Bow Selecta

by Tim Pollard

Do you remember the old 80’s movie Dirty Dancing? It’s not a big favourite of mine (there are nowhere near enough explosions, spaceships or samurai in it for my liking), but Sal really loved it. Anyway, there’s a scene at the end of the movie where the lead girl’s father has realised that Patrick Swayze’s character isn’t the ‘up-to-no-good bad boy sex fiend’ he’d previously presumed and says to them both “When I’m wrong, I say I’m wrong” (and then bizarrely doesn’t say it, despite the implication). At that point I always shouted “Go on then, say it” at the screen, but he never does…).

Anyway the basic concept is sound, so here goes…I was wrong.

Recently I’ve written in this very publication about my concerns over the potential ramifications of the so-called ‘Freedom Day’ when the majority of Covid restrictions were lifted – and thankfully there wasn’t a massive national increase in cases and especially deaths overwhelming the NHS.

And I also commented on a local business near my house which hadn’t even opened yet looking like it had closed down before it could start trading – and again I was wrong – the signs have gone back up, it looks like the shopfitters are in and I have every expectation they’ll be trading sometime soon.

In both cases I’m really glad I was wrong – so what else might I be wrong about?

I grew up enjoying science-fiction TV, movies, books and comics and the majority of them (with the notable and gloriously optimistic exception of original Star Trek) were bleak, dystopian views of a world (or universe) beset by various travails – war, natural disasters, invasions, futile resistance to totalitarian governments, pandemics and the odd zombie apocalypse or two.

All cheery stuff, but it was quite exciting imagining how (for instance) I’d fare fighting the venomous walking plants of The Day Of The Triffids (to this day I avoid looking at meteor showers in case they send the world blind as they did in that story). Or coping in the collapsed and plague-devastated 1970’s UK of the old TV series Survivors (where everyone working class or with a regional accent was likely to be a baddie, but if you were middle-class you were probably OK).

And of course there was the ever-present threat of actual nuclear war hanging over us – they used to test the four-minute warning sirens in town on a regular basis, which was terrifying (partly because you never knew if it was drill or not)! Would I survive the initial blasts, and what would the world be like afterwards if I did?

So the idea of living in a dystopia was a mostly thrilling idea, but having now lived (at least so far) through a global pandemic coupled with the nightmare of climate change, a rise in authoritarianism, the ongoing extinction of countless species of flora and fauna (hey, who needs those trees and bees anyway, right?) it’s considerably less fun in real life than in sci-fi. Especially as I now have a daughter, nephews and friends with children who’ll see these changes even more acutely.

But maybe once again I’m wrong, maybe they’ll be the generation to sort things out and tidy up the mess we’ve left them – I do hope so for their sake. Things do change, as I’ve also written before and it’s certainly possible that things can change for the better – as I said last time and on a smaller, local scale there are new shops, restaurants and venues on the High Street replacing those that have gone. Things are looking up for us – so maybe I should stop being the voice of doom and start quoting Professor Zarkov from another classic 80’s movie, Flash Gordon: “You can’t beat the human spirit!”

What really worries me though is this… what if I’m very wrong indeed – and Dirty Dancing is actually a good movie?! 😊

TP

It’s Coming Home

Been up to much since last issue? I’d imagine you have, unless you’ve been stuck at home poorly. As I write it’s the evening of July 19th, inaccurately dubbed ‘Freedom Day’ by some elements of the press – but oddly enough there’s an element of truth in that libertarian soubriquet for me, as today was the final day of my and my daughter’s sixteen day period of self-isolation – we’ve had Covid.

I thought I’d done pretty well to avoid it and was *extremely* happy when I had both of my vaccinations but just over a couple of weeks ago I received an email from my daughter’s school saying they believed she (and her class) had been in contact with someone who had tested positive. Ten days couldn’t be that bad, I figured – we’d done longer in earlier lockdowns. Maybe we were getting blasé about it, even.

But a few days into our new quarantine Scarlett complained of a nasty head and stomach ache; just to be sure I gave her a Lateral Flow Test and there it was, a positive. I did one for myself and was relieved to find it negative but booked us both in for a PCR test the next morning at the University Walk-in site. It was a doddle, thankfully – and Scarlett’s symptoms, such as they were, had already vanished by the time we’d been ‘done’ and told to expect the results in two days.

That afternoon though I began to feel pretty rough and by the next morning I didn’t need the result that arrived on my phone, less than 24 hours after taking the PCR test.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m the first to admit that blokes are generally *dreadful* when poorly (unless I’m just judging you all by my feeble standards, in which case I apologise unreservedly), but it really was bad. I’ve had proper influenza once before and that was horrendous, and this was right up there with it – literally going from sweating like a polar bear in a sauna (No idea, not seen it, it just sounded like a descriptive turn-of-phrase) to proper teeth-chattering cold, with goosebumps and nothing in between.

Scarlett, now full of energy and with not a symptom in the world was wonderful, covering and then uncovering me as my latest temperature episode kicked in and generally fussing me wonderfully. Of course the worst bit for her was us both having to start eleven days self-isolation again on top of the time we’d already done; this time I could almost hear the heavy ‘clang’ of the prison door as it swung shut.

It. Was. Horrendous.

The temperature changes, the acute muscle-pain, headaches, the cough and shallow breathing, the vomiting (thankfully very short-lived) – I got all the symptoms except for the diarrhea (and I’m glad I didn’t, that combined with coughing…eeuuwww!)

Normally I’m fine at being ill. Just give me a bed, Radio 4 and a bit of sympathy and I’m good (especially with a diet of Tunnock’s caramel wafers and pineapple juice) but add in a bored seven-year old who is absolutely fine who’s asking “Daddy, do you want to see what I can do/sing/draw/dance/create in Minecraft?” every five minutes and the next few days became a grumpy purgatory for us both in which I tried to sleep and Scarlett didn’t…

And yet, after what seemed like an eternity (but was about five days) I felt able to move again, wracked by guilt at having dismissed her so often but glad to be alive; I daren’t think how poorly I’d have been had I not had both vaccinations…

So I guess we’ll see how well ‘Freedom Day’ goes for us here in Beeston but please don’t be fooled into thinking the ‘mild ‘flu like symptoms’ you may suffer if you catch it are actually ‘mild’ in themselves. I still can’t smell or taste anything, but that was the least of my worries.

So no trite joke at the end this time, just a heartfelt ‘look after yourselves’. Please.

TP

An Englishman’s Home

It’s been a weird time for performers, entertainers and middle-aged blokes who dress up as Robin Hood for a living this past year or so; as I’ve mentioned before there’s been precious little opportunity to work at all in tourism because…well, there simply aren’t any tourists, and even if there were it would have been illegal to perform for them. Fun times, eh?

But on June 1st I had my first actual in person, live (and paying!) gig for well over a year and it was an important one both for me and for Nottingham; after many years it was time for the City Council to ceremonially hand the keys of Nottingham Castle over to the Castle Trust, the not-for-profit body who’ll be responsible for running the newly refurbished site when it opens. 

And so, fresh from having my second dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine the day before (and thus feeling a bit ropey, I must admit), I dug out my Robin Hood kit, squeezed into it and headed up to the Castle for an 8am photocall with both the Lord Mayor and the Sheriff of Nottingham, the Chair of the Trust, representatives of the Council and the group who’d overseen the refurbishment of the site and buildings and loads of newspaper and TV reporters from the city’s media organisations.

I know the Castle can be a contentious subject; I know people who are adamant Nottingham has no castle as the building most people call ‘the castle’ is actually a ducal palace from a much later period (a building still hugely important in its own right, mind you – it was, for instance, the first municipal library in the country outside London), but unlike other medieval castles it has not fared well, with only a few sections of wall remaining as well as the historic caves. 

The vast amount spent on the whole site (which in fact is ‘the Castle’) in landscaping, repairing and creating new facilities and galleries has taken what we have and made the most of it so we now have what promises to be a vastly upgraded site that can genuinely be a modern world-class attraction, display space, museum and event location.   

The grounds have been improved considerably. A lot of the self-seeded trees whose roots were digging into the sandstone have been removed, the moat cleared of overgrowth and debris and a new visitor centre built just inside the gates. Inside there’s a whole new ‘Robin Hood’ gallery complete with archery and quarterstaff games (thankfully I did reasonably well…) and the rest of the building and galleries have been remodelled sympathetically, extensively and impressively.

But for me the hand-over ceremony was a bittersweet affair; I’ve been Nottingham’s Official Robin Hood for a very long time now – I started ‘Hooding’ (if that’s allowable as a verb) over thirty years ago (when I had just the one chin and a flat stomach) and as the City’s Robin I realised that this event might well be my last appearance at the Castle as their official resident outlaw. 

I’ve no idea if that’s the case or not but it certainly added extra poignancy to the morning for me and made me think about all the memorable, fun, silly, happy and wonderful times I’ve enjoyed there over the years; the Pageants, events, guided tours, filming TV shows and parades I’ve spent there with tens of thousands of visitors, my friends, fellow performers, reenactors, castle staff and management and especially with my wonderful and much-missed Maid Marian and late wife, Sal. 

There was even the time when, seven years ago, I was officially made ‘Under-Sheriff of Nottingham’ by the then real Sheriff so we could work together to help raise the funds which ultimately led to the now finished renovations – who’d have thought, Robin and the Sheriff on the same side for once!  

So whilst I’ll still be (and be exceptionally proud to be) the City of Nottingham’s official Robin it may be time to let a new era start at the Castle – after all, I’m now eleven years older than Sean Connery was when he made the fabulous movie ROBIN AND MARIAN about the final days of an elderly and infirm Robin.

But I’m still not quite ready to hang up my tights yet – especially as I’m still under-Sheriff. Because who knows, maybe one day I’ll stand (as Robin) for election as the real thing – and I’m pretty sure that would make history!

TP

Bow Selecta: Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes!

“Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes!” sang the late and very much lamented David Bowie, commenting on the state of the world (unless he was pretending to be a steam train approaching a major station, which I doubt), and I’d love to know what he’d make of the state of the planet now. Personally, I think when he and the equally missed Lemmy (from Motorhead) died, that was the start of the world slipping into some form of dark, unpleasant alternate right-wing Trumpian universe… but I digress before I’ve even started, which is good going even for me.

The world always has and always will change; people have gone through times of feast and famine, peace and war, joys and sorrows, Bowie and Jedward (etc). Since time began and we have more change ahead of us here in Beeston too. In a couple of hours, I’ll be heading off to one of our newly re-opened pubs for a (hopefully lovely) socially distanced Sunday lunch sat outside in what looks to be glorious weather. How different from a few months ago when the world was cold and grey, everything was closed, the news was relentlessly depressing and the only social interaction I had was with postie and Amazon drivers.

We’ve lost a few shops and businesses too in that time (indeed one near me appears to have closed without ever having open up; an empty shop had a big refurbish, new window signs in anticipation of opening and then… nothing. Signs gone, windows whited again…). However, more shops, restaurants and venues are opening up now and there seems to be a dynamism and buzz about Beeston that’s impossible to repress (not that I’m trying). Older readers may recall a time when Beeston had a cinema, but now we have a new facility on the verge of opening, the market is back and whilst we may lament some old favourites (I miss you, Chimera Games) we have loads of new restaurants and shops to support.

But what about *us*, the people of Beeston? How has this past year (and longer) affected you? Not at all – or at least very little – for some; massively for others in terms of health, wealth and happiness. Some losses will stay with people for the rest of their lives, but I hope as a community we can pull together to support each other even though it’s been a tough time.

It’s easy (especially in a world where we’ve been hiding away and deliberately avoiding human contact) to retain that wariness and suspicion and allow it to grow into mistrust or even fear; reports of pet and bike thefts or the antisocial behaviour of children and teenagers in parks can take hold and colour a world view more than is desirable. Are things worse than they used to be? There are quotes from ancient Greeks bemoaning the lack of respect youngsters show to their elders, I think it was ever thus. Bike thefts in the area do seem appalling, but a friend in the Police tells me the whole ‘pet napping thing really isn’t an issue (or at least certainly nowhere near as bad as the media (and social media) frenzy around it suggests.

And maybe it’s the weather but I’m feeling a bit more positive too; even though there’s still no Robin Hood work around I’m getting things done in the garden and around the house and something’s changed in my head too – it feels like a genuine determination to move forward, to be positive and not to let a bleak past claw me back into the black and grey.

A positive attitude has to be a good thing I’m sure – for me and for all of us, and for Beeston. For as the great Mahatma Gandhi (himself a one-time visitor to Beeston)* said to the little boy who had swallowed a number of coins and wanted to know how to get them back, “Just Wait. Change is inevitable”.

* I know, he didn’t really say it, Disraeli did – but he never visited Beeston, so Gandhi’s way cooler.

TP

Bow Selector: CoHab-19

Over the centuries and in countless stories, movies, comics, books and performances Robin Hood has fought and beaten a wide variety of foes from the Sheriff of Nottingham and Guy of Gisborne to an entire Norman invasion fleet (yes, I’m looking at you Russell Crowe) and even a fire-breathing dragon from another reality (in ‘Beyond Sherwood Forest’ a truly terrible TV movie from 2009. Just… don’t).

Rarely has Robin been bested by anything except at the end of his story when old and wounded his final act is to shoot one last arrow before asking to be buried where it had landed (which rather embarrassingly turned out to be on a top of a van travelling up the A614).

But last year the annual Robin Hood Pageant, set to take place for the first time at Newstead Abbey as the Castle was (and still is) being redeveloped, had to be cancelled due to desperately bad weather – and this year (still at Newstead but having been rebranded to the much catchier ROBIN HOOD LIVE) it was thwarted by a foe that again can’t be beaten by swordplay, arrows, tricks or quips; Coronavirus.

So what’s an outlaw to do amidst a global pandemic (why do people always say ‘global’ pandemic when that’s what a pandemic is, by definition…)? With no spectacular show, St. Patrick’s or St. George’s Day parades to appear at I’m doing my bit along with most other people staying at home, keeping away from everyone else and looking with frank admiration at the *real* heroes we have in our midst; the NHS workers, bus and delivery drivers, shop staff, police and fire officers and all those other essential personnel who are risking themselves to keep us safe.

I said as much in a short video I made for the good folks at NOTTS TV (which I’m told then turned up on the BBC too), me dressed in my Robin Hood kit and sporting my snazzy badger-like lockdown beard, imploring everyone to ‘be like Robin’ and think of the vulnerable and endangered. But having done that… what?

Spending time with my six-year-old daughter Scarlett, for whom this is an exciting adventure filled with bouncing around, having fun, messing up the house and so much more, of course!

Back in the day, when I was a lad and all this was fields (or industry and shoe shops, actually) we had ‘the winter of discontent’ and all I remember about it was things being a bit grim and power cuts. I definitely remember huddling in the dark around a candle – and when it got really bad we used to light it.

So I wonder what Scarlett will make of all of this – at the moment it’s a time when she’s learned to ride her bike and take up roller skating and pogo-sticking (thankfully not simultaneously), enjoyed building a whole village in the ‘computer Lego’ game Minecraft and written, drawn, sung and watched ‘Captain Underpants’ to her heart’s content. I genuinely hope, even though she’s missing her friends and family a lot, that she’ll remember this as a really happy time.

We didn’t have videocalls or social media in 1978-9 either, or streaming movies – but I do recall my having had a lot more energy then too. Maybe that’s because I was 14 then and, as it is now for Scarlett at 6 the world was still a place of wonder and love, even if nowadays Scarlett does ask some serious questions about the virus and wants to know when it’ll be over. Sadly I can’t tell her that, but I do know when she finally goes back to her beloved Round Hill school I’m going to both miss her incredibly – and demand a massive pay rise for all the staff!

In the meantime stay safe, sane and well – and if you can’t stay sane just remember that in the immortal words of Meatloaf, ‘two out of three ain’t bad!’

TP

Libtard nonsense

The theme this issue is ‘community’ they said, and that sounded great, until I began wondering exactly what the word means. Don’t get me wrong, I understand the actual definition, my voclab… er… vocable… list of words I know… is pretty good. But what is the Beeston community? Is there one?

Yes, obviously. But is there just one? No, just as obviously.

As I walk down Wollaton Road taking my daughter to school of a morning I see a huge number of people I don’t ever really interact with or know about – people who have different lifestyles, opinions, politics and even languages to mine.

I have my own routines, my circle of friends, people I work with or share hobbies with but how much interaction do I have with these strangers, what do we share?

“We live in the same town, are all affected by some of the same events…”

And yet we do share something, even with people we don’t know. We live in the same town, are all affected by some of the same events (as I type the increase in cases of coronavirus is headline news, who knows what it will be like by the time this is published). But tramworks, roadworks, shop closures, cinema building as well as those perennial favourites of shoe shops and public loos probably affect the majority of us in some way or another.

And you, dear reader – I may not know you personally but I imagine there’s a distinct ‘Beestonian’ community too, people who are interested, involved and have a real passion and pride in our town. You may not all agree on the same things of course – as I’ve mentioned previously our street art certainly divides people as does the number of student residences for instance, but I’m quite sure most readers could happily share a conversation and thoughts on our experiences and lives here.

And I like that – a lot. As a middle-aged bloke who’s lived in Beeston almost all of my life (I’ve had brief periods living in Nottingham itself, London and – for a short time – a castle in Cheshire) I love being part of something bigger than just my experience or limited worldview. The people who make up Beeston now come from the town itself and sometimes much further afield, including our annual influx of students too. We have a wide variety of restaurants – Persian, Japanese, Korean, Thai, Chinese, Italian, Indian – pretty much global – run by people who know and have a passion for their own cultures and cuisines but a desire to share that with others to add to the diversity, choice, interest and variety on our doorsteps.

And yet there are also those who don’t have as wide a choice as the majority; it would be a particularly inattentive person who hadn’t noticed the increase in the number of people sleeping rough or at least living on the streets in Beeston. There has been some robust discussion on the Beeston Updated Facebook group about the reasons and causes of this – as I mentioned, politics sometimes differ – but from the incredibly expensive houses of Beeston Fields Drive to sleeping bags on the High Road it can certainly be said almost all human life is here.

As a man who plays at being the country’s most famous outlaw, famed for a rather proactive redistribution of wealth, I’m not advocating anything as radical but I hope we can all realise we’re part of something bigger, to see outside our own narrow frame of reference and help each other – even those we don’t know – to live and thrive in our great town, one I truly believe is one of the best and most welcoming in the country.

TP

Bow Selector: A look back on 2019…

As I write this I’m dressed in a silly costume, representing a world-famous character who is renowned for doing the right thing and being very generous – although this time I’m not Robin Hood, today I’m being Santa at a sold-out Nottingham Albert Hall for two performances of their annual Kidsophonic Christmas Concerts which combine festive music played by a brilliant orchestra with games, poems, songs and carols and of course a visit at the end from the portly philanthropist.

It’s a lovely event and for my five-year-old daughter Scarlett (six on Boxing Day) it’ll be her fourth time of attending – and each year I wonder if this is the year she’ll spot her favourite Santa (who mysteriously knows so much about her) is in fact me! Maybe this year will be the one, I don’t know…

But whilst Christmas is a time for tradition, the New Year, also rushing towards us apace, is a time for reflection and change. This year has been one of huge change for all of us and I don’t expect 2020 will be any less tumultuous. Obviously things have been ‘interesting’ this year for any number of reasons – national and international politics for a start – but don’t worry, I’m certainly not going to dredge all that up again. One of the other hats I wear (aside from Robin Hood and Santa hats) is that of an admin for the wonderful ‘Beeston Updated’ Facebook group and it’s been fun (I think that’s the word) trying to keep the place as apolitical or neutral as possible whilst a storm of divisiveness crashes around us all.

But things have changed here in Beeston too this year – some of it sad, with some businesses closing their doors for the final time. Personally, I was gutted to see the wonderful games, comic store and social hub Chimera disappear from the Broadgate end of the High Road and of course, The White Lion also shut.

There are good news stories too though, farewell Table 8, hello Yak and Yeti for instance. And Andy and Heather from Chimera are keeping the legacy of their store and community alive by running ‘pop up’ gaming sessions in other local venues like our splendid micropub the Pottle (near Sainsbury’s) which keeps the social and retail aspect alive and fresh without the worrying cost of keeping a physical shop going; it’s a great way to utilise and promote other local venues too. The White Lion looks to have a new team coming in soon and there are even vague rumours that the redevelopment of the dead land by the tram station might actually come to something!

“The enthusiasm I see from the people of Beeston is incredibly heartening…”

The downside of that is that the Beeston Beach may not reappear again – much to Scarlett’s dismay as she loves it – and sadly the splendid mural of Robin Hood will have to be demolished (but I’m happy to stand in its place for hours on end for a very reasonable fee, I promise). The vibrant art scene in Beeston is another wonderful and unique ongoing point of interest – again on Beeston Updated there were a number of views expressed including some folks who thought (and presumably still think) that such public art does nothing for the town; I must admit I side with those who think it’s beautiful and enhances the place.

I know we’re all still waiting for the arrival of a shoe-megastore and some proper public toilets but the enthusiasm I see from the people of Beeston is incredibly heartening and gives me some real hope for 2020.

And now I’ve written all of this I can reveal that there was another change this year – at the end of the concert, just as she’d had her photo taken with Santa in his sleigh Scarlett turned round, hugged me and whispered in my ear “I love you Daddy.”

It’s the end of an era – but also the start of another.

Happy New Year!

TP

Bow Selector: Tim Pollard

One of the things I love about Beeston is how it changes – for instance when I was younger you couldn’t move for shoe shops but now they’re almost all gone, replaced by a proliferation of hairdressers, charity shops and vaping emporiums.

One of the shops I miss the most is Bodens, towards the Chilwell end of town; a now long-gone fabled place full of second-hand furniture, pictures, nick-nacks, books and sculptures which stretched back seemingly in time as well as space. It was, to my young eyes, the kind of place you’d see in a Hammer Horror film (or an Amicus or Tyburn Production for you 1960’s horror movie aficionados), run by Peter Cushing and with a dreadful story to each piece – and a dreadful fate for whoever bought something.

Thankfully it wasn’t some repository of cursed horror though – I used to buy loads of small items and still have the fabulous reproduction Chinese sideboard I fell in love with so many years ago. But it was my lovely mother-in-law Joy who found what is to me the most interesting item I’ve ever seen from there (and that’s no mean claim); a ’Roll of Honour’ from the First World War commemorating local men, men from The Angular-Hole Drilling & Manufacturing Co. Ltd. who had left to serve their country during that great conflict – and although we’re now approaching Halloween and all the faux-terror that it commercialises, I wanted to share this historic part of Beeston’s past with you as we also move once more towards Remembrance Day.

“It’s very sobering to look up the names on the Angular Hole list to see how many of these young men lost their lives a century or more ago.”

According to David Hallam’s very informative ‘Exploring Beeston’s History’ website I found the company was founded before 1913 by one John W Gaze and was initially situated on Station Road but eventually moved to Dovecote Lane where ‘it continued for many years’ and was one of the many industrial/manufacturing companies our town had at the time.

The roll itself is very telling – it lists sixteen employees who joined up; thankfully it’s not a casualty list, although of course not all of the men returned home. One, Private Frank Willett, is listed as having joined the RAF so that must date it to after its creation in April 1918.

The names listed are: Driver Richard Sims Army Service Corps; Private Joseph Hardy 7th Battalion Sherwood Foresters; Private Joseph Hunt 1st Lincolnshire; Private Clarence Hazzeldine King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry; Private Jack Athin 1st Leicestershire; A.B. Alfred Brewster HMS Hindustani; Private Thomas Sweeney 3rd Sherwood; Private Ernest Orchard King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry; Private Amos Martin R S Fusiliers; Private Albert Walker 2/8 Battalion Sherwood Foresters; Driver Cecil F Smith Royal Fleet Auxiliary; Private Herbert Baker Notts and Derby; Private George Keelley Notts and Derby; Private William Hardwick Notts and Derby; Private Frank Willett RAF; Private Chas H Beales Royal Engineers.

What happened to these young men? Turning again to the invaluable resource that is the ‘Exploring Beeston’s History’ site you can find a very detailed Roll of Honour there too which lists every person from Beeston killed in The Great War. It’s very sobering to look up the names on the Angular Hole list to see how many of these young men lost their lives a century or more ago. It’s also interesting to see that some of them changed regiments too – for instance, Private 28027 Ernest Orchard who joined the King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry but transferred to the 2nd Battalion Sherwood Foresters (Notts & Derby) Regiment. Sadly Private Orchard died in the battle of Ypres on Wednesday, 9th August 1915 aged just 18 and has no known grave. Spend some time yourself looking at some of the others right here

The Angular Hole Drilling Role of Honour is a lovely, poignant and unique piece of real Beeston history that now hangs with pride in my house (right next to that Chinese sideboard) – and if anyone knows any more about the company or any of the men listed I’d be fascinated to hear from you…

Robin Hood and The Old Peoples Home For Four Year Olds

There was time when I was known as ‘Nottingham’s official Robin Hood’ (a truly wonderful job I still do, rumours of my retirement being substantially in error) but these days I’m much more likely to be known as ‘Scarlett’s Dad from that Channel 4 documentary series’ – and actually that’s quite fun.

‘Old People’s Home for Four Year Olds’ is a documentary series that was filmed in Nottingham (at the Lark Hill Retirement Village in Clifton) and featured ten residents from there aged between 86 and 102 and aimed to see if introducing them to a group of ten children aged 3-4 over a protracted period would have any effect on their mental and physical well-being.

I first found out about the project (or ‘experiment’ as the producers preferred to call it) when the wonderful Roopam Carroll from the excellent Beeston Nursery (which Scarlett was attending at the time) contacted me to ask if I might be interested in her taking part, as the producers were approaching several local nurseries looking for potential participants.

As you may know I lost my beloved wife Sally to breast cancer last year and I was (and still am) a bit of a mess because of it – suddenly becoming a 54-year old widower with a 4-year old after months of caring for Sal at home left me dazed, confused and directionless, so it seemed like a fine idea to suggest Scarlett might take part as it would provide her with a new adventure, new friends and a unique experience I certainly couldn’t give her myself.

Apparently a couple of thousand children applied (well, their parents did) and there was a long process of careful selection and diligence on behalf of the producers – who I can’t praise enough for their compassion, caring and consideration for all the children – and eventually two were chosen from Beeston, Scarlett and Phoenix (who if you’ve seen the documentary were both featured very heavily in the first episode).

We had film crews visit us at home to film background interviews and a child psychologist come to discuss what the ‘experiment’ might entail and whether Scarlett and I were genuinely happy to be involved and if it was right for us. Of course one of the questions involved how it would be if one of the older participants passed away during the course of the show (an unlikely but potential happening) and how that might affect Scarlett having lost her Mum so recently. Obviously I hoped it wouldn’t (and thankfully didn’t) happen – but if it did I thought it was more likely to ‘normalise’ Scarlett’s experience than anything else.

And then we got to meet the older residents, and they were an utter delight! They were (and are), as with the children, a very diverse group, some with health issues, some very shy, some full of laughter – but all curious, excited and not quite knowing what to expect.

102-year old Sylvia, who turned out to be a real star onscreen, was a joy – when I met her she told me how she enjoys visiting Lark Hill’s bar in the evening and always walks her much younger friend home to make sure she gets home safely! I asked her why she enjoyed the bar so much and she told me there were lots of widowers she could get a kiss from… and when I mentioned I was a widower she coyly pulled her long skirt up to show me a bit of ankle and winked at me!

When the children met the residents too as part of the filming it was just as wonderful, Scarlett made a bee-line to 86-year old Beryl who she instantly became inseparable from – and even though filming has now finished we still see regularly both at Lark Hill (when all the parents, children and residents have a lunch and catch up together) and on our own with Sal’s Mum Joy for Sunday lunches. It’s like having a new family for us all, and is just joyous.

There’s a moment in episode one where the children are asked to write party invitations for their mummies and daddies and Scarlett turns around and says, very matter of factly, that ‘my Mummy has died so I’ll make it for Daddy and Gran-Gran’. It’s shocking in its simplicity and openness and (as of writing) that clip, put online by Channel 4, has had nearly six million views. But for me, it’s the heart of why I wanted Scarlett to participate in the programme – because she’s been through such a lot but can still speak of losing Sal whilst at the same time knowing how much Sal loved her – and would be so proud of her.

I’ve never really been a fan of ‘reality’ TV but this show helped everyone involved and judging from the press and media attention it gained and the comments both online and personally I’ve see too has helped and affected a lot of other people too, both in starting a discussion about how we shouldn’t segregate the old and the young because they both benefit hugely from such interaction, but also how we talk about the loss of a parent to children.

This will be the second Christmas we’ve had without Sal now and whilst I’m still hugely bereft and lonely I’m deeply glad we’ll be surrounded by family and friends – but also a new extended family too, the promise of those bonds continuing for many years to come and lessons Scarlett and the rest of the children can carry with them for the rest of their lives. I’m certain #SalWouldApprove.

Oh – and I’m not supposed to say anything – but watch out for the Christmas special, we finished filming it last week! J

Happy Christmas!

Bow Selector: Vigilante Robin Hood?

As I type, slightly over deadline and basking in one of the hottest summers in a great many years things are changing in the world of Robin Hood.

Yesterday and over last weekend I had the fun of welcoming around 9000 people from Nottinghamshire and all over the world to Nottingham Castle before it finally closed its doors for at least two years for much needed repairs and renovations intended to turn it into the world-class tourist attraction, museum and art gallery that we deserve.

But that means I’ll be needed there a lot less whilst the work is ongoing, so what to do? Luckily I’ll still be Robin Hood-ing all over the place – civic events, beer festivals, parades and for whoever else books me – but a few people have jokingly suggested I use my spare time (as if I actually have any, looking after my four-year old daughter, Scarlett) protecting Beeston from the scourge of petty crime that’s becoming a depressingly regular topic on Facebook (and other social media) groups like ‘Beeston Updated’.

“I’m not sure vigilantism is the way ahead…”

I say ‘petty crime’, but if some scrote nicks your beloved bike from the tram stop, from your own garden or outside Tesco, your shed is broken into or you have your purse snatched on the High Road it’s anything but petty and almost impossible not to take personally. All the arguments are well rehearsed online – take care, increase police funding, buy better bike locks (etc.) but there’s certainly a perception, albeit generally expressed in very vague terms that ‘something needs to be done’ – hence some people suggesting (although obviously jokingly) that Robin Hood starts to protect Beeston.

Now I know a few years ago Wollaton Hall was used as Bruce Wayne’s ‘Wayne Manor’ in the film ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ and that Batman and Robin are good friends (c’mon, Batman and Robin. Oh, suit yourselves…) but I’m not sure vigilantism is the way ahead – it turns out that even if I caught someone pilfering my bike (not that I have one) I’m not actually allowed to wave a sword at them, much less shoot an arrow in their direction.

And of course that’s right, proper and sensible (not the least because my real life archery skills are nowhere near as good as our legendary hero) and I’ve spent about twenty-five years convincing the local police, CPO’s etc. that I’m actually, all appearances to the contrary, a sensible law-abiding chap and not a weapon-wielding maniac.

Remember the appalling riots in Nottingham a few years ago? The day after I had a gig at the Council House and found myself walking across the Old Market Square, armed to the teeth under the full glare of literally van loads of police from Yorkshire who’d been bussed into stop any further violence. Luckily it turns out waving, smiling and being friendly leads to a lot less confrontation – and I know Sal and I were positively vetted to meet the Queen, Will and Kate on their 2012 visit so I’m not sure a career change to Beeston’s Dark Knight would be that sensible as I’m pretty sure they know who I am. Well, that and I’m quite lazy, obviously.

So what do we do in Beeston? Do we just resign ourselves to lost bikes, damaged sheds an a perception of increasing fear of lawlessness? I hope not. I hope we can all pull together as a community and keep an eye out for each other and our property. Be aware. Help those who need it because (and I say this with a massive amount of irony) we can’t let the outlaws get away with it.

Tim Pollard
Nottingham’s Official Robin Hood

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