A few new (well, mainly second-hand) acquisitions:
An esteemed academic once shocked me by stating that Amazon had made second-hand bookshops obsolete.
We were at a conference in Edinburgh, and I’d happened to show him the swag I’d picked up from Armchair Books that day (biographies of Maurice Chevalier, Robert Mitchum and John Ford, in case you were wondering!). I argued the point with him and I’m pleased to say he conceded. Still, I’ve never really trusted him, or his work, since.
I’ve spent a good deal of my life browsing the shelves of second-hand bookshops looking for treasures. As a child, I was an omnivorous collector. I’d constantly be seeking that elusive edition that would complete a set of Enid Blytons, or for the photographic covers depicting Ian Carmichael as Bertie Wooster. I was a Sherlock Holmes completist and, at one time, I would buy any edition of Conan Doyle’s stories that I could lay my hands on. I must have had 50 variants of The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes alone.
That desire to accumulate has died somewhat, partly due to living in a small flat. Still, I’m an inveterate book-browser and my eye always strays to certain sections of a shop first. These days, I always hit the ‘Crime’ section first, on the lookout for Ross Macdonald paperbacks with interesting covers! What I said to that wrong-headed academic still stands – the second-hand bookshop always surprises you, leading you to unexpected places and enriching you in a way that a search engine simply cannot.
Bookshop owners are experts, labouring for the love of their wares. I’ve met some Bernard Blacks in my time, but the majority love to chat about your purchase or point you in the direction of something special. For me, browsing has always been as socially stimulating as it is intellectually.
Given all this, I’ve always been disappointed (and a little ashamed) that my town, Leamington Spa, hasn’t had a second-hand bookshop. There used to be two: the wonderfully titled Books Do Furnish a Room (where I once got some bound Strand Magazines containing The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes for £7) and the fondly remembered Portland Books. Both closed down years ago, and they left a void. Waterstones and Oxfam Books just don’t count.
So I was overjoyed when I discovered that Garrett Books had opened up on Clemens Street. Roisin and I have visited a couple of times, and I’ve taken a friend there as well. I’ve never walked away empty-handed, and most excitingly of all, they have a very well-stocked comics section which has added a few gems to my collection!
What’s clear is that Garrett Books have a real interest in becoming part of the community. Inside the door, they’ve set aside space for local artists to display their work and there are plans to hold poetry readings and possibly gigs there too. They’ve got a couple of sofas for you to relax upon, and they serve tea, coffee and cake so you can refresh yourself after a browsing session. Most winningly of all, there’s a baked potato stand out front. I had one last time I was there and it was delicious (cheese, beans and Peri-Peri sauce, YUM!).
I’m so pleased to see them there and I hope they prosper. Leamington needs a place like Garrett Books and Clemens Street really benefits from their presence. Long may they last. I’ll see you down there next weekend for a spud, alright?
This weekend, Roisin and I travelled down to London. We had a lovely time but the snow scuppered our plans to a large extent. So this is a blog about making do, listening to mother and making the right decisions…
We had planned a few weeks ago that, on our last weekend before going off to our respective families for Christmas, we would travel down to the NFT to see It’s a Wonderful Life on the big screen! As you can imagine, we were both very excited. We’d both seen the film many times before but this seemed like such a nice Christmassy thing to do.
We set off early from Leamington on one of the beautiful Wrexham & Shropshire trains and the snow was already falling quite heavily.
Stepping off the train in Marylebone, we walked through a flurry of snow to Baker Street tube station. As we turned the corner, I looked up towards Regent’s Park and felt a pang of sympathy for the man in Victorian Bobby costume standing in the doorway of the Sherlock Holmes Museum!
We hurried through the busy underground station, but I stopped to take some snaps of the Sherlockian decor. I’ve always loved the decorative tiles at Baker Street, and the illustrative boards which decorate the platforms.
Roisin wanted to visit a clothes shop called Vivian of Holloway (she had a particular dress in mind) but when we got to the Holloway Rd, we found ourselves in the middle of a blizzard. It was difficult to see very far ahead of us, but we struggled down to the shop. Roisin had fun trying on some frocks with petticoats but eventually settled on a polka-dot number that makes her look a bit like Minnie Mouse! You can see some photos of her giving a twirl here!
When we emerged, the snowfall was lighter so we explored a bit further up the Holloway Rd. At this point, we were quite looking forward to a hot drink, so when we found a pub called The Coronet (converted from an old picture palace), we hurried inside! My photos don’t really do it justice but the facade and interior were still very impressive and there were lots of photos of Humphrey Bogart and Fred Astaire inside so I was happy!
We decided to have lunch in Holborn so got on the tube again. After a lovely walk through Bloomsbury Park Gardens, we stopped into an amazing pub called The Princess Louise. Sadly, they weren’t serving food that day but we warmed ourselves at the open fire and admired the building’s fantastic decor, all tiles and mirrors, a real Victorian Gin Palace!
We eventually settled on Nandos for lunch (I love their halloumi pittas!) and decided to spend the afternoon looking around the British Museum. While there, we walked by The Museum Tavern, origin of The Alpha Inn in The Blue Carbuncle, and visited Gosh! Comics which furnished me with Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell’s Snakes and Ladders for £2!
The British Museum was far less crowded than is usual for a Saturday so we had a nice time roaming around. Roisin wanted to visit the medieval Europe section and we had a great time admiring the collection of pocket watches and antique timepieces!
We walked down through Soho to the Thames but the progress was slow-going. It was very treacherous underfoot and our feet were getting very cold! By the time we got to Trafalgar Square we were both eager to get over the river to our cinema seats. We were also promising ourselves a champagne cocktail!
Well, as you can see from the photograph below, we got our drinks! However, when we checked our train times home, we found that the train companies were starting to cancel journeys back to Leamington. We didn’t want to get stranded in London on such a cold night so, with much regret, we left without seeing the film. It was a difficult decision, but it was the right one!
Earlier in the day, I’d been absolutely sure things would go according to plan. Still, we made the best of it and, on the advice of my mum, bought some provisions for the train ride home! It was just such a relief to be sleeping in our own bed that night!
The next morning, we had a little Christmas celebration, exchanging our presents before parting. I got some lovely things: the complete Laurel & Hardy DVD Collection, the Douglas Wilmer Sherlock Holmes DVDs, some wonderful 1940s issues of Picturegoer magazine and a brilliant Roger Delgado T-shirt!
So, despite the disappointment of not visiting Bedford Falls, we had a great time anyway! And I hope you all have a lovely holiday – Merry Christmas!
Many thanks to Casey Lau, who was kind enough to send me some extra photos of Fight for Sight’s Alan Moore event on the 9th. I have blogged about the day here and you can read Casey’s account of the day for Bleeding Cool here.
Casey has some great photos from the day over on his Flickr page (and an Mp3 recording of the talk!) here.
This article was previously published on Bleeding Cool here.
In Saturday’s Q & A session at the Northampton Guildhall, Alan Moore was asked about the films made from his comics and whether he would ever consider writing his own screenplay. Moore spoke very entertainingly about his contempt for the movie industry and then surprised everyone. He has written a screenplay, and it’s quickly built momentum into something that sounds HUGE.
As readers of Dodgem Logic #2 will know, photographer Mitch Jenkins took a striking series of portraits of performers at a Northampton burlesque review. He decided to film a 10-minute short featuring the dancers for his showreel and, wanting to help out a friend, Moore offered to write a shooting script. It was called “Jimmy’s End”.
As soon as word got out that Moore was writing something for film, people quickly got interested. Jenkins and Moore were approached by Warp Films (producers of Shane Meadows’ This is England), who offered to fund a feature version of the film.
These discussions grew to accommodate the idea of spinning off a Channel 4 series from the film, in the manner of This is England ’86. Moore said that initially he’d been dubious about how the story could be extended in this way but had now figured out a longer ongoing narrative.
Laconically, he described the premise. The story concerns a Northampton writer and occultist who is trying to take over the dreamtime of everyone in the Boroughs, before extending his influence over the country and then the world. Amidst chuckles from the crowd, Moore insisted that the series would expose his megalomaniacal tendencies once and for all!
Perhaps the most exciting aspect of this project is the intention to create a really immersive fictional world. Apparently there’s a young animator producing work that will feature on TVs in the background of scenes, and there’ll be a soap opera that the characters follow called (rather wonderfully) Wittgenstein Avenue. Also, Moore’s story involves an online game which Rockstar Games now want to develop!
Alan Moore has frequently said that filming Watchmen was pointless, since he had written it specifically for the comic book medium. I can’t wait to see how he adapts to the formal demands of film and TV. I’m sure the results are going to be unique, eccentric and very exciting!
It can be a dangerous thing, meeting your heroes. Too often, they fail to live up to your expectations. This wasn’t the case on Saturday.
I’m pleased to say that Alan Moore is one of the most charming and generous people I’ve met.
I’d read on the website Bleeding Cool that Moore was speaking at the Northampton Guildhall for the charity Fight for Sight. I was worried that it’d be sold out but luckily I was able to secure two tickets. On Saturday morning, Roisin and I set off on the train! I was ridiculously excited about meeting one of my writing heroes and, if I’m honest, a little scared…
We had some time to explore Northampton when we got there. I was really taken with St. Pauls, an old Norman church as distinctive as Moore himself:
We had time for a quick lunch in the cafe of the very impressive All Saints church in Northampton’s main square. While we there, a few people came in clutching Alan Moore books and just outside the Guildhall, we saw a five year old boy skipping along holding V for Vendetta and Watchmen to his chest!
We collected our tickets from the Guildhall, then had a quick browse around an antiques market where I considered buying a walking cane. After a while, I decided that this was a bit too close to dressing up as Moore! The room in the Guildhall was beautiful, decorated with paintings of significant kings and statesmen in Northampton’s history and stained glass roundels.
We managed to get seats in the front row. Happily, it was quite a small crowd, making the event pleasingly intimate. Moore strode down the aisle, a slight cocky jaunt to his gait and a smile on his lips. After observing that he knew the acoustics of the room were weird from going to gigs there, he joked that there was a confused man in the back row who’d come expecting to see Alan Rickman.
Moore launched into an unscripted and frequently hilarious history of Northampton. Characterizing it as invisible to the media, he detailed the town’s history of political dissent and many of the fascinating figures it had produced (he named Charles Bradlaugh as a personal inspiration). Along the way, Moore conjured some typically outrageous images: blowing up a busload of nuns, angels playing billiards, and the Quaker Oats man nakedly, violently overthrowing the government.
Moore paused about an hour into his talk to read Partners in Knitting, a short story about the burning of two Northampton witches, from his book Voice of the Fire. I’d never seen Moore perform and I was mightily impressed. His deep rumbling voice gave a reading that was both dramatic and heartfelt.
In the second half of the talk, Moore concentrated on the decline of the Boroughs, the area of Northampton in which he was born. He explained the way in which his underground magazine Dodgem Logic was attempting to contribute to the community. Moore’s passion for the people of Northampton was (in Roisin’s words) endearing and infectious, and he concluded by reading a poem in their honour, written in “heroic couplets.”
The question and answer session afterwards was a real highlight. Moore proved generous and thoughtful with his responses. He was eloquent on his disillusionment with the comics industry, funny when discussing Ace the Bat Hound (who wears a mask so the other dogs won’t know his identity) and vituperative regarding the dead friends cheated out of creator’s rights by DC and Marvel. He also discussed a new multimedia project which I’m going to blog about tomorrow (same Bat-time, same Bat-channel)!
I was so proud when Roisin put up her hand and asked whether Moore would consider writing vignettes of Northampton a la Harvey Pekar. He was clearly pleased to be given the opportunity to speak of his old friend and described his favourite Pekar strip Making Lemonade (you can read Moore’s obituary of Pekar here). After digressing with a tale of Northampton character (star of Time Bandits and bastard son of the Shah of Iran) Jack Purvis, Moore suggested to Roisin that his difference to Pekar was as much one of geography as of personal style. While Pekar found wonder in his quotidian existence in Cleveland, Moore searched for normality in the weirdness of Northampton!
Afterwards, we queued to have some stuff signed. It was lovely to see Moore insisting that the five year old I’d spotted earlier be at the front of the queue. He was clearly very pleased to see someone so young at the talk – and what a brilliant experience for that child! As my long-suffering friends know, I’ve already got a Moore-Bolland signed The Killing Joke (99p in a charity shop!), so I thought I’d bring some more unusual stuff. So now I’ve got signed copies of The Spirit: The New Adventures #1, Miracleman #15, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Century and Alan Moore’s Writing for Comics!
Me and Roisin chatted with Moore for about five minutes about Northampton and independent publishing, then he was gracious enough to pose for a photo. It was nice that he put his arm around my shoulder and shook my hand as we left, saying how much he’d enjoyed meeting us. I walked away feeling utterly elated and inspired.
What a day. Thank you Alan – you truly are an extraordinary gentleman!