OK – what exactly is Stony Stratford and what is it, or is it not, a part of? It’s fairly obvious the UK media is always willing to take a stab at getting it wrong. Stony is an old coaching town, an old market town. In Roman times it was on Watling Street; much later the A5 main road went through the High Street. There is a certain amount of cock and bull talked about it being the origin of the phrase, “Cock and Bull story”, but what is certain is that in ‘Withnail & I‘ the part of Penrith’s King Henry pub was actually played by The Crown on Market Square, Stony Stratford. And the Penrith Tea Room, where Richard E. Grant declaimed, “We want the finest wines available to humanity. And we want them here, and we want them now!” is now a branch of Cox & Robinson, the small chemists chain, situated on the same Square. Just round the corner from the Library as it happens.
Stony is one of the three towns and fifteen villages that became part of the designated area of the New City of Milton Keynes, a new town launched in 1967, the summer of love. It’s never actually officially been a city, but hey – who needs royal approval? MK was part of the county of Buckinghamshire, the highest tier of UK local government, responsible for libraries, until 1997, when MK became a unitary authority, taking over that responsibility. The MK Council area also took in the small towns of Newport Pagnell and Olney to the north, which had been outside the designated area of the New City. The current status of Buckinghamshire as far as most of the inhabitants of MK goes is neither here nor there, only that of the residual ghost of – a redundant line in – the postal address (although I’m told there is still some resistance to this notion in far-flung Olney). Stony also has a Town Council – the lowest tier of UK local government, the civil equivalent of a parish council – to do what it can do very locally and, in this instance, hearteningly vocally.
So Stony is a small town within a much much bigger and fast growing town that calls itself a city, even though it can’t give us a decent bus service. It is MK Council that is trying to close Stony Stratford Library, the third busiest and nowhere near being the costliest in pence per visit terms in MK. Stony is generally seen (OK, likes to pride itself, but most will agree) as the jewel of Milton Keynes, and no-one can deny that culturally it is significant in the life and identity of the ‘city’. Losing the library in Stony is unthinkable unless you’re a Lib-Dem MK councillor; I just add in passing that the Lib-Dems have never achieved anything electorally in Stony. The struggle continues. For the nitty-gritty you can visit the campaign’s Facebook site. And here are links to that of the Town Council and the MK11 AboutMyArea pages.
Anyway, in the spirit of this blog and the protest action, these are the books wot I borrowed as part of the globally celebrated ‘Wot no books’ campaign, a campaign which spectacularly emptied the library shelves to international acclaim, even though the full allowance for loans on an MK library ticket is – compared to a lot of other places – a meagre 15. Being in on the caper I got in fairly early so didn’t have to plump for mere physical objects or Mills & Boons to fill my card. I would hope this shows the variety and value of what can be found in any half-decent branch library anywhere in the land. I hope and suspect many interesting discoveries and tangents will have been revealed to the citizens of Stony and its surrounds just because they borrowed their full complement for the sake of it. We shall see.
I already had a couple of splendid books on typography out from the Central Library, along with a rather dull book relating Stony’s history, so here’s what I got:
- Bill James: Hotbed. Crime novel set in Cardiff, the Harpur & Iles series one I’d long had a mind to investigate. Couldn’t get beyond the first paragraph. I get Agincourt, don’t need to be told it’s “a famous British victory in the fifteenth century.”
- Locomotives: a complete history of the world’s great locomotives and fabulous train journeys. Worth a skim as a reminder of what a great variety of industrial design is at play here; shame the photos were so small, hardly any approaching postcard size and many not much bigger than a definitive postage stamp. One of the fabulous journeys is Bedford to Bletchley. I kid you not.
- Simon Barnes: the meaning of sport. Again, didn’t get far with this one, even though I’d thought it worth a gander for a while. Utterly pretentious; I think he knows that and that’s part of what he’s trying to do, but, you know … the pile’s too big
- Alexei Sayle: Stalin ate my homework. Comedian’s memoir of growing up in a Communist Party household. I skimmed it with high hopes, but Alexei was never subtle; there are few belly laughs and there’s little poignancy here.
- Mark Oliver Everett: Things the grandchildren should know. Not that you’d realise it from the packaging, but this is the creative guy from the band Eels – a very decent band – whose dad was “a humble mechanic. A quantum mechanic.” I’m reading it; could be this is the sort of thing I’m looking for – something fulfilling that I would never have normally picked up were it not for ‘Wot no books’. Deserves fuller coverage another day, methinks.
And these that follow I haven’t even looked at so far, but I won’t take them back to the library just yet:
- Done in a flash: 100 speedy wok and stove-top stir fries. I’m full of good intentions in the kitchen. Andrea will spot the irony here.
- Fables: the good prince. A graphic novel; I used to read a lot of these. Looks good, lots of colours.
- Parlour poetry: 100 improving gems. Because you never know when you might need one.
- The Stanley Holloway monologues. Ditto.
- The essential Groucho. Marxisms galore.
- Andrew Collins: That’s me in the corner. Seems a sensible, entertaining chap in Word magazine.
- The book of lost books: an incomplete history of all the great books you will never read. Somehow – remember those empty shelves – the perfect title, in so many ways, to end this post with. I look forward, of course, to getting lost in it. (As opposed to leaving it on a train, almost certainly nowhere between – no offence – Bedford and Bletchley.)