Ellie Welch reviews this recent book from a local Manchester writer
A Minger’s Tale is an autobiographical story of R.B.N Bookmark growing up in Manchester as the son of Irish immigrants through the latter half of the twentieth century. Once you get past the odd title the book is an engaging reflection of the author’s youth in Manchester set against the social, economic and political unrest of the 70s and 80s. The book is an insight into everyday life in that era, whether that’s the stories of industrial strikes or the occasional offensive stereotype. A Minger’s Tale tells Ribban’s story from school to college to a variety of jobs including but not limited to waiting tables in a luxury hotel in Piccadilly, a kitchen porter in isolated, winter Cornwall, and fruit picking in a former prisoner of war camp.
The structure of the book with most short chapters boiling down to a single anecdote works well if you’re planning on picking the book up sporadically. However, reading it in a couple of sittings made it feel a little disjointed. The author’s humour and frankness meant I felt like I was listening to Rickon tell me these anecdotes after bumping into him in a pub in Hulme, which I enjoyed. From the beginning of the book, it is clear that this is a reflection on the author’s love for his recently deceased father, Manchester United, and the city itself.
The book truly shines when Ribban is talking about his life in various Manchester suburbs moving from Ardwick to Hulme to Moss Side through the 70s and 80s. His narration touches upon the economic decline of industrial areas like Manchester as we ricochet from unsuccessful job opportunities to the dole queue in Aytoun Street with our narrator. The chapter on the 1981 Moss Side riots is an obvious stand out. Ribban’s story of attempting to get to and from work whilst buildings are ablaze and the threatening presence of riot vans are on every corner is a fascinating insight to this piece of British history. Another highlight is Ribban’s story about his very short stint at signing up for the Army. His internal battle between unwillingness to follow through his sign-up and his refusal to disappoint his father was one of the few times in the book I felt genuine emotional investment in the author’s story.
Side characters appear fleetingly, apart from his parents and a couple of friends, and each chapter seems to introduce several co-workers, friends, or acquaintances made on public transport who disappear as quickly as they’re introduced. His younger siblings appear occasionally throughout the book but oddly not as much as you would imagine when living in a two bedroom house with three children.
If you’re curious about discovering local history through a series of authentic anecdotes then this book is a great insight to life in Manchester in the latter half of the twentieth century.