Tom Keeling as Arthur Seaton in the Nottingham Playhouse 2012 adaptation of Saturday Night and Sunday Morning
Originally published in 2012 as part of theSpace arts project funded by Arts Council England and the BBC
Arthur Seaton muses on the Old Market Square theme
I wasn’t born yesterday nor the day before, but Ode Man Buttress were born yonks ago and knows a fair bit about this city. I’ve got respect for Buttress because he’s still grafting away at eighty, banging out words on his typewriter instead of collapsing in front of the gogglebox like our ode man every day from six till eleven. In them essays about the Council House he kept harpin’ on about Howitt, the bloke as drew the plans up. Which sounds a bit like “have it”, like a lot o’ the loudmouths shout when they’re stumblin’ past the place drunk at half ten at night. None on ‘em can tek their drink. Me, I can tek it like a fish. Eleven pints o’ best bitter an’ seven gins before I start gettin’ unsteady on me pins, an’ even then I’d happily tek on any mouthy bogger as thinks he could put more away than me.
I’ll tell you something about the Council House that Ode Man Buttress didn’t mention. Some poor bogger broke their back lifting up those gret big lumps of Portland Stone. And not just that; they’d have carted ‘em all the way up from London, seeing as they were cast-offs leftover from the building of St. Pauls. Well, one thing’s for certain – there weren’t enough Portland stone left over to build our estate.
The council love their propaganda, harping on about us having the largest open market space in England, but it’s just a lump of cement hemmed in by poncy coffee shops an’ banks. Coffee shops? Like that’s going to cure yer after a week of cramp-inducing, back-breaking, knuckle-knocking’ labour. It may be the biggest open space in any city in England, but there’s no point if there’s nowt going on. It’s so boring even the Occupy movement boggered off.
They haven’t even got a fountain any more, so as you can watch girls get all wet when they dive in at New Year’s Eve. The council don’t want yer having fun. That’s why they get them community wardens to keep folk from sitting on the steps. They think it belongs to them – well, it belongs to them that built it. You let them lot in suits tekkin’ control, you might as well feed cherries to pigs, as me mam allus says.
Did yer know that the Council House has gorra tunnel running underneath that leads out to the Park? Some toffee-nosed Victorian Lord Mayor had it built ter avoid mingling with common folk and the cheeky beggars asked us to vote this year on whether we wanted a Mayor again! The last thing my city needs is a whip-head Boris palming us off with a few bikes so he can milk our taxes. That tunnels all yer need to know about authority. If I had my way I’d get the lot on ‘em – them that try and tell us what to do – and stuff ‘em inside and leave ‘em to rot.
That noise yer can hear- that’s Little John, the bell in the Council House. It were originally cast as a replacement for Big Ben, but we ended up keeping it for oursen. Ten and a half tonnes – imagine castin’ that bogger. Deepest tone of any bell in the country. Hear it up to seven miles away when it strikes. It meks more noise than that bloody gret bike factory bashing away at the end of the street. Louder than owd Ma Bull’s gossipin’. Loud ‘n’ confident, like the good folk o’ Nottingham.
You don’t see many Yanks around these days, not like the ones Ode Man Buttress remembers. Yer might get them up at the castle with their fancy cameras but not down here in the heart of the city. I wouldn’t have fancied having all them G.I. Joe types stompin’ round Notts while the war were on – bleddy distraction for lasses who’d ’ave been hangin’ on the arm of some local lad from Radford, if yer ask me. They prob’ly looked the business in their uniforms – big-showdered blokes from cattle country – but my mob spent most of the war gone AWOL and hidin’ from the Military Police, so I don’t ’ave much regard for sowjers. Them as got called up an’ didn’t ’ave any say in the matter – they’ve got my sympathy. But them as strut round in their uniform as if they’re summit, on account of ’avin’ a couple o’ stripes on their showders – I’ve no time fer them sort. They wouldn’t have them stripes if it weren’t for the likes of ordinary folk hammering out their machinery in the factory.
Ode Man Buttress’ poem is alright though. Made me think of summat me cousin Bert once said, about how the only regiment he served in were the RCDs – the Royal Corps of Deserters. Mebbe there’s a poem in that;
When the rotten army calls yer up
Ter send yer overseas,
Don’t let the bastards grind you down,
Just join the RCDs.
So shred yer call-up papers,
Lie low at yer Auntie Vi’s,
Keep yer ’ead down,
stay out o’ town, ‘cos yer servin’ wi’ RCDs.
Any road, I haven’t got time to stand here writing poetry to keep you lot amused, not wi’ the amount The Space is paying me. They’ve geein me a wad of crisp blue-black fivers that’s just enough to pay for my ale and keep our Brenda happy. No more bubble baths for her.
I allus meet her outside the left lion in front of the Council House. Boggered if I know why it’s the left ’un, not the right ’un, and who cares. Ode Man Buttress mentioned that the lions have got names – Menelaus and Agamemnon; what he didn’t tell yer is they’re meant to roar whenever a virgin passes by. Well I’ve never heard a peep out on ‘em, which tells you all you need to know about Notts women. They’re a cheeky-daft lot that think so much of themsen that they’d drink yer ale whether they liked yer company or not. Our Brenda’s no different and she better hurry up – There’s always more than one pebble on the beach. I don’t slog my guts out all week to stand around as it rains a fair drizzle.
Unlike them Occupy lot that have cleared off now. They loved the rain. Can’t see how dossing in a few tents outside the Council House is goin’ ter change owt. Me, I’d pack a thousand tonnes o’ dry TNT under the Council House ‘n’ warn me mates ter stop at home that night. Touch the fuse on that lot ‘n’ send the bleddy Council House into space – that’d send out a message for a change.
It’s hard luck that things stay the way they do, and I can’t blame anyone for having a gutful of this country. At least they’re out there doing something, and anyone that gives them a hard time should shut their cakehole. They can do whatever they like, as long as they keep away from me but when they start spouting their rubbish I’ll tell them straight, that they’re no better than them swivel-eyed gets in parliament, or them religious lot tellin’ us it’s the end of the world. They just want an audience so they can rattle on an’ feel good about theirsen. I never believe what the papers say nor what folk tell meh. If yer do then yer want yer brains testin’. It’s all lies, that’s one thing I do know.
Anyway, I haven’t got time to worry about them lot. The only things that need occupying round ‘ere is the White Hoss, and our Brenda’s bed sheets. And here she comes with that cheeky sway of hers…
The Sillitoe Trail
Take your own interactive tour of the author’s city and follow in Arthur Seaton’s footsteps around Nottingham, exploring the real locations of key scenes from the novel. You can go back to the Old Market Square or visit The White Horse pub, the Raleigh factory, the River Trent and Goose Fair.
Follow: Arthur Seaton @Thespacelathe on Twitter
Download: Sillitoe Trail Factory Handbook (17MB PDF)
Fillingham and Walker 2020