Firstly, before I introduce myself, I feel the need to make a declaration: I don’t live in Nottingham. Now, writing for a site that promotes all that is going on in Nottinghamshire, and yet not actually living in the area, could be seen as something other than the best start to this blog. If I were to be judged on that very basis alone, I would agree.
Secondly, allow me to introduce myself. My name is Al Booth and I love Nottingham. Although not born and bred in the county, I moved to Nottingham in 2006 and fell in love with the city, and the county, and ever since then my aim has been to make Nottingham my home.
“Hold on”, I pretend to hear you cry thus saving you the trouble of actually having to do it yourself, “he moved here in 2006, his aim is to make Nottingham his home and yet he doesn’t actually live in Nottingham at the moment? This whole story is beginning to form large, gaping holes, isn’t it?” Well, yes, I could see how you may think that (or, if you did, say that) based on what I have said so far. In fact, if Scooby Doo and his chums were about, surely this would be the moment that they whipped off my ghoulish mask to reveal a sinister fibber,wouldn’t it? Well, the answer to that question is two fold: firstly, Scooby Doo is a fictional cartoon character – as are his so-called chums (which is unfortunate because, despite being a cartoon, Daphne is rather attractive) – so that would never happen; secondly, I am not fibbing. Please, read on as I reveal a tale of intrigue which unravels to reveal personal discovery, a passion that refuses to die and one man’s relentless quest to return to the land he loves (I am aware I may have built it up somewhat in that last sentence. I got a little carried away. Sorry).
At the time of my first visit to Nottingham I had been all but offered a position producing a networked evening radio show which came from Bristol and was broadcast across the whole of the south and the Midlands. Much in the same way buses arrive one after the other, I received a call during that same period from the Programme Director of Trent FM asking if I wanted to meet for a chat. Knowing the importance of networking, I agreed to meet him and so it was that I arrived in Nottingham train station on a grey, wet, drab Wednesday. I took a taxi from the station to Castlegate (I didn’t know the city then because, if I did, I certainly would have questioned the £6 taxi fare I was charged) and met with the boss of Nottingham’s number one radio station. Having come from somewhere in the south, I finally took a seat following my 4 hour journey to be told, “There isn’t anything I can offer you at the moment; I just wanted to meet up”. That was my first experience of Nottingham: a rainy place where taxi drivers overcharged you to attend job interviews where there wasn’t a job. It wasn’t the most auspicious of starts.
Right, to save this becoming any more of a tedious yarn about transportation and job dilemmas, I shall now time lapse: I went to Bristol for an interview; I was told I was in the last two people for the position; The boss of Trent called me on the train back from Bristol; I was offered the chance to co-host the drive-time show on Trent FM; I was in a dilemma so I called my Dad; I was told I should take the job in Nottingham because it was guaranteed money (I am from a Yorkshire family); I took the job.
At this juncture I would like to make it clear that I love the random, silly, fun things in life. My heroes are people like Michael Palin, Chris Evans, Reeves & Mortimer and Spike Milligan: random, silly, fun people. It was my love for the random, silly, fun things in life, coupled with my belief that positive attitudes create positive times, that eventually led me to realising Nottingham is the place I belong. I say “eventually”… but it actually didn’t take me very long at all.
On my very first day of working in the city, as I awaited the arrival of my boss to take me around my new place of work, I made small talk with the receptionist, Carol, about the impressive views I’d seen from the top of Broadmarsh car park. That is when I found out that the church on High Pavement wasn’t actually a church but a bar. Not only that but I also learnt that Nottingham was home to the oldest inn in England, which was built into the walls of the city’s very own castle and, until recently, there’d been a bar called The Quilted Llama. Also, as I anticipated meeting my new colleagues, I was asked if my “tabs were burning?”: all this before I’d even been told that my new place of work was a former women’s hospital and the studios were situated where the old morgue had been. As far as random, silly, fun things went, that first morning was right up there. It was then that I had a feeling I’d probably quite like this city.
I moved to Nottingham from Birmingham and instantly found a difference. Nothing against Birmingham; it just wasn’t somewhere I ever felt would be my home. I am a big believer that life is good and, as long as you have your health and your friends and family are well and happy, everything else is in your own hands to enjoy. As I mentioned earlier, I reckon positive attitudes create positive times and my time in the West Midlands didn’t really mirror that. Moving up and to the East though, well, that changed everything. I saw straight away just how proud and how fun people were. Working on a radio show you get a feel for the people of an area pretty quickly and I soon realised that the people of Nottingham were up for a laugh. I’d go out and see people in pubs and bars laughing with staff and with each other: jokes, loudly being told so that people within earshot could “overhear” and share in the teller’s delight.
For my 30th birthday I went to a medieval night where I was given mead for the first time and, during one of the radio shows afterwards, I declared that mead should be the drink of the summer. A ridiculous notion and, in many cities I know, one that would’ve been dismissed with an image conscious flick of the hand. Ah, but Nottingham. To me, Nottingham is the person in a bar openly having fun and looking effortlessly cool because of their carefree style; the one I envied when I was an awkward teen worrying what people who didn’t matter thought of me. Nottingham is the city that openly embraced the frankly ridiculous claim that mead “should be the drink of the summer”. Five different bars in the city – five sophisticated, leading bars – began stocking mead. The World Service even begun serving a Mead Martini! I don’t think mead ever, truly became “the drink of the summer” (I think Magners & Mojitos took that title) but the fact that people just went with it. Why? Why would they? Because life is about being positive, having fun and realising that if you laugh at yourself every so often, people want to join in. That’s what I have always found in Nottingham. It is a good style to have.
The passion the people of Nottinghamshire have for their county is infectious and I love sharing related stories about it with my friends outside of the area. The first football game I went to in the city was Notts County (I chose them to be my “local club” over Forest because everyone was all over Forest when I arrived and, though the Reds do have history, I preferred the tradition of the “oldest football league club in the country”). Within minutes I was treated to a rendition of, “I had a wheelbarrow; the wheel fell off”. I asked people around me at Meadow Lane what it meant. Nobody knew for sure. I loved that. Positivity and passion shared with randomness and silliness: it was everything I loved about life.
One of the most challenging times I have ever had to face came during my time in Nottingham. I remember it clearly. The day had started well: the sun was shining and I had arranged to meet friends for a relaxed Sunday afternoon by the Trent. Everything was going to plan but, half way through the afternoon, I had to leave my friends; there was something I had to deal with. I walked along the river’s edge, my heart beating with every step. I knew what I had to do, I knew where I had to go and I knew, no matter how much I thought about it, there was nothing I could do to change the events that were about to happen. I took a deep breath, my body shaking with adrenalin. I looked up and… I ran. I ran straight towards the crowd of people, clutching the cold object in my hand. “Good afternoon, everyone,” I shouted, “and welcome to the official Duck Race of Nottingham’s Riverside Festival!!”
I don’t know how many of you reading this have ever tried to commentate on hundreds of plastic ducks slowly making their way down a historic river whilst simultaneously trying to entertain a festival crowd but, for the few of you who haven’t, it’s not easy. Fun? Yes. Easy? No. After you have said, “They’re off. The yellow one has taken the lead…” there really isn’t anywhere else to go. I didn’t check my watch (I don’t have one; people would have seen through my mime) but when you’re hosting, the race lasts, to the nearest minute, a lifetime. Still, I keep saying how much I love the randomness of life and all that jazz so, in terms of randomness, the duck race is pretty high up there. Although the following year, having not been involved with the hosting, my producer and I won a cruise via the duck race. On that cruise was Jim Bowen who gave me career advice passed down to him from Bob Monkhouse. Again, positive and most definitely random.
I love Nottingham for its history and its cosmopolitan attitude. I love it for its cosy pubs and for its late night bars. I love it for its caves and for its surrounding countryside. I love it for its pride and its passion and for its creativity and values. I love it because it is random and positive. I love it for the friends I have made and because it feels like home.
So how come I am not in Nottingham now? Well, I moved away in 2008 after my contract ended; only to return in 2009. Then I stayed until November last year before moving to London to co-write a comedy drama with a friend. Although the show is still being written and produced, I have no desire to move back to London; although I do have a desire to move back to Nottingham very, very soon (hopefully I’ll know more by the end of this very week: see next blog for details).
So, that’s why I love Nottingham and why I feel honoured to be allowed to be a part of its creative heritage. Samuel Johnson once famously said, “Sir, when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life”. I am not sure how true that is but I do know one thing: When a man is tired of Nottingham, he needs to loosen up and embrace the randomness of life.