Grand Tours (and random tragic things)

Beneath the Floor - July 2023
Wallpaper forest

Almost one year ago, I visited family in Canada. They were so accommodating and took me on a grand tour of all the local delights - Niagara Falls, Blue Jays games, the CN Tower, the lakes, little towns, local ice hockey and even Toronto Comic-con (Technically it was Fan-Expo, but not many people know what that is). When they flew over to England this year, I wanted to return the favour and take them on a tour of Nottingham.

I had a rough plan mapped out - we would start with a meal in a pub built into the caves, head down the strangest footpath I’ve ever seen (Park Tunnel) towards the Castle, visit one of the oldest pubs in the UK (Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem), hit the waterfront to have a beer in Canal House, then head to Lace Market which is overflowing with cool bars and places to eat. A nice mix of fun, history, scenery and of course, pints of beer. A grand day out, I thought.

A week before we went, Nottingham suffered a horrendous tragedy - three people lost their lives after a series of brutal random attacks. The city was locked down and it felt like another terrorist event - something we’ve mercifully not experienced for a while. The last major one I remember was the London Bridge Stabbing in 2019, which also featured some absolute legend fending off the attacker with a narwhal tusk borrowed from a local museum - which is the most heroically random thing I’ve ever seen. It turned out the incident in Nottingham was not terror related, just some lone nut job who snapped and went on a rampage. But it scared my cousin, who wasn’t keen on her children coming to Nottingham out of fear something might happen again.

Nottingham is not my closest city, but it has become my adopted city through university, work, football and a few years living there. I love the place, and feel a genuine kinship with it. When I was younger, issues with gun crime, poverty and gang violence led to Nottingham being considered unsafe by many, even nicknamed “Shottingham”. There was a KFC near my old student flat that was - apparently - the most likely place to be shot in the UK based on statistics. It had bullet holes in the walls. I’d have been about 19 or 20 when I first started living there, and we heard shootings three times in my two years living in that neighbourhood. One time we watched as about thirteen lads in black hoodies ran down the street seconds after we heard the gunfire. But despite that - and it might sound mental saying this - I never felt unsafe. In the decade and a half that followed, Nottingham managed to shake off this reputation and tackle some of the gun crime issues that had ensnared it in the early 2000s. This recent incident brought back some memories of that time and reputation, and was a truly sad day for the city.

I assured my cousin that it was safe to go. These sorts of horrible events happen from time to time, and we shouldn’t live in fear of them. The Manchester bombing didn’t stop me visiting Manchester or going to stadiums, the July 7th attacks didn’t stop me visiting London or using the tube, and this latest tragedy wouldn’t stop me loving Nottingham and showing off some of its great places. Plus, I argued, just after these events is usually the safest time to go - lightning doesn’t strike twice, after all. So we went, completed the tour unscathed and had a fantastic time.

One thing that did catch me off guard though was how hard some businesses have been hit by the triple whammy of brexit, pandemic and recession. Several places I’d wanted to go had shut down, and even Nottingham Castle was closed - on a sunny saturday! It gave the trip a little bit of a sombre tone at the start, with us needing to find an alternative pub for food at short notice, but we stumbled into a great place. It was a bit of a ghost town at first, with us as the only customers. But we had a great time eating pizza and playing bendy dominoes. Once we hit Ye Olde Trip, the ghost town seemed to have been brought back to life, and we struggled to find seats from that point onwards. Everyone seemed to have fun, and we got home safe - albeit later than first thought due to alcohol being a bad influence and convincing us all to be dirty stop outs.

But my insistence that lightning doesn’t strike twice appeared to be wrong. Sadly another person lost their life on a normal monday morning, getting stabbed to death on the tram. There have been other incidents, likely catching additional media attention due to recent events. Most of it feels like just straight up bad luck - for example one tram got literally struck by lightning and derailed. Not exactly much the town council can do about that one…

I hope these random incidents aren’t part of a pattern. Nottingham is a beautiful place, and has long been my adopted city. It’s full of fun, quirky places and during my old job I had a hand in shaping some of its busy streets - something I’m still very proud of and probably pointed out too eagerly during my tour. It’s horrible to think of the people who have recently lost their lives just going about their day - two of which were young students, the same age I was when I first started living in Nottingham. They were simply heading home through the city centre after a party, as I have done so many times in the past. It all hits very close to home.

I couldn’t help but feel my grand Nottingham tour was slightly tainted by these events. Boarded-up pubs and the spectre of violence looming in my cousin’s mind. But despite all this, we still had a blast. I got to spend time with my family, in a great city, and visit some fantastic places. We had a lot of laughs and made some great memories. I broke my shorts. I took my brother to his first casino. I even won a plastic medal.

On reflection, I’ve written this blog post as if having a pub crawl after this horrid event was some profound thing. But I suppose what I’m trying to say is life is short. The lightning bolt of shit-luck could have struck me all those years ago, just as it could strike any one of us tomorrow. We might as well enjoy ourselves in the meantime.

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