One of the pleasures of my recent trip back to UK was meeting up with Rob Spence and his wife Elaine Ellery. Some of you will remember that Rob is a friend I met through this blog when he responded to a post I put up on Anthony Burgess. Rob subsequently came out to give a lecture on Burgess at Universiti Malaya, and a talk to Malay College Old Boys. It was also his idea to bring the International Anthony Burgess' Societies Sympozium here in July. (More about this later.)
Well, I hadn't been up to Manchester in over two decades and was pleasantly surprised by the changes to the city centre. Victorian buildings have shed their grime and stand proudly next to gleaming modern structures, the shopping is pretty tempting, an efficient tram service will replace traffic clogged roads in the city centre, and it's a pretty happening place with plenty going on on the art's scene. Best of all, it takes less than two hours now from London via the super efficient Virgin trains. (Oh and I also hear they have a fairly good football club.)
Ah, but the rain, it raineth every day ... so if you visit take a brolly.
And then there are the libraries.
Rob took me to the Portico Library for lunch since he is a member. It was opened in 1806, and most of the books on the shelves, which members are free to read, date from the (19th. (Rob did though point out some contemporary fiction, and of course the library also awards an annual literary prize and hosts other events.)
Just look at these books in the section titled Polite Literature (presumably fiction that wouldn't scare the delicate young ladies!)
Here's the ceiling ...
This is Rob's hang-out place when he is in the city, and there is space for members to sit and read and work, and hsve a light meal. (The bean soup was so good, and the lady who made it had grown the beans in her own garden.) If I lived in Manchester this would be my second home
But this isn't the only fascinating old library in Manchester. After lunch we visted a vertiable cathedral of books - the John Rylands Library which was founded by Enriqueta Rylands in memory of her husband, and built in the late (19th in the gothic style. There were a couple of excellent exhibitions, including one on the art of the sonnet. We chatted to one guy who was involved with restoring the antiquarian books.
And finally, we made a quick detour into the Manchester Central library - where Rob bought me one of the coolest bookbags ever as a gift! Jealous? :
There's another collection of books in Manchester left to talk about, but I'll post on that later.
(More of my England trip photos on Facebook.)