Monday 24 December 2018

Christmas in London

I live no more than a twenty-minute train ride from the centre, but now rarely visit. I was in Charing Cross Road on Saturday, and realised I hadn't been there for perhaps a whole year. The old Foyles has been razed to the ground. Its replacement is next door, and a sort of glorified Waterstones. Further down the street two or three secondhand shops remain. Henry Pordes is now run by Italians.

There are dearer, more specialist stores in Cecil Court, haunt of more than one character in Anita Brookner. Several dealers hold Brookner first editions, some of them signed. I like Cecil Court because of Mark Sullivan's antique shop, which always makes me think of the place the Prince and Charlotte Stant visit in The Golden Bowl.

I bought a little KPM figurine of an actor or brigand, or actor playing a brigand. Does anyone recognise this fellow, either as type or individual?

I returned to the bookshops, but could find nothing that appealed. I considered a volume of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu's letters, but would I really ever read it? I was attracted, in Foyles, by several of those new Fitzcarraldo editions. But I already have plenty of books to be read on my shelves. Or 'TBR', as I think it is called. Am I 'peak books'?

I'm actually nearing halfway through an old copy of Trollope's late novel John Caldigate at the moment. I've had it for years, but never got round to it. It's very good and very pacy. There's a brilliant sequence of chapters set on board a ship to Australia and then among the goldmines of New South Wales. Trollope was the most well-travelled of the Victorian novelists, and sometimes he takes us to places we never expected to see.

I finished in the National Portrait Gallery, at their exhibition of Gainsborough's family portraits. Gainsborough grew to disdain portraiture, but he was a master. A character views a society portrait in Berlin in Brookner's Latecomers, but the NPG's show focuses on paintings and sketches of the artist's immediate circle. Of particular strength are the half-dozen images of his daughters Mary and Margaret. The pair are painted at different stages through their childhood and young adulthood. Their later lives were not happy, taking in loneliness and mental illness, and inevitably one seeks signs in the earliest pictures of the dangers to come.

A very happy Christmas to you all!


  1. And a belated happy Christmas to you too. I don't always get the time to comment on your posts, and I haven't read nearly as widely as you, but I do enjoy them very much and have learned a lot - and discovered new books - in the process. Thank you, I look forward with interest to another year of your thoughts.

    I grew up a shortish train ride from Charing Cross and as a teenager used to frequent the bookshops often. The old Foyles wasn't always the best place to find a book really, but its eccentricity was worth the visit. I also liked the Stanfords map shop in ?piccadilly? (can't quite remember the location) - my family never went anywhere but I loved browsing the books about exotic places.

    I too feel I may have reached peak books. But then I see something (usually in a charity shop) and have to 'rescue' it. Even this week, in the Red Cross shop in Aviemore, I could not bring myself to ignore good copies of Eve Garnett's Family From One End Street and Further Adventures of...' - favourites of my childhood. And for Christmas one of my daughters gave me a Folio edition of The Wind in the Willows (also from a charity shop apparently - not sure how anyone could have abandoned that.) The only other Folio edition I own is Barbara Pym's Excellent Women.

    Have gone on too long so will stop now!

    All good wishes for 2019.

  2. Many best wishes for 2019. Just back from Germany. A mooch round the art museums and a couple of operas. Each to his own.


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