SHAUN BELCHER

A working class hero is something to be

Category: Lost Nottingham

Lost Nottingham: Paper Boats on Private Road

PAPER BOATS ON PRIVATE ROAD

A lone slim figure in Sunday best gets off the tram on Woodborough Road,

Hesitates then proceeds down Private Road until it dog-legs east at his destination

As he turns along the high brick wall he hears children’s laughter, a maid calling

He stands at the gate hidden by trees and calls, the maid comes to the gate

Later she recalls his patent leather shoes and his smart appearance that day

Frieda stands at the French Windows, behind the red curtains, eyes sparkling like a hawk

He is ushered into the sitting room, red velvet curtains caught in the breeze billowing

Initial stiffness is washed away in a heated conversation about Oedipus and women

D.H. Lawrence is being bewitched by this most ‘un-English’ and strong-willed of women,

Her exotic and erotic vibrancy entrances him, already struggling to escape this England

Her husband delayed by work she leads him past then in to her bedroom,

An English sparrow in the talons of a German hawk he is taken in hand, finds himself

Then they are both entwined in secrecy, taking tram and train to secret assignations

One day with her daughters they play on a local stream with paper boats

He flicks matches at them saying look it is the Spanish Armada come to sink England

Two paper boats catching fire in a Nottinghamshire backwater, then phoenix-like rising

From the crazed machinery of Edwardian England, the conservatism of suburbia

Sometimes of an evening Frieda would dash up Mapperley Plains just seeking freedom

In a cottage near Moor Green they continued their first loving act on Private Road

Under Pear-blossom, ‘a fountain of foam’, Frieda crawls naked over him, he writes a poem

To her and to freedom, to his sexual and intellectual fulfilment with a gushing woman

By May 3rd they were sat together on a night-boat to Ostend, that old England fading

A peaceful Anglo-German union as the two empires ramped up production of munitions and cruisers

The Suffragette movement beginning… the war to end all wars looming.

Paper boats burning…

 

Lost Nottingham: Picasso’s Peace Train

PICASSO’S PEACE TRAIN

 

The black clouds had been building up all week

Thunder rolling down from the Peaks on Nottingham,

Grey drizzle trickling from the glass roof at Marylebone Station

Dripped on to Pablo Picasso’s neck as he boarded the train to Sheffield

Monday 13th November 1950 early morning the train’s steam billowed

Through the suburbs of London as it swung left at Lords, headed north.

 

Adjusting his pale blue tie and the beret on his lap

Pablo gently rolled his cigarette in his hand over and over

He turned to Gilbert his ex-resistance bodyguard, drew fire

His dark eyes flashing with mirth as they discussed the papers

The lies and distortion and the statement by Clement Atlee

Who stood by Guernica in 1939*, clenched his fist for the I.B.**

 

The heavens were opening all across the Midlands

The boiler hissing, the firebox at 2500 degrees C, half a Hiroshima

They hurtled down a line 50 years on from the dawn of the century

Carrying a card-carrying Communist spy according to the Herald

To a Peace Conference in Sheffield that would ‘paint the town red’

As the first U.S. troops brought their atomic bombs to defend us.

 

From arts council genius to pariah, Pathe News mocked his arrival

The only artist let in as Robeson and Neruda were denied visas

The Korean War on the back burner, the cold war freezing

Like bad weather the post-war storms kept blowing in

Pablo’s second and final visit to England and the first beyond London

In Sheffield the chrysanthemums and the banners were wilting.

Rugby, Leicester, Loughborough flashed by between grey sodden fields.

Then the train swung right into a Nottingham damp with rain and coal dust.

Crossing at Wilford Picasso caught sight of the Power Station

Huge dark rain lashed walls by the Trent, chimneys belching sulphur

The thunderclouds swirling beyond the steam out the carriage windows

On Wilford Bridge he turned and said ’Rain, Steam, Speed n’est-ce pas’?

 

Down a modernist line that lasted barely a century they drew into Victoria Station

Sliding through the tunnel at Weekday Cross and into the platforms

He stared at the tunnel ahead, like the gates of hell or a Minotaur’s lair

His impression of Nottingham some posters, a W H Smith, huddled travellers

Then darkness and rails rumbling beneath Mansfield road, light then dark at Carrington

 

He drew breath, then continued northwards mouthing the words of his speech later…

‘I stand for life against death, I stand for peace against war’

His hand constantly drawing the symbol of the dove against his trouser leg

Remembering the heat and light, the warmth of his father’s hand in his mind

The doves he grew up with jinking and turning against a blue sky.

 

At the exact spot where a year later the first Rolls Royce Avon prototype Canberra bomber***

crashed on Bulwell Common station….

 

References

*   Clement Atlee spoke at the Whitechapel Gallery in front of Guernica on tour January 1939.

** International Brigade Spanish Civil War.

*** Atlee’s Labour Government decisions 1944 and 1947.
Our first tactical nuclear strike aircraft….designed to deliver a ‘British Nuclear deterrent’

 

 

 

Lost Nottingham: Charlie and the Lace Factory

 

CHARLIE AND THE LACE FACTORY

 

Monday 4th May 1904, Grand Theatre Radford Road, Hyson Green

Evening performance of Sherlock Holmes over, Charles Chaplin aged 15

Collar askew from a swift costume change leaves Billie the page boy behind

And cheekily slaps the final drop curtain just below King Charles head

The sun-light overhead sputters and dies leaving the stalls gloomy

As he exits through the corridor of mirrors, flickering like a film

 

He turns left on to Gregory Boulevard which is quiet now, audience departed

The half-moon illuminates the Forest park to his right, a few stars above the trees

Cold now he huddles in his thin jacket, stuffs hands in pockets and half-runs

Ahead the last tram descending the Mansfield road clatters in the darkness

A cab rattles past him headed toward Hyson Green its two jovial occupants singing

 

Then silence, just his own steps and far off an occasional cry, or clack of hooves

Latecomers emerging from the Grovesnor Hotel or workers leaving late shift

At the Mansfield Road a sudden burst of steam and noise as a train exits the tunnel

Then silence again as just Charlie and his shadow dance their way up Sherwood rise

Carrington Market is busy with late drinkers fresh off their factory shifts

The rumble of machinery echoes across the granite sets, mixes with brewery smells

 

A quick tap at the door and Mrs Hodgkinson lets him into his digs at number 100

From the back high window he looks down on the Burton and Sewell factories below

Their dark brick walls dotted with illuminated floors of workers making lace

Women on one floor tending the bobbins and un-twirling long lines of thread

Below men tending to the machines as they endlessly repeat their movements

He thinks he catches a smile from one young girl but she is gone in an instant

 

He is left hanging out of the top window watching clouds cross the moon

His only companion a rabbit hidden beneath the bed can be heard scratching

He feeds it leftover stale bread he’d been given that morning

Watches the endless repetitive machines coming and going over and over

The steady hum of machines that brought him to this place, steam and iron

The flicker of images that will be with him throughout these modern times

 

He thinks of his mother in confinement, his brother tending a bar in London

He hardly speaks except when on stage and wanders a different town weekly

Too late to play loudly he picks up his fiddle and bow one more time

And stood in the window, in moonlight, imagines himself a famous musician

He glides the bow gently across the strings, hardly a sound can be heard

He serenades the men and women below, all the world his stage forever…

 

  1. The lace factory now a care home behind imported plastic net curtains

A woman in her 80s suffering dementia suddenly remembers her mother speaking

About a night she saw Charlie Chaplin playing to the stars but no-one believed her

How one day he’d return and play one last reel for her….forever.

 

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