Tuesday, 22 May 2018

Enjoying life, ice cream, Dale Abbey, Municipal Dreams and Five leaves Bookshop — what a way to spend a birthday!

I had a 74th birthday last week and chose to begin it at the Blue Bell Ice Cream Factory on the edge of Spondon, on the Nottingham side of Derby, in the company of Susan and close friends. I think it fair to say a good time was had by all, especially me.

More cards than a man of my age expects, and all from ladies I love. Susan chose one that I have since turned into my 'Old Age Passport', which will go everywhere with me from now on.

Susan and I met in the summer of 1975 and took off like a rocket. She was then Curator of Mansfield Museum & Art Gallery and I was Chair of the Midlands Area Museum Service. She 24, me 31. We were buying a house together within three weeks. I was also a Birmingham City Councillor working as the records and development officers (yes, two jobs) for a then high profile charity, the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, and often found myself being asked to comment on this or that —which I did. Susan soon said of me that I was a typical politician, 'Able to speak with a confidence born of nothing but ignorance'.

She was right. I could happily be outrageous, making friends where I wasn't expected to. Called a 'Maverick' more than once, it remains a branding I am proud off.

Last week's ice cream adventure was fun and delicious — honeycomb, rhubarb and strawberries & cream, all yummy.

I even got to go two laps on a pedal go-kart. I could have done more. It was a great birthday. After this the day slowed down and we all went off to Dale Abbey to look at the ruins and the second smallest parish church in England, now part of a farmhouse which began life as monastic hospital.

Dale Abbey village is set on a road going only to church and a few houses. Off this road is what remains of Dale Abbey. How this much managed to survive is beyond me, set on the edge of a field it is actually the back wall to a small paddock. A public footpath runs through the field. 

It actually looks quite dramatic as my photograph shows.

One of my fellow ice cream eaters, Rosie (who also got me into blogging in 2007), took this pic of me snapping the ruin.

From the footpath you can see down the road to the church and the farmhouse of which it is part.

The church begins by the little door and goes to the left.

Up close the door looks suitably mediaeval. Having said that I'm not sure it is.

On the side elevation is this simple window. The church was locked and the farmhouse doesn't have a key, so we'll have to plan our next visit a little better.

In the small graveyard a friend spotted this gravestone. It mentions someone called Annie 'of Beeston House, Beeston, Notts'.

The wall around the church graveyard is made of blocks of dressed stone. The may well have come from Dale Abbey, but if it did I'm amazed most of it wasn't taken for use in new buildings following the Abbey's destruction.

It's isolation is somewhat illusory given how it sits between Derby and Nottingham, on the edgelands of two conurbations fast becoming one. Dale Abbey's Wikipedia page is a good place to start learning more. We will be going back with a key of that I am certain.

I finished the day in the ballroom of the Mechanics Institute in Nottingham city centre at a fantastic talk organised by Five Leaves Bookshop. 'Municipal Dreams' by John Boughton, who has a blog of the same name, long one of my favourites. The focus of his talk was council housing and it past, present and future. It was a lot to pack into 90 minutes but John did impressively well.

John was on BBC-TV's BookTalk programme a couple of weeks ago promoting his new book, Municipal Dreams (which you can buy in Five Leaves Bookshop, where I bought my copy).

Ross Bradshaw and his colleagues at the Bookshop were fair bursting with pride, having won the Independent Bookshop of the Year Award a couple of nights before. A well deserved honour. It appears on all my Nottingham city centre maps and I buy booksthere regularly.
I sat with Richard, another Beeston blogger who I know well and we came back to Beeston together on a 36 bus, both of us preferring the bus to the tram. His blog, NG and Beyond, is another of my favourites. His prose is close to poetry. He relies almost exclusively on words to describe the land and townscapes he explores in and around Nottingham. His writing is something I want to hold, to feel the page in my hand — he really is that good!

It was a good way to end my birthday.


  1. Thanks Simon. Just visited your blog. Very impressive How can you follow so many?

  2. What a lovely day it was and good to share some of it with you, your evening talk sounds fascinating and a lovely end to your special day. I've just looked up 'Annie' on the 1911 census and Beeston House was at 10 West End, Beeston. Her husband Richard Salt Piggin was a horse dealer:)

  3. One day there will be more such days I’m sure. Thanks for the detective work. A piggin, is seems is, quote, ‘a small wooden pail with one stave extended upward as a handle’. There has to be a story in there somewhere...

  4. Thank you very much for the kind comments, Robert. I am just catching up on some of your recent posts. It's all tremendously readable, engaging stuff!