Saturday, 3 December 2011

Londoning (and, er, books)

As I mentioned, I spent a couple of days gallivanting around London - and I thought I'd share my experiences with you, since most of them were of a bookish nature.

It all started on Wednesday morning when I took the Oxford Tube bus into London for the first time in quite a while, which was rather more miserable than I remembered - no leg-room, lots of delays etc. - but did manage to read quantities of Simon Stephenson's excellent book Let Not The Waves of the Sea on the way (a sort of memoir/travel-log/philosophy about his brother who died in the 2004 tsunami, which I mentioned a while ago) - I've finished it now, and will report back on it soon.

My first stop was the Notting Hill Book & Comic Exchange, since the bus happens to stop mere metres away from it.  This time I didn't bother with the everything-50p-each basement, since I was short on time, and there were plenty of wonderful things upstairs.  I came away with:

The Wedding Group by Elizabeth Taylor
The Solitary Summer by Elizabeth von Arnim - two reliable authors
The Friendly Young Ladies by Mary Renault - I know nothing about this, but it's not historical - the reason I've previously stayed away from Mary Renault.  About a 17 yr old girl who runs away from Cornwall to bohemian London, which apparently turns disturbing - love this premise!
It Falls Into Place: the stories of Phyllis Shand Allfrey - Allfrey wrote The Orchid House, one of the first Viragos I bought, and one I still haven't read.
Little Boy Lost by Marghanita Laski - I already have the Persephone Original, but not the Classic!
A Letter to Madan Blanchard by E.M. Forster - The Hogarth Letters No.1, which was rather a lovely find.  There's a tiny pencilled '2' on the first page, which I like (fancifully) to imagine was inscribed by Virginia Woolf herself...

I also bought Lolly Willowes as a gift for the next person I saw...

...a lady called Marie, who had contacted me after seeing Richmal Crompton's novels mentioned here on my blog, or on LibraryThing, or somewhere.  One email led to another, and we exchanged rare RCs via post (I read the wonderfully histrionic The House). I arranged to give them back in person, so I trotted off to her beautiful house.  We had a lovely chat, and she took down lots of my recommendations (hurrah!) and I went away with another four books borrowed!  Two rare Richmals, and two by EM Delafield (in her email she wrote "Have you heard of an author called E.M. Delafield?"  Er - yes!!)  The internet is wonderful for encountering bookish types, isn't it?  Thank you, Marie, for your delightful generosity.  The books are The Thorn Bush and Portrait of a Family by RC; Three Marriages and Zella Sees Herself by EMD.

My next stop was delicious Thai dinner with a couple of bloggers - Claire from Paperback Reader and Rachel from Book Snob - before we went to a screening of Descendants at Twentieth Century Fox, courtesy of Vintage press.  More on that soon - as a spoiler, it was very good!  Rachel very sweetly offered me a place to stay for the night (and gave me Mr. Skeffington by Elizabeth von Arnim, which was so nice of her!)  I gave her a Rachel Ferguson book called Passionate Kensington - about a year in Kensington, but with all sorts of detours and tangents.  I'll quote a bit of that soon, too (this post is turning into dozens of others!)  I totally threatened Rachel with a no-holds-barred expose on what she's really like, but... I'll save that for another day ;)  (Rachel: is that why you bribed me with a book?)

My token I-came-to-London-for-study moment happened at the British Library, and you've already seen some of the fruits of that.  It was very productive, turning up reviews for Miss Hargreaves, Provincial Lady in Wartime, and more.  And it made me a bit late for meeting up with the lovely ladies of dovegreybooks, an online book discussion group of which I've been a member for nearly eight years.  Nine of us met up at the Geffrye museum, including Elaine and Barbara, both of whom have written their own reports on the day.  We had our Christmas lunch and, as always, chatted away nineteen-to-the-dozen.  Despite my plans to make my book bag lighter, I ended the trip as heavy-laden as I started - thanks to the dovegreybooks Secret Santa, and a general book swap.  So that added these four titles to my winnings:

Trains and Buttered Toast by John Betjeman
Elizabeth Jenkins' biog of Caroline Lamb
A London Girl of the 1880s by M.V. Hughes
Christmas at Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons (super-excited about this!)

Not to mention a lovely literary calendar (from Barbara) and some beautiful bookmarks (from Sherry, who wasn't there and lives in America - I still haven't worked out how these arrived!)

So, all in all, a productive London trip!  Quite tiring, what with all that dashing about, but great fun - and all of it the result of online literary friends!  Lovely.


  1. What a wonderful post, your literary day trip to London is fascinating. Thanks for the informative 'visitor's guide'... the next time I visit London I'll be sure to follow your recommendations. And what better way to end the trip with a movie together with blog friends. I've read a lot of good reviews on The Descendants. I'll probably see it this weekend.

  2. First of all, when I attempted to make a comment after clicking the link to the full article on Facebook, it would not allow it. So I went over to the blog and here I am, no problem.
    I have a copy of Mr. Skeffington which I have had for years and not yet read, but I want to urge you to see the movie if you can. Bette Davis totally over the top and wonderful.

  3. IT was lovely to see you Simon and had not realised you had packed so much into your visit. One of these days I simply must get to the Notting Hill bookshop as you always seem to come away with such gems.

    Mr Skeffington is one of EVA's best and I agree with EllenB, if you spot the film on the TV (not that they ever show any really old black and white movies any more) do catch it. Bette Davis IS over the top but is marvellous as well.

  4. A question for you Simon, given that you frequent the Notting Hill Book & Comic Exchange plus no-end of other bookish emporia, you do not by any remote chance know where I can buy issues of the Steampunk inspired graphical story series Lady Mechanika by Joe Benitez do you? Do any of your bookish followers? I'd buy it direct from the USA except for the fabulously expensive P&P.

  5. Arti - definitely check out Notthing Hill shop next time you go! I'll put up my thoughts about The Descendants soon - definitely worth seeing.

    EllenB - gosh, is Facebook messing up too, now? Lovely... I have heard wonderful/dramatic things about Bette Davis in that role, must seek it out.

    Elaine - oh yes, Elaine, I was busy! I can't believe you haven't been to Notting Hill shop - it's amazing, and so cheap. You'd come away with armfuls - although it is all so tightly packed that I'm always relieved to come out into fresh air!

    Peter - hmm, no idea, but it would be worth asking at the Notting Hill shop - I don't pay much attention to the comic section, and they might keep graphic story series there rather than under books (or is 'graphic story series' another term for comic?)

  6. Ah, I had read Elaine's account of your swap and it sounds just as delightful in your recounting. What a wonderful day all the way around!

  7. You're very fortunate in books and company, Simon!

  8. What a wonderful day! You are a very lucky man. I'll be interested to read your thoughts on The Descendants. We saw it last week and thought it was quite well done.

    I also wanted to mention that I'm going to start reading Miss Hargreaves today !!!!!!

  9. Susan - it was absolutely lovely!

    Darlene - aren't I just? Although you are just about the loveliest blogger I've met, so you need to get over here again!

    Laura - hurrah! Can't wait to see what you think of Miss H. Thoughts on Descendants up sometime next week, hopefully :)

  10. Oh wow, it sounds like you had a fabulously bookish time!

  11. What a lovely few days! Since I'm so close now (well sort of) I've really been pining for a London weekend...Especially when my book collection dwindles, I think the need to go on a book binge at the great many secondhand shops is a necessity...

  12. I feel exhausted after reading that, Simon. We had a lovely lunch meeting and book swop. You had a good haul - I wonder where you will start? Thanks again for the 2 loans - bet you were glad to off-load! Barbara

  13. I don't know if you guys have been to the Portobello Market area but there are some AMAZING second hand bookshops there :)

  14. Meant also to say Simon, I love the fresh new look of the blog! Perhaps it isn't so new after all but I usually read on Googelreader so don't often visit the main site. Lovely! Barbara

  15. All those books are so gorgeous; my eyes are still dilated by their beauty. Now I'll have dreams of a day trip to London.

  16. Wonderful! Somewhere else to go book hunting now. I don't know London too well but when I'm there I make a habit of visiting the shops on Charring Cross Road or I make a bee-line for Daunt Books. So next time I'm there will try to fit in a trip to Notting Hill Book & Comic Exchange.

    Alternatively it could be a good excuse to go to London again! Thank you :)

  17. Oh how funny to seem my bookmarks on your blog. Glad you like them, Simon.

  18. love the old hardbacks ,all the best stu

  19. Didn't we have fun! Glad you liked Mr Skeffington, it was obviously a bribe ;)

    I need to have more than just a cursory flick through Passionate Kensington - can't wait to get stuck in. Thank you so much! xx


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