>A Sort Of Homecoming

> Carlisle, The Great Border City. It’s where I went to art college back in the early ’90s. Cumbria College Of Art And Design was a small institution, happy to be a provincial specialist college a long way from anywhere. A long way from anywhere else in Cumbria, even. We were a ‘proper’ independent art college – not attached to one of the polytechnics who were converting en masse to universities at the time. With no more than a couple of thousand students we all got to know each other well – so well, in fact, that a few ended up marrying each other – like a certain Mr and Mrs TIW. As it happens, the college is now part of the new University Of Cumbria. The 50s buildings we studied in have now been replaced with a glass and wood construction that looks like it’s been transplanted from Austria.

Carlisle was (and still is, I am told) a good place to live. It’s a handsome town with a beautiful, pocket-sized cathedral and a thousand year-old castle that looks like a WW2 bunker. The streets are bustling and the multiples haven’t entirely taken over the shopping choices. With the exception of Botchergate (I’ll get to that in a minute) not a shocking amount had changed since my last visit some 15 years ago. The police station where one night I nudged the desk sergeant awake to report a suspected flasher, moved following the 2005 floods. Most of the banks are still on Bank Street, which is also home to John Watts who’ve been filling the city centre with the seductive aroma of roasting coffee since 1865. The local papers (there are two) still both have large sections devoted to farming. Tweedy old dears still take afternoon tea at the Crown And Mitre hotel.

Our student pub was the Kings Head, where we’d knock back Theakston’s every friday, before wobbling back to our digs to the sound of the cathedral bellringers still practising at midnight. Ale in Carlisle then meant Theakston, or the occasional pint of Tetley or Greene King. I don’t ever recall a guest beer, anywhere. Even Jennings from (relatively) nearby Cockermouth was rare. I only recall it being available at one city bar, and then only on their ‘student night’. It was in far from prime condition – we called it Gravy Ale – but we drank it because it was cheap. The ubiquity of Theakston was a hangover from the brewer buying the Carlisle State Brewery in the early 70s, though beer making had long left Carlisle by the time we arrived. During winter, the pubs often ran out of beer if the drays (or anything else, including the odd opponent of Carlisle United) couldn’t get to the city by road through the snow.

Since my last visit, Carlisle’s aldermen have decided that what the city needs is a night time economy, and so all the working class boozers, tattoo parlours, bakers and record shops that once lined Botchergate (always the seedy end of town) have been swept aside and replaced with numerous Vertical Drinking Establishments, all full to bursting at noon. The pavements outside Party Party (‘Does Exactly What It Says On The Tin’) were still sticky with last night’s vomit and spilled alcopop. A group of swaying drunks laughed as they all peed in the gutter. Doorways in the once quiet streets off Botchergate had discarded kebabs and the sharp tang of urine. It was like being in Blackpool, complete with shrieking hen parties in pink cowboy hats. At the station end of Botchergate is a barrier which can be closed to turn the street into what it must have been hoped could be a Cumbrian Ramblas. Some hope.

About teninchwheels

Designer, photographer and Vespa-fixated pub bore. Born in Yorkshire, living in that London these past 20 years. Get in touch at teninchwheels@gmail.com, especially if you'd like to send me some free beer.
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4 Responses to >A Sort Of Homecoming

  1. Affer says:

    >You wrote from the heart on this one! Carlisle is lovely, a grand place to visit….except Botchergate which is afflicted by the same curse that afflicts so many English towns: viz. greedy business that positively encourages drunken bums. Personally, I would take away their licences.On another note, and linking the post below (terrific spoon!), I urge you to read "Quartered Safe Out Here" by George MacDonald Fraser (best known for his Flashman novels). It is an uncomfortable, funny, insightful and sometimes sombre account of his time in Burma with the Cumbrian Regiment, and will give you an idea of what your Great Uncle went through.

  2. TIW says:

    >They say you should never go back, but I'm glad I did – Botchergate is definately worse than it was, but it wasn't much cop to start with. Shame the pie and peas kiosk seems to have gone with all the redevelopment – but it's still a nice town.A few years back, when Ernest was in his twilight years, I wrote to him in Canada to ask him about his war experiences. In common with a lot of veterans, he'd never breathed a word to anyone about it. Well, it just poured out of him. About six weeks later I got a parcel containing about 20 sheets of foolscap which I intend to transcribe and blog about at some point in the future. When I read his experiences, it's hard to believe that all this stuff could have happened to such a quiet, gentle soul as uncle Ernest.Funnily enough, I read 'Quartered Safe Out Here' immediately after I'd read Ernest's recollections for precisely the reasons you describe. Great book – and I think the RSF get a few mentions, as does Carlisle!

  3. Affer says:

    >I've got a few years on you, so I hope this won't sound condescending, but I think it's terrific that you wrote to Ernest, and I so hope you write up his recollections – you'll make a terrific job of it. Toby Savage did something similar with his Grandad who was at Gallipoli. I am deeply ashamed that I took little notice of what my relatives did – and I feel that our ancestors went through so much on our behalf that we are letting them down not to record it for posterity, no matter how seemingly small.

  4. TIW says:

    >Affer, you're dead right. Thing is, not many of our forebears consider what they did to be in any way unusual or special. My maternal grandma cycled from Sunderland to Keighley – at the age of 13 – to find a job. Family lore says she did it in a single day, which is just about possible but we'll never know. I wish I'd asked her about when she was still alive, but she never mentioned it. At the moment I'm trying to record as much as I can from my paternal grandma, a sprightly 94 years old and still as sharp as a very sharp tack. It was when I was doing the washing up at hers on my last visit that I found the US Army spoon, and she told me the story behind it. She continually brings up little gems like that, but doesn't really think of them as being significant. In this case It was a spoon her brother brought back from the war. She was glad to have her brother back, the spoon was irrelevant (but useful!), but to me it's a solid gold story.

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