Unearthing a treasure with Jo Norcup

The Detectorists, that excellent slice of telly that bought a gentle, thoughtful and very funny slice of bucolic rambling to our screens from 2014 to 2019, was a surprise hit. On paper, you can see why: the story of two shy men who spend their free time wandering around fields digging up ring pulls and old nails doesn’t exactly scream glamour and intrigue. As for humour – well, what com’ can be squeezed from such a sit’?

As anyone wise enough to tune in, gallons. Mackenzie Crook’s writing was light touch and observant in the way the best comedy is: letting the comedy realise itself by shining a light on those idiosyncrasies that make us human: male friendships, obsession, commitment and growing up. Watching would bring laughter, often accompanied with a lump in one’s throat. It is, like much of our country, a bubbling lake of weird and feeling beneath a seemingly trivial soil.

Great. But what has this got to with Beeston? Since it was set in rural Essex, and rarely strayed far from the small village it was set around, it seems not much. So step forward Jo Norcup, and her co-edited new book, Landscapes of the Detectorists (Uniform Books, ISBN 978 1 910010 24)

Jo has been a regular at The Beestonian, writing thoughtful and revelatory pieces on local trees and how they form part of our emotional as well as physical landscape. In this series of essays, she works with her collaborator Innes M Keighren to explore how the show embodied some deeper issues. Jo and her team sweep the ground to dig these up and give them a close examination.

If you’ve read Jo’s pieces in this magazine, you’ll be wanting this. Her essay on gender, expertise and knowledge is fascinating, whetting the appetite for a rewatching of the series, and once again getting lost in the mechanisms of Danbury Metal Detecting Club. Add in a heartfelt foreword by Mackenzie Crook himself, and an afterword by producer Adam Tandy and you have a real treasure. If you’re a fan of the show, buy this book. If you’ve yet to discover the show, buy this book, and you’ll soon be rushing out to find out what the fuss is all about.

MT

How a pair of Beeston creatives joined forces to keep the flame flickering

We are, as this and every previous issue will attest to, a wildly creative town. Artists, musicians, crafters, writers et al keep kicking out staggeringly super work which we happily try and inform you of.

A global pandemic and fundamental shift in how the world works isn’t a reason for despair, it’s a chance to innovate. Say hello to Nottingham Stories: Separation and Serenade.

When she realised that the third annual Nottingham Chamber Music Festival was not going to be going ahead due to lockdown, the festival’s director Beestonian violist Carmen Flores didn’t just retire her instrument and bow while it went on. She instead picked up the phone and rang a local professional filmmaker, Tim Bassford of Turbine Creative. Together, they cooked up a brilliant idea.

Like the best ideas, it’s startlingly simple. They would visit a well-known Nottingham building, closed due to lockdown, and film Carmen performing Bach within. As Carmen rings out beautiful music to fill the empty spaces, Tim’s camera provides an accompaniment, highlighting the locations beauty. It’s not a film about music, It’s not music with film. It’s a synthesis. Carmen may be performing solo, but the overall feeling is a duet of eye and ear. Nottingham Council House, Delilahs, The Royal Concert Hall, St Mary’s In The Lace Market, Nottingham Contemporary and the High School all feature, each familiar, each filmed in ways that make you see them anew.

During the film’s individual premieres, donations to the Help Musicians charity (https://www.helpmusicians.org.uk/support-our-work/make-a-donation) were encouraged, to support musicians who have struggled to earn a living while the COVID crisis grinds on.

The videos were shot in July and released on a thrice-weekly basis during September. They proved to be, as the best music does, able to bring out emotions you weren’t previously aware existed. Personally, I felt initial melancholy – I missed these places – hope. While the empty buildings still wait to fill and surge with life again, a flame of creativity burns, and it burns bright.

The films are available to watch for free here.

MT

Game, set and match Beeston!

I shouldn’t be writing this. I should, right now, be sitting in front of the telly with a glass of red booze, watching as men and women in Persil-bright white clothes whack a ball over a net while grunting.

Alas, another casualty of the virus is Wimbledon, that late June, early July distraction that sees Sue Barker and some former, gone-to-seed players try and keep viewers rapt at scenes of hurtling rain and disgruntled punters scowling under posh brollies.

Not this year. No French open, no US Open, no Queens, not even our own little Open over at the tennis centre that straddles the Beeston/Nottingham border. And with it, no crowding at municipal tennis courts.

It’s a familiar thing each year that coincides with the first strawberry served at Wimbledon: people dig out their dusty rackets, roll a wristband on and hit the courts that pepper the area: the ones on the Uni, the ones at Priory Island. Chilwell, Town Street in Bramcote. Perhaps, for the more committed, the excellent facilities of the two local tennis clubs in Chilwell and Attenborough.

“There is still much to do in getting it ready for the future Federers and neo-Novaks amongst us…”

Despite this, Beeston itself does not have a single court – or so many thought, and would have continued to think if those great folk down at Beeston FC hadn’t uncovered one beneath a thick woody blanket of ivy and bramble.

Beneath this overgrown mat, a fine, well surfaced and clearly marked court lurked, and when revealed was found to be usable. However, a net is fairly essential to play, and a little research by the team discovered the manufacturer of the correct one to fit the posts snugly.

There is still much to do in getting it ready for the future Federers and neo-Novaks amongst us, but for Beestonians the loss of watching the British seeds crash out in the first round down in North London is more than mitigated by the Rylands getting its own court. Game, set and match Beeston!

MT

Healing a town with shoe-shop chat

An issue that for some time neatly divides a community directly down the middle, cleaving them into two camps that seems intent on destroying all common ground between them. A debate that very rarely gets deep into facts before the ad hominem attacks, insults and threats. A political class that knows divide and conquer is a low but effective technique. A seemingly irreparable division that toxifies all it touches…

Nah, we don’t do Brexit on these pages, we’re talking about the tram. It’s hard to remember how divided things were then. We stuck down an editorial line of not being pro or anti as we could see how divisive it was, but still were accused from both sides of being a propaganda tool for the others. It was a pretty nasty time and was best summed up by the NET Tram Ranting Room on Facebook, an area of much heat and little light. Here, the loudest voices were amplified further over the quiet voices of reason, and dissent was not welcome. It was a hateful, horrible place serving to make the situation increasingly febrile. So well done to unassuming local guys, Jon Speed and Steve Orton who decided to do something about it. They set up a new group and called it ‘Beeston Updated’.

Originally the ‘NET Phase 2 Discussion Room’, its initial idea seemed to be a refuge for disaffected Rant Room defectors who wanted something less substantial than the usual ‘WHY OH WHY OH WHY fodder’. As it started to attract members, a local woman, Kirstie, was invited on board, and then I was hauled in. ‘We’ll probably plateau at around 750 members’ I predicted, maintaining my prognostic aptitude finely – I’m the anti-Nottstradamus, it seems.

As the tramlines came close to completion and the raison d’etre of the group looked set to diminish, we decided to refocus. I’d early done much work in tandem with the Beeston and District Civil Society and Sir/ Professor Martyn Poliakoff, and others, in trying to imagine what the next phase of the Square development should look like. We had run a process of asking a bunch of the finest, freshest minds in urban development together by setting it as a University of Nottingham project, with staggeringly imaginative results, fully costed and studied, presented openly for the public. Not a single councillor bothered visiting the display, and years on the Square is only just getting built on by the dullest set of buildings imaginable.

What would happen if we discussed, en masse, the future of Beeston development? Have a forum to find out what people really want, rather than the useless and skewed public consultations put out by councils? Beeston Updated took a step into the future.

And what a future it has been. Membership began to rocket and to ensure that it was well-served rules put in to allow everyone to talk in an open, positive fashion rather than the usual fate of forums: The Gobshite Takeover. Balancing this with freedom of expression is a developing, complex issue, yet I think it works, despite the aforementioned gobshites misunderstanding that ‘freedom of speech’ is the same as ‘freedom to be listened to’.

Themes, private jokes – the non-existence of shoe shops / public toilets is a perennial favourite, and memes have grown over time, as has a very welcome effect: despite the board’s occasional frivolity and trivialities, it sometimes serves an important purpose.

When the 12-year-old Rylander Owen Jenkins drowned in the Trent attempting to rescue two girls, the news first broke on BU, and the response was overwhelming. People were desperate to be able to offer help, even if it was just in the form of condolence. Owen’s family were inundated with offers of help, and as the tragedy settled into the town’s consciousness ideas were brought forth: Owen’s favourite colour was purple, so the town mobilised to display the colour all over, to show solidarity to Owen’s family. By the time his funeral happened, the streets from Rylands to Wollaton Road were lined with those wishing to pay respect. Out of tragedy, beauty.

There have been numerous such tales since, though few tinged with such tragedy. The deaths of notable local John ‘Fastlane’ Ciutiskis and busker Percy Brown saw the town come together on the group to ensure that they both received dignified send-offs. Pets have been reunited, friends bought back together, many, many small acts of communal goodness enacted. Oxjam, Street Art, and Beeston Carnival are all enhanced by the existence of the group.

It’s not perfect – what community is? It has, at time of writing, 20,394 members, which represents a vast majority of on-line Beestonians. While some of these admittedly are ex-residents of the town and confused Leeds residents perplexed at there being more than one Beeston, I’m delighted my original prediction was out by 2600%. While time and familiarity have been the greatest healers of the social wounds caused by the tram debacle, I am sure Beeston Updated has been a help in getting to understand who we are as a community, and bringing us a little closer.

And for the record, there are SEVEN places where men’s shoes can be purchased within Beeston, for christ sake.

MT

Beeston Safari

It occurred to me, sometime last Christmas, that to enter one of the Top Ten Eco Destinations in the World (according to BBC Wildlife Magazine) I didn’t have to do much more than walk a few steps from my house, cross a railway track and push a swing gate open.

I don’t live on the edge of a rainforest in Borneo. I don’t live on the fringe of the Red Desert in Namibia. As you may expect from someone who runs a magazine based in Beeston, my digs aren’t quite so exotic. I live, as many of you reading this will also do, right close to Attenborough Nature Reserve.

It also occurred to me that I didn’t know a great deal about what was within that reserve, or my own back garden for that matter, which felt an awful waste. Sure, I knew my swans from my geese, my starling from my sparrow; and I’d coaxed a few robins to feed from my outstretched palm on occasion. But what else was there? Finding a trap-cam and a bird-book in my Christmas stocking, I decided to put them to use. I would start a safari in Beeston, with the Nature Reserve, the Trent and my own rather overgrown back garden as my focus.

 

The challenge was simple: every day I would find and photograph a new species of life, research exactly what it was and what it did, and put it up on Instagram and Facebook. On the first day, while the outside world tussled with New Year hangovers, I checked my trapcams at dawn and found only curious cats. No matter. I stuck my camera out of the front window and onto the bird feeder, where a grey squirrel performed tail-based acrobatics and thus became my first subject. Next day, collared dove. Third day, the first creature I had no previous idea of, only identifying through a microscope: a planarium flatworm, making its way through the soil. A shiny glass snail – I’d until then assumed there was just two types of snails, garden and pond – with an aphid, coal tit and a common centipede rounding off the first week.

“Nature is an incredible array of stories, histories, etymologies and often bizarre facts.”

With each new species came a desire to not just photograph it, not just know its name, but know why it is unique. Why is a mute swan mute (it’s not)? Why do hoverflies look like wasps? Who the hell was responsible for naming fungus, and were they getting a bit too fond of the more psychedelic versions while at work that day? Nature is an incredible array of stories, histories, etymologies and often bizarre facts. I became addicted to it.

As spring broke through the frozen ground, I became spoiled for choice. Hedgehogs and badgers would regularly visit the trap cam, and the wealth of species that appeared in the nature reserves was heady: I became fascinated by beetles, amazed at the habits of butterflies, enthralled by the impossible flash of a hawker dragonfly in full flight. Rather than have nature as an auxiliary support, there to dip into when needed, I began to become immersed and wilfully lost in it. I could happily spend hours piling through scratching brambles all just to get a grainy shot of a blackcap. Windows were left open and lights left on during the night to lure in fascinating moths. My photography skills vastly improved. My own backyard became my own Serengeti, a joy taken in the minutiae.

It started to get noticed: numerous appearances on Notts TV talking about the safari ensued, and people would send me their own pictures, seemingly inspired by my efforts. The ultimate accolade came in late May, when a hero of mine who radically changed how nature is written about, Robert Macfarlane, crossed paths with me due to a work event. We went for dinner together at Cafe Roya, where he told me he enjoyed my daily pictures. I probably resembled a smug Elephant Hawk Moth right then, as my head swelled
accordingly.

Something more important happened too. I fell back in love with nature, and I once again understood what a balm it is. Immersion into nature takes you somewhere far from the daily stresses, the petty internal debates. By reducing you to just another temporal organism amongst many billions, a transcendence can begin. Understanding more about the creatures we share this patch with lends a greater respect, a deeper empathy and a greater need to look after what we have. To quote Robert Macfarlane “We find it hard to love what we cannot give a name to. And what we do not love we will not save.” And right now, we need to bridge that gap between nature and humanity, for it’s sake, for our sake.

This year, I’ve restarted the safari: as I write I’m watching a charm of goldfinch on a feeder, while a cautious female blackbird pecks at an apple left on the floor. Keep up with the safari over on my Instagram: @beestonia.

MT