Thursday, March 6, 2014

18 Nottingham

(First written in February 2010)
Very soon Nottingham will shoot to the top of the UK's "Nice Day Out" charts.

Because Ridley Scott is at his historical movie making thing again.

Ridley and Russell Crowe are making a movie about Robin Hood. Robin Hood hung out in Sherwood Forest and Robin often nipped into Nottingham town to take a pop at Nottingham's sheriff. I went to Nottingham. It's where I read Geography, Social History and Architecture. I'm excited about watching Ridley's remake. At last our very own Ridley will reclaim one of our finest legends. We've lent Robin to Johnny Hollywood for far too long. It is time we took him back.

Hollywood seems to enjoy pinching our national myths. If only to change the final scene and slap an American accent on the women.
"Norttinghaarrm." I am not sure why it is but the Septics seem to love the medieval tales in particular. English sword slashing and the candlestick flinging, and the rowdy parties we had in our Great Halls. Possibly it's because the Yanks joined the world too late to have experienced our quaint brand of non technology based violence and class struggle first hand.

It's different in the Far East. When Oriental studios grab an English Samurai they not only tweak the pronunciation but they also contribute whacky esoteric dialogue...

"Young Grasshood. Should ye fight the Sheriff then ye have already lost thine inner battle."

"But Master... I spent long days and short nights making true arrows. And the green costumes. Because in a society thus as ours Maid Marian spoke no harm would come for those thus doing."

I'm hoping Ridley does a through job. I want to see the real history. King Richard whacked to death at Chalus Chabrol. I am hoping we get the dirt on Friar Tuck. Perhaps Ridley will blow the lid on the Barons' parliamentary expense claim scandal. We may even find out if Robin really distributed the workers' co-operative's pension fund according to need rather than to desire and status.

I looked up Robin Hood in my big film book. I nearly fell out my chair. There’s dozens of Robin Hood films. It's no surprises Nottingham's stuck with the Robin Hood tourist ticket.

The first film was subtitles and pianos, 1908. Something similar followed in 1912. Then a groovy interpretation was released in 1922, for which my aunt fancied Douglas Fairbanks.

In 1938 Errol Flynn flashed his weapon and redefined Nottingham Hoodism for ever. This is the version that has Robin's hooley with the Sheriff, up and down the castle’s spiral stairs. We all know it.

1946, 1948,1950, 1951, 1952, 1954. All rubbish. All forgettable. None available on amazon.

Between 1955 and 1960 it was thought to have been a good idea to churn out a children's telly series about Robin. That was how I was personally inrobinated and first became Nottinghamised.

They repeated this sterile hegemonic Robin to us over and over in the half term holidays; amid Casey Jones, Robinson Crusoe, Three White Horses and the Banana Splits. The Robin Hood opening titles had the famous tune

Until then I didn’t know Nottingham had a Glen. I thought Glens were exclusive to Scotland and orchestrating swing bands. Sneakily the lyricists described Robin’s morals as "feared by the bad and loved by the good", and cleverly ignored the political elephant sitting in the clearing; that the bad tended to have all the money.

1956, 1958, 1960. Tippex them from history, please.

In 1964, they gangstered Robin, they transformed Marian into a moll, and they staged it in Chicago. Three years of serious LSD tripping later, and with a west coast reposte, the Californians had Robin and his Merry Spacemen living on the Sherwood Asteroid.

Next... Walt Disney decides he’ll have our medieval archer done up as a cartoon fox. I bet you've seen that one. Woeful.

By 1975 the Italians and Russians are both at him.

But... and this is the blinder... in 1990 the Japanese telly channels board the Robin Hood mythical bandwagon. This one is incredible. It is 100% off legend. The theme song runs "Happy Walk Happy Walk." (I'm assuming "Riding through the Glen" was too much of an oriental tongue twister.) Under these happy happy lyrics we see animated racoons running about. As I recall, there are no racoons in Sherwood, and what's with the kids with big eyes? What do the Japanese feed their children?

My problem is that with all these movies we are going to have raised a tourist's expectations of Nottingham into the stratosphere. I have a concern that Nottingham's Castle will disappoint the Robin Hood day tripper who wants to visit an English, moat, drawbridge and portcullis with boiling oil poured from the castle turrets Version 1.3. Nottingham's current castle was knocked up in the 1670s when there wasn't too much fighting and defending to be done. Consequently it was made homely. It's got downstairs curtains. It's not that imposing and impressive a military structure.

Having said that, in 1831 Nottingham's inhabitants nearly burnt the bugger down. This is what I really do love about mu old university town. It kicked off when the prole were having the annual Goose Fair in the Old Market Square. Earlier in the evening the mail coach rolled in, by which time there'd been a fair amount of boozing. It's not good news in the mail coach envelope. Down south in London the unelected Tory Parliamentary Lords had ruled that only affluent rural folk should get new voting rights. The Nottingham plebs in their factory mill city were to be left off the voting register and were expected to do what they're commanded. But a few years earlier the same Nottingham workers had had their hopes raised as they were promised they could have a vote. This getting the vote thing was just one excuse for getting lashed up at the Goose Fair.

I can understand why they were miffed.

They finished their goose kebabs, chucked the silver foil wrapping in the fountains in the square (?) and marched on the castle owned by one of the big bad vote denying Tories, the Duke of Newcastle. They torched the castle. Afterwards they went to Beeston, past where The University now stands, and they burnt some of that.

Fortunately, the mob didn't arson the Trip to Jerusalem public house tucked into the rock underneath the castle. Fortunately for me that is. As a student I enjoyed drinking pints of Theakston's Old Peculiar in its cavernesque rooms, sprinkled on the top with sandstone dust that's fallen down from the ceiling. I am told that  The Trip was named the Trip not because of the drugs but because in King John's time crusading knights would stop off outside the pub before they trotted away to the coast and caught the boat to the Holy Land. (Ridley Scott has done a film on that as well.)
As the medieval knight clanged along in his chain mail trousers the medieval landlord would cry,

"Brave Knight. One for the roade?"

And the knight may have replied...

"Pray so, kind sir. T'woulde be rude not to."

If I was a knight I'd have had six for the road. Nottingham is the furthest town from any coastal port as any other in the nation. One for the road wouldn't be enough.

In the Elizabethan, Francis Drake, weird Shakespearean fashion era the Nottie folk excelled at making lace that went on the cuffs to make the sleeves look flamboyant. Daft sleeves and cuffs showed everyone that the wearer had not done a scrap of manual work in their life.  Being Nottingham, the lace industry and the Lace Market is also associated with riotous behaviour. Not long before the castle burning fiasco the Napoleanic War had ended (which we won) and the army therefore disbanded the troops and thus didn't need so many new uniforms. The clothing suppliers and mill owners to save their declining sales and crashing profits to cut staff wages and outsource the tricky low margin lacy cuff making processes. Nottingham's workers went bananas and smashed up the lace making machines; getting themselves labeled 'Luddites'.

Voting riots. Lace riots. It doesn't stop.

There's Nottingham's 1842 Chartist Riots - related to more  electoral system shenanigans. In these we had 5,000 citizens marching off to Mapperley and getting into a fight with the army later referred to as "The Battle of Mapperley Hills."

Are you getting the idea about Nottingham? Yup? It's the people that make this city. Normal working people. People who are up "for it."

I'm not certain but I'm pretty sure that fighting on the hills, wrestling in the square, marauding through the glen, and shooting arrows up on the rock would have been a lot easier than playing merry heck on the River Trent's waterlogged meadows. However, there was one commoner who was up for a good fight down by the riverside and in the City Ground located there; home to Nottingham Forest Football Club. That commoner has often been referred to as Nottingham's modern day hero. He is, he was, Brian Clough, manager of Nottingham Forest Football Club, 1975 - 1993.

In Cloughie's first season Brian managed the team to a Division One promotion. In his second season Cloughie lead Forest's players to the league title. Brian went on and continued to conquer. He earned the right to proclaim;

"The river Trent is lovely, I know because I walked on it for 18 years."

Brian's merry men lifted two consecutive European Cups into Forest's trophy cabinet. This allowed Brian to complement his relationship with waterscapes and brag about his urban design and town planning competencies;

"Rome wasn't built in a day. I wasn't on that particular job."

Brian Clough died in September 2004, twenty years after I'd graduated with honours in Geography and moved from the city's grounds to the towers of Oxford, and nine years after I'd emigrated from the UK.

When I'm next in Nottingham it will be the Citizen Clough Statue that I'll visit first. After that wander the university grounds and drink pints in The Trip. Brian's image stands at the intersection of King and Queen Streets. He'd have laughed at the idea of having his very own statue placed in a royal triangle. But I think he'd be more chuffed about the renaming of the A52 between Nottingham and Derby to "Brian Clough Way." As a staunch, solid, Harold Wilson Man, he'd understand the benefits of uniting communities than wearing golden crowns.

- - - - -

I've since returned to Nottingham. I had to return to get a copy of my degree certificate for the Vietnamese work permit process. I visited all the places I mentioned above. It was great. Walked the university grounds and looked at my old hall of residence, Lenton.

I drove through Radford and past my second and third year shared house on Radford Boulevard (138) near the John Player Factory and the now demolished Raleigh bicycle works. Past the Marcus Garvey Centre, and in the vicinity of Hyson Green - place of more Nottingham riots  in the year before went up to study.

Brian Clough's statue was great. Robin Hood's statue was greater still; in front of the castle walls. But on this last visit no one had nicked Robin's arrow as they used to do in the Karnival days when I was studying.

By this time Ridley had released his Robin Hood film. No surprises the Nottingham tourist board were milking it for all it was worth. The bad news though, the movie is pants.

I'm sticking with the 1960s black and white, bad and good, rich and poor version.

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