On Thursday night in the pub in Mansfield, I noticed that a chap was eyeing me questioningly
“Do I know you…” he said after a while. “Are you in education?”
This gave me the chance to answer, quite honestly, that I wasn’t and thus wriggle out of a slightly awkward situation. It’s fine – in fact, it’s bloody marvellous – when someone comes over and says nice things about your work. But it can be a bit ‘awks’, as the kids say, when people only very vaguely recognize you in some abstract way, your features setting off some tiny buried spark of recognition, in my case often Phoenix Nights or Pointess Celebrities. You end up feeling that you’re being coy when they ask ;’where do I know you from’ and then have to announce yourself to inevitable blank looks and deflation. I am always reminded of a story Ade Edmonson tells about signing autographs at some Home Counties fete where a posh older lady joined the queue more speculatively than eagerly. As she came away with her signed scrap of paper, she waved it at her friend and called exasperatedly “Still none the wiser!
Well” says the man in the pub ‘Who’d have thought it. There’s another fellow alive in the world who’s as good looking as you”. I nearly bought him a pint
The Nottingham Rd leaves Mansfield bound for, as predicted, Nottingham (I have found from my marchings a very profound literalism in the naming of English arterial roads) and as it climbs through the leafier suburbs of Mansfield, I notice that the people going to and for along this stretch almost exclusively young and almost all wearing the orange lanyards of West Notts College. This is good as this is my destination.
Social Media, like the old Yellow Pages ad used to have it, is not just there for the nasty things in life, like trolling women from behind the anonymity of your little Egg Pic. I’m finding it invaluable ony my journey, and as this is an actual journey, I mae no apologies for using that mauled and mangled word. Michael at the college has been following my progress and noting that I’m going to be stomping past the door, asked me to drop in for a cup of tea and to meet some students. A couple of miles up ut of town I find I to be met my Michael from the media dept who fills me on the place. I love that the new hi tech campus with its five million pound refit, it’s rows of gleaming big screen Apple Macs and Health And Beauty Centre stands on the site of an old Mining and Technical College where once you did day release from the pit. The transition is not as inappropriate as you might think; many of these students dads were pitmen and would have re-trained in eveything from hairdressing to I.T when the mines closed. The students haven’t the faintest idea who I am or what I do but why should they have? The welcome is warm – there’s a brilliant A/V wall for me when I get there – and I tell them about my march and the one of eighty years ago. After listening thoughtfully to my recap of the original march, one lad says to me “why didn’t they just get the train”. And it’s a very good question given that lobbying the government for their town was the purpose of the trip to London not an Ian Botham charity appeal. But of course that’s from the context of today; it was the romantic endeavour, the heroic endurance, the notion of ‘crusade; that was meant to convince the establishment that these were not idle or feckless rabble but determined and disciplined men of integrity. As we know, it didn’t work. They were ignored; no, worse, they were duped with the promise of help that never materialized. So much for playing nicely. Maybe they should have taken the train, or taken the inflammatory advice of the wives in the Alan Price song…
Liam from the college invites me to an event at Rough Trade Nottingham that night called “Wanted A Real Media”. We donkeys live a long time and I’m old and wise enough to know that that translates as ‘Wanted: A Media That Agrees With Me’ but I too am fairly critical of some media structures and practises and it sounds like it might chime with some of the things I’ve been thinking and writing about since Jarrow. Press coverage of the original march was almost uniformly warm (especially in the then vigorous regional press) if somewhat bland and even slightly patronising. The men were seen as worthy, plucky fellows but Red Ellen was dismissive both of the Lord Rothermere’s empire of puppet titles and the newly formed BBC. I wonder what she would have made of the fact that the two most recent BBC documentaries about the Jarrow Crusade have been presented by Bernard Ingham and Michaeal Portillo. Probably the same exasperated, mildly amused rolling of the eyes as me.
Tom from Real Media Network is not amused however. I realize this when I am brought up short by the phrase, uttered in the midst of his terse diagnosis of the ills of the modern media, “…as much as I hate the BBC, I ….”. As a regular employee of the BBC, I carp and cavil about it as much as anyone. In fact, it almost goes with the job. There is much about the venerable old (shrinking) monolith that baffles and exasperates me. But hatred? I’ll say more on this when the book comes along, but I see that I’d rather innocently assumed that hatred of the BBC was the preserve of the swivel-eyed, foaming demagogues of the right. Thus all this brings home to me how little I have in common then with their counterparts within the modern left. But then Tom is every bit as driven an idelogue as Paul Dacre. He blithely uses words like ‘horizontalism’ (which I can only assume means having a nap) and, oh dear, ‘coalface’ which no-one who hasn’t worked a seam in filth and water undergound should ever use, and certainly no-one in this room full of craft beers and cupcakes has done that. In the end, perhaps the best if not the most passionate defence of the BBC is that it is loathed by fundamentalists of every stripe, each thinking that it supports the other side, which must prove something
I brood over this – namely how anyone can hate Bake-Off, Only Connect and, plucking an example from the air, Stuart Maconie’s Freak Zone in the labyrinthine interior of Ye Olde Trip To Jerusalem, England’s oldest inn, though this is disputed by the nearby Bell Tavern. It is however indisputably a splendid spot, with (literally) little caves and crannies perfect for assignations, trysts, secret meetings and plotting the overthrow of the government. All of this which might well have occurred in Nottingham down the centuries that the pub’s been here, as this city always been of a radical bent. The actual pub is sunk into the subterranean layers of the castle – the chap with the braided ponytail at the bar who knows a lot about Nottingham says “it’s like a piece of cheese” – and that very castle was razed to the ground by Nedd Ludd of Luddites fame. Nottingham marked such savagery by happily naming another pub after him.
Liam, the music teacher and Gordon the Union Rep from West Notts College walk back with me through the city and Gordon tells me that it’s the students who these days nake the town. At closing time, if such a thing still exists, they are everywhere. It’s clearly some kind of pre half term shindig albeit a thematically loose one; smurfs, togas, Mexicans, zombies etc. They swarm over Brian Clough’s statue and a very posh ginger kid in a sombrero is explaining to his upset girlfriend that ‘look, he just bumped into you because he’s swaying because he’s very very drunk and you are just so..like so, over-reacting” …
As i walked the streets, I recalled by first trip to Nottingham. It was an early job for NME investigating the phenomenon of local label Earache and the hardcore music and wargaming sub culture. One of my favourite bands of that label were Bolt Thower (from Coventry admitted) but named after a character type in the Warhammer 40,000 game from Nottingham’s Games Workshop, still one of the cities great exports along with lace and coal. I realized that the city has always had this ‘outsider’, anti-authority cast to its personality. Earlier in the day I’d been to Nottingham’s alternative bookshop Five Leaves left and despaired a list;e at the trite sloganeering on some of the postcards on display, especially the sanctimonious knee-jerk anti-Americanisms. But I did buy one that I liked plus a fabulous reprint of Nottingham’s very own samizdat bulletin Anarchy from 1964 with terrific pieces by local firebrands Ray Gosling and Alan Sillitoe…..
who may or may not have admired the bracing strains of Boltthrower with which I will leave you till Loughborough.