Growing up with Soccer

“Give me a child till the age of seven,” as the Jesuits were wont to say, ‘and I’ll show you the man.” Something similar pertains when it comes to taking kids to watch soccer. I couldn’t have been more than six or seven when my dad first took me to White Hart Lane to see Spurs – young enough to sit on his shoulders in order to follow the action. If you lived in our part of north London, it had to be either Spurs or Arsenal, and even though Highbury was geographically closer, my dad, for whatever reason, was a Spurs man through and through. Hence the early indoctrination. As I remember it, the first few games I attended I was more likely to show my support for the opposition, this based on the simple fact that Spurs played in white and white was boring. It didn’t take me long to see the error of my ways and I became an earnest supporter, so that by the time I’d reached secondary school, I’d be playing for one of the school teams in the morning, before rushing home and then cycling to Tottenham with my dad in the afternoon and paying a small amount, a quid or two, to leave our bikes in the safety of someone’s front garden.

Going back to that first season and my first game, future England manager, Alf Ramsey, would have been at full back, and future Spurs manager, Bill Nicholson, at what was then called wing half. Nicholson went on to be Spurs’ most successful manager in the period when they won the Double – FA Cup and League – in 1961, the Cup again in 62 and the European Cup Winner’s Cup in ’63, beating Atletico Madrid 5-1 in the final. The Glory Days indeed. And a strange time for my enthusiastic support to start to wane. But by then I’d moved up to the East Midlands, to Nottingham, and, after a brief flirtation with Notts Forest, I became the avid supporter of Notts County that I am today. Which is not to say I don’t still follow Spurs’ fate closely, go to games occasionally, and listen to the commentary of their European fixtures on the good old-fashioned radio.

Perhaps the truest test of allegiances came in 1986 when Notts were drawn at home to Spurs in the Fourth Round of the Cup. Spurs went ahead early on through Clive Allen, who was having one of those rare periods in a striker’s life when they can’t seem to stop scoring, and Ian McParland equalised for Notts around midway through the first half. Both teams came close to scoring in the last ten minutes, but it was not to be.The replay was at White Hart Lane, Wednesday, January 29th and Spurs won 5 – 0.

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But back to the Jesuits. When my son Tom was of an impressionable age and I was still a stalwart Spurs supporter, all of my attempts at persuading him to follow in my footsteps resulted in abject failure. I went as far as buying him a Spurs shirt, which he wore a few times before it became lodged at the bottom of the washing basket and forgotten. Liverpool, he’d decided – they were going through a purple patch – were the team for him and he’s still a Liverpool supporter today and, as you can imagine, loving it. With my younger daughter, Molly, I had more luck, though not immediately. She was quite young when she first came with me to Meadow Lane, making sure, that first season or two, that she brought a book with her, which she proceeded to read throughout the game, occasionally looking up in response to some excitement in the crowd. Only gradually did the time she spent bent over her book become replaced by her interest in what was happening on the pitch – until now, as anyone who sits close to her will know, she’s amongst the most fervent of fans.

This is us at Ebbsfleet last Saturday, smiling through the wind and occasional rain, almost as if we knew in advance that a headed goal in the second minute of extra time would see us home 3 – 2 winners.

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Art Chronicles: George Shaw

There I was in Stevenage this Saturday just past, walking up Monkswood Way towards the Lamex Stadium, home of Stevenage Football Club  – hosts that afternoon to Notts County – when I noticed both sides of the busy road were bordered by woodland. Thinnish, it’s true, but woodland nonetheless: on the near side shielding the bizarrely named Roaring Meg Retail and Leisure Park; on the other, the edges of the Monkswood Estate and the fringes of Fairlands Valley Park, through which, in the early 70s, I would walk most mornings to the secondary school where I was teaching.

But then, instead of thinking about how Notts were going to fare that afternoon [They won 3-0, extraordinary!] I found myself thinking instead of the woods in the paintings of George Shaw, whose exhibition, A Corner of a Foreign Field, I’d visited at Bath’s Holbourne Museum the day before. Shaw’s paintings, executed in the Humbrol enamel paint beloved of boys who spent hours making Airfix models in their rooms [back in the days when boys used to make Airfix models in their rooms] take as their subject the Tile Hill area of Coventry, where he was born and brought up. An area of new housing built on the edge of the city, on the edge of woodland. A bit like Stevenage, really; Stevenage New Town. Brave New World.

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Some people stay; some move on. Part of Shaw has stayed where he lived out his childhood and adolescence. So he goes back, makes drawings, takes photographs. Paints the rows of similar houses, tatty now; the abandoned garages and sheds; those woods …

When I was not yet grown up the woods at the back of our house was that other world It was a world of our own making outside the usual time and the usual cartography and far from the governance of mums and dads and nosy neighbours and teachers. You never saw a copper in the woods. When the time would come no one would save you.

Taking my own life in my own hands I’d climb trees, make dens, bridge dishes and ponds, dig holes, break things, burn things and take things. Most of all I’d watch and keep out of the way of the others. In particular I’d keep out of the way those older, bigger and louder. They would never come on their own and were very easy to spot shouting, smoking, drinking, spitting, snogging, fingering. They would leave behind them circles of paper and porn, cans and fag-ends, initials carved into a tree or a burnt-out motorbike.

 

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These paintings are haunted by absence. Memory. Doors which are never opened; paths along which no one walks; bus shelters; shops permanently closed. Borders, fences, gates, railings. Signs of a life that has been lived and is being steadily left behind, with Shaw chronicling its demise.

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Lost in Leicester

Would I like to take part in this year’s States of Independence, the annual celebration of independent publishing and writing, organised and funded by Nottingham’s Five Leaves Bookshop and the Creative Writing Team at Leicester’s De Montfort University? A forty-five minute slot mine for the asking, 11.00am start. The usual thing, a reading followed by Q&A. Never one to turn down the chance of an audience, I was sorely tempted, even if it mean catching a fairly early train up from London. What nailed it, Notts were at home to Exeter that afternoon, time enough after my session to make the short distance up the line to Nottingham and take my seat at Meadow Lane.

The travel instructions from the university seemed to include everything but the way from the station on foot, but how difficult could it be? And I could see that Leicester City Council very helpfully provided local maps at each and every intersection; scale, however, seemed to be a very variable thing, and once I’d found the tiny red arrow denoting You Are Here, the university seemed to have disappeared. On the next map, there it was again, make a right and then a left and then … Gone. I asked friendly passers-by, some of whom – most in fact – thought I meant the other, more established establishment, THE university, while others sent me hopefully off in several different directions.

11.00am, though still a way off, was getting closer, while the university itself seemed to be just as far away, when suddenly … there it was, left, right, and Bingo! Not just the university but the exact building, the entrance hall already buzzing with people who had left the house that morning with books on their minds and a clear idea of where they were heading.

My event was on the second floor, Room 2.35, still plenty of time to get there and get settled. The young man who was to chair the session introduced himself and together we went off to find the room. I didn’t know I was doing this until last night, he said apologetically –  but I did, he added helpfully, look you up on Wikipedia. With due modesty, I assured him that whatever he said by way of introduction would be fine. By 11.00 almost all the seats had been taken. The chairperson rose to his feet, coughed to get the audience’s attention, introduced me in a single sentence which included the words ‘crime fiction’, ‘poetry’ and ‘jazz’, and sat back down.

Right, then. I explained that I was going to read the first two chapters of my most recent novel, Body & Soul, after which I’d be happy to answer questions about that particular book or any of the others people might be familiar with. The reading seemed to go well and clearly there was going to be no shortage of questions. It was when I was attempting what was already becoming a rather convoluted answer to a question about ‘creativity’ [Why is it always questions about creativity that are difficult to answer?] that I came to the frightening realisation that I wasn’t too clear what exactly I was saying. And certainly not what I wanted to say next. I was, for that moment, just as lost as I had been earlier, finding my way blindly through the streets of Leicester.

There’s a sentence that resonates for me in Jim Harrison’s novel, True North, which I’m currently reading, in which he describes  one of the characters thus: He survived on family money and a small pension from the church given for his general mental incontinence. And that was me. Sitting on the corner of the table in Room 2.35 suffering from mental incontinence. My mouth continued to open, my lips to move and words to come out, words that seemed to bear some relationship to one another without my being too clear what that might be. My questioner continued to nod helpfully, however, as if I were making sense to him at least. And then, just as suddenly, I was. Making sense, that is. Or I appeared to be. Are there any more questions, I wondered, looking around?

Notts County lost, by the way. Already sitting at the bottom of the table, and having dominated for the majority of the game without managing to score – this against an Exeter side who were down to ten men from the first twenty minutes  – they conceded when the ball was bundled into their net with almost the last action of the game. Truly lost.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Saturdays … soccer to poetry …

Funny day, Saturday. Used to be football, most of the year anyway; playing it, watching it: cycling with my dad to White Hart Lane, where we’d pay a couple of bob to someone near the ground so as to leave our bikes in the safety of his front garden. Then, more recently, Meadow Lane: gloriously in the heydays of Don Masson and John Chiedozie, Tommy Johnson and Rachid Harkouk; more recently, the doldrums of … well, best perhaps not to name them. Though, after losing the first umpteen games of the season, it seems, at last, as if we’re on the way up.

Could have gone to watch Spurs play Cardiff today, but, shy of Wembley and its transport problems, I’m waiting for the new ground finally to open in Tottenham; if I were in Nottingham I’d be at the County ground, braving the rain and plummeting temperatures to watch the England Lionesses play Brazil in a friendly.

As it is I’m at home, watching the rain through the windows; happily there when the postman calls with three packets; one, an unsolicited proof copy of a soon to be published novel I might like to read and comment on [well, I might … ], the others, poetry: a copy of Amy Key’s Poetry Book Society Wild Card Choice, Isn’t Forever, which I’d ordered from Nottingham’s Five Leaves Bookshop on the strength of one of the poems on one of the little poetry cards they publish to coincide with National Poetry Day; the other – also unsolicited, but more than welcome – a copy, sent by Maura Dooley, of Negative of a Group Photograph, the book of poems by the Persian writer Azita Ghahreman, that she has translated with Elhum Shakerifar.

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Maura’s book comes with a picture postcard – a carving from Southwell Minster – the message on the reverse remembering a freezing November long ago when she came to Nottingham to do a reading and on the way back wrote “a little poem, All Hallows, that I still quite like”. Here it is …

ALL HALLOWS

This is a day for souls.
Morning doused with air
that has rinsed itself,
wrung itself out over
cropped lands, picked lands, dug lands.
Autumn’s over. Winter comes
in the first stiffening of grasses,
frost seasoning the land like salt,
a chill biting to the core of day.

The town’s horizon blurs with
steam, smoke, mist, never resolving
quite the mesh of silver and heat,
like looking at the world through tears.
Hot, salty tears can’t melt the ice,
nor sluice his heart: but it’s a comfort,
this light and water mixing,
on the day her soul walks out
over the fields to him.

from Explaining Magnetism: Maura Dooley. Bloodaxe, 1991.

Negative of a Group Photograph: Azita Ghahreman, translated by Maura Dooley with Elhum Shakerifar. Bloodaxe, 2018

Isn’t Forever: Amy Key. Bloodaxe, 2018

And with just a few minutes to go before half time at Meadow Lane, England are one goal up against Brazil.

Darkness, Darkness in Production

The Nottingham Playhouse/New Perspectives production of Darkness, Darkness, directed by Jack McNamara, began its two week run at the Playhouse on Friday, 30th September. The set was designed by Ruth Sutcliffe; the lighting designer was Azusa Ono, sound designer, Drew Baumohl and projection designer, William Simpson. The final performance will be on Saturday, 15th October. All production photographs © Robert Day.

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The body of Jenny Hardwick, who disappeared during the Miners’ Strike, is unearthed after 30 years.
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David Fleeshman as D.I.Resnick & Simone Saunders as D.I.Catherine Njoroge, both very much on the case
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Elizabeth Twells as firebrand supporter of the striking miners, Jenny Hardwick
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John Askew as striking miner, Danny Ireland
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Chris Donnelly, as Jenny’s former husband, Barry, facing up to some probing questions
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The older Danny under interrogation
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Martin Miller as retired P.C.Keith Haines & Emma Thornett as his wife, Jill
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Catherine enjoys a reunion with her former boy friend, Adam, played by Jonathan Woolf – or does she?
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Resnick and a fellow Notts County supporter at Meadow Lane

 

Walking the Resnick Walk

Yesterday, August 9th, I spent the day in Nottingham with David Fleeshman, the actor who will play Charlie Resnick in this autumn’s production of Darkness, Darkness at Nottingham Playhouse. Though David is no stranger to Nottingham – nor to the Playhouse – it was interesting for us both to trace some of Charlie’s footsteps around the city centre, even though a number of the places he would visited in the novels, the earlier ones especially, are either no longer there or have changed almost beyond recognition.

Here’s a pictorial record of our day …

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David at the Indoor Market in the Victoria Centre, where, in days (long) gone Resnick would have an espresso at Aldo’s Italian coffee stall before making his purchases from one or other of the two Polish food stalls, one of which, thankfully, remains.

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The sign outside The Peacock, at the foot of the Mansfield Road (and round the corner from the old Central Police Station) commemorates the fact that the pub has featured in the lives and work of both D H Lawrence and that bloke who wrote the Resnick books.

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Next stop, Music Inn on West End Arcade, source of a large proportion of Resnick’s music collection, Monk and Billie Holiday especially. Here’s David with the owner, David Rose.

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It seemed right to end the day at the Playhouse – where we were delighted to bump into another Nottingham writer (and Notts County fan) William Ivory. No time for David and I to get down to Meadow Lane this time, but he’s keen to take a break from rehearsals in September and join me in the stands.

Once a Spur, Then a Magpie …

Just in case you didn’t manage to get along to Meadow Lane for the final game of 2015, here’s a little gem you missed in the Notts County programme. And, oh yes, after being 2-0 down at half-time, Notts got back on level terms before the final whistle. A good effort, you might think, but not good enough to keep manager Ricardo Moniz and his backroom team in their jobs.

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