Some things of note

When I went ‘up North’ last week, I was surprised at just how beautiful our Northern cities are. I had the opportunity to have whistlestop tours of Bradford and Leeds, both of which were huge centres of manufacturing in the 19th and early 20th centuries, but in recent times have experienced a decline. Bradford especially has suffered; its once majestic crescents of beautiful Victorian homes are largely split into bedsits, the masonry crumbling, the paint peeling, with little about them to suggest that once upon a time, prosperous families would have been proud to live there. The city centre has pockets of majesty; mellow Victorian red brick sits alongside Belle-Epoque style pale stone, both with elaborate carvings and sculptures adorning the facades. These have now become soot blackened, their beauty practically invisible, hidden away on dingy, down at heel streets. Above the city rises the spire of Bradford Cathedral; once a parish church, it was much enlarged in the 20th century and has some stunning William Morris and Edward Burne-Jones stained glass. From the cathedral grounds you can see across the skyline to the beautiful, undulating dales that surround this once fine city, and amongst the scars of demolition and decay, you can still make out how lovely it once was. I wish I had been able to see it in its hey day.

Leeds is much more cosmopolitan and aesthetically pleasing than Bradford; there is a large central shopping area, some amazing Victorian municipal buildings, a fantastic Art Deco hotel and the most beautiful shopping arcade I have ever seen. It is a bustling university city, and there is clearly a lot of wealth around, as Harvey Nichols would certainly not have set up shop there without a guaranteed clientele. It felt like Kensington, but with fresher air, and I wish I had have had more time to explore before rushing off to catch my train. Does anyone have any suggestions if I visit again?

Thanks to Mary, I managed to catch this wonderful film at the BFI at the weekend. Do go if you have the chance; it really is magnificent and so finely acted. What I found particularly fascinating was the use of genuine wartime London as a filming location; actually being able to see buildings boarded up, sandbags everywhere, ‘Careless Talk Costs Lives’ posters pasted on every available surface and smouldering bomb sites was a real eye opener. I asked my Nan about it when I visited on Sunday, and she recalled a trip to see a friend in London during the Blitz when on leave from the WRAF; ‘I was stepping over fire hoses on my way across London Bridge; there were still fires burning from the night’s bombing.’ When I asked her whether it was scary, she laughed, and shook her head. ‘Oh no, love. We just got on with it. People still had to get around.’ I love my Nan and her matter of fact reminiscences of what to me is completely unimaginable! It’s such a gift to still have her here to ask.

Daunt Books have republished Illyrian Spring in a beautiful edition; please don’t delay in ordering a copy as I promise this book will change your life!

Finally, I have started re-reading Emma and am having a marvellous time. Mr Knightley in particular is providing me with much pleasure. Discussion post forthcoming. I happened across this wonderful Austen article in The Guardian this week; it seems a new book on reading her works will be released soon and it sounds brilliant.


  1. Bronte Woodruff says:

    Illyrian Spring, Ann Bridge .. yes a wonderful story, Dalmatian coast, amazing flowers two painters, family issues etc .. I loved reading this book and could be time for a revisit..

    1. bookssnob says:

      I’m so glad you’ve already discovered Illyrian Spring, Bronte…but yes, there’s always time for a re-read! And the new edition is rather lovely!

  2. Alex says:

    What I miss most about the Bradford I knew as a student are the wonderful indoor markets. You could buy anything there and most of it excellent quality. Unfortunately they are long gone. There were also marvellous mill shops where you could buy the tail end of bails of material for next to nothing. If you were handy with a sewing machine you could make yourself an entire summer wardrobe for less than a fiver, which as a penniless student was just what I needed. You are making me thoroughly nostalgic.

    1. bookssnob says:

      I would love to have seen Bradford in more positive days, Alex. I was quite sad to see how dilapidated much of it is. The architecture is so lovely and the surrounding countryside is breathtaking; in theory you couldn’t ask for a more fantastic city. I hope it will regenerate in future.

  3. Thanks so much for the tip about Illyrian Spring – I am delighted to finally be able to buy it and have just placed an order with Daunt’s!

    1. bookssnob says:

      Fantastic! I can’t wait to hear what you think!

  4. m says:

    There was some amazing detail in that film, wasn’t there? I’d like to see it again … preferably not at 10.30am! I thought that opening sequence was almost Python-ish.

    1. bookssnob says:

      I thought it was absolutely brilliant, Mary, thanks so much for blogging about it! Yes – it was hilarious! My flatmate and I couldn’t get enough. And I quite fancied the German friend. Shame he’s about eighty years too old for me. And probably dead!

      1. m says:

        Well, in that case you must see The Red Shoes.

  5. Darlene says:

    Hats off to Mary…and I would have dropped everything to see that film with you, Rachel. I am absolutely loving ‘Millions Like Us’ and hate putting it down. You know a book is good when you keep saying to yourself ‘one more page and then I will run to the ladies for a comfort break’ and you keep saying it until it’s an emergency! How ridiculous but true.
    Your Nan sounds lovely, you’re so lucky.

    1. bookssnob says:

      Oh Darlene, you would have LOVED it – it is on DVD – so you could buy it and watch it on a laptop if you have a multiregion setting? It is fantastic.

      I really want to read Millions Like Us! It’s going on my wishlist. So many books, so little time…I’m so pleased you’re enjoying it and have something lovely to read in the sunshine!

      She is lovely – I am indeed. She is 90 but she is still going strong!

  6. joanhunterdunn says:

    I saw a Daunt tweet about Illyrian Spring, noted it & thought of you. Oh the blue sky in your photograph.

    1. bookssnob says:

      I hope you’ll be getting a copy! 🙂 I know, it was a gorgeous, fresh day. It’s so lovely that summer has come, though it’s a bit sweaty on the bus to work for my liking! I need air conditioning!

  7. Lucy says:

    Gorgeous photos! I can’t wait to hear your thoughts on Emma and I’ll definitely be reading the book on reading Jane Austen 😉

    Thank you for your support, Rachel – applying to university is a rather stressful process :-O

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