Angel Pavement by J.B. Priestley – The 1930 Club

Angel Pavement cover

I read Angel Pavement by J.B. Priestley for The 1930 Club. It was only the second book by Priestley that I had read, the first being The Good Companions and although I didn’t love Angel Pavement as much as that one I did like it. Angel Pavement is a small cul de sac in London, it seems to be fictional although there is now such a place in Royston, Hertfordshire, presumably named after the book.

The setting is London during the depression, work is difficult to come by, it’s very hard for ordinary people to make ends meet and everyone lives in fear of losing their job. Businesses are just scraping along too and hoping for an upturn, so as you can see in getting on for 100 years – not much has changed.

The book begins with Mr Golspie sailing into London on a ship that he boarded in the Baltic. He’s originally a Londoner and seeing the city in the distance he wonders why he ever left. He’s not the sort of man who has to worry about getting work, he has the gift of the gab, is super confident and knows how to reel a certain type of person in with his talk of wonderful success to come. He intends to make money by selling wood veneers, something that he has learned about while living in the Baltic areas. When Golspie talks his way into a job at Twigg and Dersingham which is an old established firm run by a rather feckless second generation in the shape of Mr Dersingham who until Gospie arrived has been worrying about the state of his business. When the orders for veneers start piling in Dersingham swallows his reservations about Golspie’s character although Mrs Dersingham will have nothing to do with Golspie.

Priestley lets the reader look into the lives of everyone in the company’s office, from the dogsbody lad to the office manager. They all have their problems and they’re often the same problems that people and families have nowadays.

Priestley was a master at writing dialogue in different dialects, something which can’t be at all easy to do and his descriptions and observations on the human condition are so well observed. This book is darker and more depressing that Good Companions if I’m recalling correctly, but apparently it is judged to be better than that very popular earlier book. I’m in need of something more uplifting at the moment though – who isn’t I ask myself?! The passage below struck me as being exactly how I’ve felt when flicking through some of those glossy lifestyle magazines, minus the need for a cigarette of course. I never know who any of those so-called celebrities are anyway.

Miss Matfield went into the lounge, to smoke a cigarette, and spent an envious ten minutes glancing through one of those illustrated weeklies that seem to be produced simply to glorify that small section of society which works only to keep itself amused. It showed her photographs of these demigods and goddesses racing and hunting in the cold places, bathing and lounging in the warm places, and eating and drinking and swaggering in places of every temperature. By the time she finished her cigarette Miss Matfield quite understood the temptation to start a revolution, and told herself that these papers simply asked for one.

I read this one for The 1930 Club.

1930 club

Lost Empires by J.B. Priestley – The 1965 Club

Lost Empires cover

Fairly recently I bought a copy of Lost Empires by J.B. Priestley and when I realised it was published in 1965 I decided to read it for The 1965 Club which is hosted by Simon at Stuck in a Book and Kaggsy’s Bookish Ramblings.

Lost Empires is supposedly an account of Richard Herncastle’s life on the variety stage. It begins in 1913, Richard is a young aspiring watercolour artist, he’s the nephew of Nick Ollanton a very famous stage magician and when his Uncle Nick offers him a job as one of his assistants in his act Richard agrees to join his merry band.

They tour around Britain playing in music halls, most of them being called ‘The Empire’. Uncle Nick is a bit of a tartar and is particularly harsh with his female assistant Cissie who is also his ‘bit on the side’. But Cissie is lonely and interested in Nick, he’s besotted with Nancy who is one of the other turns on the music hall bill. Nancy isn’t interested in him though and it’s the much older Julie from yet another variety act who he ends up having a rather torrid liaison with. She’s part of the popular comedian Tommy Beamish’s act and also his squeeze on the side, so it’s a dangerous affair for both Richard and Julie. All of the men have been targeted by Nonie – yet another female on the variety bill. She’s one of those women who love to tease men by shoving her bits up against them whenever she can.

I particularly liked Doris who appears towards the end of the book. She’s one of those women who is permanently angry. “She was a devoted wife but only in a furious way, as if being married to Archie was the last straw.” Well – it made me laugh!

I’m not going to say anything else about the plot for fear of ruining it for anyone who might decide to read it. It’s ages since I read anything by Priestley and I have to say, I loved The Good Companions in the past and don’t know why it took me so long to read anything else by him. There’s great writing and some wonderful characters, especially the female ones and for me some laugh out loud moments. Although this book was published in 1965 it pointed out the problem that younger women had with older and more powerful men taking advantage of them – all very topical now.

Apparently this book was dramatised for Granada TV in 1986 starring Colin Firth as Richard Herncastle.

1965 club

The 1951 Club

the 1951 club

I’ve read and blogged about quite a few books that were published in 1951 in recent years, so if you’re interested in my thoughts on them click on the titles.

A Game of Hide and Seek by Elizabeth Taylor

The Wooden Overcoat by Pamela Branch

The Willow Cabin by Pamela Frankau

Cork on the Water by Macdonald Hastings

The Catherine Wheel by Patricia Wentworth

The Duke’s Daughter by Angela Thirkell

The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey

Merry Hall by Beverley Nichols

Duplicate Death by Georgette Heyer

School for Love by Olivia Manning

Of course 1951 was an important year in Britain as we had The Festival of Britain which went on for most of the year – or at least until the general election when Churchill became PM again and he saw the whole thing as being Socialist so he shut it all down – spoilsport!

But apparently the Festival was a life-saver for the people who had by then been suffering under austerity for years and years what with the war and even worse rationing post-war. It cheered people up no end to see the bright colours and modern designs, and was a great opportunity for artists, designers and makers.

Before I started blogging I read and enjoyed Festival at Farbridge by J.B. Priestley which was published in 1951 and has local events featuring the festival.

I blogged about the festival some years ago and if you’re interested you can see that post here.

Christmas Books

Christmas books

Above is a photograph of the books that I was lucky enough to get at Christmas.

Glasgow Interiors by Helen Kendrick is a book which I had actually just borrowed from the library and I had been thinking how nice it would be to actually own a copy of it, so I was thrilled when I got it as a present.

The Fringes of Edinburgh by John Geddie is an old travel guide from 1941, it has lots of drawings and painted illustrations in it. I suppose we are living on the fringes of Edinburgh but this book mentions lots of places I have never been to, I hope to go and visit some of them.

The Water Babies has 24 plates in colour by Harry G Theaker. I have a thing for lovely childrens books and illustrations so when I saw this in a secondhand bookshop not long before Christmas I asked Jack to get it for me and give it to me on the big day. I do believe in getting what you want and not leaving it up to luck! If you’re interested you can see some of the illustrations here. I think it was published around 1930.

Lost Empires by J.B. Priestley. I like Priestley’s writing but I haven’t read anything of his for ages, this one was first published in 1965.

The last two are from the British Library Crime Classics series – Quick Curtain by Alan Melville and Resorting to Murder which is a collection of short stories. I’ve already read Quick Curtain and enjoyed it, but I bought another couple of books in this series at the weekend – no, there’s no chance of me ever catching up with my TBR pile!

Moffat and no books

We stopped off at Moffat on our way down to the Lake District, it’s a pretty area and it has a second-hand bookshop. The author D.E. Stevenson lived there and is buried in the town. We parked the car in the High Street and within three seconds of getting out of the car we got into conversation with a local. This is something which would never happen in Fife – it taking a lang spoon and all that. Anyway, after the usual weather observations – well we are British – which included the info that we had come from Kirkcaldy, the chap said that he had been to Kirkcaldy once and it had been shut! Queue laughter!

However, I felt like tracking him down to tell him that Moffat was shut – as indeed it was! Apparently Wednesday is half day closing, but a lot of the shops hadn’t bothered opening up at all, including the bookshop. What a disappointment.

Moffat Book shop door

But as you can see from the notices on the door, there’s quite a lot going on in the wee town. Well they have a murder evening and a quiz night anyway.

In fact we should have taken this as a bad omen because there were hardly any bookshops in the Lake District, it would seem that hill-walking and outdoor pursuits don’t go hand in hand with reading books.

There was a big bookshop in Whitehaven, which is quite off the tourist beaten track but although there were loads of books I only found one which I wanted to buy, and it wasn’t one I even knew about, but it was a D.E. Stevenson as it happens, called The Musgroves. I think that it isn’t one of her amusing ones though, it looks like a slushy romance, but it may just be that it has a terrible cover.

Apart from a book for one of my sons which I bought at Grasmere, that was it bookwise. Absolutely pitiful as I usually come home with an armful of treasures. When we got home I did manage to buy an old copy of J.B. Priestley’s Faraway, which I found in Kirkcaldy High Street of all places. The wee tobacconist at the east end has loads of books at the back of the shop, it was a complete revelation to us as we thought that he only had the few which he has in the window.

I don’t know why I’m complaining because I have hundreds of books at home, waiting to be read and I’ve just picked up Raven Black by Ann Cleeves and Losing Ground by Catherine Aird. I’ve also requested a couple of books by Joyce Dennys – Henrietta’s War and Henrietta Sees It Through. I haven’t read anything by any of those authors before, they’re all blogger recommendations.

Meanwhile my reading rate has slowed right down, I’ve been reading Georgette Heyer’s Duplicate Death for about a week now, that’s what happens when you go away.

Death at the Dolphin by Ngaio Marsh

Death at the Dolphin

This book is titled Killer Dolphin in the US and was first published in 1967, I bought it in a second-hand bookshop in Worcester and it cost me all of £1 – not bad when you consider that the original 1967 price was 18s. 0d. Remember, there were 20 shillings in each pound sterling.

Anyway, I haven’t read anything by Ngaio Marsh for years, so long that I couldn’t even tell you what I have read, but I seem to remember that they were just a teeny wee bit racist in language, always a bit off putting even when books were written in the 1930s. However by 1967 her language seemed to have improved and I must say that I really did enjoy this one, despite it having quite a modern setting, the 1930s are really my favourite vintage crime era.

Peregrine Jay is a young playwright living in London and having a reasonably successful career but when he sees a derelict theatre languishing unloved near his flat, he is determined to bring it back to life. The Dolphin Theatre is his dream project and with the help of Mr Conducis, a rich businessman, the theatre reopens. Then there’s a murder which is investigated by Inspector Alleyn of Scotland Yard and his sidekick ‘Bre’r’ Fox. The whole theatre company is under suspicion.

If you like reading books with a theatre company setting then you’ll probably enjoy this one. Other books with a theatrical setting which I’ve enjoyed are :

The Good Companions by J.B. Priestley

An Awfully Big Adventure by Beryl Bainbridge

An Awfully Big Adventure by Beryl Bainbridge

School for Love cover

This is one of the books which I pulled out from that scary mountain of books on the left-hand side of the door at Voltaire and Rousseau, it was absolutely pristine (still is) and cost me all of £1. I bought it because of the Peter Pan connotations and Beryl Bainbridge had just been in the news because of her recent death, I hadn’t read anything by her for years. It was first published in 1989.

It’s set in Liverpool in 1950 and Stella has decided not to stay on at school. Her Uncle Vernon manages to get her a job as assistant stage manager at a local theatre. This involves being a general dogs-body to the company of actors and eventually getting small acting parts herself.

Stella’s character is an unusual combination of naivety and cheek, she gets on well in the theatre but has a crush on Meredith, the director who has converted to Catholicism, apparently because he’s after redemption. Which is just what we all said when Tony Blair did the same thing!

During rehearsals for Peter Pan disaster strikes and Meredith has to find someone else to play the dual part of Mr Darling and Captain Hook. The well known actor P.L.O’Hara rides to the rescue on his motorbike.

There’s quite a lot of tragedy one way or another in this book but it’s never depressing, partly I think because Beryl Bainbridge is so matter of fact about it.

Whilst reading it I thought to myself that it was quite similar to J.B. Priestley’s The Good Companions and I had planned to say that if you enjoyed that one you would probably like this. Then I read the back blurbs and The Sunday Times said:

Imagine Priestley’s The Good Companions as written by Gogol and you will have some idea of the mixture of waggish humour and sordid pathos in Bainbridge’s novel.

The book was made into a film starring Alan Rickman.

So there you have it, if you haven’t read anything by Bainbridge before, you might want to check her out to see if she’s your cup of tea.