Whether you’re visiting the strangely subtle ruins of the castle (beneath which, it is rumoured, lies a labyrinth of ancient caves) or admiring the not-so-subtle grandeur of Wollaton Hall, you can never be too far away from a strong sense of British history in Nottingham. Even the weekly shopping trip to Aldi takes my housemates and I past the red-bricked factories of the Industrial Age, which now lie vacant and somewhat forgotten.

However, what really struck me about Nottingham was how it differed from back home. I live in Bishop’s Stortford, a more rural than suburban market town on the border of Hertfordshire and Essex, situated about 27 miles away from the heart of London, and perfectly next to the ever-growing Stansted Airport. Anyone who’s been here knows it’s a bubble — the various green parks that occupy much of the town twist themselves around relatively new housing estates. Families dominate those residential areas and children are a frequent sight, especially in the morning as they move to fill Stortford’s six secondary schools.

At times it felt like Stortford was the only place in the world.

At night, the few pubs and bars in the town centre are filled with sixth formers and university students. Surrounded on all sides by greenery, I spent most of summer here, and at times it felt like Stortford was the only place in the world. Demographically, too, it can be said that the town is somewhat removed from the rest of the country: unlike places such as Bradford, London and nearby Luton, the population of all consisting of over 25% Asian, Stortford has well under a third of that amount, meaning it lacks the ethnic diversity which now helps characterise the UK. Stortford, by all the sense of the concept is a fairly ‘white’ and traditional town.

Stortford, by all the sense of the concept is a fairly ‘white’ and traditional town.

Imagine, not so much my shock, but surprise when I arrived in Nottingham. It was nothing like what I imagined Notts to be — all medieval and historical as dreamt in my opening paragraph. The police rumble around in armoured vans amongst cabs racing through the streets whilst kebab shops can be found on every corner, usually containing a babble of drunken students and locals in the early hours of the morning.  It’s also no secret that Nottingham is an example of the wealth disparity in this country — the average income of the individual householder is only £10,834 in comparison to the national average of £16,034.

My expectations of this country had been formed in a rural haven tucked away in the sunny comfort of the home counties.

But then I realised I was the one being naïve. The picture described above is not uncommon in many large British towns and, in fact, I was the one farther removed from reality. My expectations of this country had been formed in a rural haven tucked away in the sunny comfort of the home counties, and confounded by programmes such as The Only Way Is Essex and The Inbetweeners, which neglect the grittier and much more realistic side to the UK. This is not to say Nottingham is by any means a bad place either: the music scene is one of the most thriving in the land and the people harbour a friendly, humorous spirit that I’ve grown to love.

Places may appear half the world away, but the reality is in fact very different.

Michael Burman

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