08 December 2019 – Nottingham.
Much like Mandalay, Zanzibar and Timbuktu, Nottingham is a city that fascinated me as a child. Even though we lived in the UK until I was eleven, we never had a family trip there. Sherwood Forest and its nearby city, are names that evoke adventure, swashbuckling tales of daring do, good v evil and a hero who can save us all.
Unlike Mandalay, Zanzibar and Timbuktu, I have never had a burning desire to visit Nottingham. Maybe because it is one of those places we could visit ‘any day’; if we chose to. El’s eldest son, Joe is completing his PhD at Nottingham and has been living there for a few years, so we did make a quick trip there three ago. Driving a car load of stuff, dropping it at his flat, having a cup of coffee and then driving back to London soon after, not time for site seeing.
Last night, in preparation for this visit, I watched the latest version of the Robin Hood story. I am fairly sure the movie on Netflix was heavily panned, and I could understand why, it was pretty bad. However, I enjoyed it. Maybe it was the red wine, but I liked the weird mix of game style video, CGI effects, and the dystopian look of a story set in the 13th century. It looked good, and well, I am a sucker for a swashbuckling hero.
The train journey from St Pancras to Nottingham is pretty quick, much quicker than I expected at 90 minutes. Headphones on and book reading, we don’t really do long chats on the train, and I need to block out the inane natter of the people around me. This is my first East Midlands Railway experience and I enjoyed it, the train was comfortable and clean and the loos worked, we were on time; what’s not to like.
I took a few photos out of the window on the way.
We were facing backwards, which is not my preference as I like to see what is coming, and whether I want to take a photo of it. At East Midland Parkway station the train stops next to Ratcliffe Power Station with its massive cooling towers. I would loved to have seen more of this industrial landscape. So alien to my suburban lifestyle.
We arrived in Nottingham soon after midday and took a tram out to where Joe and his girlfriend live. I loved the tram; a day pass was £4 and we used it quite a few times, easily enough for maximum value. We were also really lucky with timing the trams, only waiting more than a minute once on Saturday, I wish I had the same luck with trains.
We had a quick coffee with Joe before he had to go off to the theatre for a matinee show. Joe is very active in the Nottingham theatre scene, and is directing a play at the New Theatre, which we will go to tonight. After he had gone we caught the tram back into central Nottingham. It was very busy as it is Christmas market time.
We stopped for a late lunch / early dinner at a very nice Thai place before spending a couple of hours vacantly wandering the streets around the city centre. I mostly liked it, there are a lot of independent, shops, bars and cafes and a very good Rough Trade record shop. It did appear that some genius, probably working for the council in the 1960s/70s, decided it would be great idea to knock down all the old buildings and create a city centre of hideous modern structures, some of which are now in turn, being knocked down. The centre did seem a bit architecturally disjointed. Though I liked this little haven, and if it was not so cold could have been tempted to sit outside with a drink.
There was a distinct lack of street art, maybe we were in the wrong area, but even around Rough Trade which seemed to be the ‘hipster’ section, there was not much. I did like these cats on the wall, but it was outside a cat place, so was probably more marketing than art. Cool though.
I wanted to see the castle and the Robin Hood statue, so following a street sign we made our way in that direction. The castle was a major disappointment as it is under refurbishment, though we could see the scaffolding from the tram on the way in so it was not a surprise, just a shame.
However, the Robin Hood statue by the front entrance was there for all to see, so I took two photos to make up for the lack of photos of the castle.
Our final stop for the day was the Contemporary Art Gallery. They are showing a Bauhaus exhibition, it is the 100th anniversary of the founding of the movement. The coolest thing about the exhibition was it was called ‘Still Undead’, which is a reference to Bauhaus’ (the band, not the art movement) song ‘Bela Lugosi’s Dead’, which was released by Small Wonder Records, who were based in Walthamstow. There is a nice synchronicity in that. There is a small Bauhaus exhibition at the William Morris Gallery in Lloyd Park, near the end of our road in Walthamstow, though they missed the opportunity to reference the band.
We both very much liked the exhibition; it is small, with only a few items on display, but is very good. What I did find was my now new favourite photograph of all time, and from a photographer I have not previously heard of. Florence Henri learn photography at the Bauhaus soon after arriving as a painter in 1927. This photograph of Jeanne Lanvin was taken in 1929 and is lovely.
The last room of the exhibition was dedicated to artists whose work owed a debt to the Bauhaus school, there was quite a focus on record covers, video and design. There was a even a record player and a bunch of vinyl from artists such as Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, Joy Division and New Order. The covers for these records were designed by Peter Saville who was heavily influenced by the design principles of the Bauhaus movement, and integral part of the aesthetic of the bands. There was also a small TV showing the video of Bela Lugosi’s Dead, which I thought was pretty cool. It is a great song!
It was dark, though still only 5pm, when we left the gallery and caught the tram back to Joe’s place.
We had a rest for an hour before donning winter woollies again and catching another tram to the university, and the Nottingham New Theatre for Joe’s play; ‘The Wonderful World of Dissocia’, by Anthony Neilson. It was a very strange play, though I did enjoy it. I also enjoyed the bar in the theatre where a double nip of spiced rum was £2.50. It was cold out, I needed the warmth!
Sunday morning we hung about the house, reading and, for me, catching up on dozing. El, Joe and I went into central Nottingham for lunch at mid-day and Joe introduced us to Coco Tang, a nightclub/cocktail bar by night and a fabulous modern Vietnamese restaurant by day. The food was excellent and the décor of the place was just my style, slightly grungy, a little bit faux European Vietnam. I absolutely loved it and would go back.
After lunch we said farewell to Joe and then El and I took a tour of the Old City Caves. A small number of the hundreds of caves and tunnels under Nottingham, the tour was OK, the guide was brilliant, but we were part of a large group and we didn’t really see that much or venture very deep.
Once the tour was over we took a slow stroll back to the station to take the train back to London and home.
I liked Nottingham, it was a busy, buzzing place, a bit too busy with it being two weekends before Christmas, I suspect there is plenty going on at other times as well. We were lucky with the weather; it was cold, though the rain stayed away, at least while we were outside, so we got to walk around aimlessly. Something I quite like to do.
The train back to St Pancras was a good one, full, but on time and not too painful. I am eternally happy for having headphones. We will be back here at St Pancras in a couple of weeks for our annual Christmas dinner at the St Pancras hotel with our friends Paula and Paul. I am very much looking forward to that!