The next morning found us in the Troubadour in Earl’s Court for breakfast. Not an obvious choice, perhaps, but a very good one. The Troubadour is more well-known as a music venue. In 2019, you could get an excellent breakfast there. (It looks like you can still get brunch at the weekend.)
Our visit to London coincided with come Extinction Rebellion protest events – more on that later – so, as we headed north and east towards Bloomsbury, we somewhat ironically found ourselves stuck on a bus in a traffic jam. This was fine – there’s plenty to see from a bus window and we were in no hurry. (It was 2019. No need to pre-book anything.) The bus terminated at Edgware Road which was good enough to join the Tube and get to the British Library.
Edgware Road station is surprisingly interesting. There is a hodge-podge feel to it – strangely fitted platforms and wiring. It probably makes sense if you know what you’re looking for. I liked the sense of oldness of it.
British Library and Bookshops
The ‘Treasures’ exhibition at the British Library is always worth a visit. You need to book a place now, but it is a generous and free collection of some remarkable books and manuscripts. It is hard to pick any favourites a year later. In part, it’s the feeling of being in an exhibition so rich in history and interest that makes it. It will be different now: limited numbers, for example, which may actually give an even better visitor experience.
Seeing books is all well and good, but handling them and buying them is even better. Is a good bookshop browse a thing of the past in the age of the pandemic? I fear it is. Even with masked and sanitised hands, some places are putting handled books in quarantine if they’ve been handled. Rightly so, but the chances of being in the right place at the right time are lessened.
Judd Books (Twitter: @JuddBooks) in Marchmont Street is a glorious jumble of second-hand and remaindered books and is always worth a browse when passing. The traveller has to decide: Do I want to carry this for the rest of the trip? In this case, I found some things I’d wanted for a while and at a good price. Paperbacks are portable and, to be honest, I usually pack leaving space for things I’ll acquire on holiday. One of the reasons to go on holiday at all is to have the freedom to spend when you might not ordinarily.
Next was Skoob Books, another joyful and labyrinthine second-hand bookshop in a basement behind the Brunswick Centre Waitrose. (I see from their website that there is now a pop-up shop nearby which offers a lighter and airier space.) I have bought from there before, but did not find anything at this visit. Now that things are different, would I go back in time and get something – anything? I don’t know. There was still the question of carrying and we had two more cities to visit before we headed home.
A Meander and a Pub Crawl
It was time for a coffee stop and the Curzon Bloomsbury provided well. A good place for people watching in and out. Finished there, we decided to try our luck at getting into the British Museum but were put off by the long queue for bag inspections. This might be a visitors’ experience that the pandemic has actually improved: pre-booking and a one-way system are now in place.
Onwards to a charity bookshop, the Oxfam Charity Bookshop in Bloomsbury Street. (This isn’t even in my notes, but I remember going there for a good browse.)
The fine weather of a late London afternoon inspired a walk towards the river. It was approaching rush hour anyway and the ER protests were popping up here and there. We weaved our way through Holborn and Covent Garden, crossed the Strand, adjusted our various bundles of books, and crossed the river to the Southbank Centre. More people watching there, which became spectacular when the ER protest that we had been been aware of throughout the day marched through.
A quick, friendly burger at Honest Burger prepared us for a pub crawl. It was our last night in London and even then we did not know when we would be back (except in transit on the way York). Back across the river to Champagne Charlies then back to base in Earl’s Court via the Blackbird, the former an occasional treat and the latter a familiar friend from our London days. Both places lively and full, standing only on arrival, but we were lucky with eventual seats. We perhaps enjoyed the pub crawl a little too much. Or so I thought at the time, given the next day’s hangover. But now I look back at a fun memory of enjoying being part of a crowd and hearing the buzz that a busy pub can have when people are having a good time.