John Hurt would have been proud of the welcome I received in 103 – Nelson Inn DE11 7EH on a wet Sunday evening in Woodville.
Wet nights in Woodville conjure up images of those tough midweek Premier League fixtures at, for instance Stoke, whereby teams need to show real character to be successful.
Hurt is undoubtedly Woodville’s most famous son as he lived there from the age of 5-12 as his father was the vicar of St. Stephen’s parish church but, it is fair to say, he doesn’t remember Woodville as an area of natural beauty whenever he was interviewed on the subject.
In fact, it was known as Wooden Box originally as the wooden toll booth on the toll road between Ashby and Burton was situated here and none of this is conjuring up images of anything other than urban sprawl.
Maybe that helped shape Hurt’s acting career as he went on to play quirky gritty roles such as a drug addict in Midnight Express, the main character in The Elephant Man and was ‘lucky’ enough to have an Alien erupt out of his chest in Alien.
Films such as Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Sailor with Gary Oldman also showed he could do more mainstream roles but the bleak area he recalls is apparently undergoing a bit of gentrification.
Martin is well known for his love of the infamous Tollgate island with its ‘eye-catching’ Clock Garage structure but, according to Tina, barmaid at the Nelson, Woodville is definitely changing.
Basically, there was Tina, Rod and me in there at about 8.30 on a Sunday night but it is amazing how friendly some people can be.
Apparently Saturday night discos and karaoke on a Thursday are packed and a Sunday afternoon session is also popular with the locals before a lull and then a group of locals appear at about 9.30.
However, when I suggested that there were lots of chimney pots in the vicinity and therefore a captive audience Tina said the ‘locals’ weren’t necessarily still in Woodville.
The lure of the M42 means that a posse of Brummies and’ Tamuff’ people are moving in to the new found commuter town and not necessarily visiting the Nelson.
However, Tina was quite pragmatic and said that a lot of them were ‘mortgaged up to the eyeballs and couldn’t afford it’ but they are missing out on a rare treat.
Not only is the Pedigree (Marstons) very tidy indeed at £3.20 but the welcome is top notch. Rod, a tattooed bloke in an AC/DC t-shirt was chatty and conversation was soon flowing with a complete stranger and a barmaid I had never met before. Sometimes the role of the pub as a valuable community asset shouldn’t be underestimated.
Rod said he came to the Nelson because he liked the company and a crew of his pals were on their way. If this place shuts then Rod loses a bit of his identity and the community is immediately poorer and far more transient.
Inside, the boozer has clearly had a lick of paint and there is karaoke, a pool table and, as Rod informed me, a free Jukebox. Not only was it free but he also stuck on News Of The World and David Watts by The Jam for me before AC/DC sparked into life which will please Mudgie as Let There Be Rock and Cover You In Oil boomed out the speakers.
It emerged that Tina was a fellow Brummie exile like myself and she was explaining to Rod how the pumps of Ansells Bitter and Brew XI were ubiquitous in the same way that Bass and Pedigree were in Derby. However, as comparisons go, that is a bit like putting Manchester City and Stockport in the same bracket!
Tina did remind me of a pint of Mickey Mouse though (was this only served in Brum) which consisted of half a bitter and half a lager…Nena and 99 Red Balloons came into the conversation once again and hairstyle comparisons with Chris Waddle were made and Rod proved he was a proper local by reminiscing about the Tollgate island and it’s traffic congestion.
He reckoned when he would sit on the cricket ground when he was younger and note down car registrations with his pals but suggested he needed a head like the “character in The Exorcist” to see all the cars on that island.
That’s the sort of film that John Hurt would had enjoyed a role in no doubt but, if he is looking down on the Nelson Inn, he would be pleased to see it’s still going strong and is one of the friendliest pubs I’ve been in.
Handshakes were exchanged all round and the beauty of pubs like this is you aren’t a stranger for long if you choose not to be.