The day begins inauspiciously. As I leave Chesterfield, stepping into the doorway of what turns out to be a Greggs to put my jacket on, the early sun giving way to a squall of cold rain, I dropped my recording device on floor of the shop. With a sickening clatter, it comes to pieces and I forced to try and collect the component sections and re-assemble the machine whilst the hungry people of the crooked spire town stepped gingerly around me ordering their steak bakes and sausage and bean slices (I have to say to the makers of the Zoom H5, it as resilient as the blurb claims. Now if only you can stop me losing the little spongy windshield; I’m on number 4)
There is little to report about the road from Chesterfield to Mansfield other than that the Jarrow marchers took on October 19th 1936 and now so have I. The weather was foul when they crossed the Nottinghamshire coalfield; several got sick. This is D H Lawrence country, mining country or was. It is a green but not I would say a pleasant land; it has seen too much hard work and hard times for that. Dirty bedraggled cow parsley, unkempt hedges, tilled fields shaped and formed from slag heaps. It used to be a ravaged landscape, man intruding violently into the peace of nature, scarring it, like pockmarks on a beuatful face. But not the land is healing. For better or worse – I leave you to choose which – the pits are gone and the mines workings, like the culture of mining in these towns, a fading memory. But then, past the roundabout with its angry, prescient little placard proclaiming ‘Vote Leave, Sack Cameron’, over the brow of the hill, a sudden, unexpected site, like something from an old film or a newsreel; a chimney and winding gear stark and proud against the scattering clouds of the Nottinghamshire sky.
Pleasely Collier would have belched and roared and clanked to high heaven when the Jarrow Marchers passed it in October 1936. Perhaps it reminded them of home. It closed in 83 but was kept open as an escape hatch for Shireoaks Colllier until that too went in the mid 80s scouring of our collieries after the miners strike. I’m told all this buy one of the men in hard hats who are hard at work in the west shaft whose ‘first pit was Shireoaks’. They aren’t hard at work digging coal though, they are restoring and renovating Pleasley Pit as kind of piece of industrial history. I wouldn’t exactly call it a visitor attraction; it feels like you’ve wandered, not entirely welcomely, into a working pit. I get pretty much ignored, to the extent that one of the four ladies in the café forgets my coffee although I did get my bacon bap. The place by the way is packed by the way, full of ex-miners reminiscing. Later, on YouTube, I recognize one, Dennis. Look up his interview; it’s fascinating, if somewhat technical, and gives you a real flavour of how much these men’s lives were bound up in their work to the extent that they are still coming here forty years later to tinker, talk, renovate and sup. There’s still a ‘Miners Welfare’ in this tiny village where no coal has been hewn for nearly half a century and tonight there’s a wildlife quiz there, entrance one pound. I quite fancy a quiz but I have a date in Mansfield. And when I get there I’m welcomed as warmly as the Marchers where which was unusual as it was then and still is staunchly Labour and the official Labour party where cool at the very least, if not downright hostile to the marchers, fearing that they would be seen to be colluding with ‘extremists’
“You’ll always find a warm welcome in Mansfield” says Jodie, the museum’s development officer “We may not have much but we’ll share what we have”. As if to prove it, Amanda there has put together a fabulous present for me; a framed front page of the local paper with its contemporary report on the march passing through. An exhibition called Made In Mansfield recalls the halcyon days of this manufacturing town when 40,000 people would have crowded the streets going to work making shoes, speakers, metal boxes, textiles, beer and coal sold around the world. Mansfield sand still fills the best golf bunkers of the world. Perhaps Donald Trump buys it
An earlier presidential hopeful – indeed a highly successful one – was also featured in one of Mansfield Brewerys many humorous ad campaigns ( “He might be president of the most powerful nation on earth…but he’s never had a pint of Mansfield !) and a series featuring one Jeremy Clarkson. Scroll to a minute in here and see him in his mid 90s pomp looking and sounding like Dean Friedman’s annoying mate
I get interviewed for local radio by a young lad called Matt who asks very intelligent questions about the nature and efficacy of protest marching as a political tactic – much more on this in the actual book – and Jeff and Liz the curator tell me all about Mansfield’s musical pedigree which is small but fascinating. Ten Years After, Bill Wyman was evacuated here and..Alvin Stardust. Born Bernard Jewry, later renamed Shane Fenton when he took over as lead vocalist in the Fentones from the original Shane Fenton who had died. That’s a bit weird and creepy but then much about Alvin’s 70s image was just that to be honest. Even as a child I found the leather glove and the line about ‘day down and groove on the matt” deeply upsetting. But he was by all accounts a ‘gentleman’ who did much to support the museum. Here is in a Wheeltappers and Shunters appearance that I absolutely love; imagine the Elvis Comeback Special staged at Orgreave.
Mansfield’s kept a lot of its character, there’s cobbled streets and a massive viaduct smack in the middle of town and, a more recent development, the Vinyl Lounge run by Richard. I go in and begin involuntarily begin singing along to Suspect Device by Stiff Little Finger whist noting the pancakes and maple syrups and espressos on a pegboard beneath Smiths and Bowie sleeves. “You don’t get this in HMV do you…” he says. It’s all very cool and groovy, very retro and stylish and I could have spent a lot of money on Northern Soul tunes had I space in my rucksack. (“Mansfield’s a big northern soul town) But the framed picture didn’t leave room for much else. So I find some tunes on Spotify and head off to Nottingham with a spring in my step…