Title: Unofficial Britain
Writer: Gareth E. Rees
Publishing House: Elliot & Thompson
Date of Publication: September 17th 2020
Rating: 4 stars
‘’After a long trudge over a misty moor, you arrive at the crest of a hill and pause for breath by an oak tree. Initials have been etched into the bark by others who have stood here. Lovers. Friends. Mourners. Your eye follows a drystone wall down to the valley below, where a river meanders through a meadow; a Civil War battle took place there, one so bloody that the water ran red for a week. You smell smoke. Hear the crackle of burning wood. A crow flies out from the spire of a derelict church just visible above the trees. Bells begin to toll but you know there have been no bells in that church tower for decades.’’
A superb introductory chapter paves the way for an exciting reading experience. From 19th-century urban landscape legends (Jack the Ripper, Spring-Heeled Jack, body snatchers and the rise of Spiritualism), we enter a chronicle of the numerous ways Britain has changed over the centuries. Lore, the unofficial and much more accurate and objective form of History, lies in songs and nursery rhymes, legends of dark alleys, witch huts, shadowy forms seen in battle-torn fields, ghostly music and voices. But what of the lore we constantly create within the hearts of our modern cities?
‘’We have the same instinct to seek patterns in the chaos. We still yearn to make sense of the mystery of existence. We still tell stories to help us process the world. We still have an emotional attachment to places and objects. These impulses have not died beneath the concrete and tarmac of the modern world, any more than they did beneath the iron and brick of the industrial revolution.’’
Modern folklore is well-hidden in our contemporary urban reality where legends and myths coextit with our seemingly mundane routine as we make our way through our personal and professional lives. In this book, we travel to Hull, Manchester, Bristol, Glasgow, Birmingham and London.
Through the mysterious, fascinating Scarfolk craziness and the haunting children running around the pylons in Stocksbridge. The secrets of Glasgow and the mystery of urban geomancy. The folklore of roundabouts and crossroads, the haunted estates, the spectral nuns and monks and the faces in the windows. The mystery and danger of the underpasses, flyovers and intersections and their role in the development of urban culture. The strange magnetism of abandoned industrial sites and the sadness of car parks and multistoreys. The pain and agony that remain hidden behind the silent walls of abandoned hospitals.
I loved the 70s and 80s references and the writer’s passion and dedication to his theme. His words paint an eloquent and enticing background to the experiences he narrates and the writing is very engaging. You won’t be bored, not even for a moment. However, there were a couple of issues that felt problematic to me.
A woman was supposedly possessed by a demon named Pazuzu? Is this an attempt for the writer to appear smart? I fear all credibility can be thrown out of the window. Unfortunately, pun intended.
A certain interviewee’s convictions were highly problematic, even unacceptable. I mean, ‘’pride in being part of the drug underculture?’’ Since when do drugs consist a form of ‘’culture’’? Or any reason to be proud of? This brings me to the constant references of ‘’boozing’’. Being drunk is nothing to be proud of.
So, there were many, many moments of beauty in this book but the attitude of the writer diminished my enjoyment . Despite my personal dissatisfaction, you definitely need to try your luck with this book if only for the superb descriptions of the scenery and a world that may already be beyond our grasp.
‘’Witches, ghosts and demons have not been entirely banished to legend- they haunt our homes, shops, hospitals and roads. The churches, forbidden woods and haunted mansions that were once the stuff of our dreams and nightmares have now been replaced in our imaginations by industrial estates, power stations and factories.’’
Many thanks to Allison Menzies, Elliot & Thompson and NetGalley for the ARC in exchange for an honest review.