Sunday, 2 July 2017

Two history Saturdays and seeing what one never ever expected to see

To begin with next Saturday, 8 July 2017. I am reprising my 35 bus history day out from Bulwell to Angel Row Central Library thanks to St Martin's Church, Bilborough, and Nottingham City Transport.

I only received the poster yesterday evening, so apologies for the short notice. Somehow I have been morphed into a 'tour guide' — not a claim I would make for myself, but I am not going to argue about. I'm not even sure of the 'historian' bit, given that I have been so busy consuming history that I have done little original research from primary sources.

I have posted another take on the 35 bus route using a 1959 Nottingham street map on my History By Bus blog.

Last Saturday I spent the best part of the day at the newly opened Canalside Heritage Centre by Beeston Lock helping on the Beeston & District Civic Society stall. It was an interesting day and saw the launch of my latest Beeston map. It seemed to be well received and got me into a good few discussions, as did the Civic Society display. There is undoubtedly a lot of interest in what is going to happen to the old Beeston Bus Station and Fire Station site. Most of those I spoke to were of the view that Beeston will end up getting less than it hopes for because developers promise one thing and deliver another. Experience suggests this is a reasonable view. Wanting a cinema came up time and again. Judy Sleath, the Civic Society's Chair worked her socks off last Saturday and, at times, those speaking with her seem to think she was Broxtowe Borough Council. With luck, she made have persuaded a couple of folk to join and think about becoming actively involved.

There was plenty going on all day and long queues for food. The view across to Clifton Hall is something special. A good day by any measure and from a conversation I overheard between two people wearing 'Trustee' badges they were pretty pleased too.

I left at 4-15pm, when the Canalside Heritage Centre's first day open to the public was fifteen minutes away from ending by which time there had been just over 2,200 visitors. Not a bad start by any measure.

I was too busy to take photographs, but I did manage a few. No captions, except to say that the last photograph is of my next door neighbours. I hope you enjoy them.

For me the big event of the week and, in some ways, one of the big events of my life (which is quite a claim to make at 73) was seeing a photograph of my father, someone I never knew, nor did I know the name of for sure until Wednesday. Before mid-April 2017 I had no idea of who my father might be. 

At my mother's funeral in 2006, my one remaining uncle confirmed my father was Irish, something I suspected after my one and only row with my maternal grandfather back in the early-1960s. He had said, at the time, 'It's the bloody Irish in you'. It wasn't something the family spoke about and I did not trust my mother to tell me the truth, so I never asked her about my father.

When I was growing up in the centre of Wembley in a three bedroom semi-detached house we always had lodgers in the front upstairs bedroom. For a long time it was two Irish ladies, who I called 'Auntie Lily' and 'Auntie Mary'. Both their names appear on electoral roll entries for the house between 1946 and 1952. It was house into which people came from what like seemed the world to me — Ireland, India, Belgium, Poland, Australia. Scotland didn't count as I had two Scottish aunties from Grantown-on-Spey, somewhere I regarded as a second home whilst I was growing up, then my mother married my step-father, who was from Glasgow. Back then, racism was directed at the Irish and Jews. There were not enough coloured faces about to take any notice of then and, anyway, what few there were, went to the same church as me. When I found out that I might be half-Irish I was proud of the fact.

In early-2015 a DNA test via the Ancestry website, which Susan organised, told me I was 55% Irish, 28% Scandinavian, 8% British, 3% Iberian, 3% West European and 3% Russian-Finnish. So, for the first time in my life, I knew the Irish story about my unknown father was true.  Then in April this year whilst recovering from my open heart surgery, a ping on the Ancestry website alerted us to the fact that a DNA match for a '2nd cousin' had been found. At this point we knew no more. After Susan exchanged a couple of emails with the person we knew we had found the Irish connection and at this point, just possibly, a half-brother. In May the person in question had a DNA test and last week it was established for sure that we are half-brothers. I also found out about three half-sisters to add to the two I already have. Sad to say all three of the half-sisters who share my Irish father died young, so I wll never get to meet them, but at some point before too long I hope to meet my half-brother for the first time.

You will have noticed I mention no names. This is because this is not my story to tell in any detail and I will almost certainly write about it with the person who established the link back in mid-April. We have come a long way in less than three months and there is still a way to go.

On Wednesday I did next to nothing, seeing a photograph of my father, knowing the DNA result confirmed this, was an overwhelming experience. Finding out I was Irish for sure was something I never expected, then when DNA testing came along and it got cheaper, it became a possibility (Susan paid £134 for our DNA tests with Ancestry at the end of 2015, now they can cost as little as £50). That this would lead me to people who already see me as part of their family is also overwhelming. We speak on the telephone like family and will have our first meeting in the next few weeks.

It is a story full of amazing coincidences, as one so often hears, especially if you watch 'Long Lost Families' on ITV or 'Who Do You Think You Are?' on BBC-TV. My half-brother and I share a name, as do our wives and grand-daughters. Our maternal grandparents brought us up.

Do I see me in my father? The answer is 'no', but I do catch a glimpse of my son, and in my half-brother, who is nine years older than me I catch a shared smile. Once we meet, other mannerisms will come into view. The take of close friends and family who have seen the photographs is mixed. Some see similarities whilst others see none.

Growing up in 1940s and 50s there were plenty of other children around you without fathers, most killed in the Second World War. Not having a father was not a problem for me. I had my maternal grandfather who I called 'Pop'. I did know other kids who began to develop problems when they got into their mid and late-teens. Even I was nervous about telling the girl who was to become my first wife, but it made no difference. No one ever reproached for not knowing who my father was so it has simply never mattered to me as anything other than as something I was curious about and, occasionally, my children would ask me about.

Of course I wanted to know, but I have lived my life never expecting to know, so when I did find out for sure this week I say I was 'overwhelmed'. I may have actually been in shock. All I know is that, as I have done throughout my life, I went to bed early, slept soundly and woke up on Thursday as if I had always known my half-brother and my father.

DNA tests are enabling others like me to make familial connections they never knew they had. Thinking about it, what has happened to me in the last three months could happened to you!

Sunday, 25 June 2017

A Beeston hoglet and her mum

Last summer we began seeing a regular visitor waddle past out patio door. Always at dusk. A grand-daughter vet and a close friend who know about these thing both said 'Not a good sign', but we got used to our evening visitor and wondered where he or she spent the winter?

Yesterday evening we got our answer, assuming it is the same hedgehog, because she came with a Hoglet in tow. We watched her snuffle around our rockery, her nose twitching, occasionally digging, then as she disappeared into the rockery, the Hoglet came steaming into view.

It is difficult to describe the sheer pleasure such a sight gives you. I went next door to my neighbour for some cat food. She insisted on giving me a box. I put some out after they have wandered off in a space I found in the rockery and we watched a little later as she came back. Before going to bed I check the dish and most of the cat food had gone, so I topped it up. This morning it was near empty, so it looks like I have got myself a job of sorts. This is assuming family and friends are right, insomuch as we shouldn't be seeing a Hedgehog, let alone a Hoglet in full view.

We wish them well and chuffed that they feel safe in our garden. Well, that's it for now. I'll let a few pictures tell their own story (click on images to enlarge):

Mum is in this pic, at the top, almost hidden from view, but she is watching her sprog closely. I took these pics through our patio door window with my telephone. It was all over in 30 seconds.

Friday, 23 June 2017

Hucknall's Heritage Bus Tours offer a model for Broxtowe

As I have pointed out on many occasions Broxtowe is a nonsense borough. Geographically it doesn't make sense. It is clearly divided into north and south with no public transport links between the two halves and the one road inside the borough which links the two halves is little more than a back lane.

This fact makes it difficult for folk to explore Broxtowe. What does Beeston know of Eastwood or Brinsley and they of Beeston and Attenborough? Little I suspect, which is why the work of the voluntary Hucknall Tourism & Regeneration Group offers an example of how Broxtowe might address its north–south divide when it comes to heritage.

Hucknall Tourism & Regeneration Group mini-bus at Newstead Abbey.

For the past ten years Sheila and Ken Robinson have been organising and managing an annual programme of mini-bus tours for the Hucknall Tourism & Regeneration Group (HT&RG), which was founded in 2002. For 2017 they have arranged no less than seven different tours on twenty dates.

Laura Simpson, Nottinghamshire County Council’s Senior Practitioner in Heritage Tourism had the brilliant idea of asking Sheila and Ken to run a training day, ‘How to run a heritage bus tour on a budget’, which took place on 16 June 2017. A group of some twelve interested individuals, including two who found their way to the day from Derby, such was the interest. None of us left disappointed.

The morning was spent in the Dynamo House at Bestwood Country Park, where Laura did a presentation on Heritage Tourism in Nottinghamshire, which included information about the national scene as well. The county focus is on a collection of ‘themes’, including ‘Blood, Sweat and Tears’ (industrial history), ‘Rebellion and Freedom’ (dissent and liberty), ‘With Brush and Pen’ (literary and artistic heritage) and ‘Our Sporting Life’ (sporting heritage). 

The recession has resulted in the way we take breaks and holidays changing. More of us now stay with friends and family than in hotels or self-catering, and from the nodding heads I guessed it was a fact most of those present could relate to. Another one of the many interesting points made by Laura which caught my attention was a reference to ‘visitors’ (not ‘tourists’) who ‘come in pursuit of the real’. These are people who want to visit local pubs, sporting events, maybe ride on a bus. 

There was much in Laura’s presentation to hold the attention of local historians with an interest in reaching a wider audience, and as Sheila and Ken demonstrated with their presentation, you don’t have to have a museum or historic building. Organising walks is an obvious activity, but with the help of a mini-bus you can do much more. Sheila took us  through all the things you have to think about and plan for: funding (including sponsorship); costs (including insurance); routes (including duration); advertising ; Booking methods and the day of the tour itself — of which we had a perfect example after a sandwich lunch, when Sheila and Ken took us a Byron inspired tour from Bestwood to Annesley, Newstead Abbey, Hucknall, before returning to Bestwood, where we ended the day with a general discussion and muffins!

I went home mightily impressed by the enterprise of Sheila and Ken and thinking about the opportunities that exist for local historians everywhere to follow their example. I should point out that HT&RG does not duplicate existing bus routes or compete with them in any way. They fill up their 14 seat mini-buses quickly and they offered many tips on how to raise money from local businesses, especially people selling bathrooms and kitchens!

Among the pieces of paper we left with was a County Council Risk Assessment Record prepared for the training day. A useful document some might too easily dismiss as unnecessary. I found it quite the reverse. Laura’s enthusiasm also helped the day go well, as she made her way around the group talking to participants about their interests and reasons for attending.

I can see this training being organised again and when it is, book a place. You won’t be disappointed.
Just to be sure you don't miss out, why not contact Laura Simpson direct and tell you are interested. Contact details as follows: Tel.0115 9932595, email:

Perhaps next year a similar venture could be considered for Broxtowe, with monthly weekend mini-bus trips from the south of the borough to the north and vice-versa? From Chilwell and Beeston via Stapleford to Eastwood and Brinsley for example, with with printed guides at least for passengers. Even better, a couple of tour guides to accompany folk.

Right now this is no more than a thought, but the work of Sheila and Ken and their Hucknall  Tourism & Regeneration Group shows that such a venture is clearly possible and, most importantly, viable.

Sheila Robinson talking to training day participants whilst at All Saints Annesley.

A view into what remains of Annesley (All Saints) Old Church.

Annesley Hall stable block, laundry and servants' accommodation.

Saturday, 17 June 2017

A Beeston garden and voting in the 2017 General Election or what has happened to my generation?

The first of a two part weekend post, which I will add to during the day. First, last Sunday's visit to a garden on Marlborough Road, which was open as part of the Beeston and Chilwell Open Gardens Weekend. What made the garden memorable and a pleasure was its attainability — I left with the feeling that our garden, good as it, could also be given a managable vegetable patch and a slightly larger pond and I so loved the arbour. I will let the pictures speak for themselves:

A couple of days ago I went in search of statistics about the 2017 General Election turnout, not believing reports that voters aged 70 and over like myself had voted for the Conservatives in large numbers. I found the YouGov report on the web which made me ashamed on my generation, that we may well be deserving of all the ire we attract from younger voters. I lifted a few of the many tables in the report which I reproduce below:

I am staggered by the fact that less than one in five over 70s like myself voted Labour. I clearly keep the wrong company, being surrounded by fellow oldies like myself who are, for most part, Party members or Labour voters.

It would be interesting to see these statistics for each General Election from 1945 onwards. Again, I may well have lived in a different world, wanting my vote and using it at the first opportunity and ever since.

At someone who has been retired since the age of 62, I find it difficult to grasp the fact that less than a quarter of retirees vote Labour. What has made my generation so collectively stupid?

And finally how we voted based on our education. I have no qualifications to my name, attending a secondary modern school, leaving at 15, not knowing what a GCE or a university was, but I thought I had a good education, I could read, write, add up in the days before job application forms. You saw an advert, sent off a letter, then had your interview. By the time I had the opportunity to go onto further education (Ruskin College via my union), I had a family, a mortgage and a good job. Somehow I got by and did alright by my own expectations. How most of my educational group comes to be voting Conservative is, truly, beyond my comprehension!

Us oldies need to be reminded of what life was like and how Labour was instrumental in making our lives better. Perhaps we need a Beeston/Broxtowe 'Oldies for Greg Marshall Group'?

Monday, 12 June 2017

Beeston Week goes weekly from today

Blogging can be addictive. I should know, I've been doing it since 2007, over ten years. At the end of 2014 when we moved to Beeston, my Lenton based Parkviews blog gave way to Beeston Week. I have tried to stop before, but appeals to my vanity prompted me to continue and, in truth, I enjoy it. However I have said more than once that post-op I want to concentrate more on writing and gardening and this I am determined to do — hence my decision to turn Beeston Week into 'a look back at the last seven days'. In other words, as from today I'm going weekly. I aim to add a post every weekend, if not a Saturday morning, then a Sunday morning.

Next Saturday I will begin with a look at a garden on Marlborough Road, Beeston, plus a few other bits, what I've no idea.

Going weekly will also make it easier for you to keep track of my ramblings. Thanks for reading me.

Robert Howard

Sunday, 11 June 2017

Be careful what you wish for. Now comes the real challenge, persuading Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party to support PR.

In my 26 April post I wrote 'I would like the outcome of this election to be one in which Jeremy Corbyn and Labour MPs can only govern with the consent/support of other political parties represented in the UK Parliament and that their first act will be to introduce proportional representation across English local government and the UK Parliament using the voting system used to elect the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly (also the London Assembly which we tend to forget or don't actually know happens). Part of the same Act would abolish the House of Lords.'

Every vote has to count. A close friend from my schooldays living in Devon voted for a Liberal candidate with no chance of winning. The Conservative candidate was a hard-Brexiteer and she thinks Labour 'too idealistic'. She likes her politicians and governments to be 'pragmatic'.

If Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party really want to change British and English politics for the better then they can begin by agreeing to a change in our voting system in this Parliament which can then be used in the next general election. If I was the Greens, the Liberals or the SNP I would make this the main condition of supporting Labour.

I hear 'UKIP' being muttered by Labour opponents of PR voting. The added member system relies on seats being allocated on an average share of the vote cast in the constituency section for the winning candidates. This sets a high threshold and means added members are still much more likely to come from a main party, but in a democracy you cannot exclude candidates or political parties because you don't like them.

I have told the story in a previous post (more than once I'm sure) about how I came to believe in PR, so to repeat myself again:

I can pinpoint when I became a supporter of proportional representation. It was in 1960, when I attended my first Labour Party selection meeting for the then Wembley South CLP for Wembley Central ward where I lived. In those days local councillors served for three years and a third of the council was elected each year, so we had only one prospective candidate to select. There were four hopefuls and after the first ballot, the bottom name was deleted and on the second ballot, someone got over 50% of the votes cast, so was selected.

Someone in the meeting asked if we could have preferential voting, which was explained as writing 1 2 3 4 against the name of each would-be candidate and the one with the lowest number of no.1 votes would drop out and their no.2 votes would be distributed as allocated. It immediately seemed like a less messy system of selecting a candidate — I only had to vote once, then the votes could be quickly counted as their was only about twenty of us in the hall, but the exhaustive ballot won and it was not until I was in Lenton in the early-1980s that Labour Party members could be persuaded to use preferential voting instead of exhaustive ballots.

It struck me then, at the age of 16, that if the Labour Party would not use first past the post (FPTP) to select its own candidates, how could it support FPTP in elections for councillors and MPs? From then on I became a supporter of proportional representation (PR) and the historian in me quickly learned that until after 1945, the Labour Party supported PR.

Clegg and the Liberals cocked up the opportunity they had in 2011 to get PR. This time we should go for England and the UK Parliament adopting the same system as used in Scotland, Wales and the London Assembly. They never got referendums, so there is no need to have one this time.

In The Guardian yesterday (10 June 2017) the author Val McDermid argued for PR and today it was Caroline Lucas's turn to argue the case for PR.

The case for PR is unassailable and its moment has come. Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party must not fail democracy. I dread to think what will happen if they show they are, at heart, anti-democratic, wanting power for the few, for a Westminster elite of which they are part, despite claims to the contrary.

My friend in Devon, like millions of other voters, has been failed by first past the post. Her vote should count, as should every vote.

I want to vote Labour again, Greg Marshall's poster is still in our front window, as are many of his placards and posters in other houses and gardens around my part of Beeston. As things stand the only votes which mattered in Broxtowe three days ago were those cast for Anna Soubry. Next time every vote has to count or Labour will have failed before a vote is cast. The truth is as stark and simple as that.

An annual student treat

Every year Susan and I go into town and visit the annual NTU Degree Show which once was no more than the Bonington Gallery on Shakespeare Street and a few small outlying venues. Now the Show clusters around the Nottingham Trent University's City Campus.

As usual, it was a wonderful treat, some of the students, all about to graduate, are keen to share their enthusiasm. This year we ran out of steam and did not manage to see the work of the architecture or photography students. There was so much more to see and had I not been poorly during the week, we would have gone earlier and probably gone back for a second day.

I took a good few photographs and share a selection with you below.  Look out for the desk which is probably one of the best I have ever seen. Had we the space at home I would try and buy one tomorrow. The trouble is that as of yet this is the only one. It's a real writer's desk.

I have put caption's under some of the photographs, but most speak for themselves

I was also very taken with these fabrics and designs by Aimee Haynes. If I had a spare wall, I would hang them for sure.

The two hangings are printed fabric. The keyhole looks so three dimensional that yo want to touch it to make sure it isn't.

I was also taken by this collection called 'Striped Stories' by Zoe Blinkinsop. I have been looking for new hankies for the first time in my life, having relied on my mother and step-father, who died in 2006 and 2008, for boxes of unused hankies handed in for Red Cross jumble sales. I might see if she has any offcuts Susan can turn into hankies for me. I loved the patterns and texture of them.

Fashion Marketing and Branding in the Barnes Wallis Building on Shakespeare Street was a new section.

The desk! and below a close-up of the two shallow indentations which hold pens/pencils. It is the work Molly McDowell and she calls it a "Ripple Desk'. She says 'While having the potential to be functional... (the) design explores the idea of incorporating texture to a conventional flat surface'.

I don't think I have wanted something so much in the all years we have been going to the graduates' show.

I don't think the hand and others like it were the work of graduates. They were used to hold handbags and scarves, but I thought they were fun.

Well that's the end of my little personal tour of this year's NTU Graduate Show. Next year find the time to go. I promise you won't be disappointed. Always something inspirational to see and say 'Wow' a few times.

As for post election stuff. Yesterday I almost forgot the election completely other than to remember that these young people are part of the reward we get as a society when we invest in their future — something we should do freely as far as they are concerned.