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Diary: Pat Ashworth

24 July 2020


Sign here, please

I AM drowning in online petitions. I’ve added my name to so many that I’m keeping a note of them now, to head off the inevitable reminder that I’ve signed this one or that one al­­ready. They relate to saving the things that I’m passionate about; so, when an ardent campaign does bear fruit, it’s a cause for rejoicing.

Local petitions could get lost in this national outpouring for justice, but I’m glad I didn’t miss the one that wants to see a phoenix arise in our city. Nottingham, in the 1970s, was blighted by the wholesale de­­struction of medieval streets in favour of an ugly shopping centre — a poor relation to a bigger one with more footfall. The retail develop­ment company, Intu, is a casualty of the economic situation, and won’t now be replacing the building as planned.

And I’m uplifted to see the tor­rent of public support in favour of a big recreational space for the com­munity, instead of more shops: grass and trees, fountains and play areas, and even, it’s been suggested, an amphitheatre. We’ve all learned the value of green space over the past few months, especially in the city centres. If this comes off, we’ll know that the times really are a-changing.

Shute rediscovered

A FRIEND, a retired priest, tells me that he’s just read the Odyssey and the Iliad, and I’m ashamed to con­fess to him that I’ve been re­visit­ing novels by Nevil Shute that hadn’t left the book­shelves for decades.

Books such as A Town Like Alice and Ruined City show dying com­munities resurrected by indivi­duals for the common good. Shute was always the teller of a good tale, and they’re still a cracking read, but I’m shocked by the casual racism in ref­er­­ences to Aborigines on the cattle stations of the outback.

I read these books in my teens, and the references wouldn’t have jumped off the page and jarred the nerves as they do now. I reflect that, in the context of Black Lives Matter, it’s been every bit as thought-provoking as reading the classics.

Inestimable worth

THEATRE is mothballed, and in­­door performances with large casts could be problematic in the months to come. I’m exercised over what would make good outdoor theatre up at the 13th-century tower that is the predecessor of our present church; when I come into possession of the vituperative correspondence between an aggrieved curate and his archdeacon, bishop, and patron, I know I’ve got a handful of play­wright’s gold.

The Revd Thomas Wilkinson is buried in the churchyard here. The long-serving curate of Attenborough with Bramcote, he fully expected to continue in that capacity when the serving vicar died and the Revd Joseph Shooter took up the post. Alas, Mr Shooter had conspired with the Archdeacon, Dr Wilkins, to select his own curate, and the per­ceived duplicity of the letter bearing that news enraged Mr Wilkinson.

The action, he writes to Shooter, was as good as “consigning me over, as it were, into the jaws of the lion, without your having that decency or common humanity to express to me your regret, lest such a step might be injurious to my feelings. . . You knew before you left Nottingham, that Dr Wilkins was determined to get rid of me, at any rate, or, in whatever manner.”

Unjust desserts

MR WILKINSON suspects that the true cause of his dismissal is that he has a practising Roman Catholic wife. The increasingly bitter corre­s­pondence lasts from May 1835 to June 1836, and, to vindicate his good name, he publishes the letters as Correspondence Arising out of the Circumstance of the Rev. Thos. Wilkinson’s Sudden Removal from the Curacy of Attenborough-cum-Bramcote, after a Servitude of NEARLY HALF A CENTURY.

They are delicious. They are pure Jane Austen. Italics are employed to grit teeth and grind pen into paper. When Wilkinson seeks financial redress, the Archdeacon responds, “Though I am clearly convinced in my own mind that you have not the slightest chance to enforce your de­­mand, yet rather than be forced to correspond with a man such as you appear to be, I have resolved to sac­rifice to your cupidity, a sum to which you are clearly not entitled.

“Have the goodness to pay it to Mr Almond. . . As I am resolved to have no more of your elegant epistles, I will however just remind you, that the sum of money which I sacrificed to your cupidity, will never do you any good, for a watch­ful Providence will never bless what is unjustly taken from a poor man with a family of eight children.”

Pure, pure gold.

God’s in his heaven

AS LOCKDOWN eases, any venture into the wider countryside feels like a big adventure. I pack up the camper van for a day’s outing into the Peak District, to meet family members for the first time since Christmas. The Great Ridge, which rises above Castleton, is dotted with a line of walkers; so we opt for the gentler and humbler rise to Hollins Cross, and sprawl in the lee of a drystone wall. And all we want is this, we conclude in thankfulness: sunshine, the good smell of the earth, and a blue, blue sky above.

Pat Ashworth is a journalist and play­wright.

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