> 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.
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.