Roughly four years ago today, I moved from the Wirral to Coventry to start my first job after university. Not the most exciting move location-wise. Moving from a rural peninsula to an ex-industrial city wasn’t exactly Facebook newsfeed-worthy. But it made financial sense and still does.
It was within commutable distance to my fresh grad job, and is now close to the affluent towns where I give piano lessons and demand is high. Property price is another plus, as expected in any less developed towns. It also puts on a pretty decent outdoor festival every summer known as the Godiva Festival (like Godiva Chocolate, both are named after Lady Godiva who famously rode naked on a horse in protest through the city a thousand years ago).
A sudden craving to dine out or window shopping, however, will render the city inadequate. City centre can hardly allure tourists or shoppers to linger. Choice of cuisine is as scarce as sunny days in this country. It is good to know I am not the only one who feels this way.
According to a poll conducted by Coventry Telegraph in 2011, “a huge majority regard the city as a dump” that has nothing more than “dull shops, vandalism, litter-strewn streets”. There have been some minor improvements in this “God-forsaken wasteland of post-war precincts” – so minor that I can’t even begin to describe how much Coventry departs from my metropolitan hometown of Hong Kong.
Amid budget shops and cafés with close-to-none decorations, I have found my haven – Waterstones. Here I can barricade myself from the noisy shoppers and rowdy youths. Here I can surround myself with people looking for some chicken soup for the soul, with whom I may even strike a meaningful conversation!
If you look past the Coventry Recommends section and the countless books on local sightseeing (for those who fancy checking out some ancient and unexciting landmarks), you can lose yourself in an ocean of great literature and be anywhere but here.
Although this store is rather small compared to the Birmingham branch, it does not fall short of categories and reading chairs. So I browse the shelves and let my mind lead the way. The result is what retailers call BOGOHP – short for “Buy One Get One Half Price”. I took home the book that everyone is talking about, “The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out Of The Window And Disappeared” by Jonas Jonasson, and “Thinking, Fast And Slow” by psychologist and Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman.
My recommended book-reading song is this bluesy, Eric Clapton-esque number by John Mayer. Its melody and lyrics are simple and personal, just like the exchange between a book and its reader.
For me, it’s also reminiscent of the kind of calm found only in a metropolitan city – where you are within a peaceful space and a floor-to-ceiling window is the only thing that stands between you and the rush of the city.