If I were Ban-Ki Moon, I would order UNESCO to slap World Heritage Site status onto Mansfield Road in Nottingham immediately. With so many of Britain’s cities and towns these days resembling barren concrete moonscapes, populated only by dreary chain stores, flavourless fast-food outlets and anonymous Sky Sports-dominated pubs, Mansfield Road – at least, the section of it that runs from Nottingham city-centre to the intersection with Forest Road East and Mapperley Road – offers a rare and precious commodity: retailing biodiversity.
Located at the corner with Forest Road East is a shop called Twisted Playground, which sounds slightly like the Android Dungeon run by Comic-Book Guy in The Simpsons; though rather than selling comic-books it sells action figures and alternative clothing. The Retro-Costume Hire shop next door is, alas, closed, but Twisted Playground has been given permission to display its wares in its empty neighbour’s window-space. I bought a rather natty Jesus and Mary Chain T-shirt in this store. Now you can’t buy that in f***ing Topshop.
All good shopping streets have at least one decent second-hand bookstore and Mansfield Road is no exception. Geoff Blore’s Bookshop occupies some premises that may once have belonged to a provincial law firm – at least, that’s the impression given by the stately name Jermy and Westerman that occupies the top of the shop’s frontage. The walls of its ground floor are lined from ceiling to floor with shelves and those shelves are stuffed to the gills with old books, including many orange-spined Penguin ones. Moreover, when you venture up this establishment’s stairs – the staircase walls are packed with books too – you discover a couple of first-floor rooms that are literary Aladdin’s caves, loaded with countless more books. After my first visit there I emerged bearing volumes written by Ambrose Bierce, Ian Fleming, T.H. White, Banana Yoshimoto, Jack Vance and Eric Linklater. Now you can’t buy those in f***ing W.H. Smith.
There’s also a second-hand record store called Good Vibrations – which isn’t, as far as I know, connected with the famous store of the same name operated in Belfast by the legendary Terri Hooley. Much of its stock consists of vinyl records, although I did discover a CD called The Great Beast Speaks, a collection of recordings made by the notorious early 20th-century occultist Aleister Crowley. Now you can’t buy that in f***ing Tesco.
Other outlets that spice up the shopping experience on Mansfield Road include a doughty, old style hardware store called Stones; a private art gallery called Paige and Sivier; a musical instrument shop with a row of acoustic guitars in its window called Dave Mann’s Music – Dave Mann, incidentally, sounds like the name of a guitarist in a middle-league 1960s rhythm-and-blues band; a second musical instrument shop called Kai Dase Violins, which has a corner window protected by black metal rails and, standing behind those rails like a rare species of zoo animal, three upright cellos; a speciality clothes-shop with the self-explanatory title Harding’s Dancewear; a retro 1960s / 1970s clothing outlet called Daphne’s Handbag; and a strange wee shop selling slightly-antique items such as lava lamps, mirrorballs, cocktail shakers, curvy plastic 1960s chairs and clacketty old typewriters. That last shop resembles a tiny exhibition room in a gallery of modern art and it was only open once during the many times that I passed it.
The street is also strong on the culinary front. It boasts Indian, Chinese, Thai, Mexican, Jamaican and Turkish eateries and even the small supermarkets that appear along its length are often ethnic in character – I spotted Mediterranean, Caribbean and Eastern European / Russian ones.
The pubs there are generally very good too. Even at its central-Nottingham end, just before the surroundings give way to concrete city-centre blandness, Mansfield Road is home to The Peacock, an antiquated, sedate and nicely-upholstered bar where D.H. Lawrence is supposed to have hung out, and Koegh’s, a rare Irish pub that actually has some Irish people in it. Heading away from the centre, you encounter the Golden Fleece, well-known for the quality of its Sunday lunches and also for the live bands who sometimes perform on a stage at its rear; the cosy old real-ale stronghold The Lincolnshire Poacher; the Hard to Find Cafe, which is neither a café nor is particularly hard to find; the Loft, a trendy but cramped (squeezed into two narrow floors on its building’s first and second storeys) music club; and, at the Forest Road end of the street, The Maze, another live-music place with a two-o’clock bar licence on Friday and Saturday nights.
Among the upcoming attractions advertised at the Maze while I was drinking there were the long-lost (and not particularly missed) punk / ‘Oi’ band The Cockney Rejects, and a Pantera tribute band called Pantera 101%. The fact that Pantera now have their own tribute band suggests that there can’t be anyone in the world who doesn’t, somewhere, have a tribute band dedicated to them. The public-bar part of the Maze sports a gallery of framed black-and-white photos of the greatest names in rock-and-roll. I was delighted to see that, among the likes of Elvis, Hendrix, Kurt Cobain and co, there was a portrait of the hard-rockin’ Lancashire legend that was George Formby, defiantly wielding his ‘axe’ (well, his banjo).
The street is, sadly, scarred by a couple of derelict premises. There’s a second, now-abandoned record shop whose permanently-closed shutters are emblazoned with the memorable line of graffiti: Reality continues to ruin my life. Another former shop used to sell ‘wigs, masks, fancy dress and party goods’. And there’s an empty venue whose sign bears the mysterious wording King Oliver Trading Cards / John Priestly Autographs.
If I was ever put under ‘postal-district arrest’ and was ordered to remain in one small neighbourhood, never to step out over its borders, I think I’d be perfectly happy if the neighbourhood of my confinement was the stretch of Mansfield Road I’ve just described. Everything necessary to meet my physical, mental and spiritual needs is there. Why go anywhere else?