Wednesday, 15 June 2011


I stumbled across this book on Amazon whilst looking or a gift for my Dad for Father's Day.
Written by two 'poets' Paul Farley and Michael Symmonds Roberts who we are told are of the much mystified 'lyrical' tradition, but don't let that put you off.
The bumf from the back cover sounded like something I might be interested in. Describing an exploration of the interzone between town and country, the ever shifting limnal (I love that word) boundaries between town and countryside. Those unloved tracts of scrubland scattered with the ugly and unwanted detritus of our modern world that encompassed much of the play areas of my youth. The buried green lane, the industrial estate, the breakers yard,  the sewerage works, abandoned ruinous hospitals/schools/housing estates and bottle dumps, the ghost railways, the unfinished motorway and the overgrown green spaces that linked them.

Sounded good, but four chapters in, I must admit it isn't all I'd wished for.
The book is set out as 23 short essays covering a range of subject matter such as 'canal's', 'mines', 'cars' , 'ruins', 'hotels', 'paths' and 'dens'. Whilst there are some interesting insights and asides, all to often it becomes a eulogy to these alleged 'forgotten' places, and the authors 'lost' place in time. Concentrating mostly on the north of Britain, with brief forays into the Midlands and the South, they attempt to instill an 'eldritch wyrdness' to these frankly banal industrial landscapes that doesn't always work. They may have seemed exotic places of escape as children, but as adults it's obvious why we steer clear of them. Still, it's early days, maybe it will pick up, but for my money, Iain Sinclair does this kind of thing better, and they seem to draw heavily on the influence of an old Richard Maybe book 'The Unofficial Countryside'.
The authors grew up about the same time as myself, the 1970's. For many of us of that generation, we see it as the last gleaming of the golden age of childhood. Where you could leave the house in the morning, with enough money for a bag of chips and a can of pop, not to return home before the last gloaming of twighlight. Parents never asking what you'd been up to, and to be honest, even if they did, you wouldn't have told them.
I recognise many of the landscapes described in the 'prose' and to some degree have fond memories of them, but I'm not sure that the book ever really rises to the 'psycho-geographic' heights the authors may have imagined for it, many of the observations, though cleverly worded, remain ultimately mundane.
I guess if your childhood was spent watching TV, or glaring at a computer screen it may seem 'edgy' (sorry, no pun intended), but to those of us who explored these places, it's a nice trip down memory lane.


  1. I was a child who played in these 'Edgelands'. I'm quite clumsy and awkward so would often spend what seemed like hours psyching myself up to jump across a stream or scale a large fence. I suppose we were never more than 3 miles from home, but could never have been located, which was the appeal. Now, when my 12 year old goes out with his mobile, and I insist on knowing where he is, I wonder what sense of freedom he will have during his childhood.
    isn't it great to think back on how 'hard' you were as a kid? My kneecap was virtually hanging off once and I just had to get on with it.I was too far from home to go back and clean it up, so I used my sock as a bandage and stayed out til my hunger got the better of me. My brother always played through his hunger, I still can't!

  2. Yeah, the world seemed impossibly huge as a child, but thinking back, and now knowing more about scale and distance, the areas we covered were still enormous compared to most kids I know these days. The risk of meeting different 'gangs' in each area was the one worry we had. Even then the worst that ever happened was a 'swear-off' or that you were chased out of 'their' area. There was violence occasionally, but it seemed less prevalent or casual than it appears amongst today's youth (probably a bit of rose tinted specs there).
    Each school holiday by some unspoken consensus we'd choose a different direction to roam in and inevitably find amazing abandoned places to explore that we'd return to again and again until we'd grow tired of the place and move on. I guess, as many kids are, we were not so aware of the dangers posed by strangers or the places we explored. (Is it my dodgy memory, or did 'stranger danger' seem less prevalent back then?).
    I remember one summer they pulled down an estate of post war prefabs and we had a field day smashing windows, pulling off doors, making dens, ripping of still working taps (generally the kind of stuff young boys do when left to their own devices).
    We've got a couple of girls, and my wife really does go to the n'th degree to make sure they are OK, fussing, fidgeting and phoning them to often. They are both teenagers and in the case of the eldest, almost a women. I love them dearly, but I've always been less risk averse, and more up for letting them get on with it. I guess it reflects our differing childhood experiences. My OH face goes white when I'm telling the kids stories of what we got up to, I guess her experience was more sheltered.
    Re: the girls, We've arrived at a happy medium I guess, though not for want of many discussions about where they can go, or what time they have to be home by. I do wish the girls were more hard faced sometimes, like the girls I knew when younger, who, quite honestly, could be quite scary.

  3. I'm glad in some ways that I have all boys because my OH would have been totally over-protective of a daughter. He grew up an a large, rough, council estate and saw worse things than me. I was allowed an incredible amount of freedom as a child and teen and I learned a lot as a result. Some of my more 'smothered' friends missed out an an awful lot of adventure. I never had to make up elaborate lies to my parents about what I was doing at weekends. I'm not sure I'd be as lenient as they were,my friends would move in for weeks at a time, my brother had bongs as ornaments in his room and my mum would buy my cans of Red Stripe before I was old enough!
    Don't think times have changed that much, there will always be street kids who roam freely using nature as entertainment, kids who go to loads of after school clubs for organised activities, and video game kids who sit in their room getting fat and losing a grip on reality. The street kids will always have the most fun in my opinion, but I'll probably bring my youngest 2 up to be more education-focussed than I was.