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notes from a small vicar
from a parish
in Liverpool, UK
Thursday, January 22, 2009England and nowhere In a room just east of the grand crescent of Lincoln Circus, I heard the President's inauguration speech on the site of another historic oration. The Nottingham Central Travelodge is set where Friar Lane Baptist Chapel once stood, where 200 years ago William Carey preached the 'deathless sermon' which launched innumerable acts of Christian mission and coined the expression which remains central to Baptist faith and social action, "Expect great things from God; attempt great things for God!"
Not sure how great my two days in Nottingham will be judged; they consisted of an enjoyable attempt to familiarise myself with the area of Basford where, hopefully, in May, I'll be leading a walking workshop on the theme of finding 'heaven in the ordinary'.
Basford Willows are everywhere in the ground behind old St Leodegarius church, which is an oasis of unexpected calm beneath a ramp of the A6515 Nottingham Ring Road. The bridge keeps the sun off the River Leen passing beneath in parallel with the Nottingham Express Transit tramway and the Robin Hood (Worksop) railway line. Turn one way beside the church's iron railings and you survey a site little altered since Norman times, which feels like one of those special places where, always, 'prayer has been valid'. Turn the other way and you face a dark corridor of twenty-first century transportation, bounded in grubby concrete, low live cables and flexing steel, with vehicles endlessly throbbing above on the approach to the junction with the B682 Nottingham Road, trains and trams shrieking past at regular intervals. This place could seem hopelessly in tension with itself, but to me it feels more like an 'intersection of the timeless moment / .. England and nowhere. Never and always.'
The Leen hosts other such intersections: a traveller camp, winter home for those who (in time-honoured fashion) will hoist their fairground attractions out of storage and on the road out of Basford for the enjoyment of thousands this summer; the gigantic gasworks and the even more imposing red-brick elevation of Shipstone's Brewery - both remnants of a different industrial past, both very present to the people of Basford and Whitemoor and the thousands of commuters taking the Leen route home.
The river winds through this boggy corridor, previously base for countless mills, dye- and bleach-works and continuing to host a large area of attractively tatty allotments. Finding my riverside route blocked by the railway, I retrace my steps and head past the church into Old Basford, where the pubs carry the place's story. The Fox and Crown, once used as a debtor's gaol, has a mural depicting the hero of old Sherwood Forest Robin Hood, firing off an arrow into a falling crown, its trajectory watched by keen-eyed Marion and unseen by an inebriated Friar Tuck. It serves its own-brand beers and gorgeous Thai meals. The White Swan affirms Basford's waterside location. The Horse and Jockey makes the St Leodegarius - St Leger connection. And the Duke Of Newcastle recalls the area's landed gentry of old, a shut-down pub in a late stage of decay at the approach to the inter-war Whitemoor Estate.
I enjoy Whitemoor, with its circular cast-iron road signs and its primary school which used to be (and still looks like) a sanitorium. I enjoy the eccentricity of a walk along the uncut grass of the wide Ring Road central reservation, and I enjoy other people's eccentricities as displayed in the front gardens of Wilkinson Street: some beautifully but excessively overplanted, some determinedly neglected, and one completely flagged displaying sodden-looking plants in a strictly-aligned formation of chimney pots.
Past the shining park and ride facility, detouring up the Leen for a conversation about access with an orange-bibbed railwayman, past gigantic Shipstones and many various work sheds and on, up, into New Basford, which doesn't seem that new with its terraced streets recalling the triumphs of Empire (Egypt, Suez, Cairo) and the North Gate referencing the political geography of an even more ancient Nottingham. Like most of the roads I've walked here Nottingham Road is a working road: abounding with garages and tyre franchises, small business centres, engineering sheds. The iconic buildings remain but their uses are reinvented: the Shipstones building is now home to John Pye & Sons, Auctioneers and Valuers, 'One of the UK's Largest Auction Houses'; a 1970s-looking light-industrial shed opposite The Willow Tree is now a snooker hall.
I end my walk at the junction where it began: but this time above the church, across the obscenely busy A6514/B682 road junction, and in McDonalds. My guide on the first part of this walk, St Leo's vicar Nigel Rooms, said that this drive-in was built to cater for passers-by. He's clearly right, but here I witness another intersection of the timeless moment, as business travellers ordering burgers for delivery to their numbered Car Bays enjoy the sight of another customer, a mother, passing over her young baby to her friend, an assistant behind the servery; together we all share her friend's delight as she plays with the child. A couple of carers sit in what may be their regular seats with a young woman in a wheelchair and alongside them come six visiting young men in clean, bright bibs bearing the logo Carillion Apprenticeships. All are held in conversation by another friendly member of staff. This is England and nowhere, I ponder as I tuck into my chicken and bacon salad and a sea of cars passes by; this is England and nowhere, and this is good.
Parish map / walk route adapted from www.achurchnearyou.com
Basford walk, January 2009 - Flickr photoset