Observations from the streets of Nottingham

It’s 3 miles from my house to work and I walk it every day. On days when I don’t go to the gym after work I usually walk home too. While in a fairly flat county, Nottingham City itself is quite hilly and there are 2 hills, up and down, on the way in to the centre.

 I live in a working class area with the streets all rows of red brick terraced houses. It’s not the most glamorous start to the walk but it is usually quiet. We’re just off the main road and somehow the passing cars are muted; once in a while you can catch the sound of trains and trams running along the banks of the Leen.

 The main problem is dodging the piles of dogshit on the pavement – it’s quite rare that you see anyone out walking their dog but the evidence of their having been out is there for all to step in. As a result I usually walk with my head down a little but in summer it is nice to look out for House Martins that nest in the eaves of various houses around the area – one lot nest in the house on the corner of our road and another family nest on one of the houses on the main road. Shakespeare called them Pied Martlets which I think is a lovely name, and they fly in long darting movements around the houses chasing after insects to feed their babies.

 I have my mp3 player on during the walk and my mood of the day dictates what I listen to, though in some things I am quite predictable. If it is pouring with rain then I always play Springsteen’s Born to Run as it’s easy to forget the weather when you’re safe under the brolly with the Boss. And if it’s a Friday and I’m tired and have a lot of work to get through then Elbow’s Leaders of the Free World is the album I turn to – it’s the friend who gives you a pick me up and makes the day seem bearable. Otherwise I play whatever I fancy and can often be seen singing along and occasionally practising my guitar strumming on the walk in.

 You might ask (and people do) why do I walk in to the city centre when I am well served by buses and trams? For starters I hate public transport, especially in the morning. Everyone looks utterly miserable, it’s crowded and I resent paying for 20 minutes of such unpleasantness. I like the exercise and the fresh air. I also like a bit of time in the morning to get my head together and think through what I need to get done at work or consider how I feel about other issues – personal stuff or whatever. It’s also a perfect opportunity to work through various fantasies in my head – one morning I could easily be verbally beating down the flimsy arguments of a Tory politician on Question Time or on another I might be wowing the crowd with a song in a small smoky underground bar somewhere. In imagination all things are possible.

 The walk passes through the edge of residential areas of Sherwood and Forest Fields, and then goes past the edge of the Forest Recreation Ground. There is a Sikh temple and community centre at the top of the hill and Resnick’s Polish church and community centre at the bottom. Also on this road is a dog grooming parlour with a slightly tongue in cheek window display of collars and leads, several care homes, a college and a few low rise office buildings. In between them are fine-looking Victorian houses and some almshouses designed by famous Nottingham architect Watson Fothergill. He specialised in red brick pieces with lines of lighter bricks, turrets and black beamed additions in the revival Gothic style.

 The path at the edge of the Forest is lined on both sides with trees which in spring are covered in blossom. Walking through them never fails to raise a smile, especially when you see the snowdrops, crocuses and daffodils on the banks beneath the trees too. The cemetery further up the hill next to the Forest is built on a series of caves and the paths roll up and down past rows of elaborate Victorian paeans to the dead with statues of angels and carved ivy. It’s wonderfully gothic and in autumn when I pop in there to forage for conkers – I love their shiny brown-ness – I tend to get distracted by the names and the atmosphere. Beyond this you head back down Mansfield Road past the takeaways and into the main shopping area of the city proper.

 Of course, walking the same route at the same time each day means I see a lot of people on their own way in to work or school, and I have my regulars I pass every day. The first regular and the one I’ve seen for the longest is “Smiley Pink Hat Lady” – I think the nickname speaks for itself – she works at the electric place on the corner of the ring road and she walks out of town just as I’m walking into it. Another regular is a tall Asian man who walks very upright and proud – I can’t really think of a good nickname for him and, after many months of passing him every day he doesn’t say hello or acknowledge me in any way, so perhaps he doesn’t deserve one.

My favourite regular is Bernie, the street sweeper on Mansfield Road. He always wears a dayglow waistcoat and a baseball cap, and sweeps the same part of road every day. I can’t decide whether I find this terribly depressing or not – the road has a lot of takeaways and is the gateway to a large student area so there’s always a lot to do. He always seems cheerful though, chatting to regulars or gulping his tea while leaning on a bus stop, and greets me with a wink and a “Mornin’ babe!”

 The worst part of the walk is the traffic. It’s not heavy, although it is a main route into the city centre but the drivers have a fine disregard for red lights and indicators. There are many occasions where I’ve nearly been clipped or knocked down by someone driving through the lights or round the corner as I’m crossing – and they see your headphones on and assume you’re not looking, which makes no sense when you think about it.

 The other impediment to a smooth walk (apart from those bumpy bits of pavement they put down for blind people – they really hurt my feet) are the people waiting at bus stops. They generally seem to resent moving over to one side so you can get past and you’ve no chance of moving on if you get to the bus stop at the same time as the bus arrives. They all think you’re about to queue jump and barrel forward to ensure their place.

 Outside the college at the top of hill, the students are quite a motley bunch. There is a wide variety of ethnicities and religions so the bright blue uniform jumper is teamed with the hijab, turbans, and a variety of hoodies or spotty socks. They keep the newsagent on the corner busy with requests for early morning sweets and they’ll often stop me to see if I’ll buy cigarettes for them. Traffic slows right down on the top of the hill as they all cheerfully meander across the road there with little regard for the cars.

 Once I’m in the city centre, I’ll stop in at … to buy my paper and exchange a few words. Keeping The Guardian to hand in order to ward off the Metro giver-outers, I walk down past the Brian Clough statue and across the Market Square. If it’s a farmer’s market day the air will already be full of the smell of the meat cooking for a few breakfast butties.

 The fountains are usually on at this time and once I did see a middle aged gentleman in smart clothes stop there, remove his shoes and socks and start paddling. It was just before 9 in the morning. Usually it’s just the pigeons and sometimes a pair of ducks in there at this time. They fill up with children and tourists by lunchtime.

 It’s here that my walk ends as my office is just the other side of the Square.

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