and pucks. Being born in the UK I’d been used to scrambling and scrabbling across the odd frozen pond as a kid – with some trepidation as the surface heaved, threatened and cracked. All such historic fears and reservations of collapsing ice were allayed however when a large truck drove past us on the ice! We cleared snow from the ice to form our rink with the obviously quickly-frozen ice as smooth and clear as glass. Even the fish underneath the ice could be seen swimming around, what a beautiful experience!
I still remember well the ringing click-clack sound of sticks on puck and skating into the frigid air, the freshness – that feeling of just being alive.
I was since fortunate enough to mess around with a stick and puck and skate on quite a few ponds and lakes in Canada, also in such hitherto unlikely areas as school playgrounds with the snow piled up in surrounding banks to make a rink. There really is no feeling like it. How I miss it.
‘Keep your stick on the ice’ eh.
In loving memory of Margaret Weaver and to all my friends and family in Canada.
This time of year can provide a lot of difficulties. I read a Tweet with four simple helpful points yesterday and agreed with it. It was aimed at suicide survivors but I think it’s good general advice, especially for those with depression and other mental health issues:
Don’t take too much on.
Avoid being overwhelmed.
Limit your activities to those which you are interested in and able to do.
It is okay to say no.
Personally, i couldn’t stomach the thought of Christmas and New Year this year. I’ve lost too much and my life has been stood on its head and I don’t care to celebrate. Maybe that will come back one day. It’s only when you’re practising avoidance of it that you realise the subtle and continual pressures to join in, especially commercial ones. For some reason one of the worst things for me was trying to do my weekly grocery shop in Sainsbury’s and having to listen to insistent piped Christmas songs. I really couldn’t wait to get out of the place to be honest as it was making me perfectly miserable and acutely reminding me of my loss. I finished my shopping yesterday and won’t be back until the New Year. It’s all a bit cynical when you think about how many people have a rough time in the festive season.
I’ve felt the need to decline a lot of what Christmas has to offer. I’ve absolutely no wish to upset anyone, quite the contrary and in some ways it’s a very hard thing to do but this is my reality and how I am to survive, that I understand. At a very testing time I’m going to do everything in my power to protect myself. I am going to suggest to others that they look after themselves as much as possible in the same way.
I guess I just wanted to come on here and add my support towards others because it’s important to know that other people are going through this stuff as well. I want to reiterate the message that ‘keeping up appearances’ for Christmas when you’re having a bad time is not a necessity nor obligatory. I keenly feel the real significance of Christmas being a Catholic with a deep faith but even having said that I want to maintain the message that it’s just another day on the calendar in some ways and it’s important to protect oneself from the difficult feelings that can envelop one at this time. Sometimes it a ‘learn as you go’ as it appears to be with me right now.
Keep surviving. When you’re on your knees, get up again and proceed slowly with care. We are charged with looking after ourselves. That is the important thing even at this special time of year.
God Bless, good luck and peace to all.