I wish I could say that when I went to London I was able to visit fantastic bookshops, some in buildings older than my country, and educate myself in the ways of the wily British bookseller. I wish I could tell you that every hostel I stayed in, person I encountered, and excursion that I had in mind for my vacation went as planned. You know as well as I that it’s never the case with these things, the best laid plans and all. That is not to say that I didn’t have a lovely vacation, I certainly did, it just included fewer books than I would have liked. Let’s get on with it shall we?
Let me start off by saying that I am not a “shove some stuff in a backpack and rough it through Europe” kind of gal. I envy those people who can Lawrence of Arabia it through the desert on a camel or on a horse with no name. I attempt to bring at least the random comforts from home, which requires a normal sized suitcase, and I am always reminded of how annoying that is while gazing up the labyrinthine stairs labeled “way out” of the underground station. So after lugging and heaving my belongings from Heathrow to Piccadilly, jetlagged and exhausted, I decided to muscle through my first day.
Museums and antiquarian book binding lectures turn the minutes into mush when you’re in a new time zone. Trudging past paintings and ancient texts that would prove much more interesting on my second visit, I waded through the Victoria and Albert, only to give up and return to my super creep hostel.
Apparently, I have the words “I like to party” tattooed on my forehead because as soon as my friend and traveling companion, Sarah, and I entered the lobby a sharp-dressed man accosted us with club deals and the promise of cheap drinks. My exhausted reply was something along the lines of, “Sure, maybe, need to go upstairs, change, bye.” And up to our room we fled.
After spending the night avoiding club goers, we were happy to be going to our tattoo appointment in the A.M. Nothing says “London” or “vacation” more than paying someone to stab you repeatedly with a needle. Thanks to Jonathan Kearns of Adrian Harrington Rare Books, we were able to find a lovely parlor in Islington, Stotker Tattoo, run by the talented Mirek Stotker and his lovely wife Edyta. Two hours later we left happily wounded and hobbling, my piece on my leg, and then over to Kensington to visit books. Oh, and Jonathan, too, but mostly books.
Jonathan won’t admit it, or he’ll blame me, like so many of the other men in my life, but he’s terrible at giving directions. We got lost going to the tattoo place and again on the way to the book store. Of course when I mentioned this to him, he immediately said I must have read them wrong. Seems like someone is taking a trip down a long Egyptian river.
In any case, we eventually made it to Adrian Harrington’s beautiful shop. If you haven’t been there I’m not kidding, it really is. I didn’t get to see half of what I would have liked to have seen, being slightly immobilized from my recent ink, but it is definitely worth a stop. I was also introduced to the charming Pierre Lombardini, and the infamous Adrian himself. Unfortunately, Ian Fleming expert Jon Gilbert was off that day, the saddest of eventualities.
Best part of the day, I mean besides hearing Jonathan tell me about his ongoing hunt for a copy of the John William Polidori story “The Vampyre” (and a quick sum up of the Byron scandal involved in it’s history), or his theory on the Romantic Teen Drama (a.k.a. Twilight) involving said creatures, was that Sarah and I were able to lunch with our favorite Brit. [To all of the other British people I know and love, you can assume there are qualifiers involved.]
Of course there’s a reason I started this piece off by saying that I didn’t go to many bookshops. This is because when I have plans the universe always, always, always has a way of throwing them off. And so it was with my vacation. Returning to the hostel on a book adventure-tattoo high we were again invited to go clubbing, this time by a man that addressed us by slithering up, arms akimbo saying, “Hey Ladies!”
Clubbing narrowly averted, we walked into our pitch black room to find one of the other tenants, an older gentleman with a curious Irish accent, lurking in the middle of the room. He quickly informed us that he had a migraine, hence why he was standing in the dark, then followed that up with what should have been the first thing he said, that the bobbies were called on him by the front desk. Oh well, just the cops no big, I’ll just go lay down…the cops?! Seriously! Backing out of the room as if staring down a grizzly bear in the face, we turned the light off, as requested, and ran to the desk to find out what the heck was going on. Apparently, “everything was fine.” It’s not fine if you walk into a hallway and see three of London’s presumably finest barreling towards your door.
When we returned to our room later the Irishman was gone and no one would tell us what happened. He had probably left to continue on his merry way slaughtering young American booksellers throughout the country. Of course I slept great that night, as if Jack the Ripper had read me a bed time story. And to think this was only my first weekend there!
The rest of week was nothing if not eventful but unfortunately did not really involve books. I ventured from London to Nottingham and then to York where Sarah went off to Durham University and I went back to stay with Jonathan and his amazing wife Ines. Along the way we encountered a techno loving Eastern European who developed a puppy dog crush on yours truly, the great and traumatizing movie Drive, a trip to Sherwood Forest, and many, many renditions of the song “Not in Nottingham.”
I probably know less about British bookselling than I did when I started this trip, and I forgot all about American bookselling entirely, but I had a good time and that’s what it’s all about…right Tom? Unfortunately the trip is over, but I’m still recovering. How long can I use jet lag as an excuse? Perhaps my slight foray into the British bookselling world will convince Between the Covers to exhibit more overseas, or just to avoid hostels. In any case, I look forward to seeing the Red Coats at the book fairs and visiting again in the near future. Until next time comrades.
Disclaimer: No werewolves were harmed during the writing of this blog.