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Waterfront Festival

The Last Fish Man Standing

4 April 18 interview: Bridie Squires
photos: Tom Morley

Dave “The Fish Man” Bartram is a legend around these parts. Turning 72 this November, he walks from pub to pub selling various seafoods and tasty snacks from his basket, raising money for the charity Rainbows. He’s faced some adversity over the past year; he got mugged, broke his ribs, and as a result, discovered he had cancer. Looking back to our 2008 interview with Dave in issue #22, we sat down with him in The Bell for a catch up...

How we diddling, Dave?
I’ll tell you what, it was a shock you ringing me, I thought “Crikey, blimey, what’s going on?” It’s been a while. Mind you, last time it was the other bloke who interviewed me; what’s his name [Al Needham] who does the quiz at the Fleece. I must get up there actually, because I know the gentleman who runs it. He moved from the Angel up there. I never lose a pub, not really.

You pulled your first ever pint in The Angel…
That was on my eighteenth birthday. My dad was behind the bar, I grew up there and my first drink was a tomato juice, when I was in a pushchair. That was when the big building opposite The Angel was the main sorting office for the post. The vans used to go in on a turntable and then come out.

What other changes have you seen over the years?
Flying Horse should never have gone. Now it’s the Flying Horse Walk. There’s too many pubs gone, there’s too many Wetherspoons, and they don’t let me in, even though I’ve got five stars on my basket. I can remember coming in here [The Bell] when the Jacksons run it; oldest family pub in Nottingham. But the first pub I actually walked in was the Trip to Jerusalem.

You mean walked in selling?
Yeah, selling. Back then I worked for the late Harry Tenby; it was Tenby’s Seafood and when Harry went to Spain, he took this basket, painted it white and when he finished he chucked it at me. Me and my late wife took over the business, and at one point I had seven staff, 250 pubs and Chris Jackson’s Americana International. You know, it’s been absolutely great. The only place I don’t go is Goose Fair because it’s too packed. But I do the Christmas one and I do the Beach and I do the Riverside. I do the Beer Festival as well, I’ve got a table there. When I’m 75, I’ll have done sixty years service. Everyone wants me to have freedom of the city; Just The Tonic started a petition for me, but that Jon Collins won’t let me have it.

What places do you like to visit in Nottingham when you’re not working?
The only time I take time off is if I can pull a woman. I spend half my time in a bloody kitchen, then I’ve got my cleaning and then I’ve got the selling to do. I can’t stop in at night, I hate it. Last Thursday I had to stop in because of the weather, I couldn’t even get to the pub because it was that bad. But I miss a lady. For the, you know, companionship…

Describe your ideal woman…
Right, somebody who’ll bite me on the business and likes seafood. And someone who don’t mind me mixing with other women; I’m not a cheat, but I do get a kiss off people every now and then because I’m well known. I’d like to meet someone that’s trustworthy, somebody who will understand what I’m doing and don’t try to change me. I started as a prawn star, and I’m still a bloody prawn star.

What’s your favourite thing in your basket?
I like prawns. Prawns or mussels.

Do you like a bit of sauce on them or no?
No. I’m waiting for a woman to come and kiss me on these muscles. *Dave flexes*

Haha! Bleddy hellfire, Dave.
It’s alright, don’t worry about me!

You’ve had a hard time of it over the past year or so though, han’t you? You got mugged, broke your ribs, and then you found out you had cancer…
I’m still stressed about it. I’ve got bowel cancer, which is the slowest one, I’ve been told. I’m going in for the radiotherapy, not the chemotherapy. I’m still looking for a good woman, so I’ll need all the strength I can get! The only thing I’m desperately worried about is carrying the basket; if they do anything to the other side of my ribs, I won’t be able to do it. My basket is only half full now.

You’re still getting out and about, then?
I can only have shandies now because of my cancer. My ribs hurt me a bit, but the nice lady who runs Tiger Boe – you know, the place that does the acupuncture – she’s an absolutely marvellous woman. I don’t get acupuncture because I can’t stand needles, but I have them magnets stuck on with plasters. She says “You’re a bit achy here and there, but for your age, walking around and keeping going, it’s not going to hurt you.” I’m not in much pain. I’m on a few tablets, blood pressure tablets and stuff. Well, I mean, the reason I’m on blood pressure tablets is because the way women walk around me in Nottingham. Woah, Jesus.

Ha! What else keeps you going?
Meeting people, and being able to do my job. I must thank everyone who’s supported Rainbows, as well as all the landlords for letting me carry on as long as they have done. The Salutation’s a good pub, that’s where I had my birthday last year and will do again this year. But a few weeks ago, someone nicked my silver tankard from out there. That did hurt me. If anybody’s found it or got any idea where it is, can they please return it? Because that’s served me so bloody much.

I mean, I can replace it but it won’t be the same and, with the writing on it, it’s going to cost me about thirty quid for a decent one. People bought me that for a special year, and it was a birthday present; they asked me what I’d like a few weeks before, so I said “A proper tankard with a stamp on.” It stopped in the pub, I didn’t carry it around with me, and I really am upset about that. I hope some honest person might return it.

Hopefully someone will pipe up. You’ve had enough on your plate without all this…
I’ve really got to say thanks to the Nottingham people and the police, because everybody’s behind me. And if anybody starts being really nasty, I whack ‘em with my basket and put them down. I mean, nobody knows about this lump on my head… About ten years ago, I was going up towards the cinema, and three ladies come down. The middle one had got no shoes on but she was carrying her stiletto heels. With one hand, she nicked some stuff outta me basket and hit me straight on the head.

With the shoe?
Yeah, that’s what’s caused it. But luckily there was police about. They mounted the pavement, the policewoman ran up to me and asked if I was alright, and the police bloke shoved them all in the car. She asked who nicked them and I said “The one with no shoes on, the one in the middle!” They were on a hen do, and you know where they finished up? With the police. The policewoman says to me “I think you should go to hospital” and I says “I’ll just have a double whiskey.”

You’ve raised for £840.61 for Rainbows so far… Fantastic that, isn’t it?
This is one of the reasons I do it. Nottingham people are very good, very generous. Dukki Shop and I are doing tea towels, Tom Morley’s doing the photos, and James Mellor is sponsoring me for it. That’s all for Rainbows, too. We were going to do calendars but it fell through.

You see, it’s not easy to run this business, especially when I lost my wife and with the struggles I’ve been through but I’ve kept it going. If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s work hard, love hard, play hard, and be honest. But anyway, from what I’ve been told, I’m the oldest bugger doing this now. I’m the last one standing!

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