View Full Version : Jim Kelly: The Fire Baby

28th Jun 2004, 14:46
I've lived near the fenland city of Ely for quite a while now; for three years I was a resident. It's a place that produces within me a rather intense reaction these days because of the bad deal its been given.

If you check out ancient maps of the UK, the kind that show villages as a tiny tumbledown house, or towns as three or four houses and other buildings, and cities as miniscule Mont St Michels topped precariously by a church spire or castle keep, you'll see that cathedral cities were usually depicted as being disproportionately humoungous. Thus Ely on, say Pierre van der Aa's 1720 maps of Britain, looks like Minas Tirith in full regalia and Birmingham is nought but a stinky wee cattle shed (ahem).

Ely Cathedral was one of the premier Saxon churches in England, on a par with Glastonbury and Canterbury. When the Normans came along (post-Hereward kicking, natch) they made it look even more impressive:


The city's position and status ensured its success for centuries but it has always had a very static population, being bordered on all sides by flat farmland (the cathedral sits on a pimple of land above the fen) and until now fully appreciative of its limits. Until now. Now, sod all that lesson from history gumpf. Bending meekly over the table of Cambridge's recent successes, Ely it seems has no choice but to become an acolyte of its bigger, sexier, London-wannabe neighbour. The neat environs laid out several hundred years ago are merrily rubbed out by here-today-and-gone-tomorrow politicians, money grabbing bastard landlords and carefree couldn't-care-less estate agents in exchange for new cathedrals that look like this:


plopped gracelessly across meadows and hastily irrigated flood plains. That static population goes pop and begins to double...

"Stamford Homes is seeking planning permission to build an exclusive range of new homes just off Cambridge Road and Witchford Road in Ely. There will be a mix of two to four bedroomed properties..."

Of course, help yourself. I mean it’s only an ancient city that has evolved its own perfect infrastructure during the past thousand years, that's all.

Sorry, got carried away there.

Anyway. Jim Kelly's second novel (Wavid reviewed the first one here (http://palimpsest.org.uk/phpBB2/viewtopic.php?t=199)) is an affable thriller based in and around Ely. Journalist Philip Dryden and his not-very-trusty sidekick, cabbie Humph, uncover a murder plot involving an old aircrash during the drought of ’76, some seedy pornography, and an illegal immigrant racket supplying cheap Nigerian labour to the local agricultural bigwigs (I always thought Gheest employed Ukrainians, personally, but maybe that's just my poor ear for an accent). Kelly produces an alternative Ely for the most part; turning my Mom's 1850s-workhouse-turned-asylum-turned-hospital-turned-'luxury-renovated-highly-desirable-apartments' back into a Victorian hospital again, being his biggest change. Everything is slightly altered; pubs, banks, local newspaper, etc. All tinkered with. The only thing not, is the bloody swathe of kack newbuild untidily littering the outskirts of town:

The legoland houses brooded in their suburban desert trying to rise above the image of the rusted Capri. Inside the cab Dryden slumped in the passenger seat and let the tune from Little Boxes play in his head … [he] eyed the front of no.36 … a Barret-style semi, it was adorned with fake carriage lamps and a couple of equally dubious Doric columns.

I think we know where he's coming from, and he does it rather well.

28th Jun 2004, 15:25
Thanks, I now have Little Boxes running in my head for the first time in nearly thirty years...

I am thankful I live in an 'historic' town where there is little and no room for new-build and the council says 'nay' (or possibly 'neigh') to anything that might suggest 'sprawl'. And in the inner part, only sash windows and historic stone is allowed. Our house is built from Bradford mill stone.

24th Oct 2005, 14:22
The Fire Baby is this week's Torygraph 99p book.

24th Oct 2005, 14:36
Amner, I have a yen to see one of those ancient maps. Don't suppose you might have something at hand to show, or maybe a web reference?

Re the photos - I'm seeing the old cathedral but the new one didn't make it.

Edit: - Sorry, didn't notice the first part of this thread was from way back, I thought it was all new. So please disregard first part of this post.