Friday, July 24, 2009

The London Perambulator

A volume called The London Perambulator tumbled out of a suitcase in the shop this morning. The book had formerly been owned by James Reid, erstwhile Editor of the Dumfries and Galloway Standard, and tucked inside were two newspaper articles and three letters to Reid from the Perambulator himself, James Bone (see below).

A thoroughly affectionate account of 1924 London, its joyful and detailed (and sometimes rambling) pen-portraits and beautiful line drawings show both familiar landmarks and glimpses of what is now a lost city.

London between the wars was undergoing massive changes, many of which the Perambulator - Bone's pseudonym for a column in the Manchester Guardian of which he was London correspondent - clearly regrets. However, he revels in character sketches and devotes a chapter to "Londoners". While he doesn't completely avoid appearing patronising towards the "lady from East Ham", Bone's view of London is genial and loving; he will always defend the city against detractors rather than apologising for it.

Nothing about the Perambulator could be called systematic. The prose, looser than starchy Victorian phrase, is also too dreamy and digressive to be journalistic. Bone's enthusiasms are diverse - he devotes one chapter to Portland stone, of which the city he delights in is fashioned, and another to the Inns of Court, those "ancient fastnesses of the law men". The book really is a perambulation, but like Bone's through the city streets, an enjoyable and fascinating one.

As such, the book is also no tourist guide; there are no chapters devoted to Buckingham Palace, the House of Parliament, or the Tower of London. It is a view from the day-to-day observances of a Fleet Street writer, for Bone served as 'London Correspondent' to the Manchester Guardian. While the Perambulator gives little away, in the discovered letters to James Reid he mentions the Glasgow origins he left behind fifty years ago. "Eh, dearie, dearie me!" exclaims the Scot retired to Surrey.

Below, you can find transcriptions of the letters - two typed, one handwritten - from Bone to Reid, as well as two of his articles from the Manchester Guardian in the 1930s.

* * * *

(Letterhead: "The Manchester Guardian")

8th April, 1929

My dear Reid,

I am much flattered by the request to open your show of the Dumfries and Galloway Fine Arts Society, but unfortunately I have to be in London on Saturday and could not get to Dumfries. So Dumfries is saved from a third-rate speech. All the same it is nice of you to ask me, and should much have liked to see you again, and to pay a visit to Dumfries after - dear me, oh, dear me, - something like thirty years.

Yours Sincerely,

James Bone

* * * * *

(Letterhead: "The Manchester Guardian")

11 jan '46

My dear old Comrade,

So you're holding to after I "had it!" Good man. Very glad to get your letter and good words.

This retirement is a hell of a business! I can't get a moment to myself, hence the brevity. All good [works?]. Do let me hear from you again. My address is Abbots Holt, Tilford Surrey, (35 miles from London) so in reach when you come up

Yours ever

James Bone

* * * * *

Abbots Holt
Tilford, Farnham
Surrey. 12th June '52

My dear Reid,

It was good of you to write to me. I value such a letter, put as if the [ ] or the Sounds of Long Ago were still such as they were when we were young! Even then you looked like an editor. I never was one. 'London Correspondent' CP Scott always termed me. "There's only one editor in a paper," he said. More power to you & your editorship.

I fear I'll never see Scotland again. I said Goodbye to her in a review of [ ] I wrote for the Glasgow Herald that year as it was Fifty Years since I left Glasgow. Eh, dearie, dearie me!

With best wishes to You my dear friend -

Sincerely yours

James Bone

* * * * *

[Manchester Guardian articles to follow!]

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