I like this man. Dave Bartram, The ‘Cockle Man’ has been a familiar sight and local character around Nottingham’s pubs since before my first student steps into the city’s many and varied hostelries in the mid-seventies. Dave’a cry of ‘cockles, mussels’ often bringing a response of ‘alive a live-oh!’ in the likes of the Elizabethan Bar in the Bell Inn where I would often see him and the many other public houses where Dave can be found doing his rounds, as he has been since the 1960s
Additionally, each pot of seafood sold to people in Nottingham’s bars these days sees a donation heading towards the Rainbows Hospice for young people and children.
Dave Bartram, Nottingham’s ‘Cockle Man’
I applaud these fabled great characters of the city like the Cockle Man, people such as Sally the ‘painter girl’ and the late Frank Robinson, also known as ‘Xylophone Man’. In a bland generally characterless modern society these individuals bring colour, fibre and identity to a city.
At the age of 70, Dave, walking along a precinct from The Thurland Arms to The Old Dog And Partridge, was jumped and attacked. As he has professed before, he tried to protect himself with his big basket, what a man. After the incident, whilst being examined by doctors at the Nottingham City hospital, Dave was found to have a cancer diagnosis. Crucially however, a very treatable one that was fortunate enough to be found in its early stages.
I’m happy that some somewhat unlikely good has come out of this story.
Long live ‘The Cockle Man’.
Queen’s Chambers, Old Market Square. One of my favourite local buildings and one that I always think of as quintessentially Nottingham when away from here. Many a time caught a bus home to the suburbs from the shadow of this showy and stately building, in the days when buses and other vehicles were actually allowed to use the city’s roads extensively.
Queen’s Chambers, Nottingham
Designed by Watson Fothergill, (1841-1926), a feted local architect with a penchant for turrets, towers, tall chimneys and wall decorations of horizontal blue-black bricks.
Fothergill, who designed some 100 buildings in Nottingham and the East Midlands also enjoyed a little Gothic imagery through the addition of gargoyles, animals, plant life and heavy dark wood beams in his unique designs.
His striking buildings remain testament to his imagination, dotted around the Lace City still to this day.
PAH! NOTHING new about ‘ice bars’ in Nottingham. As a lad doing my drinking apprenticeship in the late 1970s, several pubs here were absolutely freezing in the winter. I even recall a portable calor gas heater being wheeled into one hostelry, The Wilberforce Tavern, as the landlord fought valiantly to stop friends and I from entering an extreme hypothermia induced coma. (It was either that or the local, infamous Shipstones bitter which owned an over-optimistic anagram of ‘honest p*ss’.)
The former Wilberforce Tavern, Wollaton Street, Nottingham – several Trent Polytechnic students may have perished on these premises in the 1970s. At least there was a good chippy next door for the wake.
Nottingham was one of the ancient cities that had a wall for defence purposes. It stretched around a good part of the conurbation for well over half a mile with the remainder protected by a large earth bank and ditch and the natural obstructions of a river and marshes to the south.
After the Norman Conquest of England, Nottingham became a town divided into two peoples. The former Saxon settlement which is now known as the Lace Market area came to be known as the English Borough whilst the area stretching from the castle east towards the Lace Market came to be called the French Borough. It is my understanding that the two peoples lived in relative peace side by side with the original Saxons being allowed to continue practicing some of their original indigenous customs. It is also my understanding that the people of the French Borough were considered more educated and enjoyed a superior quality of life to their neighbours. The Nottingham Town Wall was built in response to the wars of the Barons and linked both French and English Boroughs
Map: The Nottingham Heritage Gateway
The town wall construction, comprising blocks of local sandstone bonded with mortar, is thought to have been initiated in around 1260, taking approximately 60 years to build.The majority of the wall was demolished by 1540 and almost totally by the end of the 17th century. Little of it remains uncovered in the 21st century. A small section of the wall is still extant and is visible inside a city centre hotel near Chapel Bar from a viewing platform, it being unearthed during the excavations of 1964 when building the city’s Maid Marian Way thoroughfare. A road that has been seen as unlovely and unloved due to its bland appearance and the fact that it butchered its way through a number of historic and mediaeval streets. Nottingham’s city fathers do not have a good record in the matter of preserving the city’s heritage in these respects.
Local dignitaries inspect the Maid Marian Way excavations of 1964
The last remaining viewable evidence of Nottingham’s Town Wall, situated in a city hotel
The impressive construction is estimated to have stood some 8m/26ft high at its tallest with a walkway along the top and protective battlements.
The old wall briefly showed itself again some years later in 1970 during further excavations in Theatre Square to build a pedestrian subway, ironically now closed and buried itself. The image above shows the ancient defence surfacing once more and re-opening the history book at the beginning of the seventies.
‘Market Square, Nottingham’ by Arthur Spencer, 1950.
I really like this fine, atmospheric painting which, as the winter draws inexorably closer, reminds of colder, less hospitable days. The Council House and it’s huge dome containing Little John”s quarter-hourly chimes, standing sentinel over the city landscape as Nottingham’s citizens brave the snow and ice, huddled against the cold in their winter clothing.
A magical image that evokes a wintry Nottingham of a different era.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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 came across a reference to the old Children’s Hospital at Forest House recently and it brought quite a few childhood memories rushing back. I managed somehow to get myself knocked down (well up in the air actually) by a beefy Ford Consul when I was a kid and ended up a guest in said institution. When I eventually landed it was with two broken legs, one in three places, and concussion plus a few sundry cuts and bruises for good measure. I recall being upside down in the air and seeing my shoe flying up the street. I also remember then doggedly trying to drag myself to my feet using a bus stop to hold on to and looking down to see my leg bend in the wrong place. They carted me off to ‘The Children’s’ in an ambulance where I remained for a week. With physiotherapy (learning to walk again basically) my young association with that hospital lasted a year though.
I was terrified of the place but they looked after me very well (I’ve gone on to run a few marathons as an adult so they did very well indeed I guess!) but I was scared stiff of the building and the unknown in there as I thought they were going to take my legs away for good. I remember the above so well, being taken for physiotherapy there by my mum so many times.
The kindest, kindest man, a jolly West Indian doctor, looked after me and made me smile – even though he was tasked with re-breaking my legs twice in operations as they had knitted crookedly. On another failed occasion they sawed the long plaster casts half through at the shins and banged wooden pegs in the gaps to straighten my legs. Looking back it was like something out of a Hammer horror movie. I wish I could thank that kindly doctor today though.
During the 1990s in particular, the High Streets of this country largely lost their small independent bookshops which for most true book lovers was a great shame. I remember prior to those days the likes of Mushroom a co-operative run bookshop in Nottingham’s Hockley area, my first purchase there being the Communist Party Manifesto if I recall correctly! There were other similar interesting little outlets too.
It’s recently come to my attention that Nottingham now owns a brand-new independent retailer, ‘The Five Leaves Bookshop’ situated centrally in the city on Long Row. Five Leaves have been doing very good things in this part of the world for some time and are to be applauded for this fresh enterprise. I intend a visit on my next trip into the city and humbly suggest others check this new business out too. No, I’m not on commission, I’m a lover of literature and reading and what these things bring to our lives. I’d like to see this trend for small independent booksellers grow here in Nottingham and other cities and towns.
I’ve written previously about the numerous networks of caves that run under the city of Nottingham and some of it’s outlying suburbs such as the one I live in. They are many in number, not generally connected to other systems across the area and generally speaking, hand-hewn from the soft sandstone that the city lies on, for all sorts of reasons.
Some time ago, I came across an interesting academic article regarding the disused sand mines that line the main arterial Mansfield Road which leads directly out of the north side of Nottingham. Interesting to me, partly due to the fact that it’s a part of the city I use frequently, in particular for visits to The Lincolnshire Poacher pub just a few minutes walk up the same road heading towards to the old Rock Cemetery and Forest recreation ground, home of the annual Goose Fair.
I’d long been told that underneath The Lincolnshire Poacher and it’s neighbouring businesses there are deep caves which I assumed were the result of the sand mines originally in-situ. Notable in this is The Golden Fleece, another Mansfield Road hostelry close by which in the past has held charity abseiling events down it’s two-storey caves below the public house.
Last night I had the opportunity to visit The Poacher’s cellars briefly. Again, they are two-storied with the first level being traditional brick by construction. Interesting enough in their own right but it is when descending a further narrow staircase through the rock down to a second lower storey where things become quite remarkable and thought-provoking.
As can be seen in the above images, this part of the cellars is a hand-made cave, whether this is the result of former sand mining or excavated especially for this former dwelling house is not clear to me. Quite clearly, the indentations of tools used to scrape away the soft rock are apparent, forming a uniformly shaped ‘room’ complete with a ‘drop’ for beer barrels, at the end, leading down from the pub back yard.
The cellars are of course a busy working environment under the former Old Grey Nag’s Head, the pub’s previous incarnation and so are laden and scattered with beer barrels, bottled beers and the various paraphernalia required to serve the pub’s many satisfied and loyal customers. The atmosphere, as one might expect, is damp and temperate, the floor sticky and with a general feel of the labour required in keeping a busy city-centre pub replenished. Even in 2013 though there remains a little evocative history and a few questions outstanding deep under The Lincolnshire Poacher and the businesses and homes nearby.
A pleasant and peaceful Christmas takes me back to thoughts of a year ago, as these times often do. Life was a little different a year ago as I approached the making of plans for the festive period. Christmas Eve, a beautiful (and exciting for some) evening has changed it’s character somewhat in these days of difficulties of getting home from festive occasions due to lack of public transport and expense and this was a consideration in my plans.
A year ago on Christmas Eve I visited a favourite pub of mine in the city of Nottingham, deciding that I would probably walk the four miles home to put the key in the front door lock a little after midnight. A few days prior to the big night I arranged with a chap who would regularly visit the same ‘local’ as me, sharing a friendly chat over a pint or two on many an evening, in the city to walk most of the way home together for company, him living in a neighbouring suburb. We took our long stroll home on a cold winter’s night on the 24th of December last year and bade each other a cheery good night and all the very best for Christmas.
I saw him regularly through the winter still until the Spring months were upon us, before his sudden disappearance in April. The friendly face and character was missed by more than me as people debated where he now was. Over a period of time, I began to hear of sightings of him in the city’s streets and public houses and transport that left me with uncomfortable feelings. Before this I had bumped into him in harmless circumstances twice, once at a bus station waiting for a bus and again in a cosy city centre pub where he appeared fine and professed the same story.
In early December, an acquaintance informed me that the friend had been turfed out of a local shopping mall during the middle of the night after being discovered sleeping in the shopping centre’s lavatories. A few days before I caught word that he was padding around the city’s street all through the night and into early morning.
Of course I am extremely worried for his welfare. Very cold winter weather has recently subsided to miserable wet days and nights and I hate to imagine how it must feel surviving on the streets in such conditions. Indeed those colder nights are potential killers, let’s not make any bones about that. I have taken steps with an appropriate organisation who help the homeless to do what little I can – passing information on about him which was well received and which I was informed was very useful. I am not optimistic about my friend’s circumstances but trying to have faith that something can be done to help him. This all serves to remind me how fragile our lives are.
As this Christmas passes and the New Year approaches, spare a thought for people like my friend. I know you will. May I ask you a favour, if there’s something you can do for someone similar, please do it soon.
LAST EVENING I VISITED the Nottingham Playhouse to see the opening night of Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (The Musical), a new serving of author Alan Sillitoe’s classic and gritty take on Nottingham life in the late 1950s. I’ll state my case straight away in the interests of fairness by saying that I’m not particularly a fan of musicals generally speaking so this will by no means be an attempt at a serious review of this albeit rather enjoyable production. Other will provide much more useful reviews, such as the one featured here in the Nottingham Post. I am however, a huge fan of Alan Sillitoe’s original book and the film derived from it and this is the reason I attended the pleasant arena of Nottingham Playhouse for the production’s initial showing.
The show is already in motion of sorts as the audience are still filing in, with the infamous Saturday night scene from the White Horse at Radford beginning to build. There’s a hubbub from the throng of drinkers and cigarette smoke filters on stage through the still half-full auditorium. There’s a couple of black and white Notts County scarves in the mix along with a few ladies head scarves that help paint the scene of a vibrant working class suburb of post-war Nottingham.
Image from: ‘Arthur’s Blog’
Our working class anti-hero, Arthur Seaton, makes his first appearance and is immediately challenged to a drinking contest which he proceeds to win before fully throwing up over an innocent bystander in the pub followed by the unfortunate’s horrified wife in quick order!
It’s interesting to note how Seaton is portrayed, cocky as always and full of himself, ‘out for a good time and all the rest is propaganda‘. A more sensitive side to the character is shown however in Arthur’s Sunday morning fishing trips down the canal bank where he philosophises about his life and lot in his now peaceful environ, rod and reel in hand, bicycle by his side.
The musical takes us on a fun ride through a Thursday night at the local Goose Fair, a Monday evening date at the ‘Granby’ picture house and several scenes back in the White Horse and his parent’s parlour. There’s a large cast and the show is dynamic and fast-moving. Some of the most arresting scenes were the depictions of the Raleigh cycle factory where everyone of a certain age in Nottingham knew someone who worked. We see Arthur at his ‘lathe’ getting up to mischief upsetting a female worker and putting forth his views on lifestyle, his own particular variation on morality and the working classes. There were good attempts at the local (very difficult to imitate) dialect. Certainly, this was not the actor Albert Finney’s strong suit it has to be said in an otherwise fantastic and convincing portrayal of Seaton in the original film so it would possibly be a little churlish to pick up on the minutia here.
Arthur’s visit to Goose Fair and the hiding he takes from two squaddies for his philandering misdemeanours are featured along with a protracted scene of his bed-ridden few days convalescing after his beating. A tender visit from his girl Doreen and some love and biscuits from his ‘mam’ are punctuated by the comical scene where Arthur, aided and abetted by his visiting pal, shoot the local gossip in the back side in the yard below from his bedroom window with an air gun.
It’s well-documented that Arthur Seaton turns from the brash and boozy Saturday night womaniser and brawler to fall in love with Doreen and much of the second, shorter half of the production features this turnaround. One is reminded of the memorable closing scenes in the film epic as the young couple, with their lives in front of them, sit on a country hillside overlooking new houses being built in the far panorama as the 1960s dawn and the titles roll. It occurs to me that it would have been interesting to understand what happened to Arthur and Doreen in the ensuing years.
This story is of its time and was a landmark moment in literary and cinematographic history. It is however no less relevant in 2012 as was shown by this independent amateur production. It’s current short run ends on Saturday 12th May. If you like the late Alan Sillitoe’s portrayal of working class life in a Midlands city of the late 1950s it’s well worth giving this musical interpretation a visit.
The word ‘twitchell’ appears to be a peculiarly Nottingham word. I have never heard its like elsewhere. It denotes an alleyway, a wynd, a ginnel or whatever is the favoured word in your part of the world.
My parents’ house when I was growing up had a short twitchell next to it which was a short walkway from Redhill through to a small housing estate leading to Arnold. It was unremarkable and only characterised by the six to seven-foot private hedges that so many people used to own in the 1960s lining it on either side.
Nearby ‘Back Twitchell’ had much more of interest. It lined, as it still does, an outer perimeter of Redhill School. The other side had the one-after-the-other ends of back gardens of the neat council semi’s from a nearby crescent. Half way along the twitchell lived Ted, the car mechanic with his higgledy-piggledy little wooden workshop at the end of his yard. A trusty blue overall which was mostly oil and a French beret at a jaunty angle. A big bear of a man, a former RAF serviceman with a long bushy beard and always a kindly word for us young laddies – especially if he knew our dads. For decades Ted had a row of motors in various states of decay and disablement along the black ash twitchell. We knew it was the end when all those old motorised carcasses were finally strapped up and towed away…
The twitchell was also used for conkering, hide and seek, practical jokes on passers by, football, letting off fireworks and many other childhood pastimes. Then came a certain age and girls…
All grown and at work, still that twitchell persisted as a short cut through from a pint or two in Arnold back to Redhill, under the stars last thing at night, considering the world. Halley’s Comet came along and I remember standing transfixed for several minutes on that old twitchell of my childhood, looking up at this wonder in the skies from the inky blackness and thinking of the several decades I tramped that familiar, dark ashy path.
Most of all I remember the wonderful distant childhood sight of my dear dad walking home from Arnold during the afternoon. Always clad in an immaculate navy blue suit incongruous with the overgrown old twitchell, head held high and his unmistakable, slightly nautical gate earned from many years at sea in the Merchant Navy. As he got closer and smiled at me I would see the familiar sprig of hawthorn he would always pick from the hedges and pop in the corner of his mouth. I would give everything I owned to see that sight just one more time on that little pathway.
CHRISTMAS COMES BUT ONCE A YEAR and so do the attendant Christmas Markets dotted around the UK in, its larger cities in particular. Here in Nottingham until a year ago, we had a German Market placed in and around the large Old Market Square in the centre of the city. This was replaced last year when, in the dying days of November, a much-vaunted ‘Victorian Fair’ came to take its place.
I’ll not try to claim any of these events as being terribly authentic in any way. The goods tend to be expensive too, but at least they provide a little mid-winter atmosphere around the city centre which could look a little barren and grey in the faltering light and damp pavements at the end of the year.
In previous years I particularly enjoyed seeing the busy outdoor skating rink laid out as a centre piece in the Square. Although of course artificial, it exuded a pleasing Winter ambience and truth be told, people appeared to like it as it always seemed well-used when I was passing there, which was often. Conveniently close by was a simple beer stand where one could wash down a delicious Bratwurst with a pint or two of excellent German Paulaner out in God’s good fresh air.
Last year things changed with a larger licensed bar in the form of a Canadian-style hunting lodge. The concept was pretty hokey, what with its pair of old white figure skates hanging on the wall (in a hunting lodge!) a scattering of furniture and a fur rug or two. It was however warmish in there which was a bonus, even if the drinks had been largely demoted to bog-standard beers sold in any old pub.
This year I popped into the Square on the evening of the 23rd November for the annual Christmas tree lights switch on and was quite disappointed in what I saw. Centre stage in place of the skating rink was a huge fairground ride which I believe is called the ‘North Star’. The Council’s blurb describe it as sixty metres high and it is totally out of keeping with a Christmas Market. It actually looks quite ridiculous. Wandering around I also noticed a fairground merry-go-round, which for the life of me I can’t link to Christmas and other smaller rides which I’ve subsequently seen deserted and only manned by bored-looking operators.
There’s a large bar which is excitedly billed by the council as a ‘Narnia’ experience. It’s basically a large open-ended shed that sells beer with a smaller room through a ‘wardrobe’ door. There’s mulled wine and Staropramen amongst other things on offer. I did enjoy an excellent pint of Briska Swedish perry which was very refreshing. I won’t be taking too many of those though at £3.80 a pint.
Small stalls snake along Long Row and Wheeler gate in what is a larger event for 2011. Many of the businesses however are generic, anytime anywhere affairs which have little to do with the festivities at this time of year.
So, on balance, I’m pretty disappointed. I’ve enjoyed socialising with friends on the Christmas Market in Nottingham many times but can’t see that happening so much this year. The Nottingham City Council seem to have capitulated to a lack of cash but more obviously a lack of imagination. The same fairground operators once again dominate the Square as per usual, yes we’ve noticed and you’re not fooling us Nottingham City Council, making it more like Goose Fair with artificial snow. It’s all a bit cheap looking.
Verdict: could do better – much better. I’ll be looking for the spirit of Christmas elsewhere this year.
Walking along Shakespeare Street in Nottingham and on the way to work at 8.15am, I noticed an unusual aroma in the air. Not the usual traffic or industrial smells that fill the air in most large conurbations but an unmistakable and undeniable smoky legacy of a major fire. Talking briefly to a colleague on the way to my assignment, she confirmed to me that there had been a serious fire in the vicinity of Goldsmith Street, adjacent the university’s main entrance. That minor inconvenience seemed inconsequential however when I realised that the Rescue Rooms venue had been evacuated of 1400 people on a ‘student night’ and that the famous ajacent venue, Rock City, could easily have gone up in flames.
Nottingham’s Rock City is not a world-renowned auditorium, nor does it have a history that traces pre the 1980s, it is however extremely well regarded by knowledgeable UK music fans and gig-goers. It also has a back catalogue of live acts that is truly remarkable which includes the likes of U2 and REM.
I had the good fortune and possibly foresight to attend the newly-opened Rock City back in it’s seminal days after being converted from a ‘chicken in a basket’ nightspot called The Heart of the Midlands as was popular up and down the country in the 1970s. In those days the city of Nottingham really suffered for a decent rock venue. It was largely after the days of many a famous act at the boat clubs at Trent Bridge and before the days of The Royal Concert Hall. Apart from the very odd gig in the old Albert Hall, practically the only opportunities to watch live bands were in city centre pubs such as The Hearty Good Fellow on Maid Marion Way and The Imperial Hotel’s ‘Cooler Bar’ on St. James Street. The latter of which I had many a memorable evening at.
Many of the gigs I attended in those day entailed travelling to Leicester’s De Montfort Hall and Granby Hall where I saw many big name acts such as The Who and The Rolling Stones and some who were to achieve levels of greatness such as The Jam and Elvis Costello.
If my memory serves me correctly, the first gig I attended at Rock City was to watch The Kinks. The great 1960s band and genius songsmith and lyricist Ray Davies were probably past their peak creatively but still a big draw, being major players in British rock music’s heritage and one of the most exciting bands of the sixties. Many other entertaining gigs followed in those early days such as The Darts, long forgotten now but tremendous fun live and SAHB – The Sensational Alex Harvey Band. Alex was completely on form that night with his buccaneer jacket on, one boot up on his famous treasure chest, holding the ecstatic Rock City faithful in his gaze. A classic moment was when the band went into the opening bars of Framed when a leather jacket clad Alex assumed his Don Corleone gangster role by ripping a packet of lady’s nylons from his pocket and stuffing his cheeks with them to imitate the Mafioso ‘Godfather’ ‘Am-a-gonna make you an offer you can’t refuse’ ‘Ah wuz fr-a-a-med – Ah niver did nuthin’
There were so many nights, and everyone will have their own view and memories of them but perhaps the most astonishing night for me was on attending a Bad Manners gig. The ska men were ripping into a fantastic set with the audience apparently having a great time when suddenly all hell was let loose with a pitched fight in the crowd and a hail of glasses being thrown. The police were called that night and the gig discontinued.
Many big bands point back to early Rock City gigs as some of their most enjoyable. Nobody will ever point to the venue as being salubrious or well appointed, but what was never in doubt was the extraordinary atmosphere generated in the Nottingham venue. Long may that continue.
It’s mid-October and the golden leaves are now falling steadily, swirling around and sweeping the streets. It’s a time when energy levels can be depressed but often need to
be heightened, as in the case of the many people within my working environment at a local University. For October is a time of enormous activity in any such organisation.
The city centre campus is inevitably teeming with bodies and droves of hopeful and excitable young students, many on their first sojourn from home, pouring along Shakespeare Street and Goldsmith Street. Books and satchels in hand, hopes and fears for the future in heart.
Today as I write it is very sleepy in student land. An 8.15am stroll from the Victoria Centre bus depot sees surprisingly few people or traffic, an unusual scene for the middle of a sizeable city such as Nottingham. It’s a Thursday morning and every Wednesday night is a discount student night in some nightclubs in the city which might offer an explanation for the sluggish and rheumy eyed beginning to the day. By the time I emerge from a lecture mid-morning it will be a different academic world.
The University has seen many recent changes and as I walk around the lower levels of the city-dominating tower of the Newton building it strikes me that I’m standing on the very spot that I did more than thirty years ago. In those days it was in my first incarnation as a student studying Letter Assembly for my job as an apprentice compositor in the print trade. The plush surroundings I’m observing now where once a car park stood which I would kick a ball through with my friends for morning coffee in the refectory.
There really is little comparison with the environs of the Trent Polytechnic of the 1970s and the modern Nottingham Trent University of today with it’s freshly appointed ambiance borne of huge investmen and very few similarities apart from geography. The Newton building has been gutted and refurbished and so has the historic but slightly run down Arkwright building of my teens. Sadly, the building where I was based in the composing room is no longer and has been razed to the ground in aid of progress and a seemingly little-used courtyard.
In those days Trent Polytechnic was largely inhabited by local students who were industrially-based in regular jobs, there appeared to be very few lofty academics in evidence and even people wearing white laboratory coats appeared to consider themselves a superior breed to us printing apprentices in those days. As I look around today there are many overseas students from China, Thailand, Korea and many other far-flung countries surrounding me. It is an interesting and vibrant panorama and this is perhaps just as things should be in the Autumn of 2010. It is however still an interesting comparison with those long days passed of enrolling in 1975 and stepping out of ‘Trent Poly’ in 1980 to face a new decade and the full-time world of work.
A fine day was forecast, a heady for August 23c and sunny outlook. I awoke to an ash grey sky however and so the day would remain. The bikes had already been stowed in the back of the car ready and waiting for the day’s challenge, that of cycling from the centre of Nottingham to Newark-on-Trent adhering to the River Trent.
My friend and I set off steadily through the late Saturday morning shoppers on Milton Street and the Clumber Street precinct and bore left to the quieter Lace Market district before reaching the landmark of Meadow Lane Football Stadium and its adjacent cattle market. Turning right over Lady Bay Bridge we were soon enthusiastically wheeling our cycles down the steps to our first view of the River Trent, under the nearby shadow of Nottingham Forest’s City Ground Stadium.
What immediately confronted us was what appeared to be a foot race along the Trent towpath of a long thin stream of mud-splattered individuals. Indeed, one or two looked as if they had been driven over by a tractor or perhaps spent the night residing in a potato patch. A good solid British fun morning out in the fresh air.
Very quickly the pleasant path took us brushing into the Holme Pierrepont Water Sports Centre with a brief sight of the cold, grey sporting waters before cutting over a rugby pitch and heading down the slightly eerily quiet Adbolton Lane towards Radcliffe-on-Trent. Curiosity and time on our hands soon saw us taking a short detour to have a peek at Blotts Country Club before we proceeded cheerily down the narrow lane towards The Green and onto Radcliffe’s busy main street.
A check of the map and a peruse of an estate agent’s illustrated front windows and we were passing Radcliffe railway station and facing our first and only hill of the whole journey. Energy levels were high as we steadily tacked up the hill to be faced with extensive views over the surrounding countryside. Very soon the prettily situated Shelford village came into view. In the foreground busy Autumn ploughing of the fields was in full flow with rapt and rabid attention from a flock of shrieking gulls. A long, steep descent and a speedometer reading of all of thirty miles per hour took us whizzing into the quiet little village with barely a soul to be seen on Saturday lunchtime.
An aim of our journey was to hug the river as consistently as possible and before long we were passing over the River Trent’s only crossing between Nottingham and Newark, the dependable looking Gunthorpe Bridge. The bridge, along with the upstream Gunthorpe Lock was opened in the 1930s being a project to create work for local people in what was a time of austerity. Prior to this time the main traffic ran directly through the little village of Gunthorpe towards an original bridge with its toll house standing sentinel next to it. The toll house still remains in the guise of a restaurant and upon close inspection both ends of the long-removed bridge can still be observed in the undergrowth.
Gunthorpe Bridges, old and new
It was high time for our first refreshment of the day as we steadily picked out way towards the patio of what was formerly a fairly basic tearoom at Gunthorpe Lock and is now a pleasant bistro named Biondi. Whenever I see this nice facility it reminds me of the days a few years ago when there nothing here apart from a car park for visitors. One winter’s day, cooling down after a long run along the Trent towpath a researcher, clipboard in hand approached me and asked what type of facilities might be provided in the area? ‘Somewhere to get a cup of tea’ was the first response I blurted out that day and it’s gratifying to see that this and much beyond has come to pass. Continue reading
I’ve written about Nottingham’s ancient travelling fair that boasts a history of over seven hundred years previously and although seldom ever visiting in the past few years it’s always evocative of younger days in Nottingham. This might partly be because I just pass by it so very often. On certain days a week my journey into the city of Nottingham can mean passing by the large, garishly-lit spectacle up to four times so it’s something of a constant reminder.
This year has presented only the second occasion when the fair has run over five days (the previous time was on the fair’s 700th birthday). It’s the night time view that impresses of course and that has never changed. From the main Mansfield to Nottingham road, the huge happening on the Forest recreation ground can simply not be ignored. Even from the car a rumbling tumult can be felt as people pour from all directions towards the annual honey pot. This year for the first time I even heard it from my own home which stands some three miles away as the crow flies.
It’s a regular Friday evening routine for me to travel to the city to run with a friend who lives a few minutes walk away from the fair and this Friday we decided to take our little training jog around the perimeter of the fair and even after all these years, and without the personal interest in it I still have to say it is immense. Approaching it the aromas, the busy whirring fairground engines and the screams of fairgoers overwhelm the senses with the sheer size of it. Every year I wonder if this tradition is finally diminishing like so many older customs and entertainments. I look for signs that it is shrinking in size or maybe that there are less people enjoying themselves on the rides or tucking into the array of foods on sale, but truthfully I see none.
It’s been a long time since the Nottingham Goose Fair was held in the city’s Old Market Square and much, much longer since the geese the event was named after were walked with specially tarred feet all the way from the Lincolnshire and Cambridgeshire fens or from distant Norfolk. You can’t buy a female servant there anymore which amazingly you could in the early days, nor sadly can you visit the boxing and wrestling booth or the Wall of Death. Much if it is the same as it ever was though, ideal for a mushy pea and mint sauce frenzy, spending a few pounds scaring yourself half to death on the rides and buying the youngsters some candy floss and a toffee apple after winning them a large cuddly toy. The perhaps surprising thing is that Goose Fair does relatively little to reinvent itself but goes on strongly year upon year. It would be a brave man that would bet on that not continuing for a long time to come yet.
According to the report below, the city council are considering abolishing the German Market this year stating the possibility that it may become ‘boring’. Possible other options to replace it according to the same report are more fairground rides (what a surprise that one is, I wonder who will be providing those?) a craft market and the English cafe market to return.
Now maybe I’m alone on this but I think this is a great shame. I’ve come to enjoy my annual visits to the Old Market square for the ‘switch-on’ night and the atmosphere generally when dropping off there for a tasty Bratwurst and a German beer or two, or a Glühwein. Like any such event there are improvements that could be made and perhaps nobody is trying to state it’s the genuine article in terms of it being ‘authentic’ but it is fun, friendly and relatively safe as far as having a drink in the city centre is concerned.
I’m not an overly political person these days but I sometimes think the city council seem quite unattuned to what the people of Nottingham would like to see happen in the city, certainly in this case. I often wonder how many years the ‘Wheel of Nottingham’ will be planned to return for example. One never really knows for sure but on the evidence of my own frequent passages through the square I rarely see anybody actually on it. I took a ride for a fiver on it’s first appearance and it was okay but it could be said that ‘once is enough’ for such an attraction.
Sometimes they get it right. The City Pulse is a good example of that. In the case of the German Market I think they are kicking to the kerb prematurely a nice little new tradition in the city needlessly. Time will tell. I know for the suggested options so far they won’t be seeing my cash in the proximity of the council house during the coming winter.
This year’s Robin Hood Beer Festival came and went and was a roaring success in respect of visitors – even more than ever. I visited Nottingham Castle for the event on the Friday evening with a friend, arriving to join the long queue at around 8.30pm. A reasonable time of around twenty minutes or so elapsed before we were through the gate and into the thick of things.
Ten pounds was the standard deal and this included admission, a commemorative half pint jug and two beer tokens to initially whet your whistle with. The first job therefore was to locate more beer tokens, each reasonably priced at £1.25 and entitling the owner to a half pint of beer or cider.
On entering the huge main marquee the fist noticeable thing was the huge amount of visitors crammed in under the canvass. The festival was seriously busy with the equally serious business of drinking beer. My friend and I picked our way through the thickly packed crowd to the area selling the cider. We managed just one glass each, in my case of ‘Perry’s sweet cider. It was a refreshing and tasty start to the proceedings which left me thirsty for more. Unfortunately plans had to be modified as from that point – and indeed for the entire rest of the evening – the cider tables were besieged with frantic customers standing three and four people deep in a desperate attempt to get served. The judicious use of elbows seemed to be a pre-requisite too. Slightly crestfallen, I settled on plumping for a real ale or two – very much a second choice for me.
I’m not sure how the city of Nottingham compares creatively in the sphere of blog writing with other similar cities. Save for Edinburgh perhaps, I haven’t the time to scour contemporary towns and their respective blogs and observe how they stack up against the output from The Lace City. I have a hunch though that Nottingham is pretty well served by it’s blogging and writing talent generally.
The Tears of a Clown is not necessarily a ‘Nottingham Blog’ by any means. I tend to just write about the subjects that interest or amuse me and the experiences I have. Nevertheless any visitor browsing through this site will come across plenty of Nottinghamshire content and I like to maintain the site’s partly local identity. In doing this I often browse around to see what my fellow Nottingham based bloggers are saying and am seldom disappointed in what I come across.
I initiated this blog site after formerly running my own regular website and posting articles on there. In June 2007 I attended a lecture at the Lowdham Book Festival given by Mike Atkinson. What I heard that day in a most entertaining and hugely informative talk by Mike, prompted me to initiate The Tears of a Clown. It’s only fitting then that I begin by linking to his own blog, troubled diva.
‘Without a doubt, drivel is Mike’s forte’
Don’t be fooled by the tag line, Mike Atkinson’s piece of the Web has pretty much all the things you might enjoy about a blog experience. Great content, quality writing, humour and information. Although going through a hiatus or two due to professional writing duties, it remains a vibrant and fun read, particularly if you enjoy reading about music. Features including the highlighting of other interesting articles from around the Net, Twitter and a well-populated comments section keep up the interest.
‘News, views and musings from the great city’
I haven’t been reading Alan-a-dale’s blog for too long but what I see I like a lot. Lot’s of local content expressed in an individual and very readable and personable style.
‘Fun, frivolity and assorted moaning about England’
Brookes, Alberta’s Rob Cutforth who bills himself as ‘A Canadian in New Basford’ is one of my favourite bloggers and whilst not hugely prolific his articles are always worth the wait. Rob no longer lives in Nottingham having moved to Manchester but posts excellent and hilarious items on the superb LeftLion website, and hard copy newspaper, here in Nottingham. Continue reading
Saturday evening and it’s the last night of the Nottingham Goose Fair 2009. My partner Melanie and I decided to make the short journey to the old travelling funfair, now, almost unbelievably, in it’s 715th year. Like many profess to, we just went for a walk around, to take in the sights, smells and atmosphere of the huge event.
It’s seldom I’ve visited the fair in the past few years and one change that is noticeable is the lack of the old sideshows which were very much the essence of Goose Fair for me. Attractions such as the Boxing Booth, where local worthies would get up to challenge travelling fighters are sadly missed. ‘Mouse Town’, which is fairly self-descriptive and wonder to us kids, is no more either. Other omissions might well be down to the more easily breached sensibilities of 2009. It’s hard to imagine a giant Scotsman being allowed for people to gawp at, nor a ‘bearded lady’ for that matter.
The children love it all of course and even in these days of sophisticated X-Boxes and other high-tech amusements, it’s good to see that same wide-eyed wonder that I probably had all those years ago when I was their age.
It’s important to leave a little space in your stomach for a taste of the fair I always think and I have to say I was very restrained on this visit. I had a tub of the traditional mushy peas with a large splash of mint sauce as well – lovely! I managed to forego other such delicacies as Brandy Snaps, Candyfloss and the vast array of fudge on show. Curiously the foodstuff perhaps most synonymous with Goose Fair – toffee apples were nowhere to be seen. Another point, where my seafood? Maybe these have been replaced with the smattering of noodle concessions, posh coffee vans and Panini bars that seem to have sprung up.
The Forest Recreation ground where Goose Fair is held is very handy for the main arterial Mansfield Road which leads straight up and over into the city. It houses one or two excellent pubs and is something of a traditional ‘crawl’ who prefer the relative sanity of its public houses to some of those in the centre of Nottingham. Last evening after the Fair, Mel and I wandered along to Fade Bar or The Hard to Find Cafe to quote it’s other name. It’s an interesting old building with a nice mixed clientele and good quality and varied drinks. The conservatory area is a great addition to this pub/cafe and is nicely atmospheric. I tried a pint of the excellent Aspells cider from Suffolk and an equally tasty pint of Erdinger Weissbier. Happily, one of my favourite Nottingham hostelries is but a few yards from the front door of The Hard to Find… and what better conclusion to a typical Nottingham Goose Fair night than a pint in The Lincolnshire Poacher with its fine ales, quality continental lagers and friendly surroundings. Roll on the first weekend in October 2010…
Why not come along with me now for a walk on the Fair…
If there’s one thing that always heralds the notion that Autumn has arrived in Nottingham it’s the opening of the historic Goose Fair. This ancient congregation was always traditionally opened at lunchtime on the first Thursday in October, running until late Saturday night over a three day duration. The demands of commerce now decree that the centuries old fair, which initially began in the city’s Old Market Square for matters of trade and now resides around a mile north on the Forest recreation round, opens a day early on the Wednesday evening, ignoring the old tradition.
The rush hour Nottingham traffic that snakes past the site of the fair predictably takes a peak over at the mass of lights and activity in the far distance. Straight ahead is the traditional large goose figure that is placed on the pretty traffic roundabout once a year at this time. Local people even have their own name for the characteristically crisper air prevalent as the new season commences. ‘Goose Fair weather’ they call it and what better description could one need? I note though a steady drizzle of rain this evening – the first in some time – so many times do the fair traders and attendees appear to have had a poor deal with big boots, raincoats and heavy knitwear being necessary for the traditional slog through the mud churned up by thousands of footsteps viewing the rides, amusements and food stalls.
I know that winter is but around the corner as I tread a steadily mounting covering of dry, crispy leaves along the paths and quiet lanes of my daily runs. Beginning as a trickle and eventually sometimes becoming a ploughing movement through the surrounding deciduous woodlands where bracken lays waiting to snag my footfall. Running is incessantly pleasant during the drier day of Autumn, but with every step I am aware that the stiffer test of winter exercise is just around the corner, waiting to test my resolve over the dark months once again.
The city makes various attempts at offering new amusements and festivals throughout the year and the success of one old favourite, but in a new setting, is probably about to be repeated next week. The Nottingham Robin Hood Beer Festival ran for many years at this time, held at the old Victoria Baths. An immensely popular institution within and without the city, the show had to move on or die as the venue was no more. A stroke of original thinking however now sees it housed in the Nottingham Castle grounds. The festival sports a large marquee and live music from the bandstand. I managed to miss its inaugural appearance at the stately old venue last year due to being on a protracted stay in Western Canada. No such luck this year but a visit and a few ciders down in the heart of Nottingham will provide some consolation and a pleasant night out with friends.
Soon it will be time again for pumpkin patches to be raided in time for ‘Guisers Night’ as we of Scots origin call it. I can’t say I’m terribly enamoured with some of the assumed North American ways of celebrating the pagan festival but I must admit there is some atmospheric appeal that I just cannot quite define. Of course the quickly following Guy Fawkes (Bonfire) Night will lead to a thousand childhood memories of collecting material for the huge fires we had, acquiring fireworks and dressing up a ‘Guy’ for pennies in public. The smells of the fire, gun powder, and not least toffee apples, bonfire toffee and honeycomb are never far from the imagination in at this time
Some see Autumn as a time of death in the sense that vegetation withers and dies away. All around us nature begins to fall asleep and I can’t argue with that perception. I would counter though that the season has a surety about it – one that tells us that life rolls on and on and there is some comfort in that when we think of the dark, dank months ahead. Any good gardener will till you that Autumn in often the beginning of things, when plans are made, things are planted in readiness for the future too. I like the Autumn. I love to see the shiny conkers lying below my feet – so tempting to pick up and collect just as I did as a boy. The chestnuts too in the nearby woods, to be taken home and roasted if an occasion allows. There is so much beauty to this time of year which those of us who like to experience all four season – for better or worse – understand and immerse ourselves in
After the recent death of a musical hero of mine, John Martyn the singer-songwriter it left me contemplating life a little. I had explained in my tribute to John how I came to first attend one of his concerts back in the late seventies with a friend from Nottingham Trent Polytechnic as it was in those days. His enthusiasm for John Martyn’s music convinced me that I should give this man a good hearing and I became a great admirer of him then, and over the years.
Jeff Reynolds was that good fiend of mine amongst a host of good friends of the day, others being Rue Randall and Gary Tarlton-Weatherall who also studied at Trent Polytechnic in the same small class as myself. We were all apprentice compositors – typesetters basically, for those not familiar with the now-defunct word. We were all industry-based with full-time jobs in print shops but came along to study for a year full-time at ‘the Poly’, thereafter followed by one-week-per-month appearances at the same learning institution.
They were wonderful, exciting times in some respects but also very difficult ones too. We four were a pretty tight-knit bunch in most respects. It’s difficult to forget the pressure we were placed under in learning that very complex and skilled trade. In those days a failure in our exams basically meant no City & Guilds qualification and therefore no status as a craftsman. To fail would have been unthinkable and quite possibly the route into a potentially humdrum unskilled job with few prospects. It was against that backdrop that we studied together but one would never have thought so in observing us. Continue reading
Staggering – that’s the only word!
I’m talking of course of the local football news story that former England coach Sven-Goran Eriksson has signed for the world’s oldest league club as Director of Football. Apparently Sven’s duties will include the overseeing of player development and training facilities at Meadow Lane. Other responsibilities will include looking after the youth academy, negotiating transfers for the club, scouting for new talent and the general health and fitness of the players. Joining him in dealing with these duties will be his long-time assistant Tord Grip.
It’s all become a reality due to the recent takeover of Notts County by Munto Finance, a Middle-East based consortium who have highly ambitious plans for the club which include a realistic establishing of Notts in the Championship within the next five seasons. This patience makes a refreshing change in these kinds of matters. Those close to Munto Finance, the ambitious consortium which took control last week with plans to establish the club in the Championship within five years, say Eriksson is in for the ‘long haul’.
You have a city with a genuine bona fide football hero. A man that put a medium-sized provincial city on the world map of football and became the biggest thing since Robin Hood.
After a protracted spell of hard work in fund raising, fully £70,000 is collected to commission an excellent tribute to the man in question – a permanent memorial for all to enjoy in a busy area of the city. Then some numb nut decides to vandalise it after only a few short months.
The statue of Brian Clough in Nottingham lasted intact from last November until this week. Sadly I think we all knew it would happen some time. Thankfully the wrong has now been put right.
There was a lot of consideration as to where to site the statue. One problem at the time was that Nottingham Forest were actually talking about moving grounds. It was decided that the statue should be in the centre of the city where everyone could enjoy it – not just visitors to the City Ground which is a short bus ride out of the city. On balance I’m glad they put it where they did. I walk past it frequently in the city and always have a peek at Brian and a wry smile to myself when thinking of him. The statue brings back many happy memories.
This Clough statue incident is one of sheer wanton and mindless vandalism. Quite likely attention-seeking behaviour too. i think this person will get his come-uppance though. It might have the useful side-effect of focusing local peoples’ thoughts on the problems of vandalism too.
I really wouldn’t like to be in the shoes of the perpetrator if his or her identity becomes public…
Sometimes we’ve all been guilty of ignoring a little gem from right under our noses and this was the case with me and The Malt Cross in Nottingham until the past year or two. I always knew of it’s existence just off the Old market Square in the city centre on the pedestrianised St. James Street, adjacent The Bell Inn, but never visited. I wasted some time because the converted music hall dating back to 1877 is a beautiful and interesting place to find oneself for a quiet pint and tasty snack early evening after work or to listen to the good quality live music that the venue sports.
Built on two floors, the upper area is an oval balcony that looks down on the throng below and also the small stage which is curiously situated at a height between the two floors at one end of the building. Presumably this would have been where the original music hall acts of the Victorian era would perform and heavily harks back to that age.
As well as an impressive and historic structure, The Old Malt Cross has pleasant, friendly and efficient staff which means those dreary and frustrating queues for drinks or usually absent, even at the peak of a busy Friday night in Nottingham’s city centre.
For those of us of a certain vintage the term ‘Nottingham-on-Sea’ applied not to the East Midlands city but to the Lincolnshire resort of Skegness a couple of hours drive east. ‘Skeggy’ as it has always been abbreviated has always been a traditional getaway destination from Nottingham – especially for a day trip by the sea. The fact that arriving in Skegness still leaves a healthy walk to the briny depths of the murky, chilly North Sea makes no difference to the resort’s popularity with Nottingham folk and also visitors from the likes of Leicester, Derby and Sheffield.
Let’s make no bones about it, if you enjoy to be beside the seaside then Nottingham is hardly the place to base yourself. It’s not exactly the furthest destination from the coast in this small island of ours but it’s still heckuva land-locked in geography and travelling time.
Back in the 1990s’ the local council struck up the idea that bringing the seaside to Nottingham might be an option. They did this during three summers in the Lace City during that decade. My fragile memory also tells me that this indeed happened in the 1970s’ on one occasion too as part of the sadly aborted ‘Nottingham Festival’ of the time. This is not to be seen reported anywhere in the media though I note. I know what I saw though, those donkeys for one thing…
Nottingham boasts a ‘new’ Old Market Square these days. It’s former design has been manipulated into an arguably inferior looking area but one that is infinitely more practical to use for events. This is due to the levelling of the former ‘Processional Way’ through the centre of the old market area that was. In recent times this has provided a home for ‘The Nottingham Eye’ ferris wheel, an outdoor ice rink with accompanying German Christmas Market, music stages and other sundry events.
It’s three days after my initial run of thirteen miles as I write, the two intervening days containing a couple of single-mile runs which keep my ‘streak’ going and a seven mile walk around the Denton area of The Vale of Belvoir. This was partly due to sore lower stomach muscles from that last long run. Sometimes having the ability to run a long way without taking too much care about doing it can be a bad thing. I really should remember that it’s some five weeks since I ran such a distance.
So it’s back to the old disused road near where I live for a few laps to gauge my soreness. I know by doing this I can end at the appropriate time without being obliged to complete a circuit. The old road is a curious place. It’s a crumbly half-mile stretch of faded tarmac running parallel with its more modern successor of some forty or so years. It’s pleasant and fairly quiet though, often you won’t see a single soul around there. To one side is a small wood and to the other open farmland with a picturesque farm house perched on the red hills.
I set off and immediately feel my stomach tugging though this soon eases. I consult the set of limestone rocks near the beginning that I count off my laps with. I could never remember how many half-mile stretches I’ve run after the first handful!
The old road itself is largely set on a hill and is a healthy workout for that reason. The road is useful for a very short and necessary run near to home but when encountering the thought of running several laps, music become essential to me. A Sony Walkman Mp3 player plays some summery music into my ears under the watery May sunshine, dappled by the freshly green trees lining the route.
Today I ran twelve laps equalling six miles. The time was unimportant. I’m thinking of the long-term goal as usual. Now – what about that diet…
So here I find myself, back in the car park of The Nag’s Head at Woodborough in Nottinghamshire. Alone and ready to run. Five days ago I filed my entrance online for the Nottingham Robin Hood Marathon in late September to absolutely no acclaim at all. There’s not much going back now. It’s a pleasant Saturday afternoon in early May and I have much work ahead of me.
First name: STUART
Race Type: Marathon – non-AAA affiliated
Date of Register: 30 April 2009
Time of Register: 09:11:06
It’s familiar road, one I’ve know so many times. I’m breezing along steadily with that small Hibernian FC Harp on my chest and a Maple Leaf emblem on my shorts. The first stream appears with a duck paddling furiously underneath the brackish water, swimming against an insistent current.
I’ve always been a great admirer of Oscar Wilde’s work since my young teenage years at school reading about his life, times and prodigious literary output. For me, his legendary wit has an incomparable essence and has not dated in any respect when given a modern airing. It was fortunate then to hear from my friend, Clara Gonzalez that she had auditioned successfully for the part of Rosalie, the maid in Oscar’s 1892 work, Lady Windermere’s Fan at her theatre company, The Lace market Theatre in Nottingham. Here arose the opportunity to watch my friend in her debut performance for the small and excellent company and experience an evening of Oscar Wilde wit and wisdom.
The Lace Market Theatre is a successful operation based in a beautiful old building in Nottingham’s popular Lace Market area. For the unwary it is secreted cosily along Halifax Place just around the corner from the city’s Lace Market tram stop. The theatre has a charming and bijou floor level theatre of around one hundred seats. It has an intimate feel that encourages the audience to engage with the players. Up a small staircase lies a bar with friendly staff doing a great job of keeping the theatre goers happy with drinks, ice cream and teas. It has a homely atmosphere that is difficult not to enjoy.
Well here we are. In a much more traditional winter here in the UK, snow has finally hit Nottinghamshire which is something of a rarity in itself these days. More usually there is an annual smattering of the white stuff maybe one or two days a year and little more. Sometimes I imagine I must be dreaming of times from the past when we experienced ‘real’ snow here in the East Midlands city, so rare have those occasions been for so long now.
As I write, the UK appears to have hit a state of pandemonium regarding this sudden winter ‘event’ as the TV weather people like to term it these days. There is certainly much excitement!
It’s easy for me to say of course, Nottingham still experiences much less snow than many other parts of the UK for some reason. Televised scenes from around the country bear that out of today too but to my mind the reaction to the snow is nothing short of hysterical. This may be because I’ve experienced quite a few Canadian winters with their bitter temperatures, blizzards and huge snow banks that gather through the colder months, and the way that Canadians just deal with it. I don’t think so though. I see a big difference in our reaction to it here in the UK than times when I was younger. There is little comparison. I note from today’s news that whilst around ten Nottinghamshire schools are reportedly closed today there are around 250 closures in the Leicestershire region alone. You know in my school days I remember many days of deep snow but never do I remember my school being closed because of it, nor even sent home early.
During a live magazine programme on TV this morning one of the co-presenters actually couldn’t make it to the studio for broadcasting duties due to the weather. What followed was a live telephone call from him and his co-presenter proceeding to continue with the show whilst cupping a hot drink to her face like she’d just been to the Arctic Circle, not merely across London with a few inches of snow on the ground. Similarly, another live TV programme at lunchtime actually had the panel of ‘celebrities’ applauding the audience for making it to the studio! Just ludicrous!
Have we all gone so soft nowadays that we can’t put up with a little winter weather? Is it the Health and Safety laws? I’m sure both have some contribution to make. Meanwhile the local authorities appear to place their heads firmly in the sand (or should that be snow?) and hope that the problem just won’t happen. A general inadequacy in clearing the snow is often tabled at the local councils, probably because they gamble on it not happening and don’t budget enough for when it does. Another question, why are many bus services not running? I never recall this from years ago when we had much more serious falls of snow.
I actually accept the snow as part of what a winter is all about. I’m prepared to get on with things and unlikely to let it stop me doing anything much that I normally would. I don’t think that’s such an unusual stance. I actually like to see the stuff, it makes something of a change from the boring, drab grey winters we normally experience here in England! At least it offers a topic of conversation I suppose…
First of all apologies to some of the great players of the previous incarnation of the Panthers which ended in 1960. It would not be difficult to concede that the likes of Chick Zamick and Les Strongman operated at a higher level than any of the modern-day leagues. Their like would most certainly be shoe-ins for such a line-up otherwise. I am not of a generation that was old enough to be entertained by the great and the good from the early chapters of the Panthers’ glorious golden era.
I have watched the Nottingham team on and off from it’s re-inception from 1980 to present day. I’ve had the great pleasure in admiring some fine talent during those years and so many special players stand out in the memory. Indeed it is incredibly difficult to leave out some wonderful performers over the years and some personal favourites in particular. After racking my memory, I have distilled the players of the modern era down to these six choices. Feel free to disagree! (I probably will by tomorrow…) Continue reading
At last it has happened. I was pleased to note whilst making my way through a busy lunchtime Nottingham today that a large crowd was gathering for the commemoration of one of Nottingham’s favourite adopted sons, football manager, Brian Clough.
The eight-foot high statue stands in a prominent position at the juncture of King Street and Queen Street, just adjacent the city’s Old Market Square.
Among the gathered throng for the unveiling were many players from Brian’s illustrious career, including individuals from his great European Cup winning teams such as Tony Woodcock, Viv Anderson and Kenny Burns.
Brian’s lovely widow spoke for the first time about the tribute to her husband and revealed a side to the great manager that few in the public eye were aware of.
The video shows various moments from Brian’s glorious managerial career and brings back many fond memories of great football and great celebrations.
I tend to go easy on officials in any of the sports I watch. I’m not one for thinking that the referee has some sort of mysterious vendetta against my favourites and will never give a decision their way come what may. It’s an unenviable job being a referee or a linesman in my view – I try to cut them a little slack.
Sometimes it can only be observed though that the official(s) are having a bit of an off-night. I recall one infamous occasion then an American referee and his linesmen officiating at a Nottingham Panthers game had such a woeful performance that prior to the following week’s game, the Lower Parliament Street organist played Three Blind Mice as the stripeys skated out to start the game. Dear old Eric on the organ was duly knuckle rapped for that piece of fun I believe but the officials in question took it all in fun by posing in their uniforms, complete with false mouse whiskers for the next edition of the Ice Hockey News Review publication.
Here’s a recent smile that came my way anyway. I love this sign, it’s so lovingly created and passionate in it’s detail. Hockey refs – we love you really.
Nottingham has often been known as ‘Hockey City GB’ and not without some reason. The Nottingham Panthers in their original form were founded way back in 1939. Unfortunately Hitler was apparently not much of an ice hockey aficionado and certain of his activities in that year led to the team which had been recruited and imported en-bloc from Winnipeg, Canada making the long trip home almost in the first instance.
During the war years the Nottingham ice rink saw a little pick-up hockey action from Royal Canadian Air Force members stationed at the RCAF base in Langar in The Vale of Belvoir. Many will attest these old games with those expert Canadians putting on a show to the interest and affinity that Nottingham has long had with the grand old game.
After the war in 1946 the Panthers were re-formed, again with many professional Canadian skaters being brought over to entertain the Nottingham public in the originalstadium at Lower Parliament Street.
I was a little surprised to read in ‘Panthers Kim’s’ excellent article on The Cat’s Whiskers blog of the dearth of reporting about the original Panthers. I grew up in a home where both my parents knew full well of the likes of Chick Zamick and his deeds and would talk of him alongside the big personalities in football of that time. I had the strong belief that Chick at least, was pretty much a household name in Nottingham in those days despite the slight lack of media interest. I speak too of the 1960s’ when I was growing up, the Panthers were long-gone and but a memory, yet still their dashing and dynamic legacy lived on with the Nottingham public.
As I browse around other blogs on the Internet I often enjoy the way in which people pass on experiences, views and knowledge that we all have about various places and destinations that are familiar to us. In that vein I’d like to present a few random thoughts about the city where I live, Nottingham.
Background and a little history
Nottingham was tagged colloquially as The ‘Queen of the Midlands’. The city can lay claim to being a most popular visit for various reasons such as shopping and nightlife these days. The name of Robin Hood undoubtedly draws in a visitor or two also.
The city is basically built on two hills, one which houses the comparatively modern version of Nottingham Castle (actually a Ducal palace as the original was raised to the ground) perched on a high rock. Nottingham’s growth was undoubtedly partly attributable to its situation by the River Trent. Much of the city is built upon a catacomb of caves which still run under the throng of the busy shopping, entertainment and business area, these caves being often burrowed out of the soft sandstone by local people in the middle ages and prior. Still they remain a fascinating visit and can be accessed from the Broad Marsh shopping centre.
The city though having a 450,000 population is relatively very concise and is easy to walk around. Most of the shopping, pubs and restaurants are within a short walk of the large Old Market Square, once spiritual home of the skateboarder, domestic pigeons, winos and asylum seekers. Yes the complexion of Nottingham has changed somewhat in the past few years.
Last year the Square had an £8m refurbishment which levelled and modernised the area. This has received mixed opinions about its aesthetics but has seriously upgraded its usefulness through its practicality. In the past few months an outdoor ice rink, a big wheel and a free music festival have been held there.
Things to pack for a visit to Nottingham and specifically a night out on the town might be an armorlite and a few hand grenades, take your pick. A bullet-proof vest should be worn at the visitors discretion. Actually the gun stuff in the media, whilst true is confined very much to a few tough estates on the edge of the inner city. The main source of potential problems in the city centre are arguably of the traditional lager lout variety. Not a lot worse than other large cities as portrayed in all those harrowing TV documentaries about Nottingham in my humble opinion but then gun and knife crime seem to be reaching epidemic proportions in most cities sadly.
In truth, I could probably write all day about Nottingham but this blog is only meant as a short introduction. If anyone passing this way through cyberland has a question about the old place though (serious or otherwise!) I’d be pleased to attempt to answer. No, I haven’t met Robin Hood.