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Loving London, bookish wanderings and catching up with an old friend!

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I’ve written before on the Ramblings about my trips to the Big Smoke; I often pop up for exhibitions, meetings with friends and browsing the bookshops, and this is one of the regular joys in my life. I had a brief get-together with my BFF J. in September when I also had a meet up with Jacqui and Ali; however, we decided on a Winter meeting and had scheduled a day out for 30th November. The awful events of Friday night were just tragic; and Mr. Kaggsy was a bit nervous about me travelling to London on Saturday. But a. I refused to change my life because of horrible, evil people and b. I reckoned there would be lots of security over the weekend. So J. and I determined to enjoy our life and have our day out, and we did.

Barthes and a Greggs vegan sausage roll – the perfect travelling companions!

Travelling this weekend was a bit of a pain, anyway, because of rail replacements (WHY do the train companies do this on the weekends leading up to Christmas???? WHY????) So it was train-bus-train, which did limit the reading time (as I can’t read in buses or cars without getting queasy); however, I had the very wonderful Roland Barthes for company, and OMG what a wonderful book this is!!! 😀

Coffee and vegan brownie – yum!

After meeting up with J. our first port of call was the wonderful cafe at Foyles, for coffee and a shared vegan brownie – yum! 😀

Stationery! (including a notebook constructed by clever J.

We had a good chat and a catch up, before setting off to explore the Bookshops of Charing Cross Road (with a slight diversion into Cass Art and Cecil Court). After lunching at Leon in Tottenham Court Road, and spending some time in Tiger and Paperchase (stationery!!!), we ended the day with trips to Judd Books and Skoob, two of my favourite places which are so conveniently closely located! ;D I had an amazingly restrained day, all things considered, and only purchased four books:

Here’s a little more detail about what and where! The first purchase was this poetry collection from Any Amount of Books:

I don’t think I know anything specific about Szirtes, but I recognise his name and this is published by Bloodaxe (which is always the sign of good poetry). And the first poem is about Chet Baker, which gets my vote; so when a quick glance at some of the other verse really grabbed me, it was a definite purchase!

Next up, I was unlikely to get out of Foyles empty handed:

More John Berger – I cannot resist this prolific and rather wonderful author. This is a slim book of what appears to be poetic prose and again a quick glimpse grabbed me. I may have to end up with a dedicated Berger shelf…

Astonishingly, I got out of Judd Books without buying a Single Book! There *were* temptations, but I have several things on various Christmas lists so had to be quite careful about what I purchased today. However, our last minute nip to Skoob before heading off for a train was not so restrained:

The Baudelaire was a very exciting find, as I’ve wanted a copy of this for absolutely AGES! So I was over the moon to find this in the midst of very tempting shelves of black covered Penguin Classics. And I spotted the book about Tsvetaeva at the last minute and grabbed it. I’ve never seen or heard of it, and I have no idea if it’s any good – but it’s Tsvetaeva!! Not pictured is the copy of Brian Bilston’s “You Took the Last Bus Home” which I bought as a little gifty for J. – she loves Roger McGough, so I hope she will also love BB!

However, these were not the only books I came home with, as there was this which J. had sourced for me:

A new Beverley! I have a number of his works as Florin Books, and they’re awfully pretty – very exciting! There was also a big box containing birthday and Christmas gifts J. had brought for me, and I suspect there will be More Books involved. It was very heavy – she lugged it manfully around London all day, so well done her!

So we had a lovely day out in lovely London; I always adore visiting the city, even though they’re *still* tearing apart Soho and some of my favourite bits… 😦  There are still lots of wonderful bookshops if you know where to look (and I wish we hadn’t run out of time and had made it to the LRB shop…) What was interesting, too, was how often we gravitated towards the poetry sections of the various places, and in my case to a lot of non-fiction, essays and philosophy. However, I think J. actually ended up with more books than me, so the shops of London did quite well out of us. It was the perfect day – what could be better than bookshopping in a place you love with an old friend? 😀

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However…. this was not the end of the bookishness of the day… I arrived home cold but happy to find lovely book post from the wonderful FitzCarraldo Editions:

This looks and sounds fascinating, and had it been available earlier would have been a much more pleasant alternative to “Berlin Alexanderplatz” for German Lit Month!! ;D – though it’s not out until next month, so maybe not…

And finally! This has just appeared. Came across mention of it a couple of days ago (damned if I can remember where – my short term memory is now appalling) and when I checked online with various shops I was due to be visiting there was no stock (or I would have bought it in person). So it had to be an Internet purchase and it sounds most fascinating. It’s a good thing I’m so hooked by the Barthes, or I would be having a real crisis about what to read next! 😀

Russian art, blogging buddies, an old friend and books…

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… the perfect day out in London, plus a lovely surprise when I returned home!

Perfect train journey with coffee, book, Gregg’s vegan sausage roll and a comfy seat! 😀

I refer of course to my trip to the Big Smoke yesterday, which those of you who follow me on social media might have seen some mention of… 🤣 The trip was the idea of the lovely JacquiWine who thought it might be nice to meet up in real life, having encountered each other digitally for so long. And so she suggested that she and HeavenAli and I get together in London for bookish chat and book shopping – what a perfect concept!

Goncharova Self Portrait

As the ladies were not going to be in London until the middle of the day, I took the opportunity of a cheap train ticket to get into London at silly o’clock and rolled up at the Tate Modern as they opened for the day. I had been meaning to visit the Natalia Goncharova exhibition they were staging over the summer but never got round to it; and as it closes today I was happy to be able to squeeze in a visit!

One of Goncharova’s stunning images

Goncharova is an artist I’ve loved since I first discovered Russian avant garde art back in my late teens/early 20s, so being able to see some of her work in the flesh was a real treat. Her artwork is stunning, the exhibition was excellent and I was relieved to be able to make it through the exhibition shop with only the purchase of some postcards… 🤣

Postcards

I met up with the ladies at Foyles (of course!) and after lunch at a nearby Pret, we did a little browsing.

Foyles – I love the place!

Vegan lunch from Pret – very yummy!

Ali was lucky enough to have a book token and found some interesting titles which will no doubt appear on her blog in due course! I was after a particular title (more of which later..) but it wasn’t in stock; neither were a couple of other authors I was seeking out. So I thought I might get out unscathed, until at the last minute I spotted an imported Calvino I wanted. Irresistible, really!

The Calvino from Foyles plus a slim volume of poetry from Skoob

We then headed for Judd Books in Marchmont Street to meet up with my BFF, J, who was in town visiting another friend and had a few hours spare. We were keen for a catch up as it was a while since we’d met, and she also came with a carrier bag of books (gulp). It was in Judds that things went a bit pear-shaped as there were so many temptations- which I did not resist… Oh well – you only live once and I did send 4 boxes of books to the charity shop recently!

Several from Judd Books plus a Bourdouxhe from Ali – thank you! 😀

After Judds it would have been rude not to walk the few steps to Skoob Books – so we did! Here I was very restrained and only came out with one poetry book (pictured further up the post) – but none of us got out unscathed. Skoob is so tempting…. We also had a lovely chat with a lady who’d just moved to London from America and heard us nattering away about books!

Books from J. – mostly returned loans but there’s a rather lovely Mishima in there – one of only a couple of titles of his I don’t have… 😀

After coffee, Ali and Jacqui took their leave to catch respective trains, whilst J. and I bimbled back in the direction of Tottenham Court Road tube – which of course took us dangerously near the London Review Book Shop where things went off the rails. As I hinted above, I had been asking everywhere I went about a particular book, which might just have been inspired by the Backlisted Podcast – “The Anatomy of Melancholy” by Robert Burton. I wanted to have a look at it, to see what I thought about it and whether I could (or indeed wanted to) read it. Well, the LRB shop had a copy (thank you, very helpful guy behind the counter if you’re reading this, for pointing me in the right direction and encouraging me!!) It was so intriguing when I dipped in at random that I succumbed, and it came home with me. I blame that Andy Miller (again…)

Hurrah! And very interestingly, it cost less in a beautiful bricks and mortar bookshop than it does from a certain online source…

So I got home tired, happy and laden with books (the best state to be in, really). It was lovely to meet up with Jacqui and Ali, as well as catching up with J. However, I arrived to a bit of a surprise…. I have a reasonably big birthday coming up in December and Mr. Kaggsy has been fretting about what to get me (that isn’t more books). It transpired that he had decided I should have my gift now so I can get plenty of use out of it, so I returned home to find I now have my very own dedicated reading chair!!!

The Reading Chair! 😀

It’s quite marvellous – comfy, with pockets at the side to keep books in, plus he’d procured a special side table to keep pens, notebooks, additional books, drinks etc on! I call that fairly inspired from a man who doesn’t read, and its arrival was the perfect end to the perfect day. Now I just need to get settled and get reading!! 🤣

(You can read Ali’s post about our day here!)

A close-up and personal encounter #FridaKahlo #V&A

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I can’t believe we’re into September already; as usual the summer has flown by and I’m facing the looming spectre of going back to work and wondering what I did with my time! (Well – I read a lot and amassed more books, amongst other things, so not much changes…) Anyway, I *did* manage to have a lovely day out on Saturday when I popped up to London to meet up with my BFF J. to take in a very special exhibition. Mind you, ‘popped’ is the wrong word – as there were hideous rail replacements, which meant I had to do a train-coach-train kind of journey and what normally takes an hour and a quarter took two… It was also fairly unsettling as not only can I not read on a coach, but I managed to forget my phone! I didn’t mind not having social media and the like, but I felt a bit insecure not being able to call anyone in case of problems; and I was also very cross at not being able to take photographs. Oh well…

c. V&A Museum

Anyway, this is the rather wonderful exhibition that J. and I were off to see. It’s a show that’s garnered a lot of media attention, and basically the story is that when Frida died in 1954, Diego Rivera (her husband) ordered all her things locked away. In 2004, 50 years later, they were opened up and clothing, cosmetics, corsets and all sorts of personal effects were found. The exhibition is drawn from these, with the clothes taking centre position, and this is apparently the first time these objects, intimately connected to Frida, have been seen outside of Mexico. Of course, as Frida-lovers, both J. and I were desperate to see the show, but it was impossible to get tickets for 21st July (when we had our early summer meet up) so I suggested 1st September as a treat before I went back to work. I just wish I’d checked the trains beforehand…

Anyway, J. booked us entry at 10 a.m. and so we rocked up at the V&A promptly. It was busy – a lot of people were queuing for the limited tickets left for the day, so I was very glad J. had booked. And the exhibition was worth any amount of (minor) hassle getting there – it was absolutely stunning! The initial sections of the show had photographs, images and videos which gave an outline of Frida’s life, including some marvellous footage which I’ve seen online of Trotsky with Frida and Diego, as well as some family background. We were gently led through to the first of the costumes, in a display case set up to resemble her painting “The Two Fridas” as well as some of her collection of shawls; and then into the first of the main parts of the exhibition, that of her personal effects.

The display cases were constructed in the shape of four-poster bed frames (modelled on Frida’s own, I believe, a bed that was a central part of much of her life). Spread through these were a most touching and moving collection of items: her comb, her sunglasses, her nail varnish, a variety of plaster and leather corsets and casts which helped to support her during her life; and heartbreakingly, the prosthetic she wore after the amputation of part of her polio-damaged leg towards the end of her life. Seeing these small, personal objects – often decorated by Frida herself – really brings you close to the woman herself, and of course with Frida (who constructed her own self image daily) the person and the art are inseparable.

The final room of the exhibition contained the centrepiece – a huge display case full of Frida-type mannequins wearing her outfits. They were, of course, stunning as she had such a personal sense of style. Both J. and I had our own favourites, and again it was moving to consider how she chose her clothes for the practical reason of covering her corsets, supports and wounded leg, and yet insisted on creating such a beautiful personal style for herself. The room (and indeed the whole exhibition) was enhanced by the wonderful photographs on the surrounding wall which showed Frida wearing the outfits and jewellery on display, and the colour ones were particularly striking – have a look at the postcards I bought (above) for example.

Obviously, I can’t recommend this show highly enough; definitely one of the best put together I’ve seen and I came out of it stunned and a bit emotionally drained. In fact, I  have to say that the culture shock of stepping out of what was a  profound and moving experience into the gift shop was quite alarming; the latter was stuffed to the gills with souvenirs that frankly at best were tangential and superficial, and at worst could be seen as exploitative – a paper dressing doll book with a Barbie-shaped Frida with ‘perfect’ limbs actually struck me as a bit offensive. I suppose organisations have to make money to be able to put on exhibitions, but the commodification of tacky fake flower headdresses sat a bit uncomfortably with me. And if I ever decide to channel my inner Frida I hope I would do it by constructing my own personal items and spin on her style. Hey – that’s a cool idea for a back-to-work look….. ;D

Anyway, after a couple of emotional hours in the company of Frida, we felt in need of sustenance and decided to head off in the direction of the British Library. On our previous visit to the area, when we discovered the lovely Judd Books (more of which later), J. remembered seeing several eateries. Unfortunately, we incorrectly remembered Judd Books as being in Judd Street and ended up at the Brunswick Centre… Fortunately, there was an Itsu which came to our rescue with several vegan options (and I was getting a bit desperate as breakfast had been early because of train-coach-train meaning a very prompt start today). And it would have been rude not to visit Skoob as we were in the area (and we eventually rediscovered Judd Books in the parallel Marchmont Street where there are indeed plenty of eateries!) I was priding myself on having a very restrained day, despite the infinite temptations of both bookshops:

The small book is from Skoob and is another Penguin Modern Poets I didn’t have – two in a week must be good! The Anna Akhmatova book was from Judd and was a no-brainer – it’s by Elaine Feinstein, who translates Tsvetaeva so beautifully, and so I really had to pick it up. And restraining yourself in Judd Books is difficult – they have a *lot* of second-hand stock, but also what I imagine is remaindered stock of US books and there were some wonderful temptations. However, I was priding myself on doing so well and turning to leave when I spotted something that I really could *not* leave behind:

This behemoth of a box of books came out in the USA: a beautiful, three hardback set of Primo Levi’s complete works. I coveted it like mad when it was first issued, but couldn’t justify the £100 upward cost plus postage, especially as I have a lot of  his works already (albeit in different translations). But it’s too long since I read him, and I *did* really covet this set. Well – it was in Judd and I had to stare in disbelief, because it was £17.95. Yes really – £17.95!!! J. looked a little disbelieving when she realised the weight, but as I told her this was not negotiable – I wasn’t going home without it. I had come armed with rucksack this time as we were exchanging books (and I ended up carrying more than J. did!) but this wasn’t going to sit comfortably in there, so the trusty and very sturdy KBR tote bag sprang into action and did the job!

*Definitely* the most useful present Middle Child ever gave me, and I certainly don’t think I could have lugged that set of books round London in any other bag!!!

By this time, our endurance was rather coming to an end so we bused back to Foyles via Tiger in Tottenham Court Road for a welcome browse amongst the poetry and tea in the cafe (whilst taking it in turns to hold/guard Primo) – the Foyles cafe is *such* a lovely place. After that we went out separate ways to negotiate the complexities of the journey home (train-coach-train was *not* fun when loaded with books and surrounded by football fans manspreading everywhere). I’m pleased to report that Primo and I arrived home safely (if exhausted and footsore) and OH seemed surprisingly understanding about the reasons why I had to have this particular box of books (although he did express vague concerns about shelves of books falling on us while we sleep….)

I haven’t been able to put many photos in this post because, dammit, I couldn’t take any and I don’t want to pinch anyone else’s. However, if you have a quick search online you’ll find plenty up there which will give you an idea of what’s in this exhibition. It really is stunning, a kind of once in a lifetime chance to see these items, and it’s running until November. If you get a chance to go I urge you to do so – J. and I certainly had a wonderful day out encountering the presence of Frida Kahlo!

Why a visit to London is *very* dangerous for a bibliophile… #bookfinds

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Those of you who follow me on social media might have noticed I shared a little photo of a pile of books in the lovely Foyles cafe yesterday. I met up with my dear friend J. for a day out to celebrate the start of the summer break (a little tradition we seem to be developing), and by that point we were hot and laden with books. I’m afraid this is going to be a bit of a book haul post, as we *both* got a little carried away!

The joy of train travelling is being able to read – I devoured this marvellous book over the outward and return journey!

Often we meet up with a tight agenda of an exhibition to see and specific places to go, but yesterday we’d kept things loose. I had specifically said I wanted to pop into the British Library – apart from the fact it’s just a place of worship for anyone who loves books, they had a little display in their Treasure Room devoted to Karl and Eleanor Marx. Both are fascinating figures, and I recall in my teens seeing a rather wonderful BBC drama on the life of Eleanor. So we started at the BL (after a stop for coffee and stationery in Tottenham Court Road) and the Treasure Room was just wonderful. I found it ridiculously exciting to see Marx’s Reading Room slip from all those decades ago and the whole room itself is inspirational. As I pointed out to J., there was a perfect trio of manuscripts for us on display next to each other in one of the cases – Woolf, Peake and Plath. Such an inspirational place to visit, and we managed to successfully get out of the shop without purchasing after spending some time admiring a lovely display of British Library Crime Classics!

In keeping with our plan of no real plan, we ambled off and J. suggested that as we were quite close to Skoob Books we could drop in. It’s a dangerous place which I’ve only visited once, but I couldn’t resist the idea. However, as we flaneured our way in the general direction of the Brunswick Centre we happened upon a likely looking bookshop I don’t think I’ve been aware of before – Judd Books in Marchmont Street. It would of course have been rude not to go in and so we did. And this was the result for me…

The shop is a mixture of second-hand and what look to me to be remaindered books, including a lot of US editions, and was oh! so tempting. I was distracted by a number of titles, but ended up with the two above. I couldn’t not come home with the Orwell – ’nuff said. As for Khodasevich’s poems, that one was a must. I’ve only stumbled across him recently and whilst havering away trying to decide I flicked through the book. A stunning poem called “Look for Me” hit me in the eye and I was sold. It’s a beautiful hardback Overlook/Ardis edition in dual language, with translations by Peter Daniels, and so even though I can’t read Russian I can gaze in awe at the beauty of the cyrillic script while appreciating the efforts of Daniels. J. was very happy with Judd as well as she tracked down a lovely hardback edition of Willa Cather’s letters from her wishlist. So we thought this was a propitious start and drifted on in the direction of Skoob.

And as you can see, I didn’t get out unscathed… The Machado de Assis was a no-brainer as I’ve really enjoyed all of his books I’ve read so far, plus it’s a pretty little Peter Owen edition. The Maigret has a relevant year to an upcoming event (!) – plus will also give me a chance to try one of the new translations. I thought I was getting off quite lightly until I saw the Penguin Russian Writing Today anthology on my way to the till. Oh well…. J. was even happier than earlier as she found a nice edition of a Cather novel she doesn’t have – it was a Cather kind of day for her.

After this it was a bus to Foyles for tea and regrouping. Foyles itself (and its tea!) is always such a delight, and I was sorely tempted by a gigantic biography of Eleanor Marx (a Verso edition) but decided that my shoulders wouldn’t take it. J. however was seduced by a Thames and Hudson book on Frida Kahlo (we’re visiting the V& exhibition later in the year) so added to her bulging rucksack. We decided to take a break from bookshops and trotted (well, strolled at a very leisurely pace) down Charing Cross Road to make a detour into the Cas art shop (again, I bought nothing although J. invested in some art materials) and then on into the National Portrait Gallery.

This was just a flying visit, as we both have a fondness for the wonderful Allan Ramsay self-portrait that hangs there and always pop into the NPG to say hello. As the heat was increasing, we decided to bus back up to Tottenham Court Road and got distracted again by a shop called Hema – a new one to us, but it had Stationery Which Could Not Be Resisted – oh dear… After more drinks and sitting down, we decided we were too close to the LRB bookshop and the craft shop next door to say no, and paid both a visit. Again, I succeeded in restraint, but our decision to drop by the lovely Bloomsbury Oxfam was not so successful…

I thought the two Bowles books I own comprised her meagre published output, but not so it seems. This lovely volume from Sort Of collects stories, plays, sketches and letters. Again, not to be resisted…

We had just about reached our limit of endurance of heat and heavy bags, but I was still vaguely irked that the only options for books about Eleanor Marx were mahoosive. So I persuaded J. into Bookmarks, the left-wing bookstore over the road and hurrah!

Bookmarks publish a little series of “Rebel’s Guide” books and one of their subjects was indeed Eleanor Marx! It was the last copy left and of a much more manageable size!

So these were my bookish purchases yesterday:

And I don’t regret a single one! However, the story doesn’t end there, because J. arrived with some books for me which were charity shop finds she’d read and was passing on to me. However, she didn’t tell me she was bringing six.… And unfortunately I hadn’t brought a backpack so she very bravely and stoutly carted them round all day until we exchanged books at the end of the day (I had brought one for her to borrow) – now that’s friendship. And here they are:

There are only five in the picture as one of the six was a return of my copy of Guard Your Daughters which J. had borrowed.

Phew! Four nice BLCCs and a lovely Virago edition of Gertrude Stein – how wonderful! But how heavy!! They took a bit of lugging home, I can tell you…

The blog’s trusty tote guarding the books while I have a meal in Leon!

Fortunately, I had come armed with my trusty KBR tote – a gift from Middle Child which always goes to London with me, and which although small is perfectly formed and manages to hold a surprising number of books; and also enables effective smuggling of them past OH who was feeling vaguely tense at the arrival of the six from J. There was a reason for this, as a package had arrived while I was away gallivanting containing these:

I think the BL are going into overdrive, but I’m always delighted to have review books from them – these two are out in September, and I’m very keen to read them, as Symons’ books were about a lot in my younger years. However, I can empathise a little with OH’s concern – he muttered something about having to build an annexe to the house and he has a point. I think this summer will need to see a little more pruning of books….

But all in all it  was a lovely (if warm) day out in London. It’s always wonderful to meet up with an old friend, and J. is great company. I need to put in a word for the Leon chain of restaurants too – a recent discovery for me and to which I was introduced by J. I paid two visits yesterday – one so that J. could get a late breakfast, and one for a meal later before journeying home. Their vegan options are excellent and well worth a visit!

Meantime, I need to have another bit of a book shuffle – oh dear…. =:o

A Visit to London – and Persephone Books!

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Back in the 1980s, I used to spend regular weekends meeting a friend or two in London for a day trawling around the bookshops int he Charing Cross Road area. In those days (ahem) we didn’t have things like the Internet (!) so the tracking down of rare or unusual volumes for a collection was much more involved. Of course, we did have the advantage of a lot more second-hand bookshops generally – I used to work in Salisbury and there were lots (which I’ve blogged about before). Nowadays, it’s all Internet shopping, which is great for a quick fix but does take a little of the thrill of the chase out of it.

The friend I used to book shop with most was Jools, and although we keep in regular touch still I haven’t actually met up with her for about 13 years (when the sprogs were small). But things came together quite serendipitously recently – OH told me about the Jack Kerouac “On The Road manuscript scroll being exhibited at the British Library, which I felt I must see; I was overdue for a visit to my brother and family in south London; and YC needed a trip away in half term. So I contacted J. to see if she was available at all and fortunately enough, this weekend was the one time she was free in about a month! Obviously the stars were right and so we arranged to meet at Waterloo station under the clock at 10.30 a.m.

I did wonder a little whether we would recognise each other after all these years and how we would find spending a day together. I needn’t have worried – we knew each other straight away and it was like we had only had a day in London together a week ago! YC very patiently accompanied us round central London (she’s the perfect shopping companion!) and the weather blessed us – cold but bright and sunny.

We started off our trek at the bottom of Charing Cross Road. A number of lovely Library Thing members on the Virago group had kindly made some recommendations of likely book shops and the first one we came to was Any Amount of Books. This is a super shop with a great array of second-hand paperbacks but I did restrain myself and just came away with these two volumes:

I’m particularly fond of this design of Penguin Simenon which was about when I was buying them in the 1970s and 1980s. There were Penguin Colettes with a similar sort of French font design and these are equally lovely – I have many in my library already!

Next stop was Henry Pordes a door or two up the road. This shop seems to have bad press for rude staff – we didn’t encounter anything like this here, just some slightly fussed gentlemen who were quite courteous. The basement paperbacks had a *lot* of Viragos and reasonably priced ones too, so I had to be selective – and just bought these:

I was pleased to find the Beryl Markham as I am trying to fill in my Virago Travellers and this was in lovely condition.

We ambled on further up Charing Cross Road, having quite a reminisce about the bookshops we recalled from the past, including the lovely “Murder One” store which specialised in crime – much missed, alas. There are of course a fraction of the tree book stores there used to be in the area – there were several specialist ones, including Silver Moon which was a woman-only shop specialising in feminist literature – not sure they’d be able to get away with that any more (tho’ if there can be men-only clubs I don’t see why there can’t be women-only bookshops!)

Next stop was Foyles. This was a place we avoided in the past because in the 1970s and 1980s it was a hard place to find a book you were searching for! All the volumes were displayed by publisher and it seemed to be inordinately complicated trying to track down which floor your book was on and if it was in stock. Nowadays it’s been modernised and laid out nicely and is actually a lovely place to browse. I very rarely buy a new book nowadays (these go on Christmas and birthday lists) but there were some lovely classics in hardback and a lot of NYRB volumes as well. It was nice to be able to actually pick these up and have a flick through them to see if the book was one you would read – I miss being able to do that online, and not everything you’re interested in is browsable on Amazon. Amazingly, J and I did not buy – although YC did a bit of Christmas shopping and indulged her passion for Batman graphic novels!

As the day was getting on and we were starting to think of lunch, we followed J to a rather lovely little cafe she had been recommended near the British Museum. I always love being in this part of London anyway, as I feel spiritually close to Virginia Woolf here and like to imagine her stalking the streets, thinking up her latest wonderful sentences. Anyway, the cafe was a little Vietnamese place tucked away down a side street (and I’ve forgotten the name for the moment!) but it’s highly recommended. We enjoyed Sweet Potato Noodles, sushi rolls, fritters and miso soup – all veggie and all reasonably priced. Yum!

Somewhat refreshed, we headed off in search of the nearby Oxfam bookshop. The first thing we spotted was a Persephone – “The Closed Door and other stories” by Dorothy Whipple! This was complete with bookmark and J. started reading the first page and got hooked so we decided she should have this one. J. is a recent convert to Persephone – I wrote to her and rambled on so much about how wonderful “Miss Pettigrew” was she got it out of the library and loved it. YC found some sociology based Viragos for her studies so the Oxfam was judged a success.

Our next destination was the Persephone Shop, which was a bit of a walk but the weather was still great so off we trotted. We made a quick detour to a lovely bookbinding supply shop that J. is very fond of, and drooled over all the wonderful handmade paper and journals. The Persephone Shop was easier to find than we thought it might and was quite busy. It was a little smaller than I expected but very lovely inside and the piles of grey volumes were *so* appealing! Being able to browse the books was lovely to and I came away with this:

It is, although you can’t see, Diana Gardner’s “The Woman Novelist”. I wanted to get this for a particular reason as many, MANY years ago J. and I were involved in the running of the Mervyn Peake Society. Gardner was a friend of the Peakes and we met her at a memorial service we attended for Peake’s wife Maeve Gilmore. She was quite inspirational (Gardner that is) – off to the country painting and refusing to conform to age or society’s expectation of women. So it seemed appropriate I should buy this book today. J. wanted her own copy of “MIss Pettigrew” but also ended up getting “Making Tea for Mr. Rochester” so we clubbed together to take advantage of the 3 for £30 offer. Here is a somewhat fuzzy pic of us outside the shop – J. is on the left with the red skirt:

Frankly, at our age, we’re quite happy with blurry pix!

After all this excitement, and with a short hop into the nearby Lambs Bookshop, we set off to search for Skoob, another LT recommendation. We stumbled into a rather modern precinct in Brunswick Square, with a bookstall in the middle that turned out to be related to Skoob and the helpful lady pointed us in the right direction (only after I had found another couple of interesting items):

Skoob is underground and rather wonderful (if a little more expensive than some of the other places we have visited). Their Penguins in particular are great and I’m afraid that I filled quite a few holes in my collection here:

(Some green Maigrets I don’t have.)


(A few orange Penguins – Powells and a Snow I am missing.)

I could of course have gone much madder here but budget and weight of the backpack got in the way. After all this mad spending, we decided it was time for a free treat and headed off the British Library to see the scroll.

I confess I was inordinately excited about this. “On the Road” is a book I first encountered in my teens, and it sent me off on a huge voyage of discovery with all the beat writers. I’ve read and revisited the beats many times over the years and it felt actually quite important to me that I should see this manuscript while it was in the UK. Also, I must confess I’ve never actually been into the best library in the world (!) so that was another consideration. The BL is very impressive, I have to say – when you walk into the lobby and see floors of rare books ascending up into the ceiling, behind glass, it kind of takes your breath away. The scroll was impressive too – it’s just a simple little exhibition with some pictures, quotes, timelines and the like, and part of the scroll extended and laid out under glass for you to look at. Gave me a little thrill seeing the original typewriting and his hand-written amendments, I must say. After reading and inwardly absorbing for a while, it was time for a lovely latte and a sit down as we had done a *lot* of walking. The bookshop at the BL is pretty fab too, and there is a permanent exhibition of Treasures from the British Library which we are determined to go back and see.

Finally, we popped off to Shaftesbury Avenue to indulge YC with a visit to Forbidden Planet. She is a bit of a gamer (as well as a reader) and so we felt it only fair to give her free rein after she had so patiently trudged around bookish places with us. This turned out to be a vaguely interesting visit as we got talking about classic “Doctor Who” (not the modern abomination) with some guys who it turns out attended many of the DW conventions that J. and  did in the 1980s – and in fact the one at which we met at Longleat in 1983 (but that’s another very long story…..)

After which it was time to say goodbye to J. and head off to our various trains home. I won’t talk about our journey, involving as it did changes and connecting buses – suffice to say it was good to be home!

We had a fabby time in the Big Smoke – not only the lovely book shopping, but the good company, catching up with an old friend and visiting the BL. It’s too long since I did this kind of trip and I’m certainly not going to leave it so long next time!

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