In a whirlwind 22 hours, we visited the big smoke on the weekend. A brief trip that involved a Black Keys concert (fantastic), a traditional Victorian pub (the Princess Louise), a Belgian beer cafe (for displaced cyclo-crossers like us) and a well stocked bookshop (more on this shortly). The weather was brutally cold, a wan winter sun refusing to melt 12 inch icicles and bitter gusts freezing hardy cycling commuters.
I’m not sure if you’ve ever been there, but the London Review bookshop is a splendid place. Its selection of fascinating and unique books is arguably second to none. It has a fantastic café bolted on the side and is within spitting distance of the British Museum. It is resplendent in its modern oak finish. In fact, it’s only let down by the supercilious member of staff who removed the word ‘customer’ from the phrase ‘customer service’, replacing it with the more appropriate ‘grudging’. We spent over £40 on books there; a copy of ‘The Idler’ magazine, a China Mieville novel (Kraken), A Sara Wheeler Arctic odyssey and ‘The Etymologicon’ for a particularly pedantic fellow cyclist (he’ll love it). I think we spent just about enough to earn ourselves a curt ‘thank you’ before we shuffled out, heads cowed in the presence of such superior company. Note to self; remember not to ask for a travel book by the title of ‘True North’ in a Bloomsbury bookshop. Much tutting and mutterings of ‘there are lots of books called that’ will ensue. Perhaps it was the effects of the cold snap? No matter, I’m the forgiving type. Mission accomplished, goods procured.
So……a splendid shop with some shortcomings (I’ve noted the odd lack of grace before). One thing is for sure though; whoever is in charge of book and magazine selection at the LRB deserves a hearty slap on the back, particularly as I spotted Boneshaker amongst its impressive magazine collection. The LRB is very choosy about magazines, bypassing WHSmith territory and concentrating on the interesting and the quirky, the literate and the beautiful. As we all know – and if you haven’t read it I can’t recommend it highly enough – Boneshaker has all that in spades. Written and illustrated by cyclists for cyclists, it packs more soul than the Stax back catalogue. The literary world has discovered what we’ve known for quite some time; Boneshaker is a work of art. Well done chaps – keep up the great work.
As an aside, hats off to the brave ‘Bromptoneers’ pioneering their way through London traffic on a folding bike whilst being shepherded by bloody big trucks. More than once, I winced at the proximity of HGVs in Holborn. Anybody who questions the Times’ ‘Cities fit for cycling’ campaign should be sent directly into central London on a folder. TWICE. The smart money would be on a rapid fire ‘U’ turn.