“Take the 5 pence,” I said at Oxfam. Snow was falling, and I needed a bag for my books. (You pay 5 pence per bag in London, as a way to reduce the use of plastic bags.)
Mind you, I had a Waitrose bag, a Foyles bag, and a Westminster Abbey bag in my hotel room.
There wasn’t much snow in London. Possibly an inch or two. But it was packed down, slushy, and slippery. Nobody shoveled the sidewalks. I saw nary a snow plow nor a snow blower. It took me a day to realize the city seemed empty because the snow had shut it down. (N.B. Other parts of the UK really got a lot of snow, but London just expected snow.)
Even though Londoners are wusses about the snow, I’m a wuss about the cold. My mother taught me always to take off my coat inside, but that wasn’t possible in cathedrals. I froze my ass off at St. Paul’s Cathedral and Westminster Abbey, though I kept my jacket zipped. I also visited Waterstones on the day the furnace broke. At the lovely, warm, almost-empty National Portrait Gallery I sat on a bench and was amazed to find myself looking at portraits of Andrew Marvell and a very young Milton. Later, at an almost empty Pret a Manger, I ate a fruit cup, drank coffee, and enjoyed Virginia Woolf’s essays on London.
Definitely not an ideal season for tourism, but I loved making the rounds of the bookstores.
In the window of a used bookstore on Charing Cross Road, (possibly) Any Amount of Books, I saw a very old copy of Trollope’s Can You Forgive Her?, but knew there wouldn’t be room in my suitcase.
At Foyles, I browsed in the fiction, essays, and foreign language sections. I bought a copy of Susan Hill’s Jacob’s Room Is Full of Books, which is very much like her previous book about books, Howards End Is on the Landing. I couldn’t fit it in my suitcase, alas! but read it in the hotel. I also bought E. Nesbit’s The Lark, (which I read as an e-book a few years ago and wrote about here), with an introduction by Penelope Lively.
I came across Hatchards, the UK’s oldest bookstore, which was founded in 1797, in a very elegant building on Picadilly (the original building). It is my new favorite bookstore in London. I bought a copy of Vita Sackville-West’s Heritage.
I bought used paperbacks at Oxfam and Skoob. Here’s a list:
Helen Dunmore’s Zennor in Darkness
The Harsh Voice by Rebecca West
Daughters of Decadence, edited by Elaine Showalter.
Hermann Hesse’s Rosshalde
William Plomer’s Museum Pieces (looked interesting: I’ll let you know)
H. E. Bates’s Death of a Huntsman (I’m very fond of H. E. Bates)
The Minister by Maurice Edelman. (Never heard of it: looks amusing)
So did I buy great books or junk? Only time will tell.
And I hope you have all thawed in London.