I am delighted to share my review today for a wonderful book that explores the hidden, the obscure, the random and the often missed areas in Britain. Unofficial Britain by Gareth E Rees. The paperback is due for publication on Thursday (8th July) the hardback is already out.
My huge thanks to Alison Menzies for organising my paperback copy from the publisher Elliott & Thompson.
LONGLISTED FOR RSL ONDAATJE PRIZE 2021
‘Terrific… Britain’s urban landscape is just as freighted with myth and mystery as its castles and ancient monuments and [Rees] proves it by unearthing a treasure trove of riveting stories.’ – Sunday Times, Best Books of the Year, 2020
There is a Britain that exists outside of the official histories and guidebooks – places that lie on the margins, left behind. A Britain in the cracks of the urban facade where unexpected life can flourish. Welcome to UNOFFICIAL BRITAIN.
This is a land of industrial estates, factories and electricity pylons, of motorways and ring roads, of hospitals and housing estates, of roundabouts and flyovers.
Places where modern life speeds past but where people and stories nevertheless collect. Places where human dramas play out: stories of love, violence, fear, boredom and artistic expression. Places of ghost sightings, first kisses, experiments with drugs, refuges for the homeless, hangouts for the outcasts.
Struck by the power of these stories and experiences, Gareth E. Rees set out to explore these spaces and the essential part they have played in the history and geography of our isles. Though mundane and neglected, they can be as powerfully influential in our lives, and imaginations, as any picture postcard tourist destination.
The plan was that I was going to read this book over several days. That plan has failed as I read this over two days. I found a book that was informative, brought back memories, made me chuckle and made me see things from a different perspective.
The synopsis for this book is great, it was what really drew me to the book. Places on the margins, places we pass by in our cars, places we see without noticing and how about the things that we are not even aware of even existing as we pass by?
The author has been walking and collecting stories of places that many of us pass by. These areas may be known to a small select few, such as locals or those that regularly use pathways, cycle routes or they are areas that we were aware of when we were younger and have now changed over the years.
landscapes change as do urban settings, where a factory once stood may now be just a shell or it could be a housing estate, school or part of new development. The area of these new builds is built upon the ground that has been used before. they have a history and for some, they are part of their own personal lives. Memories and stories can be built up, sometimes to keep youngsters away from an area because it is dangerous and sometimes with a genuine belief that there is something altogether different going on.
However these stories come about they have gradually worked their way into urban myths. Every area has these myths or there is a mysterious story or tale. The author uses these and other observations to create a book full of whispers, tales, ghostly anecdotes and histories.
He also adds so many things about areas that many of us do not even know about. For example, did you know the infamous Spaghetti Junction has a river below it? I didn’t I just assumed it was a large grey mass of roads and flyovers, if you look on google it is quite surprising how much green there is around this area.
I loved the opening chapter of this book as the author deals with pylons. Yeah, those large metal structures that line the landscape providing electricity. I did chuckle as he mentions how they reminded him of triffids and aliens. I remember for me it was the alien crafts from H.G Wells War of the Worlds that they reminded me of as I grew up, and don’t get me started on how the Daleks used to scare me!!!.
Talking of growing up, the author is a similar age to me and I think this helped me to relate as he mentions films, TV programs and things from the ’70s that I grew up with. This sparked memories and things I had forgotten about over the years.
This is a book that really resonated with me. It is a book that is packed with randomness and also a whole lot of good stuff (apologies for the lack of finesse there!) It is a book of obscure tales, of snippets of history and of things hidden from many in our fast-paced lives.
Stories of our present are as important as those of our pasts. It is our experiences today that are the future history and I think this sort of book is great. It allows you to return and check things out, it prompts you to look things up and it encourages curiosity to go out and discover more. I have made a few notes from this book as to things I want to look at and explore more, it will probably be done from my computer and who knows where it will lead me next.
The author also has a fabulous website called Unofficial Britain, this is jam-packed with amazing stories, pictures, articles and it is well worth a look at.
This is a really good book to read and ponder over, to discover and learn more about the places on the edge, on the margins, where we pass and what we miss. It is one I would very definitely recommend.
About the Author…
Gareth E. Rees is founder of the popular Unofficial Britain website and author of three books, Marshland (2013), The Stone Tide (2018) and Car Park Life, which was published to rave reviews in 2019. Born in Germany, brought up in Scotland the the north of England, he lived in London for many years before moving to Hastings. The modern myths and folklore of place have always driven his writing, which includes horror and weird fiction tales for numerous anthologies, including The Best of British Fantasy 2019.
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