Saturday, 6 October 2012

Three bookish nights in Leicester

Over the last few days I've been developing Leicester envy. I know that in Nottingham this is heresy, but there is a lot going on there. On Sunday I was the guest speaker at the Leicester Secular Hall, talking about the history of radical bookshops. It was nice to meet such well read people - some of whom even follow Five Leaves' progress - in such a historic setting, and to speak where many of my heroes, William Morris, Emma Goldman, Colin Ward and others had spoken. I suspect that one or two of the audience had heard them all, which is the problem there. A couple of literature/political regulars from Notts are the youth wing, being in their early 50s. The Secular Hall has a regular meetings programme and is in desperate need of younger people to take the Hall onwards. I'd love to have such a hall in my hometown.
But literature in Leicester, or at least those parts of it around De Montfort University, does have its young people and there were plenty of them at the reading to inaugurate Ian Parks as the Royal Literary Fund Fellow at DMU for the next year. Ian is currently editing an anthology of contemporary Yorkshire poetry for Five Leaves so I trucked along. I'd already reading his The Exile's House (Waterloo, £10) but it was nice to hear him read from the book, as well as some of his earlier love poetry and his recent translations from Cavafy. Ian's family on both sides were from mining families in Mexborough, and, to me, his narrative poems, including those written in memory of his family's involvement in the 1984/85 strike. I particularly liked his "Standards", a short poem about his father who "...sang the standards / through the long months of the strike", ending the poem Speak Softly Love, My Kind of Town. / There was snow and bitter fighting. / My father slicked his hair back, / disappeared into the night / and one by one / the earmarked pits shut down."
Back in Leicester the next day, with an older crowd again, for the launch of the film of The Dirty Thirty, a documentary about the thirty Leicestershire miners who struck out of a coalfield of 2,500. 28 years on it was still hard not to feel enraged about the Government's attack on the people of the coalfields. The highlights of the film for me were the long interviews with Michael "Benny" Pinnegar, the leader of the group (who died very recently) and Mick "Richo" Richmond, who could easily have had an alternative career as a comedian. Prominent in the film was the song of The Dirty Thirty by Alun Parry, which he wrote after reading David Bell's Five Leaves book on the group. The showing was part of the excellent Leicester Everybody's Reading book festival, which aims to take literature festivals into the whole community. After the film we managed to find the last eight members of the local labour movement who had not yet bought their copies of David Bell's book before he gave me a lift back to the station to complete a great set of Leicester visits. Or at least that was the plan. The last I saw of David as I hoofed it was him wailing "I've forgotten where I parked me fuckin' car!". I hope  he got home safely.


Unknown said...

Lovely review. Sorry I eschued your talk on Sunday, I bought lots of books from Radical Bookshops in the past and have enough to set up my own book shop, I suspect. They'll have to go (currently benefit scrounging) so I might ring you to enquire. Anyway, I'm one of the younger ones at Leics SEc Soc being only 57. However I'd gone to The Donkey at 4 fro reggae and it was still going on and there was beer....

Ross Bradshaw said...

Bleedin' scrounger! But I think you might find it hard to sell your books unless you do it online via Abe or Amazon, though people tell me that is easy enough. We only sell our own published books. Or try Left on the Shelf to see if he is buying. Easily found on the net.

Neil said...

It was a really good talk you gave at Leicester Secular Society.

You told a tale of someone going to work in a radical bookshop and gradually replacing mouldy pamphlets by Englisg classics. Now I have read that before but I can't recall where it's from. A pointer would be much appreciated.

It was good to walk and chat with you back to the train station.

The still 40-something Neil Roberts and Lisa Rull

Ross Bradshaw said...

Hi youngsters - I enjoyed the Leicester event, which has pushed me to think about finally doing a booklet on radical bookselling. Just don't hold your breath. The book was Nancy Mitford: The Pursuit of Love. Something no radical home is likely to have on it shelves!