March 29, 2013 § Leave a comment

My education was split between the library in Bournemouth town centre & the local charity shops. Certainly, if learning is supposed to consist in the fashioning of ourselves as creatures of independent powers of thought, as opposed to the memorising of atomised facts & the experience of unstinting social brutalisation, then these are the places I learned. Whoever looked after the music section of the library had great taste, a sense of mission or both: the shelves contained histories of post-war jazz that turned me on to Ornette Coleman, Don Cherry & Cecil Taylor, collections of Mahler’s letters, Adorno’s musicological writings, Paul Morley’s Words and Music, Jon Savage’s England’s Dreaming &, perhaps most important of all, Greil Marcus’ Lipstick Traces; in the magazine department I read The Wire, Sight & Sound, the LRB. There weren’t really any charity shops in the town centre (aside from the Samaritans shop where I never found anything except a copy of A Visit From The Goon Squad one summer years later, back from university), they were all in Boscombe, a half hour walk past some of the most expansive & palatial houses in town. Ian Penman remarks that charity shops in London have taken much of the trade & most of the stock that used to go to secondhand & junk shops, but it never seemed that was a problem in Bournemouth: the handful of secondhand book & record shops still open when I was a teenager were obscure, walled-in with insider knowledge, claustrophobic & intimidating, invisible to anyone who didn’t already know them. By contrast those running the charity shops that ran the length of Boscombe High Street on down Christchurch Road towards Pokesdown couldn’t glare at customers as they never seemed to have enough idea what was going on in their own shops. There were at any one time about ten or eleven such shops, although it’s difficult now to remember which ones’ length of time open overlapped with which others. (A couple have weirdly persisted the entire time, most obviously Floggit & Leggit, on the most rundown bit of Christchurch Road, its dank & vast interior stuffed with racks of clothes even Bournemouth’s hipsters could turn to no use, trestle tables of 60s hardbacks, shelves of glass & ceramics in grotesque configurations. The guy who worked behind the counter had a leg wrapped in a stained & slightly smelly dressing & only grunted as he reached for your change.) Waves of prosperity & decline have seemed to roll in & recede in Bournemouth since the 1960s, the last time the town was thought of as a major resort; the council’s ill-considered regeneration plans for Boscombe (centred around attracting & retaining surfers & young professionals who liked the sea & brunch) were just being put into place around 2006-7, although they’ve never had any more than a limited & peripheral effect (a slightly more upmarket cafe at the end of the high street, a bunch of vintage openings near Pokesdown station). When I think of it, almost every book I own was bought in a charity shop or from library sales, mostly for a pound or less; even those shops wh/ had generally very poor stock could yield up a gem after repeated visits: a copy of Foucault’s Pendulum & Cat’s Eye from Sue Ryder in between all the Freya North books, Catch-22 for 10p from Hospital Radio Bedside, Gyorgy Konrad’s The Loser from (I think) Help The Aged, which mostly sold piles of crap clothing, decayed audio-books & the Hornblower series. It’s difficult to say here, as Owen Hatherley says of Shirley, that one can psychoanalyse the area through these pile-ups of commodities: they seemed to have no connection with the life of the borough, hidden or otherwise. Who, I wondered, living in Boscombe would have piled-up back copies of Poetry Review or David Toop’s Haunted Weather, except for me as, so I thought, the only frustrated intellectual for miles around? (Of course, as time went on I met more than a few of the others.) It was an astonishingly narrow world, its very texture withered, infected by exactly the wrong kind of poverty (provincial, homogeneously white, drug-saturated, broken-toothed, unaesthetic, unexploitable dilapidation), but I knew every nook & depth of pleasure or thought it hid (usually not at the Basement Bar, next to Iceland on Christchurch Road, wh/ never had their good beers on, & wh/ my father claimed was a favourite haunt for sellers of knocked-off goods). & a curiously silent one: there was almost no music both good & reasonably priced in them; the Oxfam shop stocked vast numbers of CD singles from the 90s & early 00s from such luminaries as Reef, Atomic Kitten & All Saints. (Maybe if they did have decent music, or if I’d gone in the secondhand record shops earlier, I wouldn’t be as one-sidedly cerebral as I am.) When I visit Bournemouth now I usually don’t come away w/ anything unless it’s from one of the secondhand book shops (the obvious example being the excellent Crooked Book, where Mencap used to be, wh/ as far as I can tell pays the rent through cake & vintage furniture rather than books). The Salvation Army, where I bought vinyl of Bach, Beethoven, Wagner, Tchaikovsky, Schubert (& Christian folk singers whose LP sleeves I used for the ground of collages), closed months ago. The other charity shops have almost all raised their prices, though not, contra Penman, the standard of their stock: even in RHB you can only get a book for under a pound on sale days.

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