Sunday, 1 July 2012

'Real Bloomsbury'? Real Mac'?

Support small publishers. They reach the parts others do not reach. I purchased a copy of ‘Real Bloomsbury’ by Nicholas Murray the other day, part of the ‘Real’ series by the marvellous Bridgend imprint, Seren. Check them out. Some wonderful poetry and general ‘Welsh-iana’. As well as poetry collections by contemporary poets they publish town and regional guides – Real Newport by the poet Ann Drysdale (‘Tidy’), Real Cardiff by series editor Peter Finch, even Real Merthyr (‘Fair do’s) and Real Aberystwyth.

Now they’ve ventured over the border, and it's not Real Bristol or Real Liverpool as one might expect – but Real Bloomsbury. The titles beg some questions, of course. Is there a ‘false’ Bloomsbury, an ‘inauthentic’ Merthyr? But you get the idea.

‘It gives a good walking tour of Bloomsbury,’ said the manager of Skoob Books as I browsed in the Aladdin’s Cave basement they’ve been driven into by vertiginous Brunswick rents. He’d been explaining as much to three American tourists who’d clearly been wondering why it was full of second-hand books and not the latest Harry Potter. It’s a second-hand book shop, ladies. The clue is in the title.

‘It doesn’t mention us,’ he complained.
‘Ah, yes, but it does,’ I chirped. I’d had a sneak preview in the library at Goodenough College and noticed a passing reference.
He flicked through the pages, looking for it. ‘But not in the index ...’

But it is there. As are Judd Books on Marchmont Street, various statues, fountains, squares and gardens and more blue-plaques than you could possibly take in on an afternoon’s stroll. As the blurb on the dust-jacket tells us, ‘he even mentions Virginia Woolf.’

Another question begged – why Bloomsbury? Why has Seren bounded over Offa’s Dyke and missed out Swindon (silly question), Marlborough, Reading (another silly question) or Hounslow? Might it be because the London Welsh have their Headquarters here, just on the boundary between Bloomsbury and Clerkenwell? Some 30 years ago now I met some London Welsh by chance in a tremendous pub in Holborn – which I’ve yet to find since. The Welsh are there. There in Llundain, chief city of the Island of the Mighty. There were there before David Jones marched away In Parenthesis (I bought a copy of that in Skoob), before they buried the head of Bendigeidfran under the White Hill where London's Tower now stands. They are there in Bloomsbury among the academics and the students, the guest-houses and hotels, the hospitals and the headquarters of all manner of wierd and wonderful organisations.

'An extremely accurate MAP of Mac.'
For that reason, and many others, Bloomsbury deserves the Seren treatment. Perhaps all towns do. Even Swindon. Give me a chance and I’ll write one (well, not about Swindon). I’m tuned into genius loci and my eldest daughter has taken to drawing mind-maps of the places she visits. She took herself up to Macclesfield (Mac’) the other day to visit her grandmother in hospital. She found her own way there by train and on foot and drew a map of the place when she got home.  The route from the train station to the hospital takes in Poundland (‘Yes, everything’s £1’), The Cheshire Building Society, a Big Sports Field, and a ‘wierd school-like building – possibly a school?’ – which is the best description of the exclusive King Edward’s School I’ve heard so far. There are also some ‘really gorgeous old houses’, a ‘cute Victorian museum’ (‘Must visit, it has mummies and stuff’).

‘It kind of counts as a day out,’ my daughter records, pathetically perhaps, but then, we live in Cheshire.  ‘It also kind of counts as Manchester,’ she also observes, rather hyperbolically. She is 16 and like I say, we do live in Cheshire ...

‘Weren’t Joy Division from here?’ she asks (she’s seen Control and keeps nicking my albums), ‘Or was that Salford?’
Quick, someone write a Real Macclesfield and answer her questions.

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