A Garden of Delights

Posts Tagged ‘local history

Continuing on a regular feature here at the Garden of Delights, welcome to Book Review Monday which alternates with Your Inspirations twice a month.  Last time Love Thy Neighbor: A Story of War was the feature piece.  Today, let’s enjoy something a bit lighter.

Knees Up, Mother Earth by Robert Rankin

Knees Up Mother Earth

If you’re like me, living across The Pond, you may have heard news stories about European “football” (rugby) teams and how violent and reactionary their fans can get.  And if you’re like me (or even if you actually enjoy sports), you have to wonder what all the fuss is about.

I mean, it isn’t as if seeing your favorite team lose a game once in a while is the end of the world!

Or is it?

Enter the Brentford United FA (Football Association) whose members have been contracted to win every single game of their season and achieve the coveted FA Cup, lest their football field be sold off to a land developer.  Since the team’s plummeting streak has held solid since the 1920’s, there seems to be little chance of saving their beloved club.   But the stakes end up being far more dire.  And even as the team acquires a new captain empowered to propel them to victory, member begin falling by the wayside, only to be replaced with members of a traveling circus.  Still, Brentford United must win, because the alternative is the end of the world.

Knees Up, Mother Earth came to my home by accident almost two years ago.  And once I realized what I’d bought, Borders refused returns on anything because they were closing all their brick & motor stores.  So I shoved it into a pile of ‘not dealing with this now’ books and magazines that monopolize the little bookshelf in our bedroom.  And there it sat, gathering dust while I worked through other books in my list.  Finally this January, I picked it up for my (failed) attempt at the Fifty/Fifty/Me challenge (I still haven’t watched another movie since V for Vendetta).  Oh, and yes, I’ve sat on writing this review for nearly two months now.

So let me first say that my initial reaction to this book was just above ‘negative’.  I’d perhaps heard Rankin’s name somewhere on a random webpage or in conversation somewhere, but it had meant nothing.  And the cover art, as you can see (although my copy has a different cover), didn’t give a real sense of its fantasy genre.  Indeed,  neither the blurb on the back nor the Wikipedia  description of the storyline nor even most of the characters recommended this book to me.  It was about sports (rugby no less, which I only know a pittance about) and hanging out in taverns, boozing…  Heck, the heroes are the town drunks!

I had trouble putting the book down.  I think I could have married Old Pete, wonderful curmudgeon that he was.

Oh, there were lulls,  and it wasn’t really a matter of the super suspenseful  story arc that held me….  Knees Up made me laugh.  I’m sure I missed over a hundred of the little side jokes Rankin included simply because I wasn’t familiar with his “world”, but that didn’t matter.  It is hilarious.  The writing was wonderful too.  Through Rankin’s writing, each character, each place in the story came alive and breathed with believability.  The details not only popped, but were beautifully written (Rankin KNOWS his stuff with words).  As frustrated as the characters made me with their total …humanity!  I couldn’t “hate them”; in fact, I began rooting for them right from the beginning.  I even cried a bit when The Campbell died (though he wanted to, so I must respect that).

The Hollow Chocolate Bunnies of the Apocalypse

I would happily read another book by Robert Rankin–particularly  when it’s noted that most do not consider Knees Up, Mother Earth to be one of his best works.  Perhaps next time, I’ll pick up a copy of  The Hollow Chocolate Bunnies of the Apocalypse.  Seems fitting for just after Easter.

And just as a side note: Rankin based his book (and according to the Wiki most of his others) in  Brentford, UK (and on their very real football team, the Brentford F.C.)  Looking over online details make Brentford out as a very interesting place too, though nowhere as intimate as Rankin makes it in his book.  I do get the phenomena from my brief time in the UK.  There is a very different feel to towns in the UK to town in the US., and I don’t mean this in criticism to either place.  But I remember sensing much more intimacy and awareness of community in most places in the UK, even larger “towns” which could be easily compared to small cities in the U.S..  (my closest example would be obviously Solihul since that’s where we stayed during our time in England.  Located just south eat of Birmingham, Solihul would easily be comparable to a small city size and population-wise here, but it felt more like a hamlet than anything more.)

Oh, and one other last note…  I have to add a “Thank you” here to Mr. Rankin, for had I not read his book and inspired to look up what inspired him, I would never have found out about the Syon Abbey Monastery.  Now little more than a ruin that is being slowly excavated, it was once the largest monastery in England.  I eventually must return to England just so I can visit Brentford.   I love this sort of thing.

And yes, I would recommend this book to a friend.

I always get in a muddle (a good kind) when I start looking into things that catch my eye.

Last week I made another trip to the Albany Institute and while admiring many of the pieces there, scribbled what notes I might be able to translate later and still take in the place in a somewhat timely fashion.  I still have many more days to take on this task, since I barely completed a tour of the Culture & Symbols Gallery and glimpsed some of the gift shop.

The obsession that day was old buildings (one of the obsessions).  I began admiring an engraving of the home of a certain Joel Rathbone, Esq.  and the lithograph of a James Wagner c1860.  I was able to find this page on the Rathbone home which details its history and end.  (As I asked a friend in an email, what is it that always brings me back to Doane Stuart?)  I have not been having as much luck discovering anything regarding the fate of the home of James Wagner, though since the structure strikes as something I remember seeing before, perhaps it still exists.

I have however been taken on a delightful tour of  Albany County history from this.  While I’m sure what I should be doing is raiding the NYS Archives the hard way, poring over pages, I am trying to find everything I can online first.  I’m basically trying to find everything I can on something I don’t even know exists.

The same thing always happens when I start studying the huge lions that bracket rt 144 and Henry Hudson Park in the Cedar Hill area of Bethlehem, NY.  Casual inquiry has found me little (I may have some more names to research than just Guy Park due to a reference here about a Francis Nicoll and the name Barent Winne Rd, referring  to ), but the place always draws me to it.  In one of those rebellious moments I had far more often in my twenties, I ignored the “No Trespassing ” signs that surround the property and walked through the wooded property they guard.  An interesting place.  I wish I’d had a digital camera those days.  (Heck I wish I had a small one that I could always use to catch snapshots of all the nifty things I see in a day.)

At least here I am taking a far more proactive role in my curiosity (I just finished and sent out an email to the Bethlehem Town Historian regarding the place), but this isn’t my norm.  I tend to write snippets, gather friends to show my obsessions to, and daydream.

And with joy and regret, after a morning of scouring pages, I’ve found these pages.

—-  Lost Landmarks of Upstate New York: a collection of pictures and stories of buildings that have been either destroyed (or face imminent destruction) in the area

—-  Old Abandoned Buildings of Northern New York: a complement to a rather nifty page I found a while back when I started looking up the history of the Roma people and got side tracked to a study of Albanian History (which in turn led me to read about King Zog and his home (2) on Long Island).

Sometimes it seems I jump from one thing to another, flitting about like a butterfly in a field of flowers, I like to scan the pages of history.  The truth is that I’m always looking (and finding) connections throughout my journey, linking past and present, and the deeper I look, and the more side trips I take, the more connections I find.

It’s how life seems to work for me; I’m always digging for something I don’t know.

First Friday Photo

Something to inspire

obligatory “What I Allow”

Short Stuff

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