I had the honour of showing five delightful Irishmen around my home town recently. There are John and Shamus, Liam and Noel and brother-in-law Tom, Tom Jones that is. There are two firemen, a postman and two professional singers; no, Tom, Tom Jones that is, is not one of the singers. Some live in County Wicklow, one lives in London and one lives near Nottingham; and they all know Dublin. Confused, how do you think I felt! They would appear to have a profound intellectual interest in and appreciation of all things historical; plus less intellectually, they love eating. drinking and charity shops!
My hometown is Derby (England). Hands up who's ever been there? Hands up, what Derby's famous for? Who's ever even heard of the place; or could find it on a map? I have often asked similar questions on my travels, seldom receiving very convincing answers. So, from the top of my head, here goes.
Derby, home of Royal Crown Derby; Rolls Royce Aero Engines, anything to do with railways and, built in more recent times, Toyota motor factory. Home to Derby County Football Club (the ground now called IPro Stadium, the club previously housed at The Baseball Ground.) According to some the most haunted city in England, Florence Nightingale and that's all that comes to mind at the moment. No matter, it defeats the object if I use the internet to refresh my mind. With all this in mind I took my Irish friends on a somewhat impromptu 'tour' and this is how our day went! Plus it was an education for me too!
We walked through what was, when I was a lad, Victoria Street, the town's main street. (I rode regally in a new, 'bog standard' wheelchair, an education in itself and bloody uncomfortable.) Only now the town is dominated by a huge shopping complex, the Intu Centre, around six hundred yards away.
Resulting in Victoria Street and surrounds being bereft of shoppers, looking forlorn and unattractive, discouraging in the extreme. Alongside which stands derelict Duckworth Square, abandoned at least ten years ago, welcome to the City of Derby!
We visited the town's museum. We examined an exhibition by an Irishman, Denis O'Connor. . We saw Derby's own Joseph Wright paintings; we saw also a 'mummy' three thousand years old, PLUS the mummified cat I so loved as a child all those years ago; some things never change!
In the Silk Mill we observed 'a work in progress'. The oldest factory in the world, it is to house objects that show Derby's place in the industrial world. Aero engines or railway exhibits for instance. The museum is also 'a work in progress'. Particularly noticeable are bright, eager, in the main young volunteers in all manner of occupation who are keenly ensuring at least some progress is made. It is blatantly obvious that money, or the lack of it is making life difficult if not impossible in any project remotely deemed 'cultural'. It looks like its 'Lottery/Heritage funding or nothing. I am pleased our visitors saw attempts at preserving our heritage for our children. Plus the army of unpaid, keen cheerful volunteers deserve our thanks, if not the government or the councils cash.
With the pursuit of historical knowledge in mind we also visited three hostelries! The Bell, an ancient pub in Sadler Gate. A pub with a so chequered a recent history that it was shut by the police for some considerable time. Very, very old, I viewed the state of the top floor out of the window and wondered if it would refrain from collapsing before we finished our drinks. Oh ye of little faith, Kenneth, my Irish friends thought it 'the bees knees' or whatever they say in Ireland!
Similarly The Dolphin public house, reputedly the oldest pub in Derby was received with due Irish reverence. And the third 'drinking experience' we encountered was The Standing Order. An ex-bank, a Wetherspoons establishment that is very impressive; its ceiling is particularly so. Coupled with excellent food it was a supurb choice. We also called briefly in Bennetts, probably the oldest departmental store in Derby. We were too late to comprehensively view the goods on display but the young female assistants were much admired! Thus ended a glorious day. My friends despatched me in a yellow cab and they returned to their base in Attenborough.
An ordinary place, Derby, made special for the day by extraordinary people. Was it John Howard Payne who said 'Be it ever so humble, there's no place like home' Mind you, I've seen these words also attributed to Frank Baum's ' Wonderful Wizard of Oz' AND to Bridget Carson amongst others so take your pick!
Humorous, patient, lively in the extreme, you were all excellent ambassadors for Ireland. Thanks chaps, I hope you all enjoyed the day as much as I did.