Sunday, 10 June 2012

London belonged to them

I found Norman Collins' London Belongs to Me thanks to the wonderful Big Green Bookshop and bought it for its opening sentence: 'There may be other cities that are older. But not many. And there may be one across the Atlantic that is larger.' But not much.'  Collins wrote the book towards the end of the second world war and put a magnificent, partisan love into that line.

I also hoped that in its 700 pages there'd be a mention of the Hornsey Road. I spent four years looking for references to the Mongols with lower odds than that. Did you know that Ghenghis Khan turns up in the Canterbury tales?

Anyway, on page 415 Mr Squales goes 'off to a professional engagement. Right over to Finsbury Park [...] where the North London Spiritualist Club held their meetings'.

Mizhenka photograph

Mr Squales is a conman, who has taken up spiritualism having failed at phrenology, palmistry and astrology. At Finsbury Park he takes on the persona of the Red Indian [sic] 'Mocking Bear', 'gruff, throaty and pregnant with vision' and declares that Hitler will die in 1940.

'Twenty minutes later Mr Squales with a two guinea cheque in his pocket was stepping out in the direction of the Seven Sisters Road.'


  1. It never occurred to me that the North London Spiritualist Church was actually for spiritualists. I can't really account for this oversight.

    This is not the only literary link between spiritualists and North London. Hannay in The Three Hostages goes to a psychic in "Palmyra Square" in Gospel Oak. Not quite Hornsey Rd, but possibly evidence for a persistent North London stereotype.

    Kate Macdonald here unwittingly reveals that along with "Antioch St" this reflect's Buchan's apparent habit of naming invented streets after cities in ancient Syria.

  2. Is that the Hannay? I thought he retired after the 39 steps.

  3. Well, I know you've read Greenmantle because I was there when it happened. There are three more after that. Probably he did retire, but ... you know how it is ... can't keep away.

  4. finally read london belongs to me recently myself. great book, surely due another television translation? the Josser's very brief trip to crouch end was most amusing too.

    great to see from your most recent blog post that there's a range of different childrens bookshops opening at the moment. i'm co-owner of pickled pepper books a new childrens bookshop opening at 10 Middle Lane (the old sally bourne site) on saturday 7 july. hope to see you there!

    1. Hi Steven. Good luck with pickled pepper - where did you get the name by the way?

    2. And just after I sent that I remembered Peter Piper. It's been a long week.