If I could travel back in time to visit the me of ten years ago, when I started writing this blog, to tell myself that he/I would still be doing it a decade later, I doubt I would have been believed. That I would be writing this anniversary piece under the shadow of a global coronavirus pandemic, as the UK entered its third national lockdown in a year, would have been a greater surprise than the fact Richly Evocative was still going – but only slightly.
The day Bristol Museum and Art Gallery’s Chinese Room disappeared, was the day I first realised that places, like people, can change.
To my childhood self, the idea that a place wasn’t fixed, that it wouldn’t necessarily always be the same and might even vanish, came as a shock.
For a long time it didn’t have a name. It was just the lane that ran along the back of Mum and Dad’s bookshop…Sometimes I’d dare a peek over the top of the wall, but all that could easily be seen was an area thick with buddleia and other wild flowerings.
My imagination was quick to populate the space further with various other unnamed horrors and I’d quickly scramble back down to the ground and in through the door before sliding the bolts back across in delicious relief.
As a child of second-hand booksellers I had ready access to books and their offshoot – bookmarks. I recently rediscovered a box filled with some that once upon a time I had hoarded.
Is it possible to be haunted by a place? I think that I may be. In this case it is Ashley Vale in Bristol – an exceptional urban oasis caught between the tracks, containing allotments, woods, hilltops and a pub next door to a farm.
Brandon Hill aside, other hills in Bristol have their own distinctively languid charm and grace, such as Park Street, while a few are simply brutes.
One of these is the short and abrupt St Michael’s Hill, stretching from Upper Maudlin Street to Cotham. The lower slopes are dotted with attractive iron street furniture, step-work and historic buildings – including the pretty Colston Alms Houses – but don’t let these architectural gewgaws deceive you – it’s a bastard.
In my teens being there mattered. Having, or at least knowing about, the latest album RIGHT NOW was crucial. To my shame I was late to the Cure and late to the Smiths and countless others. But with the Sundays I got there bang on time. As soon as their first album was released in early 1990 I went out and bought it. That made them mine.
You can tell a lot about a place from the local shops.
Especially on Norwood Road.
Between the back gardens and traffic jammed streets of North London runs an extraordinary green path: Parkland Walk, once a rail line to the suburbs, now a tree-lined escape from the city, in the middle of a city.
A new way to go behind the scenes of some of Bristol’s most historic buildings.
Landscapes, imagined and remembered, have always played a central role in literature.
The fascinating relationship between writers and the British landscape is currently explored in a new exhibition at The British Library: Writing Britain: Wastelands to Wonderlands. Here are some thoughts it inspired.
Once upon a time a young woman opened a bookshop…
As a teenager in the eighties my hometown seemed blessed with a surprising variety of record shops, but I always saw Revolver as the one true emporium of cool.
In you went on foot, down two tight lanes,
ambling, sloping through the allotments,
each earth pocket nailed down like a promise,
with bramble and beanstalk to mark the bounds:
A hundred little empires of roll-ups and potatoes.