I moved to Nottingham in September 1973. I had a place at Nottingham Unversity to do an M.A in Social Work. I wasn’t sure that this was what I wanted to do; I was there on career’s advice from Swansea University. I knew that I wanted to train to work in an Adult Training Centre for people with learning disabilities; I had had quite a bit of experience of working in Acton Adult Training Centre during my university holidays. No one in Swansea Career’s Department had heard of an Adult Training Centre but presumed the training would be the same as for social workers. I was naive enough to think the Career’s Department knew what they were talking about about. I rented a room in a very large, Victorian house in Long Eaton – 17 Breedon Street. This involved sharing with 9 other people; four in paid employment and five in further education. In many ways, it was an established community and I was the last to join. The house was on three floors with a kitchen on the top and ground floors. The house functioned with five people allocated to each kitchen for the day to day running with a very large downstairs communal lounge with TV and piano. We tended to use the lounge rarely and either go out to the pub or sit in the kitchen.
As the last person to move in, I had the smallest room on the first floor (and allocated to the downstairs kitchen with Alan, Mike, Dave and Rob). When I say small room, that is no exaggeration. It was really cute but seriously could only manage a 2 foot 6 inch bed, a ‘bookcase’ made up of unpainted wooden planks and supported by bricks; this was slightly precarious as it was six shelves high. There was also a chest of drawers. I didn’t need a wardrobe because I only wore jeans in those days, had one pair of desert boots and a duffle coat. I remember my room was partitioned from Rob’s by thin plasterboard. Rob was a big music fan, had all the equipment and loads of LPs. To be fair, he always wore earphones when listening to music so I never really knew what sort of music he liked. However, there is nothing worse than someone humming along to their music wearing headphones – it just sounds like a strange, droning, bubbling sound. It was always good to try and guess what he was playing (because his voice wasn’t always tuneful!!).
I was part of the Downstairs Kitchen. This meant I was part of the rota for cooking an evening meal for everyone. This was like the worst nightmare for me. Even in those days there was an assumption that, as the only woman, I would be good at cooking. I soon dispelled that myth but in fact most of the men were excellent cooks. It was also a trial because I didn’t (and still don’t) cook. I have no interest in cooking, was never taught to cook but I do like eating. There were Ground Rules to the kitchen rota: the meal had to be substantial (because it was the main meal of the day for most people) and it had to be cheap (because most people were students or on low incomes) and it had to be good. I found my way round this (a) occasionally to have a cheap salad with potatoes, not popular because it lacked bulk but kept the cooking to a minimum (b) go home for the weekend and bring back some kind of stew, pie or quiche that my mother had made (c) make the meal at a time that I knew people wouldn’t be around so I could take step by step instructions, over the phone, of what to do and then pretend I had made it unaided (d) persuade someone else to take my turn in exchange for cleaning the kitchen and lounge, shopping and washing up. By these means, I was able to survive a whole year.
That first year in Nottingham was one of the best of my life because that was when I grew up, when I had to rely on myself, when I learnt a lot about myself, when I found out what I really wanted to do with my life, when I had to live on a very restricted budget, when I had to make decisions that were not necessarily how my family saw my future.
Nottingham is a strange place; I wasn’t aware in 1974 that Nottingham had a ‘reputation’, certainly not the reputation that it has had over the past few years of being a city of gun crime. I bought this tea towel in the Co-op on Upper Parliament Street in the centre of Nottingham, when I knew I couldn’t stand the dirty tea towels in the Downstairs Kitchen any longer. I used to keep it in my bedroom and bring it down when it was my turn to do the washing up. It is a classic touristy tea towel with pictures of scenes from Nottingham. Some of the pictures conjure up some good memories: Nottingham University – I went there; Trent Bridge – not been to the cricket ground but did spend a wonderful evening on a boat trip up the River Trent, from Trent Bridge to celebrate my birthday; the Theatre Royal – been there on many occasions (see Blog dated 18/10/2015); the Council House and City Square – unrecognisable today from this picture because it has been redesigned but I do remember Torvill and Dean, back in the 80s on the balcony waving to the crowds. I have to say that I have never been to the Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem Inn or to Wollaton Hall but I have been to the Castle Grounds (not impressed) and have seen the Sherwood Oak. But actually when it comes to Robin Hood, never mind Errol Flynn and Kevin Costner, I will always remember the series on TV in 1960s with Richard Greene and the iconic theme tune. That was one of the first singles (records) that I bought!!
The memories conjured up, when I use this tea towel, are more generic, about that year in Breedon Street. So, what did I do during 1973/4? First of all, I left Nottingham University after three months, hating the social work course and realising that I did not want to be a social worker; this course wasn’t offering me the training I needed to work in an Adult Training Centre. How did I come to that conclusion? I was on a social work placement with a social work team in the centre of Nottingham; I was sent on a home visit to an 89 year old man who had just been discharged from hospital to find out what support he needed in the home (Home Help in those days). No one came with me on my first visit, no one told me what I should do or even what I should expect. I remember standing on the front door step, deciding whether to knock; I knocked and prayed as hard as I could that no one would answer the door. My prayers went unanswered. He stood there, looking very frail and asked me what I wanted. “To see if you are alright and if there is any help you needed”. He laughed and asked me how old I was and what experience I had. I could think of nothing else to say except that I was a student on placement. He said I was no use to him and asked me to leave. He was right. I was of no use; I had no life experience. I could only just look after myself, let alone advise someone else. It was arrogant to think any different. The next day, I went to the University and resigned from the course, explaining exactly how I felt. What I was faced with was some snotty-nosed, arrogant tutor, telling me that 800 people had applied for my place and no one had ever left the course; it was the best course in the country. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. The phrase that came to mind was ‘those that can, do; those that can’t, teach’. There was no way in which this woman would ever have made a good social worker. She threatened me with the fact that I would never get another place on a post-graduate course again; she would see to it.
I then had to make a big decision: go back to London to live with my parents or stay in Breedon Street and find some work. I have always believed it was a mistake to go back, you have to keep moving forward. Going back to London would be like returning to my childhood. I needed to find what I lacked on that first home visit: life experience and maturity, a belief in myself.
So now I needed money. I easily got a job as a dental nurse assistant in Nottingham. What was I thinking, because I hated dentists? But I had a nice uniform and a pair of Dr Scholls sandals. I also got a mould for a set of dentures to take home and use as an ashtray. My career lasted 4 days. Fortunately, I wasn’t sacked (although it was a distinct possibility if I stayed much longer). The woman I was replacing was teaching me the job; as she trained me, she realised how much she loved the job and asked if she could could withdraw her notice. The dentists would have been daft to turn her down because she was very experienced (and good). Fortunately, they gave me two weeks wages in lieu of notice. This gave me enough money to keep me afloat until I got a job at the Nottingham Evening Post as a clerk sending out letters demanding payment from those people that had not paid their advertising bills. I couldn’t believe how many people failed to pay for their adverts. It was good fun, hard work but you never had the satisfaction of knowing how many people paid their bills as a result of my threatening letters.
After about three months, I started the job of my dreams as an Instructor in an Adult Training Centre in Mountsorrel which was easily commutable from Long Eaton. I think I got the job because I had a real interest in football and supported Brentford Football Club; the whole of the interview was about football. It’s a good job equal opportunities didn’t come into play in 1974. The pay was amazing; I’d never had so much money. I remember buying a new pair of desert boots in the first month and a pair of jeans in the second month. I loved the overall I was given to wear – pale blue and white check with a stylish blue collar. I looked ridiculous but then so did everyone else. During the time I was trying to find out what I wanted to do, I was still living with a great group of people who were very supportive.
The tea towel reminds me of that time – of walking in the Peak District, trying to learn to ride a bike (and failed), trying to cook (and not really succeeding), going to Gilbert and Sullivan concerts and folk clubs, impromptu music sessions in the front room. Every time I hear Summertime and Scott Joplin music, I remember those sessions. The tea towel also reminds me that my mother didn’t approve of my staying in Nottingham and sharing a house with 9 other people she didn’t know. She didn’t approve of my working in an Adult Training Centre because (a) it was not a career that she hoped I would follow (she wanted me to be an accountant) (b) she thought this was a waste of a geography degree (c) she wanted me to get an MA.
Me? I loved it all. I have great memories and a long Christmas card list because, although I have not met up with many of the people I shared a house with during 1974, we maintain Christmas card contact with the dreaded Christmas newsletter. Personally, I love writing and receiving the newsletters, even though they are a national joke. At the beginning I said that 1974 was one of the best years of my life; it has created some of the best memories which I remember through a very ordinary tea towel.
But, of course, I couldn’t content myself with a single tea towel from Nottingham. In 1999, I found the dark green one in the Tourist Information Office. In the shop it looked very stylish; I hadn’t got a dark green one with a gold design. One wash and the detail became unclear and I now only know that it is Nottingham because I remember being so impressed by it. Remember, Barbara, all that glitters is not gold.
To repair my mistake, a year or so later, I found the white one with a green design. Initially, I thought that it was the same design with reverse colours. But no, but I did spot the windmill on it and wondered what it was. I didn’t actually find out until 16 years later what it was. The story will be told in a much later blog (Green’s Windmill). I did try to teach myself a lesson about being careful about the types of tea towels I buy. The trouble is you often don’t know what they will be like until they have had a first wash and then it is too late.
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