|Nottingham on a typical Saturday night - "The best place in |
the country to get p****d" I was advised
As I drove along the one way system I passed Rock City – a Nottingham back street “institution”. Outside were several hundred youngsters, some, it looked to me, no older than 14 or 15, waiting to get into the club. It was just after 10.30 and I grumbled to myself that they should be in bed by now! Then towards the Royal Centre and past the front of Trent University. At the traffic lights I sat and looked into the windows of the Uni Express Convenience Store, its window posters advertising their late night delivery service for students “We deliver to your door seven days a week till 6 am” it told them and me. The pavements were now thick with youngsters – mostly in large groups, and mostly staggering along the footpaths. Taxis filled the road, spilling out their contents of loud, youths and scantily clad girls. As one taxi pulled away, having deposited its contents, two or three of the youths chased it as it edged into the traffic banging with their fists on its back window and roof until it picked up speed and disappeared. At the end of Talbot Street I watched the queue that stretched as far as the eye could see – youngsters all waiting to gain admittance to The Comedy Club. Another huge queue stood alongside as youngsters waited to withdraw money from the two ATMs that stand there and at the side were the brightly lit windows of Wagamama’s restaurant, every table it seemed full with revelling young diners. In the far distance I could see flashing blue lights and hear police sirens. A group of girls, arms linked, tottered, whooping, laughing and screaming across the road in front of me as I sat at the lights. One of them covered, as far as I could see, in tattoos, her skimpy dress leaving little to the imagination put a bottle to her lips. Then the lights turned green and I edged forward to turn into South Sherwood Street but was momentarily startled as a police car, lights flashing, shot across the road in front of me and disappeared down South Sherwood Street.
And so away from the City Centre – left onto Shakespeare Street past the beautiful old Arkwright building that was originally a constituent college and library of University College London but is now part of Trent University. And then, through the vast complex of buildings and halls of residence that now constitute Trent University and at finally back to silent Clarendon Street filled with once grand Victorian Villas now turned into offices of the University and student accommodation. Then, still following the one way system, I got back to the Derby Road roundabout to pick up Pat for our journey home. By now the time was nearly 11 o'clock, and as we drove up Derby Road away from the city centre we again saw police cars with their flashing blue lights pass us heading towards the city - a last reminder of what had seemed to me like modern version of Dante’s vision of hell in his allegorical Divine Comedy . For this is Nottingham – and probably many other English cities - on a Saturday night.
I noticed recently that the area through which I had walked and driven on Saturday night is described on tourist information leaflets for my home town as “vibrant”. Mmmmmm – no matter how much I try I cannot help but think that is a very liberal use of the word and being incredibly economical with the truth. As we drove over Abbey Bridge and through the Lenton area of Nottingham the silhouette of the Queens Medical Centre with the lights of the hospital wards pinpricking night loomed out of the darkness. I knew the A&E department in the hospital would already be stacking up with the victims of the night’s city centre revelries. Idly my mind went back to an interview that I conducted some years ago when involved with interviews for trainee teachers at Trent University. A young man entered the room for his interview with me. There was and is a desperate shortage of men applicants for primary teaching courses so he had a distinct chance of acceptance. He was smartly dressed and his references and academic record were excellent. He was a strong candidate for admission. Near the end of the successful interview, as I mentally prepared to add him to the list of candidates who should be offered places, I asked him the final question. I was required to ask him (as of all candidates) why he had chosen Trent University as a place to do his training. I expected him to refer to the excellent reputation of the University, or the suitably interesting course etc. But, no, he staggered me when he smiled and said in his broad Geordie accent: “Oh, it’s a no brainer man, my brother came to Nottingham Uni two years back and he says it’s the best place in the country, except for Newcastle, to get pissed every night of the week” . I was utterly lost for words at both his reason and his unashamed willingness to share this in an interview situation. As I sat lost for words at his candour (and, I think, his lack of judgement) I was initially unsure how to respond so I simply thanked him, shook his hand and showed him the door. I then put a question mark at the side of his application and left it for others to decide whether he should be offered a place. When I wrote up the notes from the interview I commented upon his obvious academic potential but also suggested that should he be offered a place I would not be prepared to host him in my school as a trainee teacher nor would I offer him a job should he ever apply to me. I explained that in my view his maturity, his judgement and his personal and professional understanding of the role of a teacher were seriously lacking. My comments did not go down well with "the powers that be" - they were deemed "an unacceptable reason for refusal" but I rather took this as a sign of the way we are declining in our expectations. I lost no sleep over it but, having said that, I think my experience on Saturday night was, perhaps, unfortunate proof of what he said.
And then we were joining the Nottingham Ring Road at the Lenton traffic island. We picked up speed - me still in grumpy old man mode muttering that “No one should ever tell me that the young are short of money or that students are having a hard time” and in the darkness of the car I'm sure that I detected Pat raising her eyes to heaven as I grumbled “I'm sure that the fathers of those girls don’t know they’re going go out dressed like that!” But, as we sped away from the city, other thoughts gradually entered our minds and conversation. Both of us thought and spoke of where we had been and what we had seen and heard – something that was a very far cry from my walk and drive through Nottingham’s “vibrant” streets. What we had heard, seen and enjoyed in St. Barnabas’ Cathedral was not the modern vision of Dante’s Inferno that prevailed on Nottingham’s city centre streets but rather, and to use the programme notes, something “sublime”, almost one might say heavenly. We had sat humbled, spellbound and overawed as we saw and heard Bach’s mighty B Minor Mass. Surely one of the greatest creations of mankind.
“The salient quality of the Mass in B Minor is its wonderful sublimity. The first chord of the Kyrie takes us into the world of great and profound emotions: we do not leave it until the final Dona nobis pacem”. So said theologian, musician, philosopher, physician, missionary and Nobel Prize winner Albert Schweitzer. He was not wrong. Not only is the B Minor one of the very greatest of Bach’s works but stands amongst those at the very peak of the world’s greatest works – some may say it is indeed the greatest. And although the performance that Pat and I had just enjoyed was an amateur performance with no great orchestra, stars or expensive tickets it was outstanding and bore comparison with any of the other performances we have seen or CDs we have played. As Schweitzer said, it really did take us, and judging by the applause and response the rest of the audience as well, to a “world of great and profound emotions”.
|The logo - Pat has one in the back window of her Beetle|
|The view from our seats|
|One of the children's music making|
activities run by Music for Everyone
|East of England Singers, orchestra and conductor|
|Blow the dust off your instrument....!|
|One of Bach's original pages of|
manuscript for the Mass
How can such sublime work have been
produced by a man who seems so ordinary,
so opaque - and occasionally so intemperate?
But perhaps the best and most telling comment comes from Bach himself. Not about the Mass in particular but about all the music that he wrote: “The aim and final reason of all music should be none else but the glory of God and refreshing the soul. Where this is not observed there will be no music, but only a devilish hubbub.” When I think of the sublime and uplifting two hours that Pat, I and the audience had spent in the beautiful St Barnabas’ Cathedral and where we had experienced a “world of great and profound emotions” I’m sure that I was not alone in knowing that Bach’s glorious music and the wonderful playing and singing and conducting did indeed glorify God and refresh the soul. It was a powerful reminder that it is not all the “devilish hubbub”, or the vision of hell that that I had witnessed only a few hundred yards away in Nottingham city centre on Saturday night but rather, a recognition that there is still, in this world, the good, the profound, the exquisite, the spiritual, the sublime, the serene and the truly great and magnificent.