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A Southerner in Notts

19 February 13 words: Mike Scott
"The locals regarded us with ill-disguised suspicion and we got into an argument about not attending services at the church attached to our kids’ school".
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Nottingham: Better than Brighton

“I was born and brought up in London and moved to Nottingham from Brighton”, that’s a statement which would be greeted with amazement by many southerners – and some locals as well. Why would I want to leave the fabled south-east, where everything important happens and the streets are paved with gold to come to a medium-sized city in a region that no-one can quite put their finger on?

The short answer is that it’s a really good place to live with loads of advantages that most people either don’t know about or take for granted, whereas the south-east is mostly expensive, dirty, overcrowded and unfriendly. I didn’t really know anything much about Nottingham when I first arrived, my only previous visit having been to watch my team beat Forest and I was a bit nervous about moving to what my mum insisted on calling “The North” - even though I now know never to call it that.

First off, we moved into one of the villages to the south of the city, as my partner wanted to have a go at being partly self-sufficient and we thought the dog would like it as well. Bad decision. The locals regarded us with ill-disguised suspicion and we got into an argument about not attending services at the church attached to our kids’ school. The local farmers had ploughed up or barb-wired all of the footpaths, so we had to go in the car to walk the dog and the pesticides coming through the garden fence from the neighbouring field killed off our veg. So we gave up and moved to the edge of Nottingham, close to the city, the river and the country and we’ve been here ever since.

In general, I felt at home in Nottingham from the word go, though there were some issues to address, like the strange belief that everyone with a southern accent was posh and the vacant looks we got when we said we were veggie. However, having explained innumerable times that posh people wear hats and sound like the Queen whereas I do neither, we were largely accepted. There has also been a great improvement in veggie -friendliness, which most people now seem to accept as more or less normal  (take a bow, the Alley Café and Castle Rock pubs in particular).

Another trap for the unwary southerner is language. We had to get used to a whole load of new expressions and some that didn’t mean what we expected. There isn’t much dialect left in the south-east, so it was a surprise to find it was still widely-used in Notts.

Apart from the well-known ‘bath’ versus ‘barth’ debate, I was faced with people – men, even - calling me “duck”. In the south east, “ducky” is not often heard these days and was only ever applied to women and children. And I was a bit flummoxed by “what’s going off?”, which sounded like something mouldering in the corner of the fridge, but actually means ‘what’s happening’. Confusing, eh?

Other things to learn included “looking gone out” (very surprised), “he’s gorrit on ‘im” (is misbehaving) and “Bread and Lard Island” (a reference to West Bridgford, suggesting that some people were so keen to move there that they would eat bread and lard in order to pay the rent/mortgage - also known as “Fur Coat and No Knickers”).

But despite all this, I found that if you don’t put on airs and graces, people just accept you for who you are, not what you are or where you came from and that was pretty important for me, as I was a social worker, covering all the city hotspots at one time or another.

My experience was that there’s good and bad in every community and on every estate and that the people who are most scathing about Bestwood, Broxtowe, Clifton or wherever tend not to have actually lived there. 

Another serious issue for southerners is football: You’re too far away to see your own Club, so what do you do? For some people, the answer is to watch them on the telly, but that’s like going to a film instead of living your life and anyway FA Regulation 54(b) is quite clear that you are allowed to support a local team as well as your own. Personally, I gravitated towards Notts County for ideological reasons – I’ve always supported the underdog and that’s definitely them!

It’s a real luxury to be able to decide to go on the day, rather than booking up weeks in advance and County must have some of the friendliest supporters in the country. I always sit in the same place and I’m greeted by everyone around me. On occasion, someone brings home-made biscuits or buns (my speciality) to pass around – you don’t get that in the Premier League!

Anyway, what other delights has Notts to offer? One has to be Wilkinson’s, Nottinghamshire’s gift to the world: once you’ve been in a couple of times, you won’t be able to work out how you managed without it before. You used to be able to put Boots and Raleigh in that category as well, but now they’re gone, the local connection is just history.

On the minus side, I do have to admit that Nottingham is a long way from the sea, and don’t mention the beach in the Square. Or the fountain. It is true that you can get to the seaside in about the same time as I could when I was living in north London, but here the seaside is Skeggy, whereas in London, it’s Brighton, so it’s no comparison I’m afraid. Everyone should go to Skeggy once, but more than this is not recommended – it’s not called “bracing” for nothing.

So, I have to say that I’m glad I came and friends coming to stay are always surprised at how well Nottingham and Notts compare to wherever they’ve come from. Yes, I’m well aware that things here are getting worse, as they are everywhere, but we’re starting from a much higher point than anywhere in the south-east. People are friendlier, things are cheaper, traffic moves (most of the time) and there are loads of things to do within easy reach – nothing not to like!

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