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London, May 2012: Part Two

July 28, 2012

Christina writes: On Sunday, 20 May, we visited another book fair, this time at the Russell Hotel in Russell Square, about fifteen minutes’ walk from our hotel. Since the fair didn’t start until 11.00, we were able to sleep late and have a leisurely breakfast. This fair was larger than the one on the previous Sunday (see Part One of this post), and more crowded. I saw many books I would like to own (e.g. fine editions with Arthur Rackham illustrations), but they cost more than I felt I should pay. Wayne bought the book The Women’s Land Army: A Portrait by Gill Clarke (we already had her related book on the artist Evelyn Dunbar) and a Fry Art Gallery pamphlet, Long Live Great Bardfield & Love to You All!: The Life and Work of Tirzah Garwood (the wife of one of Wayne’s favourite artists, Eric Ravilious, and herself a talented artist).

Common Sense of Science coverWhile working at the Soane Museum, I regularly visited Skoob’s general secondhand bookshop five minutes away in Sicilian Avenue. Since I left London, Skoob’s has relocated to The Brunswick, a few minutes’ walk from the Russell Hotel, so after leaving the book fair we made our way there and descended into its basement premises. We felt that its selection had gone somewhat downhill in its previous location; now we found an interesting general stock and the sort of crowded shelves that hold promise for the devoted browser. We added another four volumes to our mounting collection: Wayne was happy to find the first Pelican printing of The Common Sense of Science by Jacob Bronowski (whose Ascent of Man Wayne enjoyed), while I bought Voices from the World of Jane Austen by Malcolm Day, Princesses: The Daughters of George III by Flora Fraser, and Ornament of the World: How Muslims, Jews, and Christians Created a Culture of Tolerance in Medieval Spainby Maria Rosa Menocal. (I should point out that the division between books found or chosen by one of us does not necessarily mean that only that one of us will read it! There are indeed many areas which interest only one, but many of our acquisitions appeal to us both.)

Later that day, we took the Piccadilly Line to South Kensington station, from which we walked to one of our favourite Chinese restaurants, The Good Earth in Brompton Road, which serves meals all day. We began with our favourite starter, lettuce-wrapped lamb with plum sauce, then shared chicken with cashew nuts and sweet and sour chicken, both with steamed rice. I had a margarita and Wayne had a Coke. Afterwards, we walked the short distance to the Victoria and Albert Museum in Cromwell Road, where we visited the exhibition Recording Britain, a selection of water-colours and drawings resulting from a project during the early years of World War Two to make a record of life on the land and in towns and villages in Britain. These provided a pleasant if not outstanding half-hour, the earlier pictures being mixed with more recent art and photographs on the theme of British landscape which we thought less graphically interesting. We were not attracted by (and anyway had no time to attend) the main exhibition, British Design 1948–2012, which we had previewed by looking at its catalogue in Waterstone’s, but visited the V&A shop as we knew that one of the items in the design exhibition was the original art for Pauline Baynes’s Map of Middle-earth (we have seen the art several times in the Bodleian) and that a postcard had been produced of it. We duly bought a copy.

On the way back to South Kensington Station, we spent a few unfruitful minutes in a shop devoted to remaindered books, then took the Underground back to Holborn. Having eaten quite late in the afternoon, that evening we only snacked on biscuits (cookies) provided in the room.

Shakespeares Globe exteriorSince Wayne had been reading before our trip about the reconstruction of the Globe Theatre associated with Shakespeare, on Bankside near the site where the original was built at the end of the 16th century, we included a visit during our time in London, on Monday, 21 May. From Holborn we went by bus to the stop near the south side of Waterloo Bridge, descended the steps to embankment level, and walked to the Globe, about fifteen minutes, along the south side of the Thames with great views across and along the river. (One view unfortunately was of the Renzo Piano-designed skyscraper, dubbed the ‘Shard’. This is very controversial, as it rises high above Southwark and dominates the entire London skyline.)

Shakespeares Globe stageOur aim at the Globe was not a performance but a tour of the theatre – performances need to be booked far in advance, and in any case, the regular season had not yet begun. We bought tickets for the first tour of the day, then had about a half-hour – too little time – to  look at a very interesting and thorough exhibition on the history of Elizabethan and Jacobean theatres, their archaeological remains, the research that went into building the new Globe, the methods used, and some examples of costumes, props, and machines used in performances historically correct to the period. There was also a temporary exhibition of art by Rosalind Lyons Hudson depicting Shakespeare characters in performance (more about her in a later blog). We bought a wall calendar which reproduces some of these splendid paintings, unfortunately omitting the one of the fairies Peasblossom, Cobweb, Moth, and Mustardseed in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which was our favourite. The tour was also fascinating, with descriptions of how the original Globe functioned and how the new one continues in the same way. We decided that we should try to attend an actual performance on a future visit.

St Pauls from Millennium BridgeAfter leaving the Globe, we retraced our steps a short way and then walked across the Thames on the Millennium Bridge and around St Paul’s Cathedral to Bank Underground station. The down escalator wasn’t working, and we had to walk down a considerable number of steps. We took the Central Line to Tottenham Court Road and walked towards Oxford Circus, visiting the HMV record store on the way. I bought a CD set of Richard Strauss’s Salome to add to those recordings I already have, and a single CD of Flis, a rare Polish opera by Moniuszko. We then continued along Oxford Street and turned south on Regent Street to visit the London branch of Brooks Brothers. We both found this disappointing, in the sense that most of the merchandise is the same that we see when we go to Brooks Brothers shops in the U.S.A. Wayne had hoped to find something special for the British market, perhaps the bow ties he likes, but the only point of style he noticed that was clearly aimed at a European market was consistent double-venting of jackets.

Returning to Oxford Circus, we took the Central Line to Notting Hill Gate to pick up a coach to Oxford. Two friends had been away when we were in Oxford earlier in our trip, and we had arranged an early dinner with them at Koi, a Chinese restaurant in George Street just across from the Oxford coach station. We shared a set menu for four, which provided plenty of variety, and lively conversation. Once more, time passed far too quickly, even though we had arrived at 5.30 and it was at least 8.00 p.m. before we returned to London.

Tuesday, 22 May, was the day we chose to undertake research on Pauline Baynes at the British Library branch at Colindale in North London, which deals with newspapers and weekly magazines. Since we were not sure how long the research would take, we needed to be there when the library opened at 10.00 a.m. We left our hotel with plenty of time to spare for the journey on the Central and Northern lines, and through good luck with trains arrived about twenty minutes early. This was the day in our trip when the unseasonably cool English weather finally turned warm and sunny, so we were happy to wait on a bench on a small green for the library to open. Our memory of the reading room as a slightly seedy place (from more than a decade ago, when Wayne was writing his bibliography of Arthur Ransome) was agreeably dispelled: despite the long ride up from central London, Colindale is a pleasant place to work, and the staff provides good service. We understand that the British Library will be closing the Colindale branch before long, consolidating some of the collection at St Pancras while storing the rest in the north of England, which will surely make work such as we were doing more difficult.

From Pauline Baynes’s own archive, we knew that between 1950 and 1962 she had provided colour art for many Christmas covers for the weekly Nursery World, as well as some black and white illustrations for stories in the children’s section of that magazine at other times of the year. We wanted to get full references for the items we knew and to check for additional items, spreading our search to 1949–63. Since we could order only a few volumes in advance and, while at the library, more volumes only as we finished with others, we weren’t sure if we would manage to get through all the relevant years on one visit, but we were successful. We found eleven new items, including one unknown full colour cover, nine stories (some with more than one illustration), and an unsigned repeated cover design which we are sure is by Pauline Baynes. We also found an interview with her in 1960 with a lovely photograph. We were unable, though, to find a 2002 interview in the London Evening Standard mentioned in Pauline’s correspondence, but for that search Wayne had to use a microfilm, and possibly the piece did not appear in the issue filmed.

We finished about 3.30 pm and returned to a bench on the green for a snack – crisps and biscuits. We still had a little time before that evening’s dinner engagement, so we took the Northern Line to Tottenham Court Road and walked down to Foyle’s Bookshop in Charing Cross Road. I bought one book, Island to Abbey: Survival and Sanctuary in the Books of Elsie J. Oxenham 1907 to 1959 by Stella Waring and Sheila Ray. I was not an avid fan of Oxenham’s Abbey Girl books as a child, but I enjoyed the few that came my way and bought this survey to give me an overall view. We found that Foyle’s had greatly improved since we last visited, both in quality of stock and in their having abandoned their annoying system of making you take your purchase(s) to one assistant, who would write out a bill, which you then took to a cashier, who gave you a receipt to take back to the assistant, who then gave you your books! Our time was short, as we needed to return to the hotel and freshen up before going out to dinner with Helen from the Soane Museum, but we planned to return the  following day if time permitted.

That evening, we and Helen ate and talked at Strada in Great Queen Street, an Italian restaurant we had patronized on several previous visits. I chose agnello al rosmarino (roast rump of lamb, rosemary and garlic sauce, new potatoes, green beans and leeks) for my main course, with tiramisu to follow. Wayne had pollo milanese (pan-fried chicken, Gran Padano and lemon zest breadcrumbs, new potatoes, green beans, tomato and basil sauce), followed by pannacotta with strawberry coulis. Helen and I drank pinot grigio.

Turner Inspired coverWednesday, 23 May was our last full day in London, and we still had a few important visits to make. We began with the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square, to see the exhibition Turner Inspired: In the Light of Claude. I am keen on both of these artists, and had seen many, even most of these works on show before, but it is always pleasant to renew acquaintance with old friends. Wayne also likes Turner, and has seen many of his paintings and prints (particularly at the Tate), but had less exposure to Claude Lorrain and was glad to see more of his luminous work. He was also interested in the history of Turner’s gift of two of his paintings to the National Gallery, whereby these are required to hang in conjunction with two of Claude’s paintings, a legal point which some officials have found objectionable but which remains valid. (Such donor intentions are often found in special collections libraries too.) After the exhibition, we browsed the museum shop, noting a few more titles of interest.

Ronald Searle RememberedWe then walked to Chris Beetles’ in Ryder Street, a commercial gallery we know especially for its annual Christmas exhibition The Illustrators, devoted to illustrations and cartoons from the 18th century to date, and the detailed, often thick catalogue which accompanies it most years (we have a run since 1989). It is difficult to buy these online, and overseas postage for these weighty objects is very high, so we collect missing issues on each visit. This year we needed to collect the 2009, 2010, and 2011 catalogues. Other exhibitions take place during the rest of the year, and sometimes also result in substantial catalogues. On this visit, we saw Ronald Searle Remembered (1920–2011) and acquired the catalogue, as well as two smaller books devoted to the British water-colour landscape artist (and Puffin Picture Books illustrator) S.R. Bodmin which we seem to have overlooked on previous visits. Given the weight of the volumes, we decided to take them back to our hotel immediately – Searle and the three Illustrators catalogues alone weigh almost ten pounds (about four and a half kilos).

After a late, snack lunch in our room, we took the Piccadilly Line to Leicester Square and window-shopped at the antiquarian bookshops in Cecil Court, briefly visiting Marchpane which is devoted to children’s books; many years ago, I bought a copy of The Hobbit there, a second impression (1937) in dust-jacket. We then strolled up Charing Cross Road, looking into a couple of secondhand bookshops before spending more time in Foyle’s.

We had no definite plans for our last evening meal, except that we wanted to have it early to allow time for packing for our return flight. After returning to our hotel to freshen up, we strolled along Great Queen Street towards Covent Garden. We wondered about visiting Strada again, but as it seemed quite full, we continued on, reading menus displayed by various restaurants. We eventually settled on Café des Amis in Hanover Place,  a pedestrian passage between Long Acre and Floral Street. I had seen this restaurant many times on my way to the gallery (later amphitheatre) entrance of the Royal Opera House in Floral Street, in the days when I often attended opera performances (and sometimes ballet) several times a week, sitting in the cheapest seats, but I had never eaten at Café des Amis. Wayne and I shared continental bread and olives while we studied the menu; I chose roquefort and beetroot salad with pine nuts and rocket as a starter, while Wayne preferred terrine de champagne, cornichons, and toasted bread. We both chose duck confit, new potatoes, jus, and frisée as a main course, sharing a side of green beans; for dessert we shared a fruit charlotte. I had a glass of wine.

On our return to the hotel, Wayne spent the rest of the evening packing while I kept quiet and out of his way. After listing our purchases, almost entirely books, for U.S. Customs, Wayne had to spread their weight across two suitcases and two large bags and also provide protective buffers with clothes in case of rough handling. Eventually, everything was packed and balanced, including our hand luggage, excepting only items we would need the next morning.

Images, top to bottom: cover of The Common Sense of Science by Jacob Bronowski; exterior of the reconstructed Shakespeare’s Globe, on an overcast day; a view inside the Globe, showing the stage, with painted faux-marble and other finishes, and part of the seating beneath a thatched roof (like the original theatre, the Globe is open to the elements; unlike the original, the thatching is fire-proofed); St Paul’s Cathedral, seen from the end of the Millennium footbridge; cover of the catalogue of the National Gallery exhibition Turner Inspired; cover of the catalogue of the Chris Beetles exhibition Ronald Searle Remembered.

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