When the Jarrow marchers left Nottingham on the morning of 21st October 1936, the famed textile workers of that great city presented them with two hundred pairs of underwear, a gift both generous, charming and practical. On the morning that I left Nottingham bound for Loughborough, the gift that I would have most craved is for one of the city’s IT or digital audio experts to have helped me restore the accidentally deleted audio files that I have been recording as a sound diary/aide memoire on my trip. (I’ve got them back onto my desktop but can’t open the wavs, if this is your forte by the way) I am aware then that I with regards to this blog I am ‘playing catch up’ as Henry Kelly used to say on Going For Gold so I should crack on but not before letting you see the sweetly inspirational quote from local writer Alan Sillitoe that had been written on my hotel room mirror
Back in 1936, the walkers had strode through the flat Nottinghamshire fields until their lunch stop at Bunny, a village some halfway along the road to Loughborough. Even if I wasn’t aiming to replicate their route, I think the name alone would have drawn me here. Everything in Bunny sounds cute; Bunny Village hall, Bunny Primary School, even the Bunny Trading Estate.
This is how one writer described it back in 1813
“Bunny, a straggling village on the high road, containing about sixty houses, and which seems to have been indebted principally for its origin to the ancient seat of Bunny Park Hall, once the property of the family of Parkyns, and now of their descendant Lord Rancliffe…”
The past dies hard in England I’m finding especially as far as wealth and status goes. From Thomas Parkyns Close to the Rancliffe Arms, the family (still living behind the impressive gates of Bunny Hall) are a potent presence here still. “Did the marchers have lunch at the Rancliffe” asks the nice lady I meet whose selling kindling for charity outside her house. I doubt it, I reply, probably a tin mug of tea and a corned beef butty on the village green. I don’t have the need or room for a bag of kindling but I give her the quid anyway as the idea of buying firewood by the roadside seems to give a flavour not just of 1936 but maybe even 1036, before even Baron Parkyns was around, when the Saxons named it Bune after their word for ‘reed’ and before the Normans came.
As the Nottingham road meets the outskirts of Loughborough, my eye is caught by two buildings; firstly a city pub that promises ‘Netbuster Carp Fishing Here’ (visions of men in waders splashing about struggling with slippery tench amidst girls drinking spritzers and blokes watching SkySports). And secondly this glorious building which I was impressed by anyway as I passed and Lynne Dyer, who blogs about Loughborough, tells me would have been newly opened as Beacon Bingo when the marchers passed by.
It’s said that when a visiting Aussie saw Loughborough on a road sign he announced ‘What kind of place is this, Loogabarooga?’ This has now become the affectionate nickname for the town and gives its name to a festival of children’s literature held here, this being the home of Ladybird books. (The second tranche of best-selling adult versions of the series, written by the brilliant Jason Hazeley and Joel Morris were published by happy coincidence the day I arrived and piled on Waterstones table) But Loughborough to me has always meant something else. Back when I was a college in the mid 80s, the campus was a sea of tribes; there were there were swots doing chemistry who liked the Alan Parsons Project, there were New Wave Of British Heavy Metal-heads into the Tygers Of Pan Tang who generally got kicked out after a term, girls into Rush who wore cheesecloths and girls into Dollar who wore headbands and pale young oiks like me with a copy of Camus L’Etranger in his overcoat pocket and an obsession with the first Human League album.
But perhaps most noticeable of all were the PE students who would all come down to the bar in tracksuits at 9 o clock, put Rod Stewart on the jukebox and drink pints of ‘still orange’. Their course was officially called Human Movement and thus we hipsters named them Human Groovers. One of the few things I knew about Loughborough was that it had built a worldwide reputation as a capital of excellence in the field of sport thanks to the brilliant facilities at the University which attracts Human Groovers from all over the world. I saw a few athletic looking types knocking around in leggings and lycra but if I was expecting to see anyone lobbing a Javelin down the high street or doing squat thrusts in Pizza Hut I was disappointed.
It was a chilly Friday night in Loughborough and I sought the warmth of the Nepalese curry house and the Swan In The Rushes pub, both of which had been recommended to me. I left Loogabarooga to its own devices. I’ll write more about this stage when I come to write the book but for now as a snapshot of the town it would be hard to beat I think The Wave Pictures wonderful Friday Night In Loughborough; witty, sad, pitch perfect.The line about “The girl from Bakers Over holding back your hair..” is both brilliant and poignant as fans of the fast savoury street retail scene will know that Baker’s Oven was taken over by Greggs in the mid 1990s. Sic Transit Gloria Mundi