Last weekend I went to Nottingham, where I grew up (although born in Devon), whose castle had a lasting impression on me. The image above is a frame from Unfinished Business, an unreliable memoir in comic strip form (always changing) and a work in progress. I spent some of my early childhood living with my grandmother, whose house – regularly exorcised – was close to the castle. Perched on top of a huge rock, the castle was often obscured by thick fog in those days. This weekend there was no fog, but the castle is again obscured, this time by scaffolding and sheets of polythene, while it waits for its reincarnation as … a Robin Hood Experience? Or something similar. I loved climbing up the castle hill with its views over the Trent valley, and exploring the castle corridors, looking at the dusty and sometimes melancholy contents of its museum. Until the castle closed for its renovations, my great-great grandmother’s dress was on view in one of its cabinets – a silk frock of poison green and black. Arsenic-based green dye was used in Victorian times, often with dire consequences. The dress is now stored in Newstead Abbey.
I was in Nottingham briefly to see my niece and her family, and to go to the birthday party of two of my oldest school friends, twins represented on their birthday cake by their achievements as an academic and a tango dancer – they’ve both done other things as well!
During my visit I walked round the Forest, once part of Sherwood Forest and now recreation grounds, and the site of the annual Goose Fair every October. Above it is a cemetery where my great-grandfather is buried, I wasn’t sure exactly where, but thought this memorial was rather appropriate for some reason. With apologies to the occupant.
My great-grandfather Sir Thomas Shipstone was a beer baron, philanthropist, a bit of a dandy and a kindly man apparently.
Later I discovered some other Shipstone relatives buried in the War Graves section.
En route to the railway station the next day, my bus was re-routed due to a murder on the main road below my hotel leading into the city. In the city centre I walked past what was once an ancient inn, the Flying Horse Hotel, long since re-invented and converted into retail units but with interesting details on the facade, possible added or embellished in the 19th or twentieth century?
When very young and (unwillingly) accompanying my grandmother here for saturday morning coffee – my grandmother had a habit of tipping plates of biscuits into her handbag when the hotel staff weren’t looking – I recognised the singer songwriter Gene Pitney sitting opposite us, and was struck dumb not so much by his fame as by his handsome but curiously orange face.