Politics. No,noooo, keep reading.

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(This has nothing to do with the article. Its one of my pet toads. Its saying, in Toadish, that you should read this post. And give it some locusts. But mainly ‘read this post’.)

There are two major dangers with writing about politics in a self confessed self indulgent blog: first, the very mention of politics, politicians, and all associated words tends to provoke a mixture of anger/apathy amongst readers, and thus it took me a lot of persuasion not to title this blog ‘MAD goatsex PUrPle ROFL Bin laden WOOp’. Undoubtedly, that might have held your interest more thoroughly, as well as providing me with interest stats when I check the google searches people made to stumble across here*

Yet politics is all around us, for better, for worse, and the concept of democracy states that all those with the vote, and that’s all but the prisoner/minor readership here , are integral and thus active participants in the process, so if you think politics are irrelevant, I pity your impotence; and if you think ‘its all shit’ . then here’s looking at you, poo head.

Second, the structure of Government from ministerial office to parish council is one of such labyrinthine complexity its a Gordian (Brown?) knot that even the most seasoned, professional mass-media commentators struggle to untangle: have a read of Private Eye’s ‘Streets of Shame’ or ‘Hackwatch’ and witness how the most revered, connected, seemingly most prescient commentators are bloody useless at prediction. Self contradiction is rife, and ubiquitous across the media spectrum. The Daily Mail has been telling me that we’re all off to Hell in a Handcart very soon, yet after years of waiting I’ve only come vaguely close with a journey to Luton in a National Express.

To be glib is thus to be wrong, and when laced with an opinionated streak can only be useless commentary. As I consider myself under-qualified to provide anything but another purveyor of ill-informed rhetoric, I’m going to do what all governments promise to do in their infancy, and devolve power. Devolve power to those who seek our mandate for power. I’m handing the reins of this blog over to those who intend to ride the political horse of Beestonia over the jumps and hedges of the future with minimal sugar-lumps whilst swiftly sending this over-tired allegory trotting to the knackers yard.

Soon after sending this article to press (its a complex process, where i have to hire thousands of little pixies to individually write this on your screens, and not at all just press the ‘publish’ button then go and file my nails) I will be sending emails to all the candidates who have sent me glossy persuasions to lend them my pencilled ‘X’ at the forthcoming elections, and posed the following five questions:

  1. What qualifies you to be given power in Beeston?
  2. Whats the best, and worst things about Beeston?
  3. If Beeston were to be endowed with a new statue or monument, who/ of?
  4. Beestonia as a Republic. Comment please.
  5. Where do you see Beeston in five years?

So that’s the Tories, Labour (and as we are represented as part of a Borough by a Labour MP, Mr Palmer), the Lib Dems, Greens, UKIP and the BNP. Of course, with the interests of neutrality in mind, I wont say which of these parties makes my fingers ache to type and resist spoiling my screen with a disgusted bolus of spittle, and I implore you to do the same, cos People Like You have to show the same neutrality as People Like Me.

So by the time you read this, those questions will be out, and Ill knock up an article once I have the replies. In the meantime, I’ll declare all my interests in politics, meagre, void of duck-islands, but worth a read.

My first political memory was as around 1980, aged six, when I remember I lent, with a no small nod to Freudian psychology and via the Sun’s cartoon, that I supported the Labour Party and its matriarch, Maggie Thatcher. This confusion can be explained by breaking down my thought percentages back then, which ran as thus: 1% politics, 5% my newly born brother, 10% Bright Eyes by Art Garfunkel, and 84% The Empire Strikes Back.

When I came of suffrage in 1992, I was staunchly anti-tory, and as such spent election night having my heart slowly broke as I lay on my front room floor with my then girlfriend watching Snow’s swing-o-meter slip away from the red deeper into the blue, despite trying to mentally force it through telekinesis into the red.

The next two general elections are handily negligible: I spent the 1997 Blair Landslide unable to vote due to being in transit between Alicante in Spain and Faro in Portugal, a journey that found me sitting in a Tasca in Seville and using my base Spanish skillz reading, impassively, that Britain was inder a Nu-Lab government via a discarded copy of La Pais. I had more pressing concerns then, such as being in the wrong country, having no cash, no cigarettes, and it being too stupidly hot to trouble myself with domestic matters.

2001 found me such a passionate advocate of my employers, the BBC,  ethic of political impartiality that I thought it best to not cast a vote, and as I lived in Tunbridge Wells at the time, a knowledge that any vote for anything for the incumbent Conservatives would be akin to trying to stop a marauding bear with party-poppers. I did vote, as a Beestonian, in 2005, but thats between me and the ballot box, thank you very much.

I also must state Ive had a few run-ins with political figures: Labour activist Steve Barber was once, technically my landlord,  and disregarding his  political allegiance, a nice man, I often see ex-Lib Dem councillor Adele Brunton in Beeston, and I am sorry her abdication from her position has been exploited by less scrupulous rivals She drinks down Wetherspoons, thats cool with me. Our MP, the gangly yet useful Nick Palmer I’ve had a few run-ins with; all of a postive nature, where I have queried his position on policies I’ve felt strongly about. Hes always been helpful, informative and willing to listen: even if one doesnt agree with his allegiances inParliament, he seems an effective , concerned local MP. And hes not got a Duck Island or cluttered moat we are paying for.

I’ve also known well  both the sitting MPs for both Gedling and Erewash, as with anybody lucky enough to school at Bramcote Park Comp in the mid to late eighties, they were my teachers. Liz Blackman stood against that perma-tanned idiot Robert Kilroy-Silk at the last election as the MP for Erewash last election, and thoroughly thrashed him; while Vernon Coaker is now quite a high-ranking Home Office Tsar/ Czar**, with the same immaculately gelled haircut he had back in 1988 when he taught me the intricacies of Sociological theory.

When an employee, as previously mentioned , for the Beeb at the 2001 election, I was asked to phone Anne Widdecombe at 7am to try and arrange a telephone interview with our morning presenter; after being told by her agent she wasn’t up for it, to enquire to her agent ‘why?’, I heard a barking voice in the background shout ‘tell him hes a very rude young man’, a badge of honour I still wear with pride. Make her speaker, her or Dennis Skinner. We need some interim fun after the past few weeks of horrified disenchantment with the Chamber.

I have asked the candidates to answer within ten days, so I can post a reply in two weeks, in good time for your journey to the community centre, primary school or Scout hut where your opinion will be counted. Watch this space.

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*My favourite so far has been some individual who popped in after googling ‘BEESTON TESCO LESBIAN’. Whoever you are, identify, I think I love you.

** He has thus the power to create policy whilst donning a thick Russian accent, boom boom.

Beestonia vs. Sandbanks: Beestonia wins.

The River: Beach submerged

In his typically brilliant  collection of essays about Wales and its undiscovered histories* (bear with me; I am aware that any opening sentence that contains the words ‘essays’ ‘Wales’ and an upcoming mention of a writer you haven’t heard of hardly inspires you not to bugger off to a Lolcats or Spider Solitaire, but keep the faith, it gets better) Byron Rogers informs the reader that there isn’t a word for ‘orgasm’ in Welsh; that one of the greatest World War Two mass POW prison breakouts was in Wales, where high ranking Germans escaped and attempted to pass unnoticed amongst the Welsh by blacking up and pretending to be coal miners; and that every few years, during dry, hot summers in the Wales a Thirteen century village, St Ishmael, rises from from the sands of Carmarthan Bay, its flagstones and lintels momentarilarly appearing like a Welsh Brigadoon before the conditions change and it once more sinks back, a seemingly summer hallucination for those lucky enough to catch a glance. Who could resist such an image, such a glimpse of  somewhere long gone? And what the blue blazes has this got to do with Beestonia, oh Lord of this sacred town? Pipe down, I’ll explain.

As you will know, Beeston flanks a river that snakes its way through the southern reachs of this fair town, crashing down the weir (which has a salmon leap, fish-fans, though any right-thinking salmon will see it only leads to Long Eaton, Burton and Stoke so wisely dont bother using it) widens and deepens, gets spanned at Clifon then contained with concrete banks as it hits Nottingham, legging it through the Meadows lest it gets nicked. Its mostly seen as a pleasing side-attraction to the ponds when strolling round the far-end of the Nature Reserve, but its true wonders are to be found if one follows the track East towards Clifton Bridge.

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When I was an employee at the NTU Clifton Campus , I had the great privelidge to cycle down this path every morning to reach work. The journey was a joy, even when the long forgotton path was so crowded with nettles my short-clad legs would be a topography of welts when I reached work, en route seeing pheasants dashing around, rabbits scutting away down burrows, the flash of electric azure that marked a Kingfisher’s dive, finished by the gloriously invigorating pedal through the  smell of  breakfast cooking and coffee brewing at hotel restaurant that is now Sat Bains Michelin-starred restaurant, before the urbanality  (that word is pending patent, thanks) of Clifton necessitated focus on pedalling fast rather than meditative reflection. A wonderful gem of a place, seemingly only known by an occasional dog walker and a scattered band of fishermen, quietly setting their pitches up for a day wife-avoiding. So a love affair sprang with this place, and in 2003 something wonderful happened.

We had a summer. Remember summers? Those things that happen in other countries we fly off to? Maybe you remember some here? Those things with long, balmy days, where you drifted in a pleasant haze. Not the last two years, obviously, where the supposedly Halycon days were a series of waking up under a mass of sludgey cloud that sat like a bored teenager hoiking the occasional sprinkle of spitty rain down on the greyed residents of this island. But 2003… I had been made redundant, so pubs were difficult to excuse, plus the weather, blazing hot and sweetly aired, called for a more al fresco approach to a night boozing. And just by a joyous fluke, I ran into a bunch of like-minded individuals down the weir who invited me to something and somewhere that, like St Ishmael, was a passing apparition, and as such had to be embraced and enjoyed fully and whole-heartedly, spontaneously. Beeston had a beach.

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Beaches. I don’t subscribe to Bill Hick’s description of them as where ‘dirt meets water’, no no no. As you probably did, I grew up a hundred miles from the sea, and that sea was the Lincolnshire coast, which back in the seventies and eighties was a curious mix of oil, raw sewage, and blue-fleshed residents of the East Midlands who had yet to discover the Costas. Despite these shortcomings-I knew no different-the beach was a tremendously exciting place, where water didnt hold itself hostile cold and deep like the rivers and canals that cut through my childhood explorations round the neglected brown waterways of my youth , but lapped suggestively and seductively onto the shore, peacefully inviting us in, gradually allowing us to let it consume us, lapping lazily round our shivering legs, drawing us deeper as it worked on filling our lungs with ozone, driving out the nicotine and booze raddled air that accumulated during nocturnal visits with parents to Skeggy’s bingo halls and Caravan Park social clubs.  I eventually moved to Portugal, and for a period whilst between apartments, the beach became my bedroom, and I possibly fell a little out of love with it after waking mornings spitting blown sand out of my mouth., but this was restored after a return to this land-locked county. Be it the surfers-paradise of Fistral in Newquay, the bizarre spit of Spurn Head, the shingly shoddiness of Brighton, or the haunted dunes of Scotlands West Coast, Im a fan of beaches.** So to discover my future Kingdom has one, albeit of a temporal nature, is a god-send.

My first visit was after a tip-off by a group of people I used to know who would probably now be known as the perjorative term of ‘hippies’. Yes, they may seem flakey and badly  dressed to you, they may abhor meat and your precious cars, but by jiminy, they are resourceful. So lay off, Clarkson, you  tit. ‘Come down tonight Matt’ they said ‘Its an amazing thing. They’ll be bongos’. And so there was. And if bongos dont illicit a joyous response in your soul, find a Priest to exorcise your joylessness right now.

I once went to Glastonbury and managed, within the first few hours, to lose my friends, phone, and any idea which was my tent in a festival of 75,000 such abodes. Luckily, I had cash, wine, a change of socks, and an urge to walk without agenda  for a few days, and as such ended up on a Friday night/Saturday morning in the Sacred Circle leaning against a stone-circle stone with a Cornish Spiritual Healer (his self-styled job description, not mine, lovely guy, but I wouldn’t want him first on the scene if I was involved in a road accident), two giggly young actresses from Surrey amazed by my accent and a confused chap who was in possession of some  rather interesting fungi. A million bongos rang out, and as the sun rose after a brilliantly silly night, I said ‘I wouldn’t want to be anyone, or anywhere than here and me, right now’, to a  multitude of nodded concurrance . These moments are rare. These moments are precious. My next one was that night on Beeston Beach.

I was with a teacher- girlfriend at the time who I thought would balk from such a night, but she embraced it fully, even when the camp-fire replaced  her fine mist of Chanel No.5 with that pervasive odour of Eau De Burntlog. We chatted as the waters lapped on the beach edge, watched the sun rise, then gathered up our rubbish and staggered home to blessedly blacked out rooms for a few hours missed sleep. Later that day, after waking well past noon, I cycled down, and besides from a small cairn of charred rock, it all seemed a dream.

So, where is this elusive feature? Im tempted, like George Orwell’s essay on the perfect pub,  to keep schtum for fear your awareness of it will spoil it, but I dont think anyone who makes the effort to read this blog deserves such sniffiness. Get on your bike, and listen to these directions. Matt-Nav, if you will.

Go to the weir. Have a few minutes absorbing the sight of millions of tons of water crash down into the caldera that gathers its wits before regaining order and flows East, and follow.  There is a path. It will bend at an obtuse angle towardsthe left, and here take a rest and look at the little meadow that flanks, you’ll see a load of  hurried white scuts as rabbits scatter. Sated with bunny-love, continue about 50 yards past two fields, then look to your right. If the weather is right, and has been for a few weeks, you’ll see it. If not, its just another little pebbly bay, possibly occupied with an angler. If lucky, you’ll see a wide shingled beach, with the river, which by now should be more slouching toards, rather than rushing to, Nottingham. Its down a rather steep bank, and years of bad weather has rendered this mildly hazardous and overgrown, but take your time, find a way. The anglers get down there, you, you fit young thing, will not struggle.

My second visit there came soon after the first. Before I relate this anecdote, lets fly back in time a few years.

In 1994, while a resident of the Bramcote end of St. Apleford, I discovered that a few like-minded individuals found the hidden old estate grounds behind BlueBell Woods were a wonderful open-air party venue, I managed to arrange a few large, brilliantly behaved and well attended parties there, The police would somehow get wind, visit, be impressed with our attitude and leave us be, albeit with my parents phone number should there be devastation left the next day. They never rang. So, with similar Eavis-esque tendencies, I arranged a party on the beach. Booze was procured, a small barbeque wheeled down, and some fire wood bought from Wilkos. We trooped down as the sun set after a few ales in the Boat and Horses, and we kicked off what was to become a legendary night.

There was initial disappointment when we arrived to discovered a group of track-suited  lager-swilling lads had procured a pitch, and were blasting out shite bass-ridden tunes on a battery powered stereo. They initially eyed us with suspicion, but tolerated our presence, which as the night deepened, mixed into our group and our formidable fire, until it was too dark and too late to work out who was part of which group, and bongos beat out the frenetic beats of their CDs, in  a  solidarity that would never happen in the confines of Wetherspoons. We shared booze, jokes and  stories. We laughed as my friend Jono slipped on a half-submerged log and fell into the Trent, we rolled into hysterical bundles as some idiots on the South Bank threw stones at us in some nihilistic rage (you’ll be relieved to know these all fell short, such is the a) width of the river 2) the rubbishness of Cliftonian arm power).

Arms of once strangers were locked as the lazy yet intense beams of the sunset droze us home,  where sleep was rewarded with resolve to arrange another party. Yet the drought broke with summer rain and thus a rise in the river level, and the beach once again sank below the flow. Frequent cycle rises down the river have been fruitless: the water level never abaiting, never allowing a drying-out that allows the beach to rise again.

This year, however, has been forecast as warm, sunny, and dry. The first summer for years that might bode well for getting out, getting some air, realising there is life outside pubs and back gardens. Get out there.

Between coming up with the idea for this article, and typing it up, the Nottingham Evening Post announced Nottinghan will be putting up a ‘beach’, read : a few tons of sand that will do nothing but annoy local shopkeepers that will be trod into carpets city-wide. Its expensive crap. Ignore it, grab some cans and a disposable barbeque and hit Beeston Beach. You may never have the chance again.

*The Ba nk Manager and the Holy Grail, Aurum Books. Buy it, its ace. Or borrow mine, for a small charge.

** Not the Bette Midler film, which was shit.

Beery Beeston.

Ahhhhhhh, pubs. Whats not to love? They sell alcohol, offer up a corucopia of entertaining diversions such as quiz nights for the bright and beardy and karaoke for the not so bright but often just as beardy, they give you food for a reasonable price and best of all, are full of people. And thats why we go. We could sit in and drink cider at our own dining tables or sup wine perched on the edge of our beds, but no, we hit the town, to be surrounded by people we can slag off for being badly dressed, overloud, too timid or without trace of irony, alcoholics. We go to people watch, to commune, to pull, to be seen. They are vital to society in these ever-fractured times, where the classes converge  under the levelling brilliance  of a night on  the lash.

Beeston and pubs are about as synonomous as  horses and glue. A town grown out of the working man, be it from Raleigh, Boots or Marconi, Beeston loves it pubs. I’ve read and most definately boasted that Beeston has the greatest density of pubs in the UK, (thus, the world); and I know it sits with many towns that claim the same, and until a bored mathematician gets off his arse and bangs out an equation – pubs divided by population divided by area multiplied by local cases of gout-its a claim that can be waved with pride by us and all other claimants with an equal robustness. We nearly have the nations  most famous fictional pisshead, the antihero Arthur Seaton in Saturday Night, Sunday Morning, who wasn’t too far off and  must have had a wee on  Wollaton Park on the way home after a few ales and a pagger in Beeston.

I didnt drink last year, a year off i spent being so abstinent I spat back a champagne toast at a friends wedding, so felt, when slipping back into the happyamber river again this year, I might have slipped out the loop. But no. Its worse than that. I’m back on the scene with a thirst to slake, and im hit with a staggering conclusion: Beeston’s gone shit.

Growing up in St. Apleford, I had limited pubs. Thus, social drinking was easy, as a visit to a pub – in this case the Sherwin Arms– was a guarantee of a night out even if contactable friends demurred: someone there would be a willing partner in paralysis. A visit there might end up in a messy squabble that might sour the evening, but was also as likely to finish in a promise that you are mates forever, you’ll do the best for each other forever, have we got time for the late R4 to town?

My drinking transferred to Beeston when I moved there in 1995, and I was not disappointed. despite the profusion of pubs, a few were eventually narrowed down to must-go-on-an-evening, each with a markedly different atmosphere and clientele but with a unified warmth within them. the regulars might be locked into routine there, and be fond of their tight regular-cliques, but they never excluded or made unwelcome the passing drop-in, rather treating them as fascinating curiosities.

Things tighten up after time if not properly maintained. Now, the pubs that actually  look like pubs: The Lion, the Queens, seem locked into Regulars-only groove that doesn’t seem to encourage anything new; perhaps terrified after the demise of the Middle Street pubs, they have sank into retention and introspection. A few pubs have diversified: the Greyhound now wears its RAWWWWK colours with pride, the Durham Ox has become half Chinese restaurant, half modern bar; which oughta work, but instead tenuously hangs together like a hastily stapled and swiftly rejected specimen from the Doctor Moreau’s (pub) Island. This is in no way slating the Chinese influence: a later article here will outline my love of Beeston’s Orientalism, but the two together hang together like a badly mixed drink. I overheard on Radio Nottingham the other day an article about the Durham Ox (my neighbour, bless her, is a tad deaf, so shares her local radio tastes) whereby the presenter was astounded that a ‘pub in Beeston had a menu in Chinese’, as if  there wasn’t  an English version also available, and those  inscrutable orientals  would FORCE  you to use chopsticks and never have more than one child.

The Victoria is perhaps best regarded pub. Offering a menu that lets it bandy the word ‘Gastropub’ about without recourse to breaking anyones kneecaps,  and a beer policy that has forced more beards to elevate than can be counted, it should be a great pub. I thought so a few years ago, until a few things began to irk. The policy to ban mobile phones seems fair enough – to watch a group of friends  sitting round a table all individually texting and ignoring each other is a sad sight, as well as the general annoying nature of phones themselves- but with the Vic its a smugness, a Daily Mail-esque desperation to pretend that its today we’re living in. Curse thee who dares check your phone formessages from late-arriving friends, and be cast out of this middle -class paradise, where lager is frowned upon and the live music is invariably awful jazz  or a crappy covers band that strive so hard to be MOR they are flanked in camber, cast out back to Wetherspoons, where your braincancered breathren can Nokia each other with insistant abandon. The smugness, once detected, creeps into your conscience. The Vic is, and it hurts me to say this after some happy evenings snug inside there, the Phil Collins  of pubs. Middle class, middle aged, middle of the road,a little bit techily nasty, a pub for people who dont like pubs, as the evil Collins music is music for those who’d rather be cleaning the car or ordering the occupation of the Sudentanland. Its won awards, but so did Collins.

A few attempts have been made to introduce smart, Hockey-esque drinking to Beestonia. Belle and Jerome, a new, very tastefully decorated establishment opened recently as a sister to a simialr bar in West Bridgford. It seems to be doing well, politely ambling through weekends pretty much full, and I have enjoyed a glass of Sauvignon in there on an evening, bought to the table  by pleasant staff. However, the cheapest glass of wine costs more than an  hour on the minimum wage, and the table service encourages meaty tipping, so it may struggle to survive as the recession bites and we all start eating our pets. Previous attempts to take Beeston upmarket have had mixed results: the dreadfulness of the old Bakery/ The Bar which is now possibly the only place in Britain with WKD Blue on  tap, and two-for-one deals on all fights. Terracotta is the pheonix from the flames that Republic died in, but has reopened with more emphasis on food than booze. The  fairly new Broadgate is the more pragmatic reopening of The Barrel, the bar that set out to be classy winebar, compromised with being half-winebar, halfpub, then in a glorious couple of years collapsed into the most illicit, seediest bar this side of the Mos Eisley Cantina. Many a fun night (and very early morning) were once spent there, but thats all for another article sometime, when the mental scars heal. Can Beestonians be expected to pay top dollar for their drug de jour? Well, its not just the flashier places with such prices, I recently discovered a pint of bog-standard ale in The Commercial set me back £2.90. I was so shocked I had to have a stiff drink. At a cheaper pub.

Which neatly takes us to that ubiquitous hell-hole of all English conurbations, the local Wetherspoons.  The Last Post, or as its sometimes more accurately referred to, The Past Lost, is a fairly typical ‘Spoons, a cheap, busy, gaping pub which has not a seat unstained, and a daytime clientele of that hellish glimpse into the future to any male, that terrifying species lonelymanwithpintstaringintothemiddledistancesadlyasaurus, usurped after six pm by tracksuits and england shirts, a mild air of menace, and a gaggle of underaged teens amazed they are being served and as such drinking Sourz by the pint. The Last Post quite wonderfully had a shooting on its premises one afternoon and instead of closing, merely annexed the crime scene with police tape and carried on business without missing a beat. A junkie once tried to wee on me in there. I’ve seen people slumped in there that were very feasibly dead. Its a Wetherspoons, and Ive drank in them from Tunbridge Wells (a converted Opera house, replete with chandeliers, stalls, balconies and a stage) to Inner City Glasgow, which appeared to have been converted, and only half-heartedly, from an abbatoir. A little local detail tries to lend it some place in the town history-a picture of DH Lawrence by the mens toilets, in Beeston’s case, and otherwise you could be anywhere, a grey, defeated hedgemony . And thats the future.  With breweries shutting down to turn a quick property profit, drinkers preferring to get arseholed on supermarket deals, soon Beeston will be just be one, bench-filled warehouse with beer and burger deals keeping the locals alive with the bare minimum of nutritional effort, silent TVs with Sky Sports News endlessly rolling before disninterested, lost eyes….

I’ve obviously not mentioned LOADS of pubs, and can’t confess to having  spent much time of late in many, so help, tell me stuff and give me hope. I might even buy you a pint.